Sunday, January 16, 2011

Promoting Your Books - A Post for the Authors Out There

Bestselling authors could easily afford to do their own promotion. They don’t have to, of course. Their publishers are happy to do it for them, because they’re bestsellers. Charlaine Harris talks about how weird it was, when the Sookie Stackhouse books took off, to have her publishing house suddenly flying her around the country, putting her up in decent hotels and booking signings for her to do. Up until then she’d had to do it all herself, driving from bookstore to bookstore and begging to be allowed to set up a table and sign something.

The rest of usually can’t afford to spend a lot on promotion, and our publishers, both print and electronic, don’t spend much on it either. My publisher, Samhain, sends out advance copies for review, runs ads in journals, and promotes at conventions. But the principle responsibility for promoting my work falls on me.

I decided I’d spend money on promoting Yours, Mine and Howls, my first full length novel, but I would limit it to $500. If the book sells well enough in the first couple of months, I might spend a little more, but that’s in the future.

So where to spend the money?

First off, there are two things I decided I wouldn’t spend money on: bookmarks or book trailers. I know a lot of authors do bookmarks and other printed material, but I tend to assume that bookmarks get thrown away (at least, the ones I find in goody bags and that type of stuff do).

And though some would disagree, I think book trailers are mostly viewed by other authors. I’ve never decided to purchase a book based on a trailer, and I don’t know any readers who really pay attention to them. I did one for Kiss and Kin, and I had fun, but it was very time consuming.

So I decided to spend my very small budget on web site ads and in Romantic Times. I purchased a spot in a co-op ad with four or five other authors for the RT convention issue. I signed up with Coffee Time Romance for a year, where I’ll be doing chat sessions and having the cover of Yours, Mine and Howls featured on the blog. And I’m doing a small, rotating ad in March over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books; I’m also on the waiting list for a larger ad space. I may also purchase ad space at the Romance Studio.

And that’s it for paid advertising, for now. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to promote your book that don’t cost anything.

The most important method, in my opinion? Reviews. A lot of authors are afraid to send their work to reviewers – I’ve even had writers tell me “I want to stay under ___________’s radar – I don’t even want them reading my stuff because their reviews scare me.” I understand the feeling, but that’s a bad idea. Readers read reviews, and even negative reviews provide an author exposure to readers who might not otherwise hear of them. I’ve heard plenty of people say their sales spiked after getting reviewed on Smart Bitches or Dear Author – even negative reviews drive higher sales. So send your work to all the romance review sites you can find – you need the exposure.

You can’t ignore social networking as a form of advertising. Social networking can help you build readership because it allows readers get to know you as a person and as they do, they become interested in your work. I’d had a lot of people tell me they started reading one author or another after reading their blogs or Twitter streams.

You don’t necessarily need a Facebook site and a Twitter account and a Goodreads account and yadda yadda yadda. You don’t need to do all of them, but you need to do some. I don’t do Facebook – it just doesn’t grab me. I have a personal account under my real name and I very rarely check it. I did have a Facebook account under Kinsey Holley, but I started to see crossover between my real life friends and my author friends and it freaked me out – my romance career isn’t known to everyone and I want to keep it that way.

I’m very active on Twitter – I’m rather addicted to it, actually. And I have a Goodreads account. Goodreads, by the way, offers paid advertising campaigns. At present they won’t allow epubbed authors to participate in free book giveaways – that’s a promotional activity reserved for print authors. I’m hoping Goodreads changes the policy soon.

The main thing about social networking is, you have to do it correctly or you’ll end up alienating more people than you acquire readers. If all you tweet about is your books, and you don’t take the time to form relationships and have conversations with people, you’ll find yourself being unfollowed.

Same thing with Goodreads. I’ve heard of authors contacting total strangers on Goodreads to push their work – i.e., “I see from your bookshelf that you like to read paranormal romance. You might be interested in my new book, Hot Werewolf Lovin,’ available now from etc etc.” That’s a terrible, terrible way to promote yourself. It’s rude and intrusive, almost stalkerish. On Goodreads you can set up an author page, including a feed from your personal bog. The more you participate in Goodreads, the more visible you’ll be to potential readers.

I know some people think blogging frequently will attract readers – I’m not sure. I do know that if you have a blog, you must make it easy for visitors to find information about your work. If they have to hunt for it, they’ll get bored and go somewhere else.

Lots of people say that the most effective method of promotion is to build a backlist – your readership will grow book by book. That’s very good advice, if a little frustrating for slow writers like me. One of the benefits of a backlist is that you might get picked as a free read one month in the Kindle store. Some publishers won’t allow Amazon to do give aways of their books. That’s very shortsighted. Our own Meg Benjamin had a book in the free Kindle store a few months back and the sales of all her books skyrocketed.

I recently did something different to promote Yours, Mine and Howls. I don’t know yet how effective it will be.

The book’s hero, Cade MacDougall is a single father werewolf. As the book opens, he’s about to lose his fifth nanny in four years. Several allusions are made to the previous four nannies and why they didn’t last. So I decided to write short stories about each one – mini prequels, if you will, about the previous nannies. I posted them on my blog at roughly one month intervals starting in September. The last short story, about Nanny No. 4, Mrs. Lawrence, was posted January 10. I got some compliments on the stories – several people stopped by to read them and said they were looking forward to reading Yours Mine and Howls when it came out.

Then I went one step further. I put all the stories together in a clean manuscript and uploaded it to Smashwords and Scribd. It was free to do at both sites – Smashwords is picky about formatting, but if you’re familiar with Word it’s not a problem. So far the mini-book has been downloaded over two hundred times at Smashwords and read by about a hundred people at Scribd. I don’t know whether or how many people who read the Nanny Accounts will buy Yours Mine and Howls, but I know my work’s now been seen by a lot of people who wouldn’t have found it otherwise.

There’s one danger to doing the free reads like I did – I had to make sure that the nanny stories, which are lighter in tone than the book, stayed true to the way the characters are portrayed in the book. By the time people buy Yours Mine and Howls, if they’ve read the Nanny Accounts they’ll already have an image of Cade and Michael and Becca’s characters. And, of course, if people didn’t like the Nanny Accounts, they won’t want to buy the book. But that’s a risk I thought worth taking.

Promotion is not something I enjoy doing; maybe it’s because I’m southern, but it feels pushy to talk about my work or encourage people to buy my books. I’ve never worked in sales because I don’t like forcing myself on people, and that’s what it feels like I’m doing when I promote my writing. But I’m not doing this as a hobby, and if I want to sell books I have to get them in front of potential readers. We’ll see next month if my ideas work or not.


Cara Bristol said...

Loved this post. What a neat idea to do the Nanny Accounts for Yours, Mine and Howls. Very creative.

One thing I've learned about promotion, which I think you've alluded to, is that an author has to focus. There are so many opportunities out there; you have to find the ones that are right for you and focus. You can't do it all; the shotgun approach doesn't work and you'll only run yourself ragged.

The thing about social networking is it's SOCIAL. I think too many people put the emphasis on the networking, and not the social part.

Skylar Kade said...

Thanks for the awesome reminders about promo spots, especially for someone ad-challenged like me. Hey, can I hire you for my next book release? :P

Kinsey Holley said...

Skylar: I found out that Samhain will help you with ads. I'm going to get help for the SmartBitches revolving ad.

Cara: Exactly. They approach it as a commercial tool, and that's not the way to do it. We're not selling widgets. In a way, an author has to sell herself as well as her books, if that's not too touchy/feely a way to put it.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Good post Kinsey. I've got a blog coming next week at the Bradford Bunch with a look at the dark side of social networking. I'm getting so paranoid about doing promotion "wrong" I hestitate to do any!

Fiona said...

I enjoy guest blogging because it lets me yak about things I've been thinking about, and sometimes gets readers or other authors to leave me comments. That really feels know that someone thought about what you said and wanted to say something back! Like I'm doing right now. But you can get so busy promoting you don't have time to write! Need more hours in the day...must talk to someone about that someday, right? ;-D