Interview with C.N. Crawford on indie marketing

I was recently interviewed by author C.N. Crawford on her blog. We talked about marketing, indie publishing, and Harry Potter.

I’ll be interviewing fellow authors soon; hoping to do one a week.

Fair and Honest Marketing Strategies for Indie Authors

Last updated March, 2015

I first posted this in Goodreads (twice actually, expanding it the second time). Some of it I posted on kboards too. All in all, I spent way too much time on it, so I might as well post it here–revised and updated–to benefit some of my author friends, especially those starting out.

To begin with, I firmly believe that in the world of self-publishing, we are each other’s mentors, and paying it forward is how we give back. The knowledge below, besides being earned through trial and error and sweat and tears, was also gathered whilst standing on the shoulders of gentle giants (you know who you are).

Book promotion is a tricky thing, and not all of book promotion is actually promoting. You need a strong foundation.

– First, the pillars of a strong release:

  1. A killer book. Goes without saying, right? Superbly edited, superbly written. The kind you can’t put down after starting. The kind strangers say they can’t put down. Exposition, passive voice, character depth, all that is well and truly behind you. If it isn’t, don’t read on. Fix this first. Without it, the rest is a complete waste of your time, and your time as a writer is precious. Your book is the foundation for your career. Start it right.
  2. A killer cover. People judge books by the cover. Thy just do and always will. Make sure it screams your genre. Make sure it’s professional and can compete with the big dogs. Make sure it has your target audience exactly in mind. A killer cover that misses its target audience usually fails. Best thing to test this is post it publicly without hinting genre, and ask who target audience is, age group, genre, etc.
  3. A killer blurb. This one is tough. My advice is to throw it up on a forum for public critique. Keep weaning it down until it’s a sculpted beauty.
  4. An optimized, strong set of keywords. Read Evenstar’s forum post to start.
  5. A killer first line and first chapter. Has to have a hook. Has to draw you in. Has to be snappy. No exposition. No passive voice. Throw it up for public critique in the appropriate forum and see what people say. When you get a “wow”, you’re ready.
  6. Flawless editing.
  7. Flawless formatting.

Now on to some basic marketing. Too many authors end up spamming people and (rightly) getting everyone annoyed, not to mention putting self-published authors in a bad light. Hence this list–thought it might help a little. Here are the methods that have worked for some writers, including myself (though mind you I have not tried all of them yet):

– Stagger your promotions/ announcements Goal is to have at least one sale a day after launch. Mailing list mailout day 1. Facebook post a few days later. Then Twitter, etc.

– Bookbub ad (you have to apply to get in, and it can be pricey, but has been known to work–I just got my second rejection from them actually, and expect more.)

– Netgalley review services (very pricey, and it’s just to garner industry reviews, but it too has been known to work for certain authors). Note that review services tend to be harsher than natural reviews (as reported by other authors).

– Google Adwords You’ll need the help of a pro to set it up. Make sure whoever does it though, only uses keywords that have to do with people looking for exactly your type of book. Can’t stress that enough. And have multiple ADs and keywords competing against each other. Set 5 bucks a day or more if you can afford it for those two weeks. Hint: just because a keyword is giving you clicks, doesn’t mean it’s translating into sales. You have to find keywords that have a low CPC, high CTR, but also are the likeliest to actually translate into sales (for example, “buy latest YA paranormal” is a keyword phrase someone used when looking to actually purchase a book. You get the point). Turn off extended networks too. Only pay per click, not impressions. I started a forum post on the subject here that I update now and then.

-Facebook advertising Specify by country, target carefully, and make sure you set you google multiple sources. Study it like an exam you need to pass to graduate.

– Goodreads advertising I just started this with no results yet, but as soon as I figure it out, I’ll post on it. RESULTS: A massive fail. Pulled my money out. I do not recommend until they update their architecture.

– Advance Review Team Build buzz by sending advance review copies to fans (if applicable)..

– Blog interview tour If you have a lot to say, this works very well. Always better to get to know the blogs and people behind those blogs first.

– In-person events (book signings, forums, etc.)

– ACX Audiobook (pricey but has been known to give consistent returns)

– Post on your blog consistently (I still struggle with this one) and with quality content

– Do a Goodreads book giveaway

– Setup social media accounts. If you haven’t already, create a public facebook author page, start a Twitter account, start a Pinterest visual inspiration account for your book (mine looks like this, for example: http://www.pinterest.com/sbronny/ ), and especially, make an author profile both on Amazon and Goodreads (as opposed to a regular user account). There are a slew of other social networks. Use as many as you like, but try to have them synched so you don’t post on each one, but rather from one source that posts to all of them (use Hootsuite to do just that).

– Twitter: Use Hootsuite to load up on Tweets for the day ahead (only regarding your book). Try to keep it to 2 robo tweets a day, else you’ll get muted by your friends. And retweet your friend’s important tweets (the tweets that you know are important to them), and don’t forget to have fun and interact. I started this thread looking for other twitter hints.

– Rafflecopter promo (you have to be clever with these, but they’re amazing for getting author signups and stuff).

– For the love of all that is sacred, create a mailchimp account and put the shortlink at the end of your book. Mailchimp allows your readers to receive emails from your newsletter, so you can inform them of your next release. It’s SOOO simple. For example, mine looks like this: http://eepurl.com/HIxzX And also make sure to give impetus to join the list by offering them either a free book, or a discount on the next one, or something like that. This is critical to making it work.

UPDATE: And regarding the newsletter, author Wayne Stinnett chimed in to me with the following: “Without doubt, a strong mailing list–with highly interactive readers–can take a release and launch it straight into the top 3000 within 24 hours. By interactive, I mean readers who write back after every monthly newsletter. I usually get a hundred return emails and answer every one of them. Visibility is key and those on your mailing list are already waiting to buy the next book. If they all do so at about the same time, it could be a couple of hundred sales on launch day. I do a soft launch at $0.99 that lasts only 24 hours. This is my way of thanking my loyal readers; but truth be told, I want that high debut rank. Fallen Mangrove debuted at just above #17K and broke the #2000 barrier within 12 hours of release. And the only ones that knew about it were my mailing list.”

UPDATE: Many of the successful self-published authors use paid advertising and loss-leaders to chart. Once the book charts high enough, Amazon’s internal marketing engines help boost it even higher. Don’t be afraid to experiment and lose a couple bucks to see what works. Simply publishing a book and hoping for the best is a recipe for disappointment. Combine your paid advertising with blogging, a mailing list, and the many other marketing strategies posted in the forum, and you stand a much higher chance of success. And if I recall correctly, Amazon’s algorithm penalizes zero sale days by halving the next days’ sales’ impact against ranking. I know, I worded that terribly, sorry. Essentially, for every day you get zero sales, the algorithm penalizes you by making it twice as hard to chart the next day. So four days in a row of zero sales makes it like sixteen times as difficult to chart when you make a sale.

This is why marketing is so crucial, and what makes a release so damn nail-biting. The point is to avoid zero sale days like the plague. The more time you spend planning your marketing, the better chance you have of avoiding this. A lot of authors push for writing more books and less marketing, and that’s a very fair point too, so you have to make up your own mind as to what to do.

– Setup a Call to Action button on your facebook page. It’s the one beside the “like” button. Have it point to your Amazon page, or to your mailing list, or even website. Here’s what mine looks like.

Gather reviews. The going rate is for every 100 people that read your book, one will review it. You can pay for reviews, but from my observations, they tend to be harsher. Try approaching select reviewers on Amazon / Twitter / Goodreads / blogs and offering them a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, following these Dos and Don’ts guidelines.

– Have your own author webpage with all your social media links at the top (examine mine here at severbronny.com for an example – notice the social media buttons and how easy it is to connect?) People are fundamentally lazy, so make it as easy as possible for them to connect with you on their favored platform.

– Kindle KDP Select adverts (you get your choice of one of two different kinds of promotional tools per three month signup. These are the best possible promos you can do, from what I hear). One is the FREE version and one is the countdown.

– Print cool business cards or bookmarks advertizing your book and give them out like candy. (Wait till you see my bookmark! *Swells with pride*)

– Throw a release party in your house or a pub. Invite the public and all your friends. Make it a fun thing, not just about selling books. Make it about CONNECTING to people. Those connections are key. Take photos. Blog about it.

– Hone your craft. Assume you’re a terrible writer. Read as many how-to-write books as you can, from trusted sources. I can’t recommend Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story enough, for example, or Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, or even Renni Browne’s Self-editing for Fiction Writers. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Quality is paramount, especially for your first book. It is the foundation of your brand and empire–woe be to your career and soul for presenting a weak product. I’m not saying I’m any good as a writer (that’s for the public to decide), but I am saying I damn well did my best to be prepared!

– Whatever you do, DO NOT PAY FOR FACEBOOK LIKES (or twitter followers for that matter). There’s already plenty of evidence out there indicating the likes come from places like India or other click-farms, and they actually reduce your exposure to your true followers because those fake likes do not pay attention to your page post-liking it.

– If you’re self-publishing, make DAMN sure your formatting is spotless. Use Guido Henckel’s guide

– Have a physical copy available.
It makes your book and brand look professional, and also makes the digital ebook price look like a bargain. It’s not as hard as I thought to format the thing for print, though you’ll have to do a little bit of research on how to do it right. I used createspace.

– If you have large page counts, for the love of all that is holy, check the template restriction page count on your print-on-demand printhouse! Turns out, at 5 x 8 inch format, max page count with createspace is 700 pages. Luckily I caught this in time and shrank my font size to 10 for book 1, so that it can stay uniform with book 2, which is twice as large. I have my wife to thank for spotting that one actually.

– Run one last spell check on the final product POST FORMATTING. Formatting can bungle a few words here and there, so it’s critical you do one last run-through before publishing. And for the love of all that is good, order a physical copy proof!

– If you can do formatting, you can avoid the mass distributors too (Smashwords, Draft2Digital, etc). Why give away 10% of your hard-earned income to a middle-man? From what I’ve been hearing from fellow kboarders, it’s not too hard at all to upload to Kobo, Apple, etc. It’s not for everyone, but it’s closer to the DIY route. Then again, it takes a lot of time, so …

– FRONTMATTER Have your copyright, Library Archives (CIP data in Canada), ISBN etc sorted out at least two months ahead of publishing. Do the same with your cover and proof copy (that last one I’ve failed at–MISERABLY).

– BACKMATTERĀ Make sure there’s a call to action for that mailing list of yours. Give them a reason to sign up (free book, discount for next book, etc). I’m getting a 14% signup ratio versus sales for mine. I bought some of the bestselling author’s works and learned from their backmatter.

PUSH YOURSELF! My goal this year is to complete my series for 2015, and have at least four of the books published. That’s a substantial increase considering I’ve been working on them for three years without publishing a thing. And FYI: Goals only count as goals if there is a clear time frame and a clear outcome.

Respond to people! I learned this with my music, big time. When a reader sends you an email or a private message, it is CRITICAL for you to reply courteously. NEVER ANSWER REVIEWS. NEVER BE RUDE. From my experience, once you respond, you’ve increased the chances of winning them over for life by magnitudes.

– Don’t get too caught up with word count. This is a tough one, but I’ve discovered that writing for the joy of it is far more productive than trying to hit a daily word count (not to mention your output actually increases–just avoid looking at the actual total if you can). Find your joy and follow it. You make this all about performance and money and output, you’re going to be one miserable you-know-what. If you love what you do (which will be writing 75% of the time, barring release weeks), then it’s not a job at all, is it? It’s a passion.

Avoid browsing the internet while writing. Scientifically, your brain actually changes when surfing the net. Each link provides a small endorphin rush, and so you are rewarded for skipping around. This is not conducive to long bouts of steady concentration on one topic. This point requires discipline. And yes, I still battle with this one like an angry chihuahua.

– Read self-help books. Often the things that prevent us from succeeding have nothing to do with our craft or abilities. They’re subconscious self-defeating loops, or mannerisms passed down from our parents, or assumptions we made about ourselves, etc. This point is a lifetime study, but makes a huge difference. If it’s something you think you’re capable of, I highly recommend it. It’ll give you that edge over those incapable of bettering themselves. A transferable skill, so to speak.

BUT WHAT WORKS THE BEST?

Honestly, interacting with people works best, from my experience at least. Being interested in their lives and what they’re up to is key. You ever go to a party and there’s that one guy who just talks about himself? It gets tedious really quick. Communication is a two-way street, and the more you ask about the other person the better off you’ll be.

How do I know this? I used to have a music career, selling digital music all over the world. The fans that I interacted with honestly were the ones that were the most interested, and oddly enough, they were the ones that went out of their way to help me succeed. Some of them have now begun following my author career even.

Yes, it can be tiring sometimes, but people are actually interesting, if you take the time to listen to them. Too many authors (and especially musicians) make it about themselves, and it just gets in the way of their success.

Anyway, just my two cents. This list is by no means all-encompassing either. If you have a strategy that works, please feel comfortable to share :)

My results (post launch, first book):

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 10.03.27 PM_#1 HNR #1 US

2015_01_05_US_1687_rank_#1_#8_#9

Book 2 launch:
2015_02_27_Riven_rank_#3_#8_#10_1783
2015_02_21_Riven_hot_new_releases
My books:
Arcane (The Arinthian Line, Book 1) on Amazon
Riven (The Arinthian Line, Book 2) on Amazon

So what worked for you? Have any tips? :)

My review of WIRED FOR STORY, a book on how to hook readers from the first sentence.

Me holding a copy of Wire for Story I ordered online.

Me holding a copy of Wired for Story I ordered online.

All right, wow. There are four seminal books that have made major impacts on my writing, in the following order:

1. Self Editing for the Fiction Writer by Renni Browne and Dave King.
2. A Writer’s Guide to Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon.
3. On Writing by Stephen King.
4. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

But it is, without a shadow of a doubt, Wired for Story that takes the top spot now. Cron has artfully and articulately worded what I, as the writer, have been searching for: just how to write a good story. Not how to flower my language, not how to edit, not the mechanics of writing, but exactly how to consciously write a story that interests the reader.

Can I understate how important this book should be in a writer’s arsenal? *Expletive* NO! It’s written with a clear voice, a voice comfortably familiar with the art of the story. Cron’s experience in writing for film and TV shines through with her ability to efficiently get her points across without the muddle. Her use of neuropsychologists combined with select quotes from known word-brain surgeons like Hemingway buttress the foundation, but it is the upper floors of this structure that yield the greatest fruit.

What exactly makes a story interesting? Check. Exactly when to start one in the character’s life? Check. How to write a quick yet nuanced character biography while leaving out the unnecessary drivel? Check. Differentiate between the banal and the important in a scene; description overuse; narration and exposition errors; conflict and resolution misfires and solutions …

Check, check, and checkmate. And on and on it goes, until by the last page you feel like a cyborg perfectly outfitted for war.

My one minor gripe? A few too many grand questions (specifically, but not exclusive to, the end of the chapters summaries), that left me feeling overwhelmed. I prefer things I can answer, not questions that have infinite possibilities and leave my brain trying to find answers to them even though I’ve moved on already. It’s a pitfall I commonly find in How-to books though, one almost impossible to leave out. A side effect of these questions is one has the tendency to re-read the paragraph again and again in some vain hope one will understand the scope and significance of the question.

But what Cron does best is hammer across what is important. She shatters myth after myth (eg: A story is what the plot is about. WRONG. It’s about how the plot affects the characters!). She concisely explains what loses readers, but rewards you with how to capture them. This isn’t one of those books that only points out the flaws, leaving you groping for guidance like a child without a parent. It is satisfying and comprehensible, a panther of a read written by a master in her craft–and there are few storytelling masters that truly share their secrets in a way the layman can understand.

I wrote six detailed pages of notes. Six. I pre-empted the wear those notes are going to receive in my writer’s binder by applying those O-ring reinforcements to the holes in the paper, for I plan on studying those notes like an eager freshman in medical school.

My final thought? The writers who have read this book will have a superior advantage over those that have not. Period.

Wired for Story on Amazon

A note: I first posted this review on the book’s Goodreads page.

The horribly obsessive need to be perfect. How do you balance doing a good job and obsessing over your work?

How do you do it? How do you balance doing a good job and obsessing over your work?

It astounds me how much my need to be perfect holds me back. If I could only let go, give myself permission to be average, to make mistakes, I think a tremendous weight would lift.

If anyone’s reading this, do you have any tips?

Why It’s Important to Follow Your Dreams on a Daily Basis

“This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
— Quote from the movie Fight Club

I often scroll through an ocean of blog and article links looking for quality content, content I can grow by and use practically. Time is precious online, especially because we’re so easily distracted. All it takes is for one of those links to strike the right interest chord and there goes ten minutes of your time. Sometimes that interesting link leads to another, or to a video, and next thing you know, an hour has flashed by.

Scientists have discovered that we get a miniature heroin-like dose of joy from clicking links and reading articles. Infotainment is actually that addictive. And therein lies the crux, for amongst this sea of cerebral masturbation one must separate out what is valuable and what is useless. Working from home poses these challenges; we must discipline ourselves to skip those things that hamper our goals.

So what are your goals? Do you want to own a house, have kids, work in a certain career? Do you want to work from home, have a wife or husband, or travel the world? Do you want to make a certain amount of money a year? What is success to you? What do you want to spend time on?

The hours add up quickly. Our daily micro judgements on what we spend time on become valuable. The framework for making those judgements becomes valuable. At work, we are paid hourly for our time. Everything we own is on loan, paid for with time. We give it all back in the end; we can’t take anything past death. Time is the new currency.

Now apply that to following your dreams. Imagine your time is worth, say, $20 an hour. If you spent four hours surfing the internet looking at infotainment, you spend $80 of your time doing so. Now here’s the question: did you gain back $80 worth of knowledge from that surfing?

These are just ideas in productivity. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any fun — no, what I’m saying is we must be conscious of the daily micro decisions that add up the grandiosity that is our life (and learning to relax and enjoy ourselves is another skill beyond the scope of this blog post).

And that’s why it’s so critical to follow our dreams on a daily basis. Step by step, word by word, link by link, we build the lives we want. The lucky ones do it consciously; assert greater control over their micro decisions; choose progress over lethargy.

Imagine getting paid for doing things we love. Imagine finding love in what we already do. I believe that, if we are conscious of our daily micro decisions, these things just … happen, yet they happen slowly. Only when we pause and look back can we appreciate how far we have come.

Time is precious. What you are doing this moment is your life; who you are right now.

Procrastination — A Uniquely Tailored Enemy.

Procrastination is a failure of the watch, so to speak. It’s a uniquely tailored enemy that’s different for all of us. It attacks when it senses weakness and thrives on each subsequent indulgence. We crave it though, feeding the beast with distractions, excuses and entertainment. It’s a particular nuisance in the digital age, where the entirety of human understanding can be accessed at the click of a mouse; any person can be reached by a single text; any object (or food) ordered without leaving the house.

Writers are especially prone to procrastination, for we tend to spend many hours at home. I find how I start the day impacts my output greatly. If the first thing I do in the morning is check reddit, well, it sets the tone until nightfall. Thoughts tend to wander that much more; my eyes flick about searching for visual stimuli; my hands wring and grope for texture instead of remaining on the keys.

Everyone’s different, but here are a few things that work for some: try keeping your visual sight lines simple, the phone off or out of reach, noise reduced to nothing but the low hum of a computer (or nothing at all. Oh and do we still use words like “computer”?). Some writers even disconnect from the net and shut themselves in a dark dungeon of a room, with perhaps nothing adorning the walls except for a miserable floral embroidery.

You know what really works for me? I write in the bath. Yup, I actually sit in the bath and write, the laptop perched on a small table beside the tub like an electric vulture (insert electrocution joke here). You know what’s hard to do while writing in the bath? Get distracted. Silly, I know, but it works. Now I can’t stay in the bath too long (six hours is all right, isn’t it?), so inevitably I slither out like Voldemort in snake form to settle at the dining table.

When on dry land, however, sometimes I get up and pace. Invariably my eyes stumble upon all these pretty objects that somehow need attention right then. A little mental battle ensues (I think of it more like a paper joust). Usually the driven side of me wins and I return to writing, but other times I suddenly realize I’ve been playing sudoku for the last hour, an hour that can never reclaim its rightful productivity.

But procrastination is a clever adversary. You draw a blank while writing a particularly demanding scene and your mind uses that moment of hesitation to rudely butt in with its crack-dealer voice: “Hey, remember that thing you were supposed to do last week? You know, that thing. Why not do that now? Wouldn’t that be great? You deserve a break anyway.”

Those are the times we must be brave, friends, and plow through the insufferable whining of our needy selves. Yes, we are our own worst enemies. Just do it; just keep going. Sheer determination and discipline (some call it ambition) melts procrastination like a cheap plastic dummy subjected to the torments of a pyromaniac child.

And there are tricks I tell you! But don’t be fooled – our greatest strength, and still the greatest enemy of procrastination, is simple discipline. The “just do it” mentality. You can trick yourself only so far, but your determination / drive / diligence etc. is what will get you through, day in and day out, week after week and month after month — for the really big projects, the glorious ones, take a long, long time to conclude, especially if you’re interested in quality.

All right, let me share my tricks (the ones that actually work, mind you):

– Getting up and turning on the laptop first thing, prepping it for writing
– Making a liter of tea. After lunch, another one (two bags a day keeps me focused, I find)
– Eating a strong but light breakfast (mental note: stop skipping so many breakfasts)
– Drawing a bath (snicker all you like, it works!)
– Leaving all email / reddit / surfing / forum / marketing tasks for after the writing
– Rubbing my hands together in excitement. This trick is particularly effective for down times. I’ve used neurolinguistic programming (thanks, Tony), to map this gesture to adrenaline. It gets me going quickly and resets my thinking when my mind wanders.
– As a last resort, I read something that inspires me. Sometimes it’s a how-to book, sometimes a novel.

These tricks served me through three record albums and now three books. Maybe they might help you too :)

So, that said, do you have any tricks to share?