Welcome to the ‘Starting Out’ series focusing on debut authors. The first three articles open on self-publishing in the ebook market; the benefits of winning awards (in the arena of traditionally published writers); and finally, optimising opportunities in both markets when presenting your work. These articles commence weekly from today. We kick off with UK bestselling ebook crime author Rachel Abbott imparting her experiences of ‘going to market’ and finding success. She has a lot of valuable information, so read on …
The day that I decided to publish my novel for the Kindle was a red-letter day. My novel had been completed about four years previously, and I had then spent a couple of years tweaking it – but with no idea what to do with it. I made a feeble and half-hearted attempt to get an agent, but in all honesty I don’t take rejection well! I’d looked at various options for self-publishing, but they all cost money and for a while it was only feasible for people living in the US to publish for the Kindle. But some time when I wasn’t looking, it became not only possible, but easy (in theory) to do from elsewhere – so it was all systems go!
Just three months after publishing my book, it reached the number one spot on Amazon UK, and stayed there for twenty days. It’s still there as I am writing this, but a new scheme of selling books for 20p to get them to the top seems to have started, so I have a couple of books hot on my heels (until their price goes back to normal). I can’t compete with 20p!
I have been asked so many times how I got to number one that I have started a series of blog posts on the whole process – from writing tips that I picked up, to formatting and finally marketing. But for this post, I’m going to talk a little about the highs and lows of marketing.
So we’ll start with the LOWS!
I had no ‘sales platform’ at all – i.e. there was nobody champing at the bit to buy my book apart from friends and family. I had done no promotion pre-launch, and nobody knew my book existed. I had done some stuff – but at a very low level. So yes, I had created a Twitter account (I had just 9 followers!), and I had a Facebook page with probably fewer than that. I had a rough idea of a website and a blog that I’d put together in haste. And that was it. Mistake number 1.
Mistake number 2 – I told everybody to buy my book on Amazon, whether they had a Kindle or not. I thought this would increase its visibility. Absolutely not. Most people who bought my book (because they were asked to) had never bought a book for the Kindle, so my book wasn’t linked to any others. Where it usually says “customers who bought xxx also bought yyy” – mine was totally empty. So all that effort to get friends and family to buy didn’t increase visibility at all.
For a month, nothing happened. What a waste – because I missed out on that precious period of “New releases – last 30 days” when my book could really have been noticed if I’d only done some preparation. I spent hour after hour scouring the internet for ideas of what I should do. And there is a wealth of information out there, but I discovered that I wasn’t making any progress at all – I was just jumping from one fascinating website to another – trying to work out how I could get my book noticed. And that was the third and last major mistake (although I promise you, there have been plenty of minor ones too!).
It was getting out of hand – I was spending every minute of every day finding things out and achieving nothing, so I pulled together everything that I had learned, and I wrote myself a marketing plan. It was seven pages long.
The MARKETING PLAN
I identified the key ways of getting my book in front of people, and then set a series of goals for each individual part of the plan, together with the amount of time that I would spend each day or week on that particular line item. The plan was broken down into Channels, Social Networking, Web. If I had lived in the UK rather than Italy, I would probably have added a “face to face” item as well.
Channels were all my channels to market – Amazon being top of the list, but I included the other ebook channels as well. I created a separate heading for each, and listed what I could do to influence or impact upon that channel. For example, I identified the importance of Author Central, and getting information up to date there, and I recognised that the quality of the information in my Product Description was critical. I also thought that creating a few Listmania lists might have an impact. But most significant was my desire to get reviews – and hope that they would be good ones. So what was the best way to go about that?
I went into “business mode” and created a very professional review request document, which provided details of my book, a cover image, the blurb, any existing reviews, etc. It can be found here if you are interested. I have to tell you that by sending this document, I managed to leapfrog my way up quite a few TBR lists! Sending a decent review request immediately demonstrates that you are professional in your approach and gives the impression that your book will be equally impressive. But see my note at the end of this post about reviews!
Social networking had a lot of sub-headings, but I could only focus on a couple. I’m not a great fan of Facebook (I know that I am probably alone in that), so I started by concentrating on Twitter. I needed to build followers, and I wanted followers who enjoy the sort of books that I write. So I bought some software that enabled me to target people to follow in the hope they will follow back. I mainly targeted people who follow other thriller writers to start with. People say you don’t make many sales on Twitter, and that might be true. However, when you’re only selling ten books a day, every single one is vital. And if you’re selling to book lovers, your book will be linked to other books in the same genre. The one day that I couldn’t use Twitter in January (the 13th to be precise – and a Friday!) my sales dropped from an average of 10 per day to 3. I still use Twitter a lot, but I recognise that my role now is to build my brand rather than sell my books.
The other significant impact on my success came from another form of social networking – forums. Amazon and Goodreads were the two that had the most dramatic affect. I chatted to people, found places where I could legitimately talk about my writing and my book, and went back regularly. I’ve met some terrific new friends, who are incredibly supportive. One day, I suddenly had a huge leap in the charts, and I posted on one of the forums that I didn’t know what had happened. One of the lovely people who was following my discussion said “Just click this link, and you’ll see why”. It turned out that a lot of the people who I’d been chatting to had bought Only the Innocent – read it – and were now recommending it to everybody in the other forums – the ones that authors aren’t allowed to engage in.
My final marketing heading was Web – and so I created two completely separate styles of web presence. On my website it’s all about the readers. Information on the book, reading guides, how to buy, etc. And my blog is there to help indie authors who are going through the same process. Both work, both could do with more of my time – but what I love the most is that both of them result in conversations: with readers, other authors and people who have always wanted to be an author.
So my one piece of advice would be to put together a detailed plan, with how much time each day you are going to spend on each element, and then monitor the results to see what works. Give yourself an action plan, otherwise it is just so easy to flounder around.
One final point
One final piece of advice. I opened by saying that I don’t take rejection well, and I talked about getting reviews. I chose reviewers at random when I launched Only the Innocent, and didn’t know any of them from Adam, so I was delighted to get really excellent reviews. However, since reaching #1 I have started to get a few bad reviews. It came as a shock, but I now realise that as an author, you have to take these in your stride and remember that it’s the book these reviews are criticising – not you personally.
Why do I think that I only go bad reviews after reaching #1? I think there are three types of bad review:
- Somebody has bought the book because of its chart position, and because of its previously good reviews. They hate it. But that’s okay. It is perfectly acceptable that some people just will not like your book – the subject matter, the way you write, or any other aspect of your book. We know we don’t all like the same things. The fact that some people express this in a less than friendly way is their problem, not yours. Don’t even consider fighting back! Those that give genuine feedback in their bad reviews are actually very valuable, because if you’re an indie author there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned. Some people think the ending in my book is completely wrong. Some people applaud it. It’s controversial, and therefore disagreement is inevitable.
- Self promotion is a problem in negative reviews, and I’ve come across this quite a lot. Sometimes people give a one star rating, and advise customers to buy a book by another author. If Amazon can actually link the comment to the author of the other book, they will remove it. But if it’s done by a friend, they won’t. So if a review has any form of promotion for other books, I’m afraid you just have to grin and bear it.
- Scams are becoming an issue. I have learned from forums that people are buying positive reviews for their books, and similarly buying bad reviews for competitors’ books. There is nothing you can do but take it in your stride, because it’s difficult to prove. And don’t get drawn in.
I suggest that if you do get a bad review, you console yourself by looking at some of the best-selling books of all time, and check out their one star reviews. And when you publish, buy yourself a thick skin because you may need it.
Huge thanks to Rachel for taking the time out to write for It’s a crime! and for being so open with her valuable experience.
Tune in Tuesday 3 April for my article on the benefits of winning awards (in the arena of traditionally published writers) and whether they can be a predictor of future success.