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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Some of the information is outdated (even though it was only published in 2011), but still provides an excellent introduction to why authors should consider self-publishing, and how.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.

Marketing 101: Top Ten Blogs to Follow

Last week I looked at five things not to do when promoting your book online, mostly focused around reviewing ethics. The week before I looked at marketing from a Christian perspective, and concluded there are a lot of ‘experts’ telling authors what to do, and it wasn’t always easy to tell the gold from the dross.

How do you tell who is giving good advice? I’ve spent a lot of time surfing the internet, learning about publishing and book marketing over the last few years. This post will introduce you to what I believe are the top ten blogs for Christian authors to follow.

Actually, they are the top 10 blogs for any author to follow (while some of them have a Christian focus, most don’t). Some are focused on traditional publishing, while others have more of a self-publishing bent. It’s important to read both, in order to make an educated decision about the type of publisher you want to work with.

So, in alphabetical order:

  1. Books & Such Literary Agency
    Books & Such is a literary agency representing a range of authors published in the Christian and general markets. As with most agent blogs, each agent will post on a regular basis, and they also have some guest bloggers (usually authors represented by the agency). When reading agent blogs, be aware that they make money by selling books to traditional publishers, so their focus is on encouraging authors along that path—which might not be right for everyone.
  2. Rachelle Gardner
    Rachelle is a literary agent with Books & Such (above), specialising in Christian publishing. I have noticed that the quality of her posts has declined over the last year (her best posts are now just links to Books & Such), and her commenters tend to be overwhelmingly agreeable (I suspect most of them hope to land Rachelle as their agent one day). Despite these drawbacks, there is a wealth of information on her blog about writing craft and literary agents, and you would be advised to spend some time going through her archives.
  3. David Gaughran
    David is the author of Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible. Like several other bloggers on my list, Gaughran has a nasty habit of unveiling the truth about spurious publishing headlines. (Marketing hint: when responding to a controversial post, calling the other person “full of s***” means you have lost the moral high ground—and the argument).
  4. Joe Konrath at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
    Joe offers excellent advice on self-publishing and marketing. His vocabulary is often a little, let’s say, earthy (he’s not a Christian, and his language can reflect that) and his tone is self-congratulatory. He’s earned around $1m from Amazon sales over the last year, so I think that gives him the right to say he knows a bit about writing and book marketing. Joe has little patience for traditional publishing, which makes his blog an excellent contrast to the agent blogs.
  5. Steve Laube
    Steve is owner of the Steve Laube Literary agency, and the new owner of Marcher Lord Press, publisher of Christian speculative fiction. His blog doesn’t get as many comments as some of the others on my list, but the posts are intelligent and insightful, and include weekly posts from each of the four agents.
  6. Amanda Luedeke
    Amanda is an agent with MacGregor Literary, owned by Chip MacGregor, and writes “Thursdays with Amanda”, a weekly marketing post (that I read on Friday, because of the international date line). The blog also has regular posts from Chip, from his other agents, and some guest blogger posts. These are good, but Amanda is better. Again, I’d advise you to go through the archives (or read Amanda’s book).
  7. Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    Kris doesn’t post regularly, but when she does, it’s worth reading. She is especially good on explaining the business of writing and publishing, and issues with contracts (such as interpreting royalty statements, assignment of rights, and reversion clauses). Essential reading.
  8. The Creative Penn
    Joanna Penn covers self-publishing and marketing, with a combination of blog posts and podcasts. A wealth of information, much of which is covered in her book, How to Market a Book.
  9. The Passive Voice
    The Passive Voice isn’t a like most blogs, where the blogger (or a group of bloggers) post their own views and experiences. Passive Guy compiles interesting and relevant posts on publishing and marketing from around the internet and adds a dry comment or two. (He also posts relevant literary quotes, and the occasional promotion for Mrs PG’s new book).
  10. Writer Beware
    What’s going wrong in the world of publishing, including agents, awards and publishers to avoid (and why). Writer Beware is one of the best places to look if you think something looks fishy (see their invaluable “Thumbs Down” lists). Again, an extensive and informative archive.

If you only have time to follow one blog, which one would I recommend? Easy.

The Passive Voice.

Why? Two reasons:

  • The Passive Voice is run by Passive Guy, a lawyer specialising in contract law, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to publishing contracts and legal issues. Mrs PG is a self-published historical fiction author, so he has an interest in self-publishing. You can find his professional website here.
  • The comments are outstanding—comments on many blogs are mostly congratulatory, but PG attracts a range of readers and encourages friendly debate. For an example, see the recent post on author earnings which attracted over 300 comments.

What writing blogs do you read? Which ones do you recommend, and why?

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.

Marketing 101: Christian Marketing

I’ve covered the basics of book marketing over the last two months, and included reviews of books I’ve read on the subject (both good and bad). Most of this information has been obtained from books and blogs aimed at the general market, not specifically the Christian market, which leads to an obvious question:

Is there any difference?

No. And yes.

No, because the principles of marketing are the same, regardless of the product or service you are marketing.

Yes, because there are a lot of shoddy or unethical marketing ideas and practices out there. Some of these ideas are promoted, endorsed and practiced by Christians (or people who call themselves Christians). Personally, I believe that as Christians we are called to a higher standard, not just to abstain from evil but from the appearance of evil.

Yes, because we are called to stay away from any appearance of practicing or endorsing marketing practices that contravene the policies of the websites we are using (e.g. Amazon or Goodreads) and to hold ourselves to the highest standard.

Yes, because there wolves in the market. Christians are often too trusting of other Christians, and get caught in scams or using unethical marketing practices because they don’t know better. We need to educate ourselves so we do know better.

Product

As Christians, I believe we have an obligation to give our best for God. The kingdom of God is not built on second-rate work.

Giving our best means taking the time to ensure our books are the best they can be, utilising beta readers, critique partners, competent editors and proofreaders to give feedback and enable us to improve. It means gaining external professional assistance for any part of the writing, publishing or marketing process that we are unable to perform ourselves (and we should always get external assistance with editing. No one can edit their own work. We just don’t see our own mistakes). It does not mean publishing a book the only days after we finish writing it. That’s not a book. It’s a first draft.

There are wolves in this area, especially in the realm of ‘self-publishing’. I’ll explain this in detail in a later post, but self-publishing is when you do it yourself, not when you sign a contract with a publisher. This is an area of the market which is full of scams like:

  • The Christian publisher with a ‘self-publishing’ imprint that charges between $999 and $6,499 (plus optional extras, such as professional editing), and is operated by the notorious Author Solutions.
  • The Christian publisher who will publish your book, but requires that you pay a ‘marketing’ fee of approximately $4,000.
  • The Christian publisher who will publish and market your book, but requires that you purchase an unspecified number of your books. I estimate this will cost in the region of $10,000.

I have two issues with these kinds of ‘publishers’:

  • What I have seen of their product is sub-standard. Their covers are less than inspiring, there is little or no sign the books have been competently edited, and their marketing is basic (it usually consists of Amazon and Ingram listings, and a standard website). On the plus side, the proofreading and interior design of the books is good. This kind of self-publishing does not represent value for money.
  • These publishers, especially Author Solutions, make their money by selling products to authors, not by selling books to readers. You, the author, are paying the full cost of production, so they have no financial incentive to ensure your book is a success. And without book sales, you won’t be getting any of the royalties mentioned in the contract.

I am all in favour of authors who choose to self-publish. But not this kind of self-publishing. Remember, money flows from the publisher to the author. Not the other way around.

Place and Price

As far as I can tell, the issues surrounding Place and Price are the same for Christians as for everyone else. Ensure your book is categorised correctly and priced competitively. Keep watch on your sales and on the market in general so you can adjust categories or price as necessary.

Promotion

This is where it gets hard. The interwebz is full of ‘experts’, Christian or not. Some give excellent advice; others don’t. Next week I’ll be looking at five things not to do when promoting your books (no matter what the ‘experts’ say).

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).

Marketing 101: Price Revisited

Five Reasons Free Isn’t Working

A lot of authors choose to price their new release free to raise awareness and build readership. Or KDP Select members might use their five free days to increase visibility and sales. But free isn’t working the way it used to.  Authors aren’t seeing the increase in visibility or the spike in sales from free books that was common two years ago (and which is why, if you are looking for books about marketing your novel on Amazon, I don’t recommend buying any book written before 2013).

Here are five reasons free doesn’t work as well any more:

1.    Bestseller lists

Free books used to count towards bestseller status (in that one sale of a free book counted in the same way as one sale of a full-price or sale book). This changed in March 2012, and free sales no longer contribute towards bestseller status. Strike One for free books.

2.    Popularity status

Free books used to count towards popularity status (the books that show up first on a category search) in the same way as they counted towards bestseller status: one sale of a free book counted the same as one sale of a paid-for book. No more. Free books still contribute towards popularity, but you need ten free sales to equate to one paid sale. Strike Two for free books.

3.    Amazon Associates

Strike Three was the changes to the Amazon Associates affiliate marketing programme. This programme allows websites to link to Amazon products, and the affiliate then earns a percentage of any purchase resulting from that link. Many websites are a member of the programme, if only because it allows us to use book cover images without infringing copyright (for most websites, it’s not for the money —I’ve earned less than $20 in two years). As an example, if you click on any of the book cover images on this site, they will take you to Amazon. If you click buy, I’ll earn a small commission (paid in the form of an Amazon gift voucher).

Anyway, there were a lot of websites making use of the affiliate programme and getting to the maximum fee percentage by advertising a lot of free books. While this was good for the websites, it was less good for Amazon. Since 1 March 2013, free ebooks no longer count towards sales. And—to discourage websites from advertising free deals—if more than 20,000 free Kindle books are ‘sold’ and those books make up 80% of the volume of ‘sales’, the affiliate is not eligible for any fee. These websites have moved to promoting cheap or discounted books in order to preserve their revenue stream, and it’s now harder for authors to get publicity for free books.

This is explained in detail by Ryan Casey. A number of bloggers have postulated that 99 cents is the new free (in fact, someone’s even written a book about it), as this is low enough to attract attention from consumers, yet gets around the restrictions in the Amazon Associates programme.

4.    Free listing

In August 2013, Amazon started tinkering with their Best Seller listings. Previously, each page had the Top 10 Paid and Free Best Sellers (in the chosen category) listed side by side, so the#1 Free book was displayed right beside the #1 Paid book. Now the two are on separate pages, further reducing visibility. It’s another strike against free.

5.    Owner behaviour

The first thing most new Kindle owners do is fill their Kindles with free ebooks (yes, I did). Each of those free books counted as a sale for the author, but most of them—probably close to 1,000—are still sitting on my Kindle, unread. I’m now more astute and tend to only download books I’m planning on reading.

How do I prioritise my reading? Well, as a reviewer, I obviously have to read those books I’ve promised to review. As an editor, I also read books on editing and book marketing. When it comes to choosing a book to read for pleasure, I tend to choose a book I’ve paid for, whether as an electronic or a dead tree version, even if I only paid $2.99.

And that’s the final strike against free ebooks: just because I download them doesn’t mean I’ll read them. I’m going to read the books I’ve paid for first.

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.

Marketing 101: Platform

SMMStatistics_Draft1.0Platform

It’s the buzzword in author marketing. Agents and publishers want new authors (especially non-fiction authors) to have an established platform: a network of contacts in real life and in social media that can be leveraged to purchase the book and influence others to purchase the book.

The foundation of any good author platform is a website. Have a custom website address (not a wordpress or blogspot address) so you own both the content and access to it. However, search engines such as Google don’t like static websites: they like to see sites where the information is updated regularly, which is why so many author websites incorporate a blog.

The trick to developing a solid platform is having something your target market wants. For example, I’ve gained over 1,000 Twitter followers tweeting information that will be useful to writers. My daughter has gained over 2,500 followers on Tumblr posting references to a popular young adult books series and TV show. That pales into insignificance compared to Jamie Curry, the New Zealand teen who currently has over 200,000 Twitter followers, and 7.5 million Likes on Facebook (yes, you read that right. More people follow Jamie Curry than actually live in New Zealand).

That’s a platform …

So what are the major social networks?

Facebook

Facebook was founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg as a way for Harvard students to contact each other. It now has over one billion registered users (although it’s estimated that 8.7% of them are fake accounts), and most major brands are represented on Facebook.

Twitter

Twitter started in 2006, a a microblogging social and information network that allows users to send messages of up to 140 characters. Tweets can include links to other sites and #hashtags, words or phrases used to group posts (e.g. #christian, #fiction, #writing, #editing or #socialmediatips).

Pinterest

Pinterest has been operating since 2010, and at the third-largest social network in the US, it’s probably the fastest-growing. It centres around illustrations—‘pins’—which users can pin to themed boards. A majority of users are women (which is makes it an important site for authors, as most readers and authors of Christian fiction are women).

Google+

Google+ launched by Google in 2011 and claims to be the second-largest social networking site after Facebook (with 500m users). However, this could be because they automatically assigned accounts to all gmail users … The average Google+ user spends less than 5 minutes on the site each month, compared with 7.5 hours on Facebook.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is usually described as Facebook for professionals, even though it predates Facebook (LinkedIn was founded in 2002). The site encourages networking through groups, and providing personal recommendations and endorsements, but it is a professional site: it’s probably not useful for writers unless writing is their major source of income.

Others

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of other social networking sites with various degrees of popularity. Major sites include YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram, but these are seen as being of less interest to writers—although research shows Tumblr and Instagram are more popular with teens and those in their twenties.

In all cases, the point of social networking for authors is to build relationships so your contacts will influence and advocate your brand (book) and enhance discoverability.

I’ll be going into more detail about each of the major networks in a series of posts later this year. Which social networks are you a member of? Which do you prefer? Why?

More importantly, which social networks do your target readers use?