Marketing 101

marketing-101-graphic

Let me start off by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing.

No, really. It’s been a long journey, full of trial and error. Full of failure. All I really know is what’s worked for me, and what I’ve seen work for others. It’s advice that I’ve given to my circle of author friends that they’ve seen success with.

But let me also say this — you need to do what’s best for you. There is no right or wrong in this game. Go with your gut.

Okay?

Okay.

I’m going to speak in absolutes, so please throw an asterisk next to everything I say and take it for what it’s worth to you.

Covers

You know why people say not to judge a book by its cover? It’s because literally everyone does. Your cover is the strongest impression someone has of your book, making it the most direct way to draw them in.

One of the downsides to self-publishing is that you’re financially responsible for your cover. Of course, one of the upsides is that you have control over your cover. But at the end of the day you need to spend money on this. I know that’s not what you want to hear. I really do. I know you’ve got PicMonkey and are 100% sure you can swing it. You made your own cover once, after all, and your friends told you it was great.

Not to be an ass, but unless you’re an actual graphic designer with years of experience and/or a degree in design, this is probably not true.

Did I mention you look great today? I mean, I really love what you’re doing with your hair. It works for you.

So STEP ONE to a great cover is hire a graphic designer. There are hundreds of freelance designers out there who can help you. Here’s what to look for.

1) An online portfolio. Make sure their style matches what you’re looking for.

2) Cost should be under $1K for a cover (you should be able to find a great designer for under $500).

3) They should have extensive experience with book covers, not just design in general.

4) Look for testimonials. Get in touch with authors who have worked with the designer to get the inside scoop.

5) Check indie books whose covers you love (the designer is usually listed in the front matter).

IMPORTANT — be sure that you have your genre nailed down and that your cover matches the genre expectations. For instance, if you wrote a comedy (since this is my frame of reference), the cover shouldn’t look serious or heavy or dark.

DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS. It’s just as important as editing. These are your two biggest expenses. Without these two things being impeccable, you up your chances of failure by 500000%.

I know this because I have had covers that are 100% wrong and they damaged how my book was received.

Pricing

Pricing is one of the most controversial topics in Indie publishing. Some camps are vehemently opposed to pricing anything under 2.99, even in cases of running a sale. The other camps would gladly make their entire library free if it would gain them more readers.

Here’s where I stand.

First, let me say that I’ve talked to a lot of bloggers and readers, and those who are hardcore readers are mowing through 3-5 books per week.

This matters to you because 97% of those readers are on some sort of budget.

When a book is priced over 2.99, readers will pause. It’s not to say they won’t buy, especially if it’s an established author who the reader loves, but that’s the point in which the impulsive one-clicking diminishes drastically. After 3.99, it drops even more, because now you’re cutting into their budget in a way that could potentially cost them for one book where they could buy two.

Readers will generally opt for two books over one unless said single book is guaranteed to be good. Risk vs reward.

When I released With a Twist last year, I was advised to do a short 99c preorder. I did. It made a HUGE difference for that release, and I’ve done a short 99c preorder for every book after that. With my last book, I almost broke top 100 in preorders alone. The highest I went was #121.

It’s a jetpack on your release. When the book went live, it was delivered automatically to thousands of people. I was boosted into the upper echelons of Amazons rankings, which upped my visibility to an absolutely insane amount, which resulted in even more sales. Snowball effect, and all that.

I’ve also never priced a book over 2.99, and I don’t know that I ever will. That extra dollar isn’t worth the risk to my sales, and I consider it doing my readers a solid. I also hope (maybe in vain) that it cuts down on pirating. #wishfulthinking

Maybe you’re an author who broke out and thinks you can have a successful release at 3.99. Or 4.99. Maybe you released your last at that price and your book didn’t do so hot. In this uber-saturated market, you’ve got to stay ahead. That means potentially letting go of that measly buck, because the trade off is a) better rank, b) more exposure, c) more readers, d) more fans. More fans is good. More fans is the best thing you could possibly do for your brand.

But look, don’t get me wrong. Everyone has their reasons. For instance, the illustrious, hilariously talented Penny Reid generally releases at 4.99 and 5.99. But she’s Penny Freaking Reid. She’s got a wildly loyal fanbase, a backlist that looks like a treasure chest full of doubloons and chocolate (maybe even chocolate doubloons), and a consistent publishing schedule. She has an established brand and a marketing/business plan that would probably break your brain because she’s also brilliant. Penny Reid can pull it off.

You are probably not Penny Reid. If you are, then hey, friend. The Winston brothers make me tingle.

Timing

Okay, so this one’s super subjective, and there’s a ton of advice. Some people think there’s a better time of the month/week/year to publish. Some publish whenever.

My theory: when in doubt, WAIT.

Traditionally, almost no books publish in nov-jan. The reason? Most romance readers are women with families and aren’t on social media during the holiday season like they are for the rest of the year. Can you publish then? Sure. Will it be easier to rank? Definitely. Will you sell as many books? Therein lies the risk.

Some people like to release at the beginning of the month (especially those in KU) because then the reads will accumulate for a full month. But then you’re competing with Kindle First reads (a special program through Amazon of curated books available pre-release), as well as the traditionally published releases.

Some people like the middle of the month because it’s less crowded, with a higher chance of visibility (I fall into this category).

Some like the beginning of the week for the chance to hit a bestseller list (only an option if you aren’t exclusive to Amazon). Some like the end of the week to capitalize on the KU reads through the weekend, and to stay out of the way of the crush of releases early in the week (I’m in this category too)

Ultimately, you need to weigh it out and see where you fit based on your goals.

Another vein of the timing beast is regarding release.

So, you just got your cover from your designer. Your book releases in a month or two, but you can’t even stand it. Your cover is gorgeous. It’s brilliant. It’s the epitome of everything you’ve ever wanted for your sweet, sweet baby book.

You’re ready to share it. Like, right freaking now. What’s the harm, right?

Well — here’s the harm. Readers are going to be sick to death of it by the time it’s released.

Unless you have a fan base large enough to carry the buzz of a release for months on months (meaning, you’re an author who can sell hundreds of thousands of books in a single release), releasing your cover that far in advance could most definitely hurt you. It’s the number one thing that you’ll use to promote your book, and if you’re sharing it, the newness wears off within a couple of weeks. So I’d wait. It’s a marketing tool. Like the firing of a starting gun to start the race to your release.

Genre

Okay, so this one’s subjective too, but let’s dig in.

Most of you probably know that the smaller your genre, the better your chances at ranking. For instance, it’s much easier to rank in Sports Romance than Contemporary Romance. Less competition. My last book was about a sports agent, and there’s quite a bit of football in it, but I didn’t dare put it in Sports Romance, because that’s not really what it is.

Essentially, be honest about what your book is and make sure it’s on the shelf where it belongs.

Keywords

I’ll use comedy genre references, since that’s the genre I’m most familiar with. Let’s say you write a dark romance, but there are some light parts, a few great jokes, so you put HUMOR into your keywords. That’ll rank you in Romantic Comedy.

Or, let’s say I wrote a romance with a sex scene that involved bondage, so I put EROTIC in my keywords. Well, let’s also say that my book isn’t really erotica, which is defined as a story that’s centered around sex, I just have some graphic sex with a little BDSM. Recognize the differences in genre. It will help your book show up to the people who want it, because I guarantee you that if an erotica reader picks up a book that isn’t erotica, there’s a good chance they’ll leave you a less than favorable review. No one wants that. So make sure you’re using keywords that describe your entire work.

I know this because I’ve screwed it up, and to know that you shot yourself in the foot over something that could have been easily avoided will haunt you until you die.

*Helpful Tips*

Choose the best two categories for your book, then use the keywords to get you into other categories. Use the search feature on Amazon (in the Books or Kindle main categories) to test out your keywords and make sure you fit with the books that pull up.

Marketing

4-6 weeks before you release, you’re going to need to get a marketing plan together. Take a look at your calendar. Time out your cover reveal, when you’ll be sending ARCs, when your preorder will go live, and when your release is. Then, get in touch with a PR company.

I’ve used six different companies, and if you’re looking for someone to hold your hand in the most loving way, I’d recommend Give Me Books. They’re the most hands-on company I’ve worked with. They’ll find bloggers to share, to sign up for review copies, to participate in your release.

This is a crucial part of releasing a book.

It’s not overly expensive, but without it, you’re releasing a book into the void. It’s like sliding down a muddy hill with nothing to grab onto.

Maybe you have a decent following. Maybe you think you can do it on your own, collecting names and blogs who you’ve worked with before.

Thing is, that’s not necessarily the best way to do things.

When a blogger signs on with a PR company, there are checks and balances. Bloggers must post, or run the risk of being kicked off the company’s list. There is a third party to mediate for you, and that makes the bloggers less likely to bail on your release. Consider it quality assurance. Plus, they do all the annoying stuff like managing ARCs, putting together HTML and more for you so you can focus on your own promotion leading up to release.

Networking

Networking is a HUGE part of being an Indie author. Writing is already such a solitary task — thinking and feeling and becoming your characters and your story, only in your head, with no one to really share it with until it’s in a fit state to share.

But HOW do you network? That’s really the big question.

I started off by joining a few Facebook author groups that were genre specific. This is easy and free, and a great way to get to know people. But here’s some etiquette.

1) Don’t hop in and start promoting yourself.

2) Do interact on other threads. Get to know the other members by communicating there.

3) Don’t ask questions before searching the group for answers.

4) Be yourself. Unless yourself is mean, in which case be the opposite of yourself.

5) Don’t go on a friending spree and add everyone in the list to your group.

6) Don’t message other authors who you don’t have an actual friendship with to ask them to help you with promo.

Another great way to network is to sign up for book signings. Here’s the thing — they’re expensive. You will not make your money back. Consider it advertising and write it off. The advantages are not monetary. You will not see results overnight. It takes months and months. Go to all the author events that are held at signings and meet as many people as you can. These connections, if genuine, will ultimately help you, not only with your career, but in your heart and soul.

On that note…

Be genuine

Don’t try to be someone you’re not because you’re afraid. Put yourself out there and see what the universe boomerangs back to you. Watch other authors. Look up to them. Don’t emulate them. Look at what they do and find a way to make that your own.

Maybe you saw a teaser you died over, so you did one similar.

Throw it away. If you look up to that author and they see it, they will be hurt. You don’t want to hurt them.

Maybe you saw a post that really worked on their page, so you copy pasted the content and just changed it to be relevant to your work.

Delete it. We notice those things, and there’s nothing that will hurt your attempts to network like yoinking someone else’s ideas or hard work.

Be you. Be different. Don’t copy, even if it’s veiled or feels ‘different enough’. Come up with YOUR OWN ideas. Your fans will love you even more for it.

When in doubt, run it by the author just to make sure.

To reiterate — I have no idea what I’m doing

This is just stuff that’s worked for me, paths I’ve discovered that played a part in my success. These are questions I get all the time, so I wanted to pass on my brain nuggets, for whatever their worth, which is probably close to nothing. But if it helps any one of you, then I’ll be happy for that.

Wishing you all the luck out there.

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6 Comments

  1. Reply

    Beryl

    June 14, 2016

    Yes! I love this.

    And I love the voice that you use for your blog. I just finished reading Wasted Words and i felt like it had so much personality that I definitely had to stalk your website + author facebook.

  2. Reply

    Stephanie Scott

    June 22, 2016

    Can you share who your cover designer is? I am a ways off from indie publishing, but I love your covers and want to start building up a list!

    • Reply

      admin

      June 23, 2016

      I design my own (I was a graphic designer before becoming an author), but I refer a lot of people to Najla Qamber and Hang Le! They both usually have a waiting list, so get in as soon as you can!

      • Reply

        Stephanie Scott

        November 5, 2016

        Hi! This is month’s later, but thank you!

  3. Reply

    Tracey Alvarez

    October 18, 2016

    I’ve just been directed here from The Indie Tea newsletter. Thanks for this post, Staci – some really good advice! I have a question about the section about Amazon pre-orders. I’ve used them a couple of times without much success (but not as a ‘short’ pre-order, more like over 4-6 weeks) but I thought that pre-orders don’t count towards your ranking on release day? You talk about being boosted up into the Amazon rankings, is that because you had such a short pre-order time that your rankings were already high? And how soon after release day did you put your price up to your regular $2.99 (if that’s what the book was priced at)?
    Cheers,
    Tracey A.

    • Reply

      admin

      October 18, 2016

      Preorders don’t count toward release, but they’re a way for you to gain traction BEFORE release and capitalize on buzz. I change my price as soon as the book goes live in Amazon at midnight!

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