Friday, January 16, 2015

Successful Book Marketing

Ready for our first roundtable of 2015? This one is for authors, publishers, and book marketing folks. Okay, let's kick off the new year right, shall we?

What has been your greatest success in book or ebook marketing?

J.H. Glaze: My greatest success in ebook marketing was a promo I did last year that generated 9,800 downloads in 24 hours. It resulted in residual sales of 450 ebooks over the next week. This was done through a promotion combining at least 10 of the eBook promo sites, some paid - some free, Facebook shares, Twitter Re-Tweets, and posting to groups.

My greatest success in Paperback marketing is definitely Horror Cons. Last year in October, I sold more than $1,400 worth of books over a 3 day weekend. The Conventions usually result in extended sales for about 6 weeks afterward. I have developed a specific strategy and technique for selling at cons, so you may not achieve the same results if you rush out and get a table for the first time. People who have had tables next to me will tell you, I’m a selling machine when I’m working the floor.

John Hartness: Marketing is raising general awareness of your brand or a specific product. It isn’t about sales, it’s about eyeballs and stickiness. The more eyeballs you get on your name, the more often, the stickier you become in people’s minds. Coke is a ubiquitous product, so much so that people will sit down in a restaurant and order a “Coke” when all they really mean is “brown carbonated sugary beverage.” Same with Kleenex and Xerox. Those brands have been marketed so well that they have their own definition. Stephen King is a good example of this – for forty years his name has been synonymous with horror fiction, regardless of his forays into other genres and styles.

Marketing is a long-tail process, and very little that you can once today will have a net effect on your overall branding in a positive light. The same cannot be said for negative branding, just look at people who make headlines for being idiots. Marketing is a cumulative process, and building a brand takes years, and lots of effort.

Promotion is a short-term, sales-focused “event.” A great example of this is the yearly “Toyotathon” that we see so many commercials about. They are trying to cram a quarter’s worth of sales into a month, because fourth quarter sucks for car buying. We try to do the same thing when we drop the price of a book to $.99 or free for a couple days. We try to cram a month’s worth of “buys” into a day. By far the most effective promotion I’ve participated in was when my book was selected as the Kindle Daily Deal. I moved several thousand copies in one day at a reduced price, and about a thousand copies over the rest of the week at full price. And I topped Stephen King on the horror bestseller list! Yes, I screen-capped that bad boy!

A marketing and promotion tool that I have found works very well is my email newsletter. A monthly newsletter has seen a 20% increase in subscribers since I re-launched it, which is a long-tail success, and when I have featured backlist titles in the newsletter, I have seen a corresponding increase in sales of that title for the month it is featured. So that’s a short-term promotional benefit.

Iscah: Direct sales events like at conventions, festivals, fairs, etc.

Mat Nastos: My first book, THE CESTUS CONCERN, was by and far my biggest success to date. With it (between sales across all platforms and my free giveaways), I've moved well over 100,000 copies to readers. Within the first 45 days I was already hitting that 1500 copies per month mark and it went up from there. The keys for it taking off were:


  • Finding the right genre to target (men's adventure, action & adventure, and cyberpunk to start...but I constantly tweaked things)
  • Having a professional cover that put out the message I wanted and worked for the audience I was targeting (this is a problem for a lot of indy and self-pubbed books)
  • Making sure my product pages and my sales blurbs were killer. 
  • Finally, adjusting your keywords/tags to help target what potential readers are actually searching to buy, and not getting caught up in focusing on what I wanted them to be. Readers and what they perceive your work to be is more important than my own perception when it comes to building an audience. Once you've got that audience in place you can start messing with their perception, but you need to catch them before you do that.


Frank Fradella: If you do a big con well — like, say, Dragon*Con — the ROI on that is fantastic. It not only sells books (which is great), but it introduces some 50,000 to your brand, which makes sales easier later. And by "do well," I don't mean sitting on your ass behind a six-foot table waiting for sales to come to you. I mean hustling. Do panels, network, schedule signings, host events at the show, launch a book, do giveaways, offer con exclusives. It's a higher price point that most online options, but the benefits outlast the con by several orders of magnitude.

Van Allen Plexico: I've been doing 6-7 cons a year for the last 20 years, and for the last ten I've been doing tons of panels and events, including usually 16-18 panels every Dragon*Con. I have worked my socks off promoting those books during those panels and events and have built something of a name brand/recognition that way. But it's still confined within a fairly small customer base; the trick is to break out of that and hit the more mainstream audience that doesn't really do many cons, etc.

Percival Constantine: Making the first book in a series free, even if it's only temporary, and including links in the back of each book for reviews, email sign-ups, and the next book in the series. But the most successful thing has been to have a clean, organized website with a mailing list.

Susan Burdorf: I have a book out in which I have two short stories - the publisher periodically posts the book with deals she promotes and she will often brag about its Amazon ranking to encourage a look see. Many of the authors I know have joined up to put a first book in a series of books into a boxed set and they have had great success with that because once folks read one book they feel the need to collect the rest of the books.

Mandi M. Lynch: Hard to say. But I have had best luck with Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. I think it was due to the support we got from the editors.

What marketing strategy taught you the most about what not to do and what did you learn?

J.H. Glaze: Paid advertising on blogs did not result in increased sales. No matter how many subscribers a blog has you are going to be seen by a very limited audience. The blogs with wide distribution sell ads through 3rd party vendors, but still, advertising is not a very cost effective way to get book sales in any medium.

Blog reviews get much better results and can often be obtained for the price of a free book, however most bloggers who do reviews have roomfuls of books they have received for reviewing. If somehow they find the time to review you, and especially if you get a good review from them, be sure to package a portion of your soul and mail it to them to show your gratitude.

John Hartness: Buying an expensive booth at huge conventions. I did New York Comicon in 2013, and I did the show fairly cheaply, couch-surfing at a friend’s house and splitting the cost of the booth three ways. Total expenses – around $1000-1,1000 counting meals, airfare, booth rental, cabs, subway fares and booth furnishings. Total revenue - $950. This doesn’t count the cost of the books, which was probably another $500.

Dragon Con – I spent $350 on a piece of a booth with 13 other authors, sold $1,100 or so, and still ended up spending $2,000 on hotel, food, gas, parking (!) and memberships. Books cost me about $700, because I didn’t sell everything I brought.

Long answer made short – I hand-sell books as well as anyone in the business, and if a convention will cost me more than $500 to attend, I know I will not, under any circumstances, turn a profit at that convention. So I do fewer conventions now, and I tend to only do the ones where I can stay at home, or the ones where I get a free table to sell my wares.

Iscah: Head knowledge and plans don't get you very far without action. I had some lovely marketing ideas that might have been very effective if I had done half of them. But on to something I did sort of well, which was offline selling...

To give you a tip for direct sales, "Smile and engage but keep it short". I'm an introvert who prefers to avoid crowds, so I sort have to put on a sales persona to make it through events. I'm not saying you should be fake, but be the friendliest version of yourself you can be. And try not to ramble. Once introverts get going, we like to have in depth conversations, which is great for building friendships, but lousy for crowded events. Let people who want to leave, leave, so there room for someone else to walk up.

Mat Nastos: Biggest lesson is to know what and how to promote to my various channels. To know that promoting a freebie sale to my social channels is not smart. Each channel you've got - web, social networks, email list, etc - has its own requirements and needs in terms of what/how you sell. Not knowing how to make use of those things will cost you sales. It's sort of like people on Twitter who retweet when someone does a #FF with their name...makes no sense -- you're asking people who already follow you to follow you...Same principal with marketing.

I spent the first month or so marketing the wrong message to the wrong channel.

The other thing I learned was the effectiveness of a proper roll out for my promotions. Learning how to do a build up before a promotion and then what to do to maintain traction once a promotion was over. Making sure I didn't shoot my wad by marketing everything all at once. You can waste a lot of time and resources that way, and miss out on sales.

Frank Fradella: Cyber Age Adventures — the online magazine I founded in 1999 that featured literate, thought-provoking prose stories in a shared superhero universe —taught me a lot about what not to do. While we put out an award-winning product, having a name that made no allusions whatsoever to our content was just plain stupid. And creating a product so groundbreaking that nobody even thought to look for it was the kiss of death. Even now, if you check Google for the number of people looking for "superhero magazines," you'll find that number dwarfed by the number of searches for "superhero novels." Which is why I now own the url superheronovel.com. Live and learn.

Van Allen Plexico: With LUCIAN, I made certain the ads referenced the similarities of Lucian to Loki from Thor/Avengers. I wrote the book in 2002-03 but am glad to take advantage of the fact that they are very similar characters in similar settings, to appeal to new Loki/Hiddleston fans. Apparently it worked.

Perry Constantine: This wasn't so much something I learned from a specific strategy, but more what I've learned from a combination of things. Have a purpose behind each promotion. If you want to get people hooked on a series, then don't start a free run before the second book is available. And when that second book is available, you'd better have a preview and a buy link of that second book at the end of the first. If your goal is to get reviews, make sure you include a note at the end of that book politely asking for reviews and providing a link where those reviews can be posted. Make sure your covers are branded appropriately so that they can be identified as being part of the same series. That can mean using the same cover artist for each book, making sure each book has the same style of cover, or even having a unifying series logo. And also, maintain productivity. Today's readers are really in love with series, but what they love even more is an active series. If they see a series being promoted with book one and book two and book two came out three years ago, they might be a bit more adverse to trying that series given that it appears dormant.

Susan Burdorf: Marketing strategies are so reliant on the author themselves and their fan base that it is hard to really suggest any one thing and point to it as a success or failure. I do know that Boxed Sets are the "thing" right now according to Mark Coker of Smashwords. But once that fad stops being popular I am sure someone else will come up with something else equally as successful. I think that some of the things that indie authors like to do as far as trying to work the numbers is to be part of someone else's book release as a guest author where they get to promote their book, play a game or two in the hour or half hour they are allowed to be spotlighted, and offer amazon or other gift cards to participants. That seems to work really well.

Mandi M. Lynch: Just dumping flyers on a flyer table does not work. Engaging people helps for a relationship and people show interest because of that.

Just how effective can a cheap or low-investment be in the long run? What kind of return on investment can one expect using cheap or free promotion services on the Web?

J.H. Glaze: Most of the cheap or free marketing services on the web have been overrun with self published authors. As a result, services which used to get great results for a low investment, have tripled their prices over the last 2 years and waiting lists are extremely long.

Here is an example: 18 months ago I could promote one of my horror novels through BookBub.com to about 600k people for about $45. Today, to reach the same number of folks costs $110 for a one day promo run, but here is the catch – that price is only if you are promoting a book that is on sale from full price to a free giveaway for a limited time. The price goes up it you have only discounted the book. Here is the link to their rate sheet: https://www.bookbub.com/partners/pricing
Here are some things to remember when doing paid promos:


  • If you only have 1 book available, the only reason to do a paid promo for a free book is to try to get reviews. !0,000 downloads will result in 2 reviews if you are lucky.
  • If you have a series of two or more books, giving book 2 in the series as a free download will result in a boost in sales of book 1. I believe it is because people don’t like to start with book 2. I have had that proven time and again. If you give away book 1, sales of book 2 are minimal at best.
  • It takes money to make money, but you don’t want to throw your money away. Before you use a service, post in a forum and ask if anyone has used it before, and what kind of results to expect from it.
  • Sales results from promos can be genre specific. I am a horror author. Romance authors can expect to pay a lot more for their promo, because a larger percentage of the market tend to read romance.
  • Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing. If you can get people to read it, review it, comment on it on pages, and tell their friends about it you are good to go. The only way to do this is to write awesome fucking books!


John Hartness: Marketing yourself can be cheap and effective, but there is no magic bullet. There’s no “do this and you’ll sell a ton of books.” Most bestsellers have no idea what they did to catch lightning in the bottle. If editors knew which books would be huge hits, they’d only buy the books that would be huge hits. It’s all a gamble. But by using the cheap and free self-promotion tools like MailChimp, Wordpress, Twitter, Facebook and others, you can create an impact and get enough eyeballs on your work to make a difference.

Iscah: That's tricky. Some of my highest investment attempts this year yielded the fewest results, while one event that cost me only a bit of time and gasoline yielded my highest sales for a weekend. Budget is something to keep in mind, but targeting is more important. Know (or get to know) your audience, and make it as easy as possible for the potential buyer to get to where they can purchase your book.

Mat Nastos: Biggest lesson is to know what and how to promote to my various channels. To know that promoting a freebie sale to my social channels is not smart. Each channel you've got - web, social networks, email list, etc - has its own requirements and needs in terms of what/how you sell. Not knowing how to make use of those things will cost you sales. It's sort of like people on Twitter who retweet when someone does a #FF with their name...makes no sense -- you're asking people who already follow you to follow you...Same principal with marketing.

I spent the first month or so marketing the wrong message to the wrong channel.

The other thing I learned was the effectiveness of a proper roll out for my promotions. Learning how to do a build up before a promotion and then what to do to maintain traction once a promotion was over. Making sure I didn't shoot my wad by marketing everything all at once. You can waste a lot of time and resources that way, and miss out on sales.I like promotion like I like my women: cheap and easy. Free is even better. Everything I've done in terms of marketing (from way back in my days doing affiliate marketing until now) has focused on that free or cheap side of the scale. There are enough spots on the web, if planned out correctly, that you can make a pretty big impact using them. It's all about planning, timing, and implementation. Knowing when and how to roll out that free/cheap promotion is the biggest key to success.

The effectiveness comes down to planning. Set your goal and then put your plan together to meet that goal.

Frank Fradella: Check your watch and mark the date, because the advice you'll receive on this point will alter drastically from one year to the next. Right now? A good strategy (if you have a back catalogue of books in a single series) is to give away the first book as an ebook to drive sales to the rest of the series. But before you talk about how much money to spend (or not spend) on marketing, you absolutely must be able to identify your target market with pinpoint accuracy. You need to know their age, their gender, their average income, their spending habits... everything. If you can do that, you can get your product in front of them much more effectively.

Van Allen Plexico: A $19 Twitter ad got me 800 downloads of LUCIAN and 800 downloads of Sentinels: When Strikes the Warlord in a single day each.

Perry Constantine: It can be very effective, provided it's targeted at the right audience. And to veer slightly off the point of the question, this is why every writer needs an email list. It's the cheapest, most-effective marketing tool. Even when compared to more costly services it's still the most-effective tool in the long run. BookBub may get you several thousand downloads on a free book, but if you don't have an email list, you've basically put the cash you spent into a big pile and set fire to it. Those readers are not going to remember your name.

And yet, so many writers I know do not have an email list. Why? It's so simple to set up and most services allow you to start free (ReachMail is free for up to 5000 subscribers, MailChimp is free up to I believe 2500).

Beyond that, you need a web presence—and no, that does not mean Facebook and Twitter. You need a dedicated website, and no, that does not mean a yourname.wordpress.com or yourname.blogspot.com site. It means yourname.com. And yes, this costs money, but if you want to be serious about making a living as a writer, then you need to treat it like a business and not a hobby. And businesses require investment. And it's not like this is a massive expense. I have a site with Bluehost that costs me $140 for three years, plus $15 a year for a domain name. That's about $5 a month for a website. If you can't spare $5 a month, then you're clearly not taking this thing seriously. Get a website and if it's a Wordpress site, then install a free plugin called MyBookTable so you can list all your titles in your catalog easily.

A website and a mailing list are the two cheapest investments an indie author can make, and they are the two that will serve you best in the long run. Especially with rumors that Facebook is going to require all ads be paid in the future. So the days of posting links to your books in five dozen Facebook groups are not going to last (and if we're being honest, it was always the least effective marketing you could do). Invest in a website and get a mailing list.

Susan Burdorf: I think it depends on what your goal is. If you go cheap that does not mean you cannot make it classy. At book fairs or signings a lot of authors are just trying to collect emails with which they can create a fan base they can then send information on book releases, cover reveals, next book signings, etc and that is good. Some offer "gifts" to reward their fans (Paperwhites, Kindles, Nooks, large Amazon cards). You just have to make it fun for the folks. To encourage people to come to my tables at book signings I will offer a free "gift" which is usually something I hand make (I quilt, make jewelry, etc so for me I can do something that costs me almost nothing because I already have the supplies at home).

In conclusion my advice is this: whatever marketing strategy you employ just make sure it will not cause you to go bankrupt either financially or emotionally. And ALWAYS treat your readers and fans with respect. Even if they do not treat you the same way.

Mandi M. Lynch: It depends on the investment. A blog guest post with links is free and will hang around forever. $10 worth of cheap black and white flyers generates a lot of trash.