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.

Visit me on Facebook.

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

 

 

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

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.

Visit me on Facebook.

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.

Promotion: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Blog 72 ImageNearly a year and a half ago, I began a blog series comparing traditional publishing and self-publishing for a fiction writer who’s completed her first manuscript. Today’s post is about promotion.

It would be nice if a first-time writer could build readers and maybe even earn an income just by having her book published. However, today’s book market is oversupplied, so she must be sure her book is being promoted.

Before self-publishing, a traditionally published writer looked to her publisher to plan and execute promotion. In a broad sense, the promotion began when the publisher selected her manuscript, packaged it into an attractive book and made sure it was on bookstore shelves. Then there might be advertising, publicity, readings and so on. The writer showed up where and when she was asked.

Self-publishing turned the publishing world on its head, not just because writers could publish and distribute independently, but also because they could promote themselves online. This disrupted the marketing techniques of traditional publishers. Launch parties and book tours fell off. Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads became as important as reviews in book sections of newspapers. At the same time, a writer was expected by her publisher to take a greater role in promotion. She had to work her own contacts, have a website and maybe a blog, and be on social media. And often at her cost.

Does this mean that, for a writer concerned about promoting her book today, there’s no difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing? In general, I think there still is, though how much will depend on the publisher.

This post from Jane Friedman’s blog illustrates how promotion works at one of the Big 5 publishers. While the writer takes the lead on social media, the publisher offers support. And the publisher arranges for excellent publicity. Both parties seem committed to promotion to get value from their investments. Even if a writer is published by a house that does less promotion, she at least benefits from the publisher’s public vote of confidence in giving her one of their coveted slots.

Whether traditionally published or self-published, though, the writer needs to be deeply involved in promoting her book.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

Self-Pub Writers Distributing Print Copies of Their Books

Blog 64 ImageI have two more posts left about distributing a self-published book.

This post discusses a self-published writer selling print copies of his book to readers directly or by consignment with a book store. In this case, the writer needs to buy inventory of his book. The last post will be about distributing print copies through resellers without the writer buying inventory.

As I wrote in my overview blog about distribution, when I first published The Case for Killing, I only offered it as an eBook. That seemed to me to be in the spirit of self-publishing, but it was a mistake.

A self-published writer who is serious about building a readership needs print copies of his book available for sale. Print remains the format that many readers prefer. Some like paperbacks for their look and feel, and maybe their place on their bookshelves. Other readers don’t have an eBook reading device or the interest to learn the related app.

For a significant number of print sales, the self-published writer will need his own inventory of books. For example, the writer needs to be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to give or sell print copies of his book to friends, neighbours, distant acquaintances…to anyone, really, showing a flicker of interest. Further, if a writer appears at library readings, book clubs or similar events, he’ll definitely want print copies of his book to sell at the end. And some writers may try to make direct print sales online (see my post on direct sales).

A writer might also try to get his book stocked in bookstores. In general, this is tough going, but some independent bookstores will carry well-crafted self-published paperbacks on a consignment basis for somewhere between 20% and 40% of the retail price.

For the self-published writer who wants an inventory of his book, various companies will print copies of his book and ship them to him. If the writer is willing to order a large minimum number, he can consider traditional offset printing. However, most self-pubs won’t want to take the risk of printing too many copies. Making money self-publishing is already a long-shot and having several thousand dollars of unsold inventory in the basement is just annoying.

Print-on-demand (POD) has answered the need of a self-published writer to manage his inventory carefully. A writer can order the exact number of books he requires for the short term. For example, for some upcoming library presentations, I’ll make sure I have fifty copies of False Guilt on hand and my experience is that I’ll sell most of them.

I have used POD from IngramSpark and from CreateSpace (an Amazon company). The basic process is this. A writer gets an estimate of the total cost per book based on the number of pages in his book, the printed format and the number of books ordered. From this, the writer can set a retail price with a decent margin. The writer uploads files in the required format for the interior and cover of the book and provides ISBN and other book-related information. When the POD company has completed set-up, review procedures ensure that the print copies meet minimum industry requirements for publication and the writer’s quality expectations. If all goes well, the books will be couriered to the writer in two to three weeks.

I recommend that self-pub writers speak to other self-pubs about the POD companies they’ve used and their experiences with service and quality levels. Also, there’s much more about POD and traditional offset printing in Ape: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Kawasaki and Welch, though offerings are evolving quickly.

Finally, be sure to order a print copy of your book just for your writing desk. It’ll provide inspiration.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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The Pre-Release Checklist

FalseGuilt_FrontCover_Blog 44Last December, I wrote up a checklist of things to do for the upcoming release of False Guilt. The checklist has evolved through the first weeks of 2015 and I thought I would share a summary for other self-published authors.

But, first, a snippet of False Guilt: the opening and closing paragraphs of chapter 1.

“Tell me this,” the man across from Paul Tews said. “What the hell is wrong with my son?”

Fifteen minutes earlier, moving a tray along a railing in front of a Greek fast-food place, Paul had heard his name. He’d been flattered that the President of Pan Canadian Securities asked to join him for lunch. Now he understood why. His question was a fair one.

. . .

“When [Art] was in L.A.,” [Art’s father] said, “the requests for money came faster and faster. For a long time, I sent him whatever he wanted. Then I made a few calls and figured things out. After that, I stuck to a monthly allowance, even if he complained, and then, when he came back last November, I cut him off and told him to get a job. And I told him if he keeps using cocaine I’ll write him out of my will.”

Paul’s face flushed and he looked away. “If it makes you feel any better, I know he tried reducing it recently.” He shot a hesitant glance across the table. “Anyway, he’s a brilliant guy. I meant it when I said he’ll get things working for him.”

“I don’t see him going to law school,” Art’s father said, snorting. “And he’s a failed actor as far as I can tell. I mean, right now, he pours people coffee for a living.”

Paul was at a loss. The lunchtime din suffused the pause in their conversation. Finally, Art’s father said, “Sometimes, Paul, sometimes I ask myself which one of us will die first.”

Another fair question, Paul thought.

And here’s the summary of my pre-release checklist for a self-published book.

Eight to twelve weeks before release date:

  1. Approach candidates for release reviews.
  2. Settle on print and eBook distribution platforms.
  3. Editor and author complete final manuscript proof.
  4. Draft marketing plan, including blogging and social media strategies.
  5. Assign cover design and interior design.

Four weeks before:

  1. Get print and eBook ISBNs.
  2. Obtain release reviews, and choose excerpts for back cover.
  3. Finalize cover and interior designs.
  4. Complete last front-to-back review and have final fixes made.
  5. Obtain necessary files for print and eBook distribution.
  6. Refine marketing plan, including developing updates for website and online profiles.

Two weeks before:

  1. Begin implementing blogging and social media strategies.
  2. Upload files to print-on-demand site; approve online and hard copy proofs as available.

Release:

  1. Upload eBook platform files and approve POD publication.
  2. Post release reviews on distribution site(s) and website.
  3. Implement other website changes and changes to online profiles.
  4. Announce release on blog and social media.
  5. Email interested readers and ask for reviews.
  6. Add book to Goodreads and/or similar sites.

I’ve actually broken down these steps further using a calendar.

I only wish I’d been this thoughtful on the release of The Case for Killing!

False Guilt will be out later this month.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.