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Monday, June 29, 2015

Promo Tips and Tricks

Authors and freelancers, this post is for you. Do you have a plan for promotion? More importantly, do you have a budget? What's your strategy for getting on people's radar?

There's no magic formula for knowing what to spend, but there are guidelines to keep from sinking in quicksand. 

This is what I keep in my budgeting arsenal.

Have clear goals on what you need and what you can afford.
I can't stress this enough. If you need an editor, get some quotes. If you need an artist, know what you're getting for the money. If you buy advertising, swag, or promotional events, create a budget ahead of time so you know not to go over your limit.

It's very easy to overspend when opportunities come up for little chunks of money. A blog tour might cost you $50. An ad on a prominent web site might cost you $100. An ad here, a postcard there, and a conference or two down the road can add up to big bucks before the year is over.

A pre-arranged blog tour can take a lot of stress off you, but you can also do it yourself if you're willing to put in the time to contact potential reviewers and blogs to host you. The same goes for doing your own formatting, editing, or cover. These last three require some level of expertise so if you know it's not your strong suit, budget for that expense.

Jot down the things you'd like to do for your upcoming book. Get some quotes on what each of these prospects will cost, then whittle it down to those things you can do yourself and those you'll have to hire out.

Make a deal.
Many times I've given authors discounts when they hire me for several design jobs at once. It's much easier for me to create a postcard, bookmark, and cover all at once than piecemeal. For one thing, I'll be working with most of the same elements in the same resolution and color profile. I can also design with these various venues in mind so the whole project looks like one cohesive unit.

Even if the artist or editor doesn't offer discounts publicly, it never hurts to ask.

Invest, but save for the future.
On the very first book (and sometimes the second or third), you have no choice but to invest in its promotion to get that book on the radar. Pace yourself. You don't have to be everywhere at once or buy into every promotion. 

No matter where you invest, look into your rate of return. For blog tours, choose blogs that have a big readership, or at the least a lot of comment traffic. If you buy an ad in a magazine, ask for their subscriber numbers. Does it have a big enough audience (for your type of book) and for the money they're asking? If you go to a book conference, can you sit in on panels, get  a book signing, or run a discounted ad in their program?

Time is money too.
This is a biggie. If it takes you weeks to figure out where the best blogs are for hosting your blog tour, you might be better off hiring a company to set it up for you. Those weeks you spent trying to come up with a great cover, or the migraine you earned trying to format your book could be better spent writing. 

You can't get your time back, so spend your time as wisely as your money.

Be a copycat. 
I often follow successful authors on their blog tours as a silent witness. Some of the good ones will keep a list of their appearances. I make a note of where they appeared, what they talked about, what kind of response they got, and whether I thought they were interesting. 

The ones I found most interesting often talked about themselves. As a reader, it made me feel more connected with the author. It made him/her more human, more approachable. A relatable author leaves me with a good feeling. By extension, his book also leaves a good impression, all without forcing the sale.

My favorite no-cost marketing tip. 
For me, the best thing I ever did to get on people's radar is to interact. It's time consuming, but it is free. Comment. Reply to tweets and Facebook posts. Then repeat. In time, people will recognize your name on blogs, forums, and social media. People love an interesting person. Learn to be that person.

Back to you. Do you budget for your marketing? Do you value your time as much as your money?

What's been your favorite promotional tool so far?


Anne Gallagher said...

I've never used a budget for marketing because I don't have one. I've been blogging for years and I guess people know me from being around, and commenting. I'm on Twitter. Those are my two main social media networks.

When I started publishing the first books in my series, Amazon helped out a lot with their algorthyms. Now, not so much. But by and by, I just kept plugging along, publishing book after book.

I have a great cover designer and we barter services -- I trade critique advice for cover art. I learned formatting the hard way --trial and error. Those two things (IMHO) are the two things you really need to spend money on.

I've never done a blog tour. I've never done an ad. I've never hired a PR firm. I don't have a newsletter.

My firm belief to get the best traction from selling books, is to have a couple of good reviews on the first book, and then write the next one. A few more reviews from different readers...rinse and repeat.

The way I look at it, Twitter spam, ads, and constantly promoting a book doesn't do anything to sell your books. Writing something fantastic, having a good cover, and good formatting, and good metadata will do the trick. And this formula might never make you a bestseller, but it will get you sales.

The best promotion and marketing trick is still word of mouth.

How's your hand?

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Great tips! I think having clear goals is very important, and that copycat strategy is brilliant. My favorite, though, is the interacting on blogs, commenting, etc. - it's something I already do, something I enjoy. :)

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

[the man whines] 'I just want to write.'

Maria Zannini said...

Anne: Word of mouth is the only sure path to success. But how does one achieve it? That's the $64,000 question. If authors knew the secret to that we'd all be rich. :)

Word of mouth is organic and dynamic, and sometimes volatile. An author can fall from grace as easily as succeed through the same momentum--especially today with the new "bully" mentality of social media.

Re: hand
It's better. I think I can go back to yoga next month. Thanks for asking!

Maria Zannini said...

Madeleine: A new author's biggest mistake is not making some sort career plan. If you borrow money to start a business, the bank demands to see a business plan. Why wouldn't you do that as a publisher? Publishing is a business too.

Maria Zannini said...

Mac: Sadly, those days are gone. More's the pity.

Anne Gallagher said...

Re: word of mouth bullying. Yes, I agree. Word of Mouth is still the great way to succeed, but it's a hard road to follow.

betty said...

I'm not an author so I don't have anything to promote, but did find your tips useful, Maria, for those that are trying to promote their books.


Mike Keyton said...

I'm learning - as you well know : )I've discovered Booklist and Underground Review as a source of reviews, but they're not guaranteed. I use Facebook and blogging but try to avoid the 'in your face'. It suffices that people know my book's out there. And if I do 'nudge' it's done, I hope, with good humour, and the occasional photo-shopped pictures of incongruous people reading my book. Anything beyond that I suspect is counter-productive. The whole process reminds me of learning how to swing solo without anyone pushing you. A little known chidlhood skill. Some people could soar from their own volition. Others went backwards and forwards in small jerky movements.
And great news that your hand is healing, Maria. I think you had a lucky escape.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I haven't paid for a blog tour but I'm really tempted with my next book. I have so many things going on this summer. I agree that interacting is the best way to do it yourself.
Susan Says

Angela Brown said...

Having a budget can be very helpful. It's interesting the way those small amounts for ads or being part of a mass cross promotion can add up.

I'm not sure what to do but I'm here still, haven't keeled over on the side of the road.

With word of mouth being organic, getting tha WOM to work in my favor has been a... task, to say he leas.

Sandra Almazan said...

I did a blog tour for Twinned Universes and found it a total waste of time and money. I had the same group of commenters at each stop, all of them only interested in the Amazon GC I had to give away as part of the blog tour.

I've also done ads on Book Gorilla, The Fussy Librarian, and other places, but they almost never result in a positive ROI. They are useful for visibility and a quick boost in the ranks, though, and I think they could be part of a long-term strategy if my books had more reviews.

With Scattered Seasons, I did a few ads on release day, but they had little impact. I seem to do better by giving away review copies on Library Thing and Goodreads. At least that does help with reviews and reader interaction. I also plan to put out a permafree story collection in that series later this year.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Great tips!!

I can't tell you what worked but I can't tell you what didn't. LOL!!

I have a list of things I did with each book and how much money I spent. My last book I did no blog tour and very little blogging about it at all and it was my most successful in sales and being in the top 100 series list for months. Go figure.

Maria Zannini said...

Betty: These tips are useful to any freelance career, like your husband's guitar lessons.

While he wouldn't use blog tours since he's looking for more local clientele he can use social media and by extension, word of mouth.

There are gems for finding our audience everywhere.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: I think it's important to remember too that there's no size fits all. I could never get Twitter to work for me, yet I know others who make it look easy and earn lots of exposure through it.

Try it all if you can, but use only what works for you.

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: Any time you can hire out to give you back your time is a plus, as long as it can be weighed for cost vs time savings.

I used to be very keen on doing it all myself, but now I give myself permission to pay others for things I'd rather not do.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: Judging by what I've read on the grapevine, when people gripe about investment, it's usually because the cost is more than they anticipated.

If you can start out with a price point at the beginning of the year, we're more likely to be judicious with how we spend our money.

I could spend it all on a conference--if I felt that conference could net me more exposure than a blog tour. It's all about weighing our options.

Maria Zannini said...

Sandra: I hear you on blog tours. This is why stopped doing them long ago. I had some great stops with a lot of interaction, but I realized midway that I wasn't achieving maximum penetration into the market. In other words, I was still reaching primarily other writers.

Blog tours are good for new authors. Everyone has to start somewhere, but once your feet are wet, we have to break out of our comfort zone and go where readers might be apathetic or even hostile. You never know how people will react to an author when he's a complete stranger.

Maria Zannini said...

Re: My last book I did no blog tour and very little blogging about it at all and it was my most successful in sales...

That's what's so frustrating. Why does one book go viral and the other languishes? Why do people clamor for 50 Shades but won't touch a better written book with real heart?

If I were you, I'd try to analyze the things you did with your last book to see if there wasn't something you did even slightly different. It could be something as simple as keywords in a book catalog.

Speaking of keywords, I think authors don't use good keywords near enough. I know when I look for a new book, I use keywords to find the things that are important to me. If you don't choose the right ones, it's almost like being invisible.

B.E. Sanderson said...

LOL, it must've been a day for talking marketing. I did a post about it at Outside the Box, too.

What I have is a total budget for the whole book - cover, editing, marketing. If I end up spending less on the cover or the editing, I have more for marketing - but I'm trying not to be stingy. (Hard for my miserly heart, but I'm trying.) I'm still keeping the marketing on a shoestring, though, until I know what works. Ereader News Today worked pretty well for me the first time around, and I have another ad coming out there this weekend, so we'll see how it works for the second book. Otherwise, I paid for some ads that didn't work so well, and I got some free advertising that made me some nice sales. It's all a learning curve for me this year. Sales aren't breaking any records, but from what I've heard about others' first year sales, I'm not complaining.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

To me the best value for marketing dollars is a paid blog tour with a reputable company that has contributors to give honest thoughtful reviews. These can then be mined for blurbs to go on the Amazon page, and most of the bloggers will post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Many of the WiDo authors have used Women on Writing. I tried to do a couple blog tours on my own and when I decided to use WOW with my last novel, I realized the difference between and amateur (me) and a professional (them). It was well worth the money.

Jenny Schwartz said...

Good tips, Maria.

I have no idea why some books take off and others don't -- but I wish mine would!

I've been paying attention lately to self-published books and how their authors promote them.

There's definitely no reason to spend money on advertising -- except that it seems that most of the successful books have that backing. Hmm.

My suspicion is that narrowing in on our particular audiences, finding ways that reach them, tagging our books with the right keywords, engaging blurbs, etc helps most of all. And one of the biggest signals, one of the big promises to readers, is the book's cover.

I've concluded that we do the best we can, constantly learning, and either we'll break out or we'll give up and find something else to do ... in our next lives. Maybe I'll be a caterpillar. My all shades of green (with envy of successful authors) probably guarantees caterpillar-hood :)

Stacy McKitrick said...

I've always been lousy at budgeting. In everything. Doubt I'll change by now, although I probably should.

I value my time, especially when it comes to writing. I hate doing all things required to publish. Maybe if it was fun, but it's not. It's also why I would prefer to publish through a publisher. I just think I need an agent to get a better deal is all. Hopefully with the next book that will happen (fingers crossed).

Lynn Viehl said...

What's been your favorite promotional tool so far?

Writing and posting free e-books on the internet that related in some way to my print books definitely has been my favorite and most effective promotional tool. It allowed me to do what I love, didn't cost anything but my time and imagination, and gave the readers a decent test drive of my work.

When I started doing this very few authors gave away stories online except as part of campaigns for writer org awards, so readers were particularly grateful. I found that if readers liked my free stuff, they would generally buy my books. Once you post enough free e-books you can build a nice virtual library that future readers can enjoy, too. Now that I'm ghost writing full time I also use my free library as samples for clients.

Maria Zannini said...

BE: The ironic part about marketing is that not only do some methods work for some but not others, it also might work in one instance (or book) and not another.

There's so much organic connectivity, a give and take that's more like a living organism. All we can do is plug and play and see what happens.

Maria Zannini said...

I've only ever used blog tours for exposure, not necessarily sales. For sales, I think reviews (that aren't all 5-star, and potentially bogus) as the second best tool to word-of-mouth.

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: Aside from the fact that I'm a cover designer, I can attest from my reader-brain that a bad cover will turn me off a potentially good book. I can't help it. I just assume that if the cover is amateurish, the writing must be too.

It's not fair to the author, but that's the impression it leaves me.

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: That's a VERY valid reason to choose a publisher. Not everyone needs to self publish.

If I were to start over I'd have no qualms of going with a publisher first--just to be assured even a small starter audience, let alone letting someone else do the grunge work.

Maria Zannini said...

Lynn: Using your free books as samples for clients is brilliant...but I'm sure your reputation as a world-class author is even more attractive to potential clients.

Gwen Gardner said...

I like the "Be a Copycat" advice. It makes a lot of sense. I've stepped back this year. I'm studying more of the craft and have slowed down to ensure my next book is better than anything I've written yet. Won't be publishing this year, but I feel like I'm doing the right thing.

Thanks for the tips, Maria :)

Maria Zannini said...

Gwen: Good for you! Before I sent my first work out I immersed myself in the craft for two years.

I felt like a fraud among all those other authors in my social circle, but they were kind to me and shared what they knew. Writing is so much more than actually writing. There's a lot of craft to be absorbed before you can truly write well.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I did a book blog tour with my first book, but haven't done any with my other books. I am planning to do one for the last book in my trilogy this fall because I think they work best with certain books - fiction novels. I don't know that they work with short releases (novelettes and short stories) or collections of short stories/poetry. I have paid for a few "tweet and facebook" sales services, but didn't really get much from those. I've tried to keep it simple and just interact with others - that seems to do the best job overall.

Maria Zannini said...

Tyrean: I wish I understood why some people do so well with Twitter and others can't get any notice. It's so bizarre.

I guess all we can do is try it all and see what works best.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

Blog tours are my fav budget tool. I write SF/F, so sci fi cons that are local are also a great way to meet people, even if I don't make a sale at the time. I tend to stick in people's minds.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: Appearing locally is a terrific tip! I have a friend who's done it with great success. What's advantageous for him is that his community has a lot of events where he can appear and his book is based in that town so he gets a lot of press.