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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.

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.

Marketing 101: Promotion

When most people talk about marketing, what they’re actually meaning is promotion, specifically, advertising. We were raised in a time when promotion was a combination of radio, television and print advertising, perhaps supplemented by letterbox fliers (better known as junk mail). That’s how we found out about and were encouraged to try new products.

Large trade publishers still use some of these mechanisms, but they’re not viable options for most small press or self-published authors. And they ignore the rise of the internet and social networking. Social media, ereaders and print-on-demand technology, has forever changed the nature of publishing, as has the way publishers promote their product.

Unfortunately, the rise of the internet and the low cost of use has introduced new annoyances for consumers.

Spam

(Yes, that’s Monty Python’s enduring contribution to contemporary culture. Click on the link and watch the video if you’ve never seen it.)

So, how do consumers find out about new products in this internet society? The traditional methods of television and print still work, but are being supplemented by online advertising and social networking: Liking a brand on Facebook or Pinterest. But consumers are being overwhelmed by information, so how do you, as a producer, ensure the consumer finds out about your product?

Discovery

Discovery is the new buzzword. How do customers discover a new product? How do readers discovery you as an author? The internet is both part of the problem (spam) and part of the solution.

There is ongoing debate regarding the effectiveness of internet marketing. Does it provide a return on investment? What role do influencers play? (Do we even need influencers? Aren’t brand advocates more important?)

Research shows that 92% of people rely on recommendations from people they know, compared to 36% who rely on advertisements on social networks.

So in order to persuade people to buy your product (read your book), personal relationships are key. People are more likely to act on a recommendation from someone they know, whether they know that person in real life or only online (I’m a member of one online forum where I’m sure people share more information than they ever would in real life).

And when it comes to promotion and spreading the word about your book, it’s easier to get help from people you know. But how do you meet people? Connect online. Build a platform. Come to the next Omega conference. Dates haven’t been set, but if you live in Australia and start saving $10 a week now, it will be affordable (us Kiwis have to save a bit more). Make it a priority, because it’s an investment in your writing and it will introduce you to a network of Christians who want to see you succeed.

Personal relationships are important. They might not be traditional face-to-face relationships (or even old-fashioned pen-pals), but they are still relationships. This network of people who feel they know you are the people who can help promote your book. But where are these people and how do you find them? These people are your platform, and that’s the subject of next week’s post.

Marketing 101: Introduction

Anyone who has ever done a course in marketing will have heard of The Four P’s that form the basis of marketing strategies – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. But how does that apply to publishing? Over the next few weeks, my Saturday posts will look at what you need to know about the Four P’s and what you can do to successfully market your book.

I’ve read several current books on the subject of book marketing, and I’ll be reviewing each of them over the next few weeks, with my posting on Wednesdays. While most of the books are aimed at those who are self-publishing on Amazon and other sites, some of them have information that is useful to all writers, regardless of where they are on the publishing journey, and whether they are trade published or self-published, as there are many common principles.

As the author, your level of input into the development and implementation of the marketing plan will depend on whether you are self-publishing or have a publishing contract. Different publishers will have different levels of expectation of their authors, and this should be covered in your contract. However, all publishers expect their authors to participate in marketing to some extent, and having established relationships with readers should improve your chances of getting published.

Have a Marketing Plan

The first step is to have a marketing plan (to echo Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind). What do you want to achieve? Do you want to sell lots of books? Do you want to make lots of money? Do you want lots of people to read your books? (Those goals might be mutually exclusive.) What must you do to achieve that goal?

In my view, it’s never too early to begin thinking about marketing. For example, one of the first decisions an author needs to make about their book is what genre it is. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Is it a devotional or a self-help book? If fiction, is it contemporary or historical, romance or action? If you’re not sure what the different fiction genres are, I suggest you reread my series on genre.

Know Your Genre

Knowing your genre will help you understand your target market: an essential piece of a marketing plan. If you don’t know who your target reader is, you won’t know how to connect with them. This is one of the key points in Karen Baney’s book, 10 Keys to Ebook Marketing Success.

Knowing your genre will help you determine your author brand: the way you want readers to see you and your work. Understand what you are, and ensure all your marketing efforts (including tweets and Facebook posts) reinforce that brand. You don’t need a fancy tagline (although a tagline is a way of keeping your marketing efforts on track), but you do need to consider and manage your brand. Joanna Penn discusses this in How to Market a Book.

Understand Your Author Brand

It’s never too late to develop and implement a marketing plan, but the earlier you understand your author brand, the earlier you will be able to begin developing and implementing a marketing plan (including that all-important platform) that introduces and reinforces that brand. An established platform will be an invaluable asset if you are seeking traditional publication, as agents and commissioning editors are more interested in authors who understand the need to be active on social media. And an established platform is essential if you decide to self-publish, as it gives you a built-in group on which to focus your marketing efforts.