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Book Launch Case Study: Paula Vince

Today I have a guest post from Paula Vince, an award-winning Australian author, about her new release, Imogen’s Chance. This was recently reviewed on Iola’s Christian Reads as part of Paula’s book launch.

About Paula Vince

Paula Vince’s youth was brightened by great fiction and she’s on a mission to pay it forward. A wife and homeschooling mother, she loves to highlight the beauty of her own country in her stories. Most of them are set in the lovely Adelaide Hills, where she lives. Paula’s books are a skillful blend of drama and romance. Together with elements of mystery and suspense, you will keep turning pages.

Welcome, Paula!

What platform did you have prior to the launch of Imogen’s Chance? How did the book launch improve your platform?

I’ve been published since 2000 and Imogen’s Chance is my ninth novel. In that time, I’ve seen many changes to internet marketing opportunities. I hate to admit it, but fourteen years ago, many of us were still getting used to sending emails to each other. I’d never heard of blogs, Facebook and Twitter were still several years in the future, so the platform for my first few books consisted mostly of paper mail-outs and word-of-mouth.

Within the last three or four years, I have set up a Facebook author page, a Goodreads profile, a Twitter account and two blogs. I have also joined Pinterest and Google+, although I don’t visit or update them as often.

My book launch resulted in several extra likes and followers on my three main forums (blog, Facebook and Twitter). More importantly, it’s made me aware of several generous bloggers and their lovely blogs, which I wouldn’t have heard of if I hadn’t put the blog tour together. I have joined their blogs and pages as a follower, and now receive interesting updates. I’m hoping steady continued communication may result in even more opportunities for the future. That’s what I’m reminding myself to keep in mind. The results of any blog tour may be further reaching than just the month it runs for.

What activities did you undertake to launch your book?

For a few years, I have been involved in several on-line writers groups. For each of these of which I’m a member, I emailed a request asking whether others might like to support me by offering me a guest post to help promote my new release. I was delighted to discover that several people, who love to host guests on their blogs, considered that the favour was reciprocal.

I made a list of people who agreed to host me, running all the way from the tail end of March through April and into May. I tried to spread these all through the time period. Some offered interviews, some asked for guest posts, and some wrote book reviews. They all went into my blog tour and I’m pleased with the good combination.

I made up a blog page all about the tour, to make it easier for anybody interested in following along to tick each one off. And I decided to offer prizes. Several of the bloggers agreed to have a giveaway, and I plan to have several more prizes on the Grand Finale post, which will be May 31st.

How long did that take? How difficult was it?

I sent the request emails in January, three months before the tour was due to start. Getting the list finalised was ongoing job, and actually writing the guest posts and answering the interview questions was enjoyable but time-consuming.

I am not naturally the most organised person, so I took particular care to start working on the blog posts as soon as I’d finalised each date and had the questions sent. Even giving myself time, I found I had to work on it steadily. I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d left them all until the week before the tour. It’s definitely not the easiest venture I’ve attempted, but well worth it.

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of planning ahead. I’m typically scheduling posts two months in advance for my book review blog, Iola’s Christian Reads, so it’s vital to give bloggers plenty of advance notice. You don’t have to have the book ready to send them, but you do need to contact them to arrange to save the date. 

What support did you get from your publisher?

When my publisher found out what I was doing, she sent me an electronic copy of the book suitable for Kindles, so that I could offer it to some of the bloggers who requested a copy in return for a spot or a review. I really appreciated that, as it would have become a fairly costly venture if she hadn’t.

Paula Vince ICHow successful was the launch (and how do you define success?)

Although I’m still not sure about the overall number of sales, I do consider the launch a success. You’ve asked a good question, as I don’t think success can be defined solely by numbers of sales or positive reviews. Success is pretty personal when it comes to writing.

If you end up happy with the story you’ve told and the characters you’ve created, it’s a success no matter how many readers it reaches. As each of the guest posts helped highlight the interesting and unique qualities about this new book, every time anybody saw a post and maybe left a comment was a success.

I like your attitude about success! 

What will you repeat for your next book launch? What will you change?

At this stage, I think I would do pretty much the same. I’ve got that blog page with the list of every stop in my blog tour, and I’ve never had anything remotely similar for any of my previous books. It will be a great online keep-sake to look back upon. Having said that, I am open to taking on board other people’s good suggestions, things I haven’t considered yet.

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their books?

Make an early start—at least three months before the blog tour, as I did. You’ll be working hard on it through all those weeks, believe me. And it takes this time gap to make sure your guest posts will coincide with the release date. If you leave it until just a week or two before asking, bloggers will be telling you they’re sorry but all their slots for that month are full.

Don’t forget to return to each post, once they are published, to reply to comments. It’s good to touch base for at least one working week after each one. You’ll find the connections with interested strangers and new friends well worth the time.

And I believe readers (and blog owners) like and appreciate the interaction with guest authors. Thank you for visiting, Paula.

 

Book Launch Case Study: Michelle Dennis Evans

Today I’d like to welcome Michelle Dennis Evans to Christian Editing Services, to talk about the launch of her debut YA novel, Spiralling Out of Control.

What platform did you have prior to the launch of Spiralling out of Control? How did the book launch improve your platform?

I spent 4 years creating a platform of sorts, mostly using Facebook, Twitter and Blogger. I am also an active member of the John 3:16 Marketing Network and there are a few other networks at which authors help authors that I’ve joined in with over that time.

I don’t feel my launch improved my platform, I believe the author platform is self driven (unless you make it bigtime or something goes viral).

What activities did you undertake to launch your book?

I went on tour.
I sent my book out to loads of people asking for reviews.
A couple of months before the launch, I contacted everyone I thought might host me on their blog. I wrote posts, was interviewed, shared excerpts and even I interviewed my main character. I advertised  – both paid and free on several sites that were recommended to me, and I tried to create a little excitement around the launch on my social media platforms.
Lots, then!

How long did that take? How difficult was it?

I spent a solid three months preparing and then the 16 day focused launch pretty much consumed me. It wasn’t so much difficult as it was time consuming.

What support did you get from your publisher?

Lilly Pilly press have supported me by sharing my posts, and posting about the books on social media. They have listed my books in their online shop.

How successful was the launch (and how do you define success)?

In particular, you did a launch through the John 3:16 Network which got you to #1 – but I later read a post from Lorilyn Roberts where she said only one author from that launch (you?) reached #1 in a subcategory, and they won’t be doing any more launches like that because they can no longer guarantee a #1.

Why do you think your book made #1 when the others didn’t? What did you do differently?

Yes, that was me. In the launch last December, there were more books included than usual and a few things didn’t work as well as previous launches. But the group has launched books a couple of times since. I had decided to end the launch on a high and put everything into it. I was on a fairly tight budget so I had to spend my paid advertising wisely. It was possibly a mixture of the two paid ads I’d scheduled for the last two days of the launch, the network helping to promote via Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc along with Lorilyn’s email to her ‘opt in’ list that bumped me up the ladder to achieve ‘best seller’ on the last day.

As for how successful it was? Achieving ‘best seller’ status on Amazon, gives your book social proof. Because I hit it once,  it will always be an Amazon Best Seller and I have the option to use the tag in my signature etc.

Financially, I spent more than I made that month, but I do believe I’m still reaping the harvest.

As for why some of the others didn’t make it to #1, I’m not sure if they put in the leg work beforehand. Some did, some didn’t. Part of the John 3:16 formula is to reduce the book to 99 cents while on launch—not everyone did that or had control of reducing their price. Lorilyn’s book didn’t do as well as she’d hoped, but maybe that was because it was a picture book.

What did you repeat for the launch of Spiralling out of the Shadow?  What did you change? Any ideas what you will do next time?

I haven’t officially launched Spiralling Out of the Shadow yet… I’ve done the same so far in that I’ve been requesting reviews from a broad range of people (because books with more reviews online sell more).

I found last time the blog tour was very time consuming and I didn’t see a conversion to sales, so this time I’ve asked people to be a guest on my blog, and I’m finding it more streamlined that way. And instead of just promoting myself, I’m promoting other authors.

I’m still undecided whether I’ll launch through the John 3:16 network again though I find their help and forum invaluable and would love to see something like that set up in Australia one day, or more Aussies/Kiwis join the network.

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their books?

If you are traditionally published, check how much flexibility you have.
Don’t do it alone.
Find a network.
Launch with a friend or friends.
Promote others more than you promote yourself.
Seek God first before stepping into anything.
That’s a great final point, and one that perhaps isn’t mentioned enough. Thanks, Michelle!

Michelle Dennis Evans

Michelle Dennis Evans writes picture books, chapter books, young adult contemporary novels and enjoys dabbling in free verse poetry. Her debut novel Spiralling Out of Control and poetry collection Life Inspired both reached #1 in subcategories on Amazon in their first week of release.

Michelle lives with her husband and four children on the Gold Coast of Australia. She believes you can find healing and hope when you read someone else’s story, fiction or truth. Her life is full and at times overflowing but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Book Launch Case Study: Narelle Atkins

Today I have a guest post from Narelle Atkins, an author of contemporary romance. I reviewed her debut novel, Falling for the Farmer, earlier this year on Iola’s Christian Reads, and reviewed her second novel, The Nurse’s Perfect Match, yesterday.

Narelle is published by Heartsong Presents, a Christian imprint of Harlequin Mills & Boon, and I was interested to know what support a first-time author gets from one of the biggest romance publishers on the planet.

Welcome, Narelle!

What platform did you have prior to the launch?

I have an author website, personal blog, Facebook profile, Facebook author page, and Twitter account. I also have a presence on Instagram, Google Plus, and Pinterest, although I don’t spend a lot of time on these platforms.

I belong to three group blogs: Australasian Christian Writers (ACW), International Christian Fiction Writers (ICFW) and Inspy Romance. ACW also has a Facebook Group for writers and readers. ICFW members either live outside of the USA, or write books with international settings. Inspy Romance is a contemporary inspirational romance group blog based in the USA.

What activities did you undertake to launch your book?

I sent print books and electronic review copies to people interested in writing a review.

I set up a mailing list with Mail Chimp.

I organised a blog chase on my release day that started at the ACW group blog. Falling for the Farmer is a runaway bride story. I posed the question: If Kate (my heroine) ran away to …. what could she do? We had four blog stops in Australia, and two in New Zealand. Readers were asked a question at each stop in the blog chase, and they completed an online entry form for the book giveaway at the final stop on my blog.

Iola says: I was one of the hosts for the blog chase. You can find my post here: Falling for the Farmer Blog Chase

I organised a book review and author interview on two consecutive days during the release week on the ICFW group blog.

My critique partner’s contemporary romance, True North, released the week before Falling for the Farmer. I interviewed Susan Diane Johnson on the Inspy Romance group blog, and we did a joint book giveaway.

I organised author interviews with book giveaways on half a dozen blogs in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

I set up a print giveaway on Goodreads (US, CA, UK, AU, NZ) that was open for the entire release month.

I participated in a giveaway of Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents books on the Soul Inspirationz site.

I did a blog tour with Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA) in March, a month after my book released. I sent print review copies to the ACRBA members who requested my book, and they posted their reviews on their blogs during the blog tour week.

I added a book launch post on my blog during the week prior to the book release, outlining where readers could find me online and enter the book giveaways.

I uploaded my book information into ACFW’s Fiction Finder site.

I emailed my book release information to my writing groups, for inclusion in their member newsletters and/or blogs.

Okay. That’s a lot of blogging. How long did it all take? How difficult was it?

It was time consuming, both the set up and execution. It takes time to write blog posts and answer interview questions. I had planned to focus my attention on book promo during the week of my book release. I spent time interacting with readers on blogs and social media.

The book launch wasn’t difficult because I was organised. I set up a spreadsheet and put all the promo dates in my diary. Each day I knew what I was doing, and I allocated time to blog visit and interact with readers.

What support did you get from your publisher?

Harlequin sells their category romance titles through their direct-to-consumer Reader Service. I was blessed to have the opportunity to write an article for the February inspirational issue of Harlequin’s Simply Books magazine. It’s a free magazine that is mailed to their Reader Service subscribers with their book shipments. There are inbuilt marketing benefits for books that are published by a known brand.

How successful was the launch (and how do you define success)?

My primary goal was to meet readers and gain some name recognition. I was happy with the results, and I appreciated the support of my writing friends. I think it would be harder to launch a book without support in the writing community.

I haven’t received a royalty statement, so I can’t judge or measure the success of the launch from a sales perspective. Typically, an author gains readers with each new book release, and becomes more visible in the market place after their third book is released.

The frequency of my new book releases will help me find my tribe of readers. Not everyone will like our books. Different genres, plots, and characters appeal to different readers. I hope to connect with the readers who like my genre, writing style, and the types of stories I love to write.

What will you repeat for your next book launch? What will you change?

I’m launching my second book, The Nurse’s Perfect Match, in May 2014. I’m not doing a blog chase or ACRBA tour with this book. An author can only tour a book once every 6 months with ACRBA (the tours are free), and I have an ACRBA tour booked for Her Tycoon Hero in November 2014.

I’m doing book giveaways on my personal blog and group blogs, and I’ve lined up a few blog visits with giveaways. In March I set up a Love Inspired Heartsong Presents Goodreads group with my Heartsong author friends. I’ll be doing my first Author Q&A with the Goodreads group in mid-May. I have a Goodreads giveaway running for the whole month of May.

Falling for the Farmer, my first book, became available in April in my local Christian book store. I’m planning an in-store book signing at Koorong, Fyshwick in May on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Plus, a radio interview before the signing with local Christian radio station, One Way FM. (You can access the interview as a podcast by clicking this link.)

 

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their book?

The importance of pre-planning can’t be underestimated. Many blogs schedule their calendar months in advance. Many reviewers have a queue of books waiting to be read and reviewed. The ACRBA blog tours, especially the fiction tours, are usually booked out six or more months ahead of time.

If you’re familiar with Excel, set up a spreadsheet to keep track of your book promotion activities and giveaways. I have a page for each book release. The spreadsheet helps me to stay on top of all the little details.

I recommend allocating twice the amount of time you’ll think you’ll need for your book launch. Make sure you factor in time to reply to everyone who comments on your blog posts, and contacts you on social media. I encourage authors to enjoy the experience, and cherish the opportunities to connect with other writers and readers during their book launch.

Book Launch Case Study: Emily Rachelle

Today I have a guest post from Emily Rachelle, an author of contemporary teen fiction. I reviewed her debut novel, Sixteen, earlier this year on Iola’s Christian Reads, and I was impressed by the professional way Emily organised and conducted the blog tour, and have invited her here today to share how she went about organising her book launch. Welcome, Emily, and thank you for joining us.

You can find Emily every Tuesday and Thursday at her blog, Emily Rachelle Writes.

What platform did you have prior to the launch?

I followed and commented on several book-related blogs and websites to get my name out. I had a Pinterest account with hundreds of followers (currently just under 700, but I’d guess back in December that number was closer to 600), a personal profile and a public blog page on Facebook (with much smaller numbers than Pinterest), and a fledgling Twitter account. I also had my GoodReads account, but I honestly don’t use that much outside the book reviews I do for my blog.

My biggest platform by far has always been my blog, which now doubles as my author website. Sometimes I focus on books (lots of book reviews, with an occasional writing post thrown in), but I also write about other stuff too — movies, social media, hot button issues. Whatever strikes my fancy, really. I follow the idealogy that if I’m passionate about something, if I love what I’m doing for promotion/marketing, that will shine through to my readers; whereas if I’m doing something because I feel like it’s required or because I’m trying to stick to a plan or someone else’s advice, then my frustration or boredom will also be clear to my readers.

What was the strategy/planning behind your book launch? Where did you get your ideas, information?

I’m not the best at strategy or business plans. I didn’t really have the concrete goals an author should when launching a book. Basically, I brainstormed some things I thought would be fun, added ideas I found online, and then gave myself a few deadlines and ran with it. I focused on online marketing because originally, this was going to be an ebook-only venture, and even when I decided to add print, the first launch in January was staying ebook-only. Most of my ideas and advice came from DuoLit. They’re a great resource for self-publishers, especially in regards to marketing and promotion. Another website I love for indie authors is Catherine, Caffeinated.

What activities did you undertake to launch Sixteen (e.g. organising this blog tour)?

Well, once I had all the actual prepping-the-book tasks covered, I started with social media. I made a separate Facebook page for the book and set up a GoodReads book page and author profile. I logged the book into LibraryThing, a website similar to GoodReads, and set up my Amazon Author page. Some of these things — specifically the GoodReads and Amazon pages — I had to wait until the day the book came out to do, since I needed links to the book’s Amazon purchase page.

To prepare for the blog tour, I started by listing ideas for the posts. I’d participated from the blogger’s end in numerous blog tours before, so I found the original emails from the authors of my favorites and borrowed a few ideas from them. I also skimmed through my manuscript of the book to come up with posts that would be unique to my book and its story and themes. Once I had a list of posts to write, I emailed bloggers I was interested in and invited bloggers I knew in my writers’ group to host a spot in the tour. Through several emails, I arranged a blog to host each day of the tour. They each chose which post appealed most to them. Then I wrote the posts in Google Drive and gave each blogger editing rights once I was finished, so they could copy and paste the posts into their own blog. As a thank-you for hosting, I sent a free advance copy of the ebook to every host. A handful of them did review it — and I loved reading their reviews, the first I’d ever received as an author — but it wasn’t required.

On my blog, I set up a new separate page for the book, and posted the cover reveal a while before the launch. On the day of the launch, I posted a list of the blogs participating in my blog tour, a giveaway, and a few fun extras related to the book (a clip from The Sound of Music, for example). In the actual blog tour, I wrote a variety of posts: interviews, excerpts, dream casting for a movie version of the book, a playlist that corresponds to the book and its characters, explanations about the book or why I chose to self-publish it, quotes relating to the book’s theme, etc. You can see the full list of tour posts here: Blog Tour 

How long did that take? How difficult was it?

I started researching a few months beforehand, but I didn’t really start working on everything until two months before, when I started recruiting bloggers. It took me hundreds of hours total, I’d guess, over the course of those two months. Sometimes I enjoyed it; sometimes I felt like trashing my computer and forgetting about this whole author business. I think my stress levels and idea of difficulty were a little skewed, though, because I was also running my annual blog party — which went wrong in more ways than I can count this year — and it was my first time working a regular job during the holidays.

How successful was the launch (and how do you define success)?

Personally, I’d say it was successful. It got the word out and got readers and bloggers talking. People loved my book (yay!). In fact, I discovered that readership in general seemed to think more highly of the book than I did by that point. (I was so sick of the thing after editing!) Like I said before, I never really set any concrete goals. Writing is my hobby, not my career; I’ve always been clear about that to myself and others. Therefore, I tend to focus less on the business side of things than most self-publishers have to to make a living. The launch got my book out into the world and created a little buzz. That’s all I wanted, so that made me happy.

What will you repeat for your next book launch? What will you change?

I’ll definitely do a blog tour-focused launch again. As a reader and as an author, I love blogs as a way to promote and discuss books, and it definitely succeeded in generating hype. However, I’ll plan to do print and ebook combined rather than separately. I think sales and the launch would have been more successful had both options been available for purchase simultaneously. I was surprised by how many people wanted to wait and buy the book in print. Plus, the in-person options print/live marketing efforts are a lot of fun. I’m scheduled to do a presentation at the library for homeschool teens about self-publishing in April, and I hope to do a book signing at my local indie bookstore this summer.

What advice would you give to other authors about to launch their book?

Plan way ahead. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. With my crazy work schedule, the blog party, and one of my hosts dropping out last-minute, the tour took more time and work than I expected. It’s so worth it, but if I’d given myself more time between self-imposed deadlines — and assigned myself less work over the same period of time — I think it would’ve been much easier on my stress. Patience is key here.

That, and definitely check out DuoLit and Catherine, Caffeinated before making any big plans. I can’t recommend these blogs enough to fellow self-publishers. DuoLit is great for getting your marketing brainstorm started, and Catherine’s word is Bible when she says something is a good or bad idea (or whether or not something’s worth worrying about.)

~ Emily Rachelle

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).