Writer Promotion: Having a Plan

Blog 90 ImageThis is the last post in my blog series on How to Self-Publish. In previous posts, I described ways a self-pub can promote her book. But rather than dipping into every strategy and seeing which, if any, sticks, a writer will find it useful to have a promotional plan.

There are several reasons for this. First, there are many other writers promoting their books and, for the most part, in very similar ways. A well-thought-out plan that builds interest in an upcoming book gives a writer a better chance of finding an edge. Second, many self-pubs write while holding down day jobs. Their time for promotion is limited and a plan can make them more efficient. Finally, a plan can keep marketing costs under control. It’s already a challenge for self-pubs to cover editorial and cover design costs, let alone clear a profit. And when it comes to promotion, it’s tempting to chase the dream of success and continue spending. A plan with a budget lowers this risk.

Here are some things writers should think about when developing a plan.

When to work up the plan. It’s easy to leave the development of a promotional plan until a book is done. However, many strategies such as building a social media presence require time to build followers. A writer should create and start implementing a plan once she’s certain she’s going to self-publish.

Consider what the market is. A lot of promotion involves a writer sharing content about her books and/or herself. As she develops that content, a writer should consider the profile of her potential market. Few self-pubs have the resources to do things like market surveys. However, a writer might be able to research sales of well-known books in her genre.

Types of promotion. The goal of a promotional plan is to build interest in an upcoming book that peaks when the book is published and is maintained for months and even years after. The core of the plan settles the strategies that will be used to achieve this goal. Since many writers use the same strategies and lives are busy, at any stage of implementing the plan, it’s probably best to do one or two things really well.

Timing of the strategies. Some strategies, like social media, are long-term or even ongoing. Others, like asking friends and family for help or contacting bloggers for reviews, are usually implemented in the months before publication. A promotional plan should create dates for executing all strategies to maximum effect.

Costs. A writer’s plan should also create an overall budget for promotion broken down by strategy. As I already said, the dream of success creates a temptation to spend, spend, spend, and many service providers look to take advantage of that.

Measure results. Finally, a plan should include times when the writer assesses her promotional strategies. For example, she might review social media analytics to see which content has generated the most interest. A writer will never be a hundred percent certain which strategies are working and which aren’t, but there’ll be enough information to tweak the plan and make adjustments.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Spending the Marketing Budget

Blog 89 ImageI have two posts left under How to Self-Publish about promotion. This week I look at fee-based services and next week I’ll discuss having a promotional strategy.

To date, my posts about promotion have largely focused on approaches involving little or no cost, such as invoking the help of family and friends, having a website and blogging and using social media. My last post on reviews did touch on two services that cost money: email blasts promoting price discounts and paid-for reviews. This post picks up on that thread and looks at a few more promotional services self-pubs can buy.

Most people trying to sell a new product or service think about marketing it with a dedicated budget. Self-pub writers, though, are more likely to i) think their books will sell themselves, ii) then realize that they must promote their books, and iii) grudgingly become willing to spend a few bucks on that promotion.

Unfortunately, having arrived at iii), self-pubs will find that spending money on promotion often doesn’t cure poor sales. There simply are too many books published. In addition, it can be hard to know which promotional/marketing/consulting service affected sales. All I can say is that self-pubs should be skeptical about what’s on offer, understand exactly what the value proposition is and ask other writers about their experiences. With all that, here are some ways to eat up the marketing budget.

Facebook Advertising: This social media behemoth makes money, among other things, from selling targeted advertising using the staggering data it has collected about users. Self-pubs could, for example, advertise their books to users in Ontario who like specified authors. When I researched this type of advertising, though, I couldn’t find any evidence that it produced meaningful sales.

Tweets: Of course, self-pubs can promote their own books on a cost-free basis through their Twitter accounts. “Buy my book” tweets irritate readers, though, so tweets that are more subtle and engaging are best. However, services exist that have built up large numbers of Twitter followers and that, for a fee, will blast their followers with book recommendations. Just as irritating if you ask me.

Giveaways/Contests: Self-pubs can arrange to give away copies of their books on sites like Goodreads as well as have giveaways and contests through Facebook. The idea is to create profile and the possibility of reviews to generate sales. Self-pubs shouldn’t underestimate the costs of getting print copies of books made and delivered to interested readers, or of sending twenty-five tote bags to their contest winners.

Blog Tours: In theory, a self-pub could try to organize a traditional book tour for his new book. However, even assuming book stores would agree to host the writer, the costs could be significant. An alternative is blog tours, in which a self-pub searches out a series of blog writers who agree to host content like a Q&A, a video, a blog post and so on. These tours take a lot of organization, so some services set up the tours for a fee. While I haven’t tried a blog tour, I know writers who have and thought they obtained good exposure. As usual, it would be useful to know if the exposure translates into sales.

Old-School Advertising: A self-pub writer could buy a radio ad or a poster spot on the subway or have his book featured in a movie. A really famous writer with lots of money at least.

PR: When I published The Case for Killing, I thought of hiring a public relations firm. I couldn’t find any affordable, experienced firms.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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Writer Promotion: Reviews

Blog 88 ImageI’ve been posting about how self-published writers can promote their books. In my first post, I said, “Readers will buy a self-published writer’s book if they believe they’ll be entertained or get some other benefit. This means they have to know about the book and likely what other readers think of it.”

User-generated reviews offer some of the best promotion of a self-published writer’s book. As with any product or service, if a book’s reviews are independent and overall positive, there’s a chance potential buyers’ eyes will be caught.

Traditional publishers have long supplied copies of books to periodicals for reviews. However, periodicals generally don’t review self-published books. So what can self-pubs do to get reviews?

Write a Good Book. It always seems to come back to this. If readers like a book, some will be encouraged to rate and review it. This in turn builds an average rating and collection of reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads which other readers use in their purchase decisions.

Ask for Objective Reviews. There’s nothing wrong with a self-pub asking readers to review his book. So, in situations where the writer is selling or giving away copies of his book in person, he should add that any review would be appreciated. Some self-pub writers also include a review request at the back of their books. Because reviews can be so helpful, writers may be tempted to ask people he knows to read and review the book. It’s essential that the writer be clear that he expects objective reviews.

As long as they are unbiased, people whom a writer could ask to review his book include friends and acquaintances, beta readers, blurb writers and Amazon’s Top Reviewers/Hall of Fame Reviewers. Also, there are many bloggers who review copies of books given to them, but my experience is that it’s very difficult for a writer to have his book selected.

Reduce the Book Price. A writer can reduce the price of his book to encourage sales and hopefully reviews. Kindle Select allows books to be given away or sold at a discount if certain conditions are met.

A vast array of services has developed around publicizing the giveaways and discounts. Given the large number of self-pub books, services charging money should be viewed with scepticism. One service I’ve heard positive anecdotes about is Bookbub. It charges writers to promote price reductions of well-reviewed books to a database of email subscribers. The charges are significant and vary according to genre, so writers must assess whether they’ll be justified by increased sales.

Purchase a Review. Various organizations provide professional reviews for a fee. I’ve blogged about Kirkus Reviews here and other services here (and there are still more).

As long as the reviews are objective, I don’t see any issue with purchasing these services. But as with buying any promotional service, the question is what value the writer gets. I found validation in reviews I purchased for The Case for Killing (here) and False Guilt (here and here), which for me was important. However, my reviews compete with thousands of others and I’m unclear whether they had a material impact on sales of my books.

Lastly, believe it or not, there are “services” that will guarantee five-star reviews. Avoid.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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Writer Promotion: Other Free Tools

Blog 87 ImageIn my last posts under How to Self-Publish, I focused on promotion through family and friends, a website and blogging, social media and appearances like library presentations. These are all ways a writer can publicize his name and books for free.

This post is a catchall for additional promotional techniques that only cost the writer time. In the weeks to come, I’ll complete my thoughts on promotion by discussing reviews, techniques that cost money and the need for an overall strategy.

Email. In a world of social media and texting, email feels old school. Even so, many people advocate that writers continue to use email to stay in touch with current and potential readers. Usually, the advice is to distribute newsletters by email. Jane Friedman has an excellent blog on this type of promotion.

Email is seen as a more direct, intimate and stable form of communication than social media. Since addressees are already inundated with email, writers need to develop and maintain their lists in a manner that respects the privacy of addressees. They should use proper subscription services with clear opt-in and opt-out rights reflecting current laws.

Newsletters. The content of newsletters often relates to the writer or his books since people who’ve given their email address are assumed to be interested in this. However, newsletter content can extend to matters of broader interest or opinion and could overlap with a writer’s blog.

To date, I’ve only used email to promote releases of my books and I don’t have a newsletter. I need to figure out how to write blog posts more quickly…

Book-Based Social Networks. Beyond the giant, general purpose social networks like Facebook, there are several sites that focus on reading. Among them are Goodreads (an Amazon company), booktalk and Shelfari (another Amazon company).

These networks are mainly for readers to share about what they’ve read. Writers may be able to supplement that content with information about themselves but the networks aren’t environments for hard pitches. Better for a writer to share about what he’s reading.

Author Profile Pages. Online platforms that a self-pub writer uses to sell books may permit him to create a page with a picture, bio, reviews and other personal content. Examples are Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Book-based social networks like Goodreads offer writers similar opportunities to create profiles.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writer Promotion: Appearances

Blog 85 ImageIn traditional publishing, events where writers meet readers have long been a staple of book promotion. As part of their promotional strategy, self-published writers can do some of the same.

The usual events are book launches and signings as well as library and book club readings. These are wonderful opportunities for writers to connect with readers, spark some sales and support word-of-mouth endorsement. Self-pub writers, though, will bear all the costs of these events themselves. So which should they focus on?

Here are my thoughts.

Be Careful with Book Launches. From the anecdotes I’ve read, even in the traditional publishing world, book launch events are on the decline. The costs for publishers add up and may not be recouped from additional sales. Social media can be more effective because it’s cheaper and the marketing message lasts longer.

Most attendees at the average self-pub’s launch will be family and friends who’ll probably buy the writer’s book anyways. While the launch is a way for the writer to celebrate an accomplishment, it will eat up the marketing budget without adding much word-of-mouth support.

Be Creative Around Signings. While the best-known writers will enjoy long lines of fans waiting to have their books inscribed, many self-pubs will find book signings as challenging as launches. It may be hard to find bookstores willing to host the events and the writers will have to be thick-skinned and reach out for interest.

One way to be creative around signings is to choose venues other than bookstores. Examples are fairs as well as art and craft shows. Crowds there might be more exploratory and relatively easy to engage. Writers must weigh the cost of a booth against projected sales.

Grab Library and Book Club Readings. It’s great when a writer knows that people she’ll meet like to read and that’s what library patrons and book club members offer. Self-pub writers should jump at opportunities to do library and book club readings and leave plenty of time after to chat with attendees.

However, the value of these opportunities is no secret, and writers and publishers pester libraries and book clubs for readings. Self-pubs are likely to find more opportunities with libraries outside of major metropolitan areas and with clubs in which acquaintances are members.

Offer Content Other than Book Excerpts. For library presentations, I get greater interest in a one-hour talk about how to self-publish than in readings from my books. I still get sales but make more connections because I’m offering free content that is (hopefully) entertaining and useful.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

Writer Promotion: Social Media

Blog 83 ImageIn my blog series “How to Self-Publish”, I’ve been posting about how writers can promote their books and themselves. Needless to say, these days everyone thinks about social media as a way to promote.

I’ve been careful in my use of social media. I continue to think that a writer’s best promotional tools are creating a good book and word of mouth. However, social media used intelligently and efficiently is an important support.

Here are my thoughts on approaches that work and that don’t.

Social Media Approaches That Work

  1. Pick a Few Platforms. There are many social media platforms writers can use: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat and others. A writer working alone won’t have the time for a meaningful presence on all platforms. Instead, to share effectively, he should focus on learning and contributing to one or two platforms.
  2. Look to Build Relationships. At its core, a writer’s promotion is effective when it results in readers talking about the writer or his books. People are more likely to do that if they feel connected to the writer in some way. A writer should approach social media as a way to offer that connection in an online relationship.
  3. Share in a Way that Builds Those Relationships. Content that helps or interests others will build connections. Authentic personal sharing that’s not overdone may as well. Sharing about writing is good but many topics will work.
  4. Have Fun and Be Creative. Maintaining a social media presence for the long term can be daunting. Writers who choose platforms and content that interest and inspire them will find it easier.
  5. Analyse the Results. Most social media platforms as well as Google offer analytics so that a writer can see which of his shares are effective. That information, in turn, allows him to be more efficient in contributing.

Social Media Approaches That Don’t Work

  1. There’s No Time Left for Writing. Again, the starting point for a writer is a good book. Any promotional method, including using social media, must leave time for the writing.
  2. Sales Pitches. A writer who only uses social media to tell people to buy his book will lose, not build, relationships.
  3. Making It All About the Writer. Except perhaps for the most successful writers, content that looks outward instead of inward will interest social media contacts more.
  4. Making It All About the Numbers. More friends on FB and followers on Twitter is not the best social media goal. The numbers can be bloated by folks trying to flog services or with only a passing interest in the writer. A smaller number of good connections is better.
  5. Forgetting About the Visual. Much of social media is a visual experience while the writer’s bedrock is of course words. Writers who don’t use images or videos in social media will be excluded from some platforms (Instagram) or have poorer take-up on others (FB). Even on Twitter, photos increase impressions.

Overall, it’s best to experiment and keep learning, a few minutes each day.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writer Promotion: Blogging

Blog 81 imageThe most recent posts in my blog series “How to Self-Publish” have been about promotion. This week I’m discussing blogging.

Should a writer blog? It’s very common to read recommendations that fiction writers, whether traditionally published or self-published, should blog in order to promote themselves and their books. This remains true even with the rise of social media. However, does it work?

Looking at my experience to date, I’m afraid I’m not sure.

I can’t relate my blogging efforts to any sales, so at that level, I just don’t know. Certainly, I’ve never been told by a reader of my blog that she went on to buy a book.

However, I can also measure the usefulness of blogging by the extent of my online presence. Traffic has gone up over time but it’s a slow go. I do get regular compliments about my blog content, though.

One of the main benefits of blogging, I find, is that I learn a lot about writing and publishing. That helps with other types of promotion such as library presentations.

So, overall, I would say that blogging continues to offer good opportunities for writer promotion. However, it’s a lot of work, and since there’s enormous competition for the attention of readers, it takes a long-term commitment to see results. Writers should think carefully whether blogging is the best and most enjoyable use of their limited time for promotion.

What should a writer blog about? Everything in blogging starts with the content. If a writer blogs regularly, it can be surprisingly difficult to think of topics. I think of topics as falling into one four categories:

  • insights into the writer and/or his work
  • insights into other writers and/or their works
  • “how to” and “tips” posts about writing
  • discussions of other interests the writer has.

My experience is that readers appreciate short content. They also like content containing personal experience or that answers a specific question. Blogging about the craft of writing is fun, but it tends to interest other writers and not readers.

What makes blogging more effective? Generally, blogging will have wider reach if the writer:

  • posts regularly (I post every Sunday evening)
  • adds images to posts
  • links the blog to social media
  • considers closely what the best search terms for the blog are
  • reviews analytics to see which posts do best
  • searches out opportunities to guest post on other blogs
  • comments on other bloggers’ posts with the aim of getting comments on his content.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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Writer Promotion: The Website

Blog 79 imageDespite the amazing social media tools available, a website remains at the core of a writer’s promotional strategy.

As one peels away the onion, there is a lot that can be written about starting and maintaining a website. Here are the very basics.

Not so fast. Does a writer really have to bother with a website? For almost every serious writer, the answer is yes. Readers and others expect a writer to have an online presence. They will do an online search and look for a website. In turn, a website is one of the best ways for a writer to control his online presence and public profile.

Can’t a writer just rely on Facebook? No. On a website, a writer provides structured information. Facebook is about social engagement. They change their platform all the time, in part to earn advertising dollars. See Jane Friedman’s blog.

What should a writer’s goals be in having a website? A website should provide:

  1. Clear information about the writer and his expertise (home and bio pages) for viewers and search engines.
  2. Synopses and reviews of all his books and other content (novels and reviews pages).
  3. Links to retailers of his books.
  4. The ability to interact by blogging, email (contact page), collecting email addresses for a newsletter, posting works in progress and links to social media.
  5. Data collection so that a writer can judge his digital efforts.

See this blog by Jane Friedman.

Okay. How does a writer start and maintain a website? In the broadest terms, the choices are:

  1. Hire a web designer experienced with author websites. Your site will look great but of course you have to pay for the design and ongoing hosting and maintenance. For self-published writers, that cost may be prohibitive.
  2. Self-host using “content management systems” like WordPress.org. Roughly, self-hosting is where the writer has access to all of his website files and the servers where those files are stored/hosted. The writer has broad ability to customize his site and add functionality (plug-ins) and analytics. However, the writer is responsible for security, backups and management, and may still need a designer’s help. For an excellent blog on self-hosting, see this blog by Jane Friedman.
  3. Operate your site on someone else’s domain. For example, this blog uses WordPress.com. This is the simplest and can be virtually cost free. However, while becoming more impressive, customization using themes and analytics are more limited. Also, the domain might disappear.

For all choices, the writer must purchase a domain name. Hopefully [author name].com is available.

Does a writer need to blog? WordPress.com and some like it began as blog web hosting services. Sites operated on WordPress.com are now easily customized to be websites without blogs. I’ll have more to say about whether a self-published writer should or should not blog in a future post.

What is SEO? This is not a disease but an acronym for search engine optimization. A writer will want his website/blog to appear as high and often in online searches as possible. There’s an entire industry that strategizes how to do this based on search engine algorithms. The good news is that sites like WordPress.org (self-hosting) and WordPress.com (domain hosting) are, I’m told, quite good at handling SEO.

Build away!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writer Promotion: Family and Friends

Blog 77 ImageThis is the start of several posts in my series “How to Self-Publish” discussing methods of promotion. Today’s post is about asking for the help of family and friends.

The challenge for a self-published writer is getting people to know about his book and interested enough to read it. If he wants readers to buy his book, as opposed to sampling it on a subscription service or getting a free copy, he must be confident that readers will feel they’ll get value for their money.

Family and friends can help with all these issues.

First, because of their connection to the writer, they’re the most likely group to actually read the book, despite busy lives. That’s the start of a reader base.

Second, family and friends are also among the most likely to give feedback. This means that, after completing the book, they’ve sat back and considered it. It also means that they have an opinion that they can share with others. So, assuming the opinion is favorable, they can create word of mouth about the book and thus promote it.

I’m a firm believer that this type of word of mouth has great potential to drive interest in a book and sales. Every family member and friend has his or her own group of family and friends, who in turn have their own groups, and so on. Word of mouth can spread quite far and quickly through these multiple channels.

When I published The Case for Killing, I didn’t take advantage of this obvious method of promotion. I was concerned that I was imposing on family and friends, and thought that people to whom family and friends recommended the book would think the recommendation wasn’t objective.

What I didn’t appreciate is that if I approach family and friends about my book thoughtfully, and if family and friends make their recommendations the same way, most people will take the information on board and make their own decision. Now I think family and friends, especially those who read my book, are powerful allies in the tough world of marketing a book.

So tell family and friends about your book. And ask them to tell others. In a nice way.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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Getting Discovered: Self-Publishing Promotion

Blog 75 imageIn my series of blogs called How to Self-Publish, it’s time to turn to promotion.

So, imagine a writer who’s completed a book of fiction, had it edited and had a cover designed. He’s decided to self-publish the book, and selected the distribution channels and prices for the digital and print versions. But how does he get readers to buy the book?

This question is the discoverability problem. I’m going to spend the next few blogs trying to help with it. I say “trying” because there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. There simply are too many good writers and books vying for readers’ attention.

What I do think is clear is this. Readers will only buy a self-published writer’s book if they believe they’ll be entertained or get some other benefit. This means they have to know about the book and likely what other readers think about it. For this, the writer must:

  1. Make sure his book is good. Probably really good.
  2. Promote himself and his book in a way that readers generally like.
  3. Be persistent at that promotion.
  4. Keep assessing what’s working and what’s not.
  5. Understand that he often won’t have any idea why a reader bought his book.
  6. Leave lots of time to write the next book.

A tall order!

So, in my next posts in this category, I’m going to discuss promotional strategies like developing word of mouth through family and friends, getting reviews, building a website and blogging, using social media, giving presentations and a few others.There’s lots written already on these strategies, so I’ll be adding my personal experiences.

And I’ll be hoping to hear the experiences of others.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.