How Do Readers Discover My Books?

Like most writers, I’m curious about how readers come across my books. By what means do they discover them? If I had good information on that, I could focus on the marketing methods that work and abandon those that don’t.

Fortunately, author RJ Scott showed me how to do this. In one blog post, she published the results of a survey of her readers, in which she asked how they found her books.

I decided to do the same thing. I sent out thousands of e-mails to my fans (and acquaintances, and random passers-by) and gathered the responses. I first sorted the valid responses from the spam, advertising, and ugly threats to do me vicious bodily harm.

Then I plotted the data from most responses to least, Pareto chart fashion. Some responses were similar enough that I used slashes ‘/’ to show response variations.

It looks like my presence on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter is working. There’s a lot to be said for plain ol’ dumb luck, too, apparently.

The most surprising result was the two responses saying readers discovered one of my books while marooned on an island. I’m not sure if that’s two separate instances or two people on the same island. In either case, my campaign of wrapping books in bubble wrap and casting them in the ocean is probably not worth further investment.

It’s nice, too, when readers take the time to fill in the Comments section. That allows me to get beyond the mere data and explore the true reasons readers discover me, and my books. Here are all those comments:

  • “Your books are great! I can’t understand why they’re so unpopular.”
  • “You write as well as authors twice your age.”
  • “Buy ???????? cheap! Have more enjoyable ??? now!” [Comment edited for content]
  • “I love your book. It’s keeping my kitchen table perfectly level right now.”
  • “What’s this Comment space for? Am I supposed to type something here?”
  • “Qwert yui opasd fghjkl zx cvbnm.”
  • “That’s the last time I go on Amazon with my two-year-old in the room. Their one-click ordering feature is too easy.”

It’s going to be awhile before I do another reader survey, I think.

Just remember, any way is a good way to discover—

Poseidon’s Scribe

8-Fold Approach to Marketing Fiction

You’ve spent innumerable hours all alone writing your book. That’s done; the book is published. All you have to do now is switch personalities, become an extreme extrovert, and market your book. For some, that’s easy and fun. For others, not so much. This post is for those who are confused by, and a bit scared of, marketing their fiction.

Marketing Your BookThere’s plenty of advice out there, both online and in excellent books, about marketing your stories. Many websites provide long lists with scores of tasks for you to do. It’s a bit intimidating.

My intent today is not to make marketing easy, but rather to break down the problem into chunks. Specifically, just eight chunks. I encourage you to explore the subject further. Read the long-list blog posts. Read the books. Watch the videos. But go into it knowing you won’t be doing everything they suggest. Nobody does that (because nobody can).

Your marketing campaign will be different from that of all other authors. Uniquely yours. You’ll do the things you can, the things you’re comfortable with. In time, you’ll stop doing the things that don’t work, and you’ll experiment creatively with new things.

What follows is my attempt to organize the marketing process into parts. There’s some overlap between them, because the process is interconnected as an integral whole, all focused on getting readers to buy your books.

  1. Plan the Campaign. Here’s where you do the advance thinking, figuring out your target audience, your approach, and your budget. You’ll study how others have done it. You’ll write out a marketing plan. You’ll consider timing your book launch for maximum effect, and create your launch strategy.
  1. Brand Yourself. In this step, you craft the picture of you that you want potential readers to have. This is about you, not your book, though your book must be a consistent part of the story, or image, that is you. Through your website, social media, author photo, e-mail signature, and practiced elevator speech, you’ll convey your intended brand.
  1. Explode Outward and Reach People. The goal here is to seem to be everywhere your potential fans are. Not in an annoying way, but suddenly they can’t stop noticing you. Wherever they are, you are, on podcasts, at conferences, book signings, social media, e-mail newsletters, interviews, etc.
  1. Think Like a Potential Fan. You need to put yourself into a reader’s place and make it easy to buy your book. Test out all the links and all your promotional material to ensure they aim toward the sale. You want every interested person to be able to buy your book with ease and without frustration.
  1. Tempt Future Readers. Work on your “curb appeal.” Ensure your website, book cover, author photo, book trailer, etc., are irresistible. Run contests, offer coupons, provide giveaways, show free book excerpts, and hand out swag.
  1. Create Buzz. The idea behind this might seem identical to Step 3, but this one is intended to leave others talking about you and your book. This involves book reviews, blog tours, press releases, entering contests, etc.
  1. Maintain Reader Connections. Here we think long-term and work on retaining your fan base, once initially established. Keep contact with loyal readers via newsletters, e-mail social media, etc.
  1. Manage Your Time. As I said earlier, you can’t do it all. You’ll have to budget your time; stop doing what isn’t working; schedule some time for each part of your marketing plan, and balance that with writing your next book.

This is just the start of your marketing journey. Read these excellent posts by Kimberley Grabas and Caitlin Muir for more in-depth information. By grouping the overall process into eight chunks, I hope this post has simplified and de-mystified the marketing game for you.

Oh, yeah. And buy all the books you can find by Steven R. Southard, also known as—

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 21, 2016Permalink

Dividing Your Time

A long time ago, in a writing and publishing galaxy far, far away, authors could write all the time and the publisher would do all the marketing. Not any more. These days, authors must do their own marketing.

But who has time for that?

Dividing timeWell, you’d better make time for it. Somehow. Sure, you want to spend your precious time writing and you don’t like marketing. That’s why you became a writer. Still, it turns out that your preferences don’t really enter into this—you must do most of your own marketing (or pay someone to do it for you).

Let’s assume you’re done grumbling about that fact and have reached acceptance. You know you must spend some time marketing, and now it’s just a question of how much.

After all, marketing does consume time. Book marketing activities include blogging, blog tours, author interviews, arranging for reviews, book signings, podcasts, social media, and making promotional videos.

How are you going to balance all that with your writing? Let’s take two extreme examples, those of authors Ty Prighter and Mark Etter.

  • Ty Prighter wrote all the time. He disdained marketing and refused to devote any time to it. After all, he said, that’s the publisher’s business. Ty believed the more he wrote the better author he’d become; if he became skilled enough, readers would find his books and want more. His books would market themselves.
  • Mark Etter wrote one book. He got so busy marketing it, he had no time to write another. He enjoyed the social interaction of marketing. Mark discovered which marketing methods worked best for him, and ceased the ineffective ones and focused on those that increased sales.

Which of these authors was more successful? Actually, neither writer practiced a good time management strategy.

It was a long time before readers noticed Ty’s books. He did improve his writing, thanks to the time he spent doing it, but improvement was slow due to the lack of reader feedback. He missed out on a lot of sales he could have had if he’d reached out to readers early.

As for Mark, his book did sell, but some of his readers wanted more. He had no more. Popularity of his one book didn’t rise as high as it might have, had there been a sequel, or at least other books written by that author.

Ty and Mark are fictitious examples, of course. For you, in the real world, it’s going to take a balance. More than that, you’ll have to experiment to find the optimal split of time for you between writing and marketing. You may have to force yourself to do the marketing activities, or you may learn to enjoy them.

I wish I could offer you a numerical percentage of time that has worked for me. However, I’m much closer to the Ty Prighter end of the scale. I don’t spend much time marketing, other than blogging. I do enjoy that, but the effect of blogging on sales of my books has been lackluster. I’m working toward a better balance of marketing and writing time, but it’s difficult.

May the force be with you as you figure out your proper time balance. Once you do, consider sharing your wisdom, and leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 27, 2015Permalink

Writing and the Black Swan

My question is, once you understand how the Black Swan relates to writing fiction, will you be so dejected that you’ll abandon any idea of becoming an author?

black swanNassim Nicholas Taleb wrote The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and it was published in 2007. A statistician, the author was trying to get readers to think about low-probability events and our estimation of their risk.

He defined a black swan event as having three properties: (1) it is very rare, to the point of being almost impossible; (2) it has a huge impact on people, either positively or negatively; and (3) people do not (or cannot) predict it in advance, but after it occurs, everyone sees that it should have been predicted since it was obvious all the time.

By the way, Taleb chose the metaphor of a black swan because most swans are white, and black ones are very rare. In fact, people were convinced that all swans were white, until proven wrong. That’s part of Taleb’s point. If a rare event hasn’t occurred today, or yesterday, or for your entire life, you come to believe it cannot happen. Since black swans have a massive impact when they do occur, there is a huge difference between impossible and improbable.

I read the book about two and a half years ago, but I recall Taleb discussing success in writing as a black swan event. For our purposes, let us define success by the amount of money earned from writing. Success in writing, therefore, is rare, has a huge impact on a few writers, and is difficult to predict in advance but obvious afterward.

Taleb would conclude that if we could compile the relevant accurate statistics, the resulting graph would look like this:

black swan and writingThe vast majority of authors earn very little money, while very few earn a large income from writing.

Why is that? I believe Taleb would say that an author’s income is related to the popularity of his or her books. That popularity is determined by readers when they hear about the book, learn that their friends like it, and when they read it and recommend it to others.

People hear about books from various media outlets, so the media plays into book popularity. Luck has a role too, since poorly written books sometimes become bestsellers despite the writing quality.

Let’s say you’re an aspiring author, and let’s assume all the above is true. Does it depress you to know how much the odds are stacked against your success? Does it make you want to give up on your dream?

If you truly are writing for the money, there are things you can do to position yourself for the black swan. You can become really good at marketing; you can seek out (or pay for) media attention. You can practice your writing until you become more skilled at it.

No guarantees come with any of that, but your odds of success will improve a bit. The trouble is, you could strive for years, doing everything right, and still not achieve success because that intangible luck eludes you. That’s disheartening.

Alternatively, you could redefine what success means for you. You could decide you’re not after money, but seeking the pure enjoyment of writing, or the thrill of seeing your name in print. That’s a much more probable event, not a black swan at all.

Still, it’s my hope that the black swan of financial success from writing pays a visit soon, to both you and—

Poseidon’s Scribe

It’s All You, Dave

Remember ‘Dave’ from the Staples™ TV commercial from a Dave - Staplesfew years ago?  The guy walked into an office where everyone looked suspiciously like him, and they all greeted each other by saying, “Dave.”  The commercial closed with the voiceover saying, “In a small business, it’s all you.”

If you’re a writer these days, you’re much like Dave.  After all, in your corporation of one, you fill the following positions:

  • President.  Congratulations! You made it to the top, the big cheese, the high muckety-muck.  The company bears your name.  You’re praised when it succeeds, and blamed when…well, let’s not focus on that.
  • Vice President of Purchasing.  In days gone by, this job entailed keeping your business furnished with a functional typewriter, paper, pens, a nice desk, and a comfortable chair.  Now the job responsibilities have shrunk to ensuring a functional computer and a solid Internet connection.
  • V.P. of Research & Development.  This is one of the best jobs in the company, the department doing all the research for your stories.  If you write historical fiction, this is particularly important.  It’s so much fun, however, that this job will take over your company if left unchecked.
  • V.P. of Contracting.  You may not be a lawyer, but you’re going to have to know some basics about contracts.  Just reading the darn things can be tedious—nothing at all like reading fiction.  Once you sign, you’re bound by that agreement.
  • V.P. of Production.  Finally, a fun job.  This is the one you signed up for.  You manage the mental machinery that takes ideas from the R&D department, plus some coffee, and produces polished prose.
  • V.P. of Marketing and Sales.  Your company won’t promote itself, that’s for sure.  If you contract with a big publishing firm, they’ll take care of this, but with smaller publishers or with self-publishing, you’ve got to get your name out there by yourself.  You’ve got to work the social media, speak at conferences, arrange book signings, etc.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO).  Unless you’ve got someone else handling the books, the ledgers, the taxes for you, it’s up to you.  Skill in accounting doesn’t always go hand in hand with skill in writing, so your on-the-job training better not take too long.
  • V. P. of Customer Service.  When your customers (readers) complain about the product, to whom do they turn?  You.  Although there’s no need to respond to negative reviews, you should respond to comments on your blog posts, and e-mails from readers.

All those fancy job titles lose some luster when they’re combined in one person, and that’s you.  However, look at the bright side:  decisions get made quickly in your company of one.  All those departments see eye-to-eye; they’re on the same page, so to speak.  No in-fighting, no hidden agendas, no stabbing in the back.

Unlike the conclusion of the commercial, there is no Easy button to push.  Purchasing is the only department Staples™ can help.

However, there are Help buttons, many sources of information to help writers figure out all these specialized jobs.  In fact my blog is dedicated to providing that information.

So, ‘Dave,’ get back to work.  It’s all you.  And I’ll return to my work, too.  At my company, it’s all—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

February 9, 2014Permalink

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

December 8, 2013Permalink

Your Author Platform

Several years ago, the writing world buzzed about the concept of “author platform.”  Here I’ll briefly define the term, state the purposes of these platforms, describe mine, and offer thoughts on yours.

There are many sites where you can get a good definition of author platforms, notably here, here, and here.  Basically your platform consists of the ways you use to stand out in the crowd, the methods you use to attract a fan base of readers.

An author platform starts with your stories, your books.  From a platform point of view, it’s best if they have something in common—genre, theme, style, etc.  But the other aspect of the term platform is how you connect with readers.  Not just how you connect books with readers, but how you connect you with readers.

There are many ways to do that, including appearances at conferences and other venues, interviews, and your web presence.  Web presence includes blogs, social media, e-mailed newsletters, etc.

What’s the purpose of this platform?  In the ‘old days’ publishers would build a platform for the author.  No more.  Now it’s expected the author will take out saw and hammer and construct it herself.  If a publisher or agent sees that a writer has an existing platform, that represents a low business risk, an established product that’s ready to sell to already-waiting customers.

Readers don’t need to know about platforms, but they do enjoy connecting with authors they like.  When they take delight in a book and do a web search for the author and find a rich and varied web presence, they feel they can join the author’s circle.  When they find the author has other books just as good and similar in some way, they feel comfortable shelling out money for them because there’s a familiar consistency there, a set of established expectations.

For authors, the platform serves the purposes of connecting to both readers and publishers in the modern, web-based world.

Author PlatformAs for me, my platform is still under construction.  I’ve mainly been working on writing stories, as many as I can.  Although I’ve dabbled in different genres, I’ve found I enjoy writing about the problems of people dealing with new technology, especially in historical and foreign settings.  The stories in the series What Man Hath Wrought, put out by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, are the best examples.

My web presence is slowly increasing, by means of this blog, Twitter, and my author page on Amazon.  I’m still working on Facebook and other venues.

What about your platform?  My advice is to do what works for you.  Start with writing stories; hone your writing skills.  If you can get some of them published, even at non-paying markets, that at least gets your name out there.   Then work on the various marketing methods.  As you try things, pay attention to sales and spend more time on things that increase sales and less time on things that don’t.

As with any trend or movement, a backlash is forming with respect to platforms.  See section 3 of this entry.  I think Jane Friedman’s advice to new fiction writers (for whom I write my blog) is sound.  Just write.  Think about writing, focus on writing, enjoy writing, and let the marketing develop later.

What are your thoughts on author platforms?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.  In the meantime, see that guy trying to erect some sort of raised dais there in the middle of the internet, using two-by-fours and bailing wire?  Don’t laugh, that’s—

                                                              Poseidon’s Scribe