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: 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.

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.

When is a Book Ready to Publish?

Blog 36I have a confession to make. I said that my second book, False Guilt, would be available this fall. It will be the first quarter of 2015 instead.

I really did think I would make the original deadline. One lesson I’ve learned is that, when talking about a future book’s release date, it’s better to say “soon”.

But there are other lessons, too. My book’s delay has some very good reasons, which I’ve decided to collect under the general question: when is a book ready to publish? These comments are geared toward indie authors.

When the Writer’s Gut Says So. I didn’t become settled with False Guilt as soon as I expected. Now I’m ready to stand tall beside the story and characters and see what feedback I get.

To me, this really is a gut decision, because dastardly voices speak in the writer’s head. One says, “Another rewrite won’t make any difference. Get the thing out there already.” Another says, “This book needs to be perfect. Plan on 2017.”

I think that the more a writer writes, chances are he becomes better at assessing when his book is ready for publication. His sense of plot, pace and character development grows keener. He understands better when more research is required. He learns tricks like allowing enough time to pass between drafts to bring a new perspective to his work.

Several Drafts After Beta Readers Have Read The Book. My last two blogs discussed how useful beta readers are. I’ve learned that, after beta reader comments come in, I need to do at least three drafts of a book before it goes to the editor.

When the Editor Says It’s Ready. A good editor will be clear with a writer if and when his book is ready for public eyes. Some of what delayed False Guilt was my editor questioning character development and interaction. An editor’s structural, stylistic and copy edit comments can take several drafts to sort out.

It’s possible a writer and editor will disagree on some points. So, really, the idea is that a book is ready to publish when the editor says so, setting aside carefully considered points of difference.

When the Writer Has a Marketing Plan. Discoverability is a huge challenge, so writers must actively promote their books. Better yet, a writer should have a marketing plan. Mine for False Guilt, including a Facebook and Twitter presence and upcoming pre-release reviews, is coming into shape.

When a Compelling Cover Design is Done.  Book covers can make such a powerful statement, it’s better not to rush them. I like the direction the cover for False Guilt is heading in.

Not Too Soon After the Last Book. I won’t pretend to know when the optimal time is to release a second book. I’ll just say that I think The Case for Killing, published in April, still has legs.

When Readers Have Time. An indie author needs to think about the time of year when he’s releasing a book.

Initially, I thought releasing False Guilt in the heart of the holiday season was a good idea. I hoped it would be a digital stocking stuffer. But then I decided people will be too busy to give the book any attention. Now I’m hoping that False Guilt will help with the February blues.

Copyright ©2014 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Fifty Seconds of Terror

Blog 31 BCOn LogoFor budding crime thriller writers, it’s a challenge to connect with readers and other writers and to learn about the marketplace. That’s the reason for conferences like Bouchercon. I’m just back from the 2014 version in Long Beach, California.

Overall, I learned a ton. However, I arrived with apprehension after receiving an email inviting me to join the “Meet the New Authors Breakfast”. Did I want to stand up and tell readers and other writers the most important thing they should know about The Case for Killing? In fifty seconds? Along with fifty-two other debut writers? At 7:00 a.m.?

My instinctive response was to run. But I know I need to self-promote, so I agreed.

Long Beach hasn’t seen rain in months, but the first day there, the breakfast hung over me like a towering cumulus. When I arrived at the event the following morning, the same cloud obviously hung over other presenters. Faces were grim, breaths were deep and laughter was nervous.

I said things like “No one’s listening anyway,” and “Who’s going to be here at 7:00 a.m.?” Useless platitudes. A microphone and speakers made sure people had to listen, and the large room filled. I acquired an advanced case of stage fright.

Well, I certainly didn’t hit it out of the park, but the fifty seconds got done. It turns out that when you’re staring into the eye of a storm, they go by very fast. I wish I could have used humour like other presenters did. Sadly, it’s just not my strong suit in those situations. I did say I once practiced law and I’m told some folks responded with a gentle hiss. Yeah, I’m probably going to stop mentioning that.

Anyway, despite the panic, I’m counting those fifty seconds as a great experience. Mostly that’s because I met a lot of interesting debut writers. It’d be nice, though, if my heart returned to sixty beats per minute some time soon.

Thanks for the opportunity Bouchercon.

Logo used with the permission of Bouchercon 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze

Buy The Case for Killing here (Canada) or here (U.S.).