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Marketing 101: Recommended Reading

Popular Author Marketing Books Reviewed

If you follow my blog through email, you’ll have noticed I’ve been posting reviews of marketing books over the last three months. This post is a brief summary of all those reviews (with links), along with my recommendation of the two books any savvy author should buy and read (and why):

Recommended Reading

How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

The best book I’ve found on the basics of marketing as applied to books, and includes dozens of useful web links. It can be read at any stage of the writing and publishing journey, but the earlier you read the book and apply the lessons, the better. Applicable for self-published and trade published authors. Click here to read my review.

Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

Explains the Amazon algorithms (the way the computer programmes select what goes on the best-seller list and what books are recommended to customers). Understandable and actionable. Best for self-published authors who are about to publish on Amazon, or those who are already self-published through Amazon. Small publishers will also benefit from reading this, as they too need to maximise their exposure on Amazon. Click here to read my review.

Suggested Reading

How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon by Theo Rogers

For those who are about to publish or who have published. My only complaint with this book is that I didn’t think to write it myself. A solid batch of Amazon reviews is seen as an essential part of the marketing plan, and this book will show you the best ways to get reviews. Click here to read my review.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

Some of the information is outdated (even though it was only published in 2011), but still provides an excellent introduction to why authors should consider self-publishing, and how. An introduction to Let’s Get Visible. Click here to read my review.

The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

Written by a literary agent, so useful for that perspective, and targeted towards the almost-published author. I found the most useful information was in the Kindle sample—the rest of the information is available free on her blog. Click here to read my review.

10 Keys to ebook Marketing Success by Karen Baney

Good, apart from the awkward spelling mistake on the first page (just before she starts talking about the importance of good editing and proofreading). She has some good tips on promoting and pricing a series, but despite having an MBA, she doesn’t seem to understand that there’s more to marketing than promotion (a mistake I see with a lot of self-published authors). Click here to read my review.

Is $.99 the New Free? by Steve Scott

Short and to the point. The information is good, but nothing new. Click here to read my review.

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Good information, but seemed to focus on non-fiction authors who already have at least a couple of books on sale. I see this as being of limited use for first-time fiction authors. Click here to read my review.

Not Recommended

The Book Publishers Toolkit

A series of essays from members of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Interesting enough, but the articles are fairly broad-brush and in some cases contradict each other. Only worth reading as a free download. Click here to read my review.

How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days by Austin Briggs

A step-by-step process to build a writers platform in the 90 days before your book launch. Unfortunately, the editing and reviewing processes are cramped into too short a timescale, which makes me question the whole concept. Click here to read my review.

How to Launch A Christian Best Seller Book by Lorilyn Roberts

Only useful if you are considering joining the John 3:16 Marketing Network, in which case it’s an essential read. Just be aware that the advice isn’t always good, and in some cases actually goes against the rules and guidelines of online communities such as Amazon and Goodreads. Click here to read my review.

Advanced Book Marketing by EJ Thornton

In fairness, I didn’t actually read this (which is why I haven’t written a full review). It was recommended in a blog post I read, so I downloaded the Kindle sample which was rather too self-congratulatory for my tastes. However, my major issue was that it was it was published in 2009, before the advent of Kindle Direct Publishing, which means any information about publishing is so outdated it is useless. The rise of social media will have rendered much of the information on marketing equally outdated. This was also the most expensive book I looked at. I’m happy to spend $3.99 or less and risk a dud, but not $9.99.

This is my final post in this current series on marketing, but I will be back later in the year with a series on building your platform.

In the meantime, what is your favourite marketing book? Why would you recommend I read it? And what books on marketing have you read that weren’t helpful? Why not? Would you like to review it for us?

 

Next week, I start looking at Plot. Sign up to follow my blog by email to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

Book Review: Your First 1000 Copies by David Grahl

I liked Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book because I liked Tim Grahl’s marketing ethic: creating lasting connections though a focus on being “relentlessly helpful” (a tactic which works, as I’m much more likely to buy a book from an author whose blog I follow. However, it’s possibly a tactic that’s going to work better for the non-fiction author than the novelist who might not have so much relentlessly helpful information to share with readers).

There was some good information here that I plan to implement, including a pop-up invitation to subscribe to my mailing list (with a useful incentive!). He emphasises the importance of creating content that can be reimagined (so can be used in multiple ways) and that stays current over time (which he refers to as ‘evergreen content’).

I also liked the way he referred readers back to his website in several instances, particularly where information changes regularly. This serves two purposes: it ensures the book doesn’t date as quickly, and it drives traffic to the website (where, presumably, visitors are invited to join his email list). Clever.

As with several other book marketing books I’ve read, Grahl focuses on the importance of developing a strong mailing list, and using that list properly. There is one fault: despite the title, Your First 1000 Copies is geared towards authors with one or more titles on sale already, not those releasing their first book and looking for their first 1000 sales. I also suspect the tactics will work better for non-fiction authors than for novelists.

Nevertheless, Your First 1000 Copies is still worth reading, as it offers some ideas I’ve not seen in the other marketing books I’ve read.

Marketing 101: Five Ways Not to Promote

I hope the last few posts have given you some ideas about how to determine and manage your author brand, how to ensure you have a quality product (book), and answered some questions about price, distribution and promotion.

Today’s post is taking a different slant. It’s focusing on mistakes I’ve seen newbie authors make (or ones I’ve heard about). It’s what not to do.

Don’t comment on reviews (better still, don’t read reviews)

Don’t comment on reviews on retailer sites (e.g. Amazon) or booklover sites (e.g. Goodreads). Ever.

Commenting on critical reviews can end in a flame war with the reviewer, and the author always comes off looking bad. Don’t comment about a critical review on the review, on your blog, on your website, on Twitter, on Facebook or on any other social network. And don’t allow your spouse, parent or child to comment either.

Commenting on positive reviews looks needy and stalkerish, even if it’s just a thank you. Think about it: are you going to thank every single reviewer? Even if you get more reviews than Karen Kingsbury? If you must thank the reviewer, see if they have an email address listed in their profile. If so, it’s perfectly acceptable to drop them a short email thanking them for their kind review.

If you truly think the review is inappropriate, then you can Report Abuse (on Amazon) or flag the review (on Goodreads) and say why the review is inappropriate according to the reviewing guidelines of that website. For example, on Amazon, reviews commenting on the price or the speed of delivery are inappropriate, so you can legitimately ask for them to be removed.

You can comment on a review on a blog, especially if your book has been reviewed as part of a blog tour, or after you’ve contacted the blog and requested a review. In this case, it’s polite to visit the blog, thank the blogger, and respond to comments. However, don’t challenge any aspect of the review, for the reasons outlined above.

Don’t vote on reviews

Some authors upvote positive reviews and downvote negative reviews (to hide them from the front page), or encourage their fans to vote like this through social media venues like Twitter or Facebook. Again, this behaviour looks needy and stalkerish and can have a huge backlash if you are found out (e.g. if someone screencaps your Tweets—and someone will). Besides, if the review is unfair, it will quickly drop out of sight. If it raises valid points, you don’t want to draw attention to it by voting one way or the other.

If someone has read your book, they have the right to express their opinion through a review (and if they got your book through a blogging programme, they are obliged to write a review, positive or not). The review is the subjective opinion of one person. Nothing more.

Don’t copy or quote from reviews

Reviews of your book are not yours. Reviews are copyright to the reviewer, who grants Amazon, Goodreads and other sites a royalty-free licence to publish that review. Copying whole reviews (or even just extracts from reviews) without written permission is a violation of copyright. (Copying an entire review, then rebutting it point-by-point on your website is violation of copyright and … words fail me. But I’ve seen it done.)

Don’t review your own books

Some authors review their own books under their own name. While that’s against the terms and conditions of almost every online site, it’s pretty obvious and readers will know to ignore it (but not before they’ve reported the review for abuse).

Don’t create fake accounts to review or rave about your books. If you do this on a website, you’ll probably get lucky and be let off with a warning from a moderator. If you are caught doing it on a site like Amazon, you run the risk of your account being deleted (meaning you won’t be able to buy, sell or review). All your fake reviews will also be deleted.

Don’t spam

Each website, forum and group defines spam differently. The general rule on social media is to mention your book no more than 20% of the time (even on your own Twitter account). In forums and groups, observe for a while, find out what the rules and expectations are for that particular forum, then follow them. If it’s ok to mention your book, then mention it where relevant. If it’s not … then don’t, because your post will be deleted, and you may be banned from the group.

Book Review: How to Launch a Christian Bestseller Book by Lorilyn Roberts

I read and reviewed the first edition of this book. Roberts has since updated the information and issued it as a new book (thus ‘washing’ all previous Amazon reviews, including mine), so I paid for, downloaded and read this updated edition. I applaud the idea of the John 3:16 Marketing Network. It’s a great idea: Christians joining together to support and promote books that share the gospel message.

However, first impressions are not good, as Roberts doesn’t appear to understand the difference between a biography and a memoir. That’s not necessarily relevant to marketing, but it does show a lack of understanding of genre (which is central to book marketing) and it does show a potentially disturbing lack of research. This lack of research became more and more apparent as I read.

How to Launch a Best-Selling Christian Book is less an instruction manual and more a compilation of blog posts encouraging Christian writers to join the John 3:16 Marketing Network managed by the author, Lorilyn Roberts. The writing style is open and conversational, but it’s not well structured, there is a lot of repetition, and much of the information is only relevant to members of the Network.

In addition, the title is potentially misleading as there’s no guarantee that following these principles will make your book a bestseller:

While there may have been a time I would have said the network alone could help authors to reach best-seller status on Amazon, I no longer believe that to be true.

Note that the Network’s focus is getting your book to the Top 10 of an Amazon sub-category (e.g. Christian Fiction – Historical – WWII), not the coveted Amazon Top 100 Paid list. And it’s here where the lack of research again begins to show. Roberts says the network “totally revamped” how they do launches in March 2013, after noticing their previous method wasn’t gaining the results it used to. That’s not a surprise—Amazon revamped their search algorithms in March 2012 and again in May 2012, and those changes (described in Let’s Get Visible) totally changed the Amazon landscape.

(It has to be added that the Network’s change in approach isn’t exactly working. Their December launch included seven authors, only one of whom made it to bestseller in their category. As a result, Lorilyn Roberts and the John 3:16 Marketing Network will not be hosting any more book launches, which calls this entire book into question. If she’s admitted the method isn’t working …). 

What, perhaps, is a surprise is how long it took Roberts and the Network to notice: a full year. In an industry changing as fast as online publishing, that’s the equivalent of a decade. It’s worth commenting that other advisors (e.g. David Gaughran) specifically advise against the “standard launch procedure of seeking to push your book as high as possible on the first day”, which is still pretty much the John 3:16 approach, as outlined in this book.

This isn’t the only time when her examples or methods are outdated. She mentions tags, which haven’t been used on Amazon in almost two years. She comments that only around ten of her 1600 Facebook followers see each post—perhaps because too many of them have reported her posts as spam? Because that’s certainly what clutters up her Twitter feed.

She gifted Kindle copies to newspaper editors without contacting them first—they probably either deleted the email or exchanged the gift for a book they actually wanted to read (which Amazon permits). She ran a Goodreads giveaway, then contacted everyone who didn’t win to invite them to download an audiobook from her website (where she added them to her mailing list). Some might see that as savvy marketing. Patrick, Director, Author Marketing at Goodreads, says:

Contacting all of the people who entered your giveaway is definitely not allowed, and should anybody get an unwanted message like that, they should flag it. I wish authors would stop recommending this, as it is not a best practice.

In other words, it’s spam.

In commenting on reviewing, she says “don’t write something that would hurt you if someone were to write it about your book” and  “in the John 3:16 Marketing Network we have some very specific rules about how to do book reviews. You will be provided that information when you join.”

This, to me, is a red light that says that reviews by members of the Network are not impartial, as they are effectively being asked only to write nice things about the Network books they review. Such ‘shill’ reviews are often identified and publicised in the Amazon discussion forums, and I’ve lurked in enough of those discussions to know the author never wins. And I don’t think it’s honest, unless there is some way of marking the books you’ve read and chosen not to review.

Roberts requires authors to have at least ten reviews with an average 4.2 star rating before beginning a launch through the Network, but gives insufficient advice on how authors should obtain those reviews. She also quotes my comments above (which were in my review of the earlier edition of this book) without attribution and without permission.

Again, this demonstrates a lack of knowledge or a lack of research. Although it’s a review of the book she wrote, Amazon, Goodreads and all other online retailers are clear that copyright in reviews is owned by the reviewer, not the author and not the website. The author of a book being reviewed has no right to copy or quote a reviewer without permission (note that copyright law does permit limited quotations in book reviews such as this one, under the principle of ‘fair use’. So while I can quote an author without permission in a review, they can’t legally quote my review without attribution and permission).

Personally, I think five-star reviews are actually of little promotional value without a ‘critical’ review, as savvy Amazon users are getting wise to shill and sock puppet reviews (not to mention those at ffiver.com from “reviewers” like Sohan Kowsar).

ffiver

Of course, that only applies to those who read and appreciate unbiased reviews. This author has her own way of dealing with reviews she doesn’t like:

I will admit, if someone writes a “not so nice review,” I will vote “no, this review is not helpful.” I would prefer to have less glamorous reviews that are fair ranked above those that are not, so I vote against those that are not useful as a deterrent to unfair reviewers.

Yes, you could argue that she’s only going to downvote ‘unfair’ reviews, not necessarily critical reviews. But she doesn’t make that clear, and I don’t plan on finding out. I’ll post this review on Goodreads (where users can only Like reviews, not downvote them), but not on Amazon.

Roberts requires that anyone interested in joining the John 3:16 Marketing Network buy and read How to Launch a Best-Selling Christian Book. If that’s something you’re interested in, go ahead. But please don’t expect it to be anything more than an introduction to a community of like-minded Christian authors. As marketing advice, it is lacking.

Review: The Book Publishers Toolkit by IBPA

This isn’t as much a book as a compilation of articles that were previously published in Independent, the monthly member magazine of the not-for-profit Independent Book Publishers Association. The Book Publishers Toolkit is very short, and took less than an hour to read.

The articles are:

  • Getting and Using Awards by Kate Bandos
  • Tapping Into Twitter Expertise by Kimberly A. Edwards
  • Let’s Hear It for the Long Tail by Joel Friedlander
  • Acquiring the Right Rights: Will Your Contract Keep Up with the Markets for Your Books? by Steve Gillen
  • A Librarian Talks About Choosing Books to Buy by Abigail Goben
  • Build a Powerful Platform with a Simple Brand Audit by Tanya Hall
  • Marketing Plans for First Books by Brian Jud
  • Why Authors Hate Social Networking, and How to Get Them to Promote Books Online Anyway by Stacey J. Miller
  • Growing Connections That Count by Kathleen Welton
  • E-book Conversions: Ten Pointers to Ensure Reader Enjoyment (and Minimize E-book Returns) by David Wogahn

Overall, the articles are pretty broad-brush, and probably don’t contain anything an astute small press or self-publisher hasn’t already have read before. Some are focused on authors who are self-publishing (e.g. the e-book conversion article), others are focused on traditional publishers (e.g. the article on rights, which has some interesting sample contract clauses).

I think the chapter order was wrong. I would have thought it more logical to start with the high level branding advice and then move into the specifics of, how to use Twitter or how to get libraries to buy your book (and it was slightly awkward when the advice from one expert contradicts another, as happened regarding the idea of donating books to the library).

One noticeable omission in the chapter on awards was a reference to Writer Beware, who maintains a list of awards and contests to watch out for (because they charge excessive fees and generally only have one entrant in each category. A contest in which everyone is a winner isn’t a contest that is going to help your marketing effort).

If it’s free on Kindle, it’s probably worth downloading just to see if there’s anything new for you. Otherwise, I’ve seen most of the other information before on industry and agent blogs (e.g. Smashwords, Passive Guy, Seth Godin, Author Marketing Experts or Joe Konrath).

Review: Is $.99 the New Free? by Steve Scott

As most authors know, making Kindle books available free through KDP Select no longer has the powerful marketing effect it did a year ago. In Is $.99 the New Free? The Truth About Launching and Pricing Your Kindle Books, Scott explores whether free still has a place in a marketing plan, or whether pricing books at 99 cents is a better strategy.

He starts by examining the four essential metrics he believes all authors should track (including sales and reviews), then discusses five pricing strategies:

#1 – Free Book Launch
#2 – $.99 Book Launch
#3 – Free Pulse
#4 – $.99 Pulse
#5 – Perma-Free

Scott then offers an eight-point strategy to developing an author platform and marketing ebooks. This isn’t new information, but it’s presented well and appears accurate (which is more than I can say for some of the marketing books I’ve read). Useful information, but covered in more depth in other books.

Is $.99 the New Free? iss around fifty pages, and currently costs less than a dollar. For that price, I think Is $.99 the New Free? represents good value for money, and is worth reading.

Review: How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days by Austin Briggs and Max Candee

There’s a saying in marketing that we know 50% of marketing activities work—we just don’t know which 50%. The same could be said for How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days. It includes what looks like some excellent information and advice—but that advice is wrapped up with advice that is incorrect, and it worries me because someone reading only this book won’t know what is good advice and what isn’t. Even I don’t know. I may praise something as being good advice and find it’s totally wrong.

I’m a book reviewer and freelance editor, so those are two subjects I know a lot about. I know less about building and maintaining a writing platform—while I have a degree in marketing, it dates from the dark ages before the intrusion of the web into every area of our lives. So while the principles of marketing are the same, the internet and social media have changed the practice of marketing.

That’s why I’m reading books like this: to understand how to do it now. And I think How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days does that well. But I can’t be certain. Because there are some elementary mistakes around how Briggs and Candee integrate editing and reviews into their 90-day timetable, so I’m not convinced they are accurate and believable in their claims in the areas I know less about.

The book starts by saying that before you begin this 90-day journey, you’ll need the final draft of the best book you can write, and a website. But the discussion on editing makes it clear that this ‘final draft’ hasn’t been edited. The authors then proceed to confuse beta-readers with editors (which is ironic, as one of them offers manuscript assessment services on his website).

Then there’s the editing. The schedule doesn’t allow nearly enough time to get the work professionally edited (which will take at least two weeks, and may take months if your preferred editor has a queue of books—as many good editors will have). Given most books need to go through at least two editing passes and two rounds of proofreading, I think this needs to be completed before the 90 days begin, not as a part of the 90 day launch project.

The timing of reviews is equally ridiculous. Most book bloggers have a two to three month waiting list, so sending them a book on day 76 and expecting the review on day 77 is unrealistic, to say the least (not to mention the advice to copy their review to your website: a copyright violation if the reviewer hasn’t specifically given you permission).

Overall, while there might be some good ideas in How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days, they are outweighed by the bad advice. Not recommended.

Review: The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

If you have a website and are already active on Twitter and/or Facebook, then The Extroverted Writer probably isn’t the book for you. It gives good advice on why authors need to set up a website and be active in social media, but it doesn’t give much in the way of new advice on how. I’m speaking as someone who has followed Amanda’s posts on the MacGregor Literary blog for the last year or more—if you don’t read that, The Extroverted Writer provides a useful introduction to the subject.

Topics covered include:

  • Knowing your audience (i.e. book genre)
  • Knowing your online marketing goals
  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Other social media sites: Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, YouTube, LinkedIn

She gives hints for building a following on Twitter and Facebook, but these are not the only ways. I have over 1000 Twitter followers without using any of her ideas (I simply follow interesting people and hope they follow me back—most do). And her Facebook ideas are targeted towards the published or almost-published author (things like posting cover art and back cover copy). Good advice, but I think if you’re only just starting to build your online presence when you get a publishing contract, it’s a bit late (but better late than never, I suppose).

Amanda doesn’t really comment on when is the best time to begin building an online presence. I suppose she feels that if someone is interested enough to read to read the blog and buy the book, they are ready to begin. That’s probably not far wrong. My view is that authors should start building their online presence when they decide this writing thing is more than a hobby—it’s something they want to pursue as a viable career option.

The things I found most useful were here ballpark figures of the number of followers an agent or publisher considers ‘good’, and her explanation of the necessity to understand your market segment (i.e. genre). However, this information was all in the free Kindle sample!

Book Review: Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books begins by explaining the intricacies of the Amazon algorithms (the computer programmes that dictates lists such as the bestseller lists, as well as what each individual customer sees on screen). He explains both what they algorithms are (as best anyone outside Amazon can know) and why understanding the algorithms is important.

He then moves on to an analysis of pricing, including a comparison of free and paid, with a focus on using free and discounted pricing as promotional tools. This all makes sense—because he’s explained the underlying algorithms that drive Amazon. He’s focusing on how the system works, and how you can then work within the system to drive results.

The book then moves on to the best sites for advertising, designing a promotion, and designing a book launch (for which he provides three options, as well as convincing evidence—based on the algorithms—of why the ‘traditional’ launch strategy no longer works).

Some key lessons are the importance of centring marketing around a mailing list you control (rather than, say, a Facebook Fan page), inserting a link to the mailing list signup form at the end of each book, and asking for reviews (with a link to the Amazon book page).

Following Gaughran’s advice will ensure you and your book look professional and are able to compete in the highly competitive market that is Amazon. The book is aimed at self-publishers, but small publishers will also benefit from the information.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran


I’m inclined to like Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should a lot because David Gaughran has a lot of nice things to say about editors, especially about how important they are for the self-published author:

Editors are the unsung heroes of the publishing world.

and

Writers shouldn’t consider editing an expense; they should consider it an investment.

Leaving aside my obvious bias, there is a lot of good information in Let’s Get Digital, including a concise history of the rise of ebooks and the impact Amazon has has on publishing, as well as an excellent section on resources. He covers why he believes authors should self-publish, then moves on to writing, cover design, editing, formatting, uploading and pricing, as well as a whole range of marketing tools (such as websites, blogging, social media, reviews and promotion).

One of Gaughran’s early points is how quickly the publishing industry is changing, and his own book illustrates the fact. While it was all accurate information at the time it was published, it isn’t any longer. Let’s Get Digital talks about the Big Six (now the Big Five), Agency pricing (gone, courtesy of the US Department of Justice), and talks about the surcharge Amazon used to place on Kindle downloads (which no longer applies in Australia and New Zealand, and I don’t know if it still applies in other countries).

Let’s Get Digital includes a lot of excellent information, including interviews with 33 self-published authors. However, I would advise caution, as some of the content is outdated. Read it as a background to his follow-up book, Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books, but realise that not all of the information and advice in Let’s Get Digital is current.