Thursday, May 20, 2010

Standing Out in a Sea: Book Promoting

I've been thinking a lot lately about book promoting. I have also been thinking about Betty White, good recipes for baked tilapia, and why some people say "reoccuring" when they mean "recurring." But none of those latter topics seem like a good enough subject for a blog...not yet, anyway.

See, when I was a little boy growing up on the banks of the Ohio River, I dreamed of being an author. And the one thing that never crossed my mind in any of those fantasies was book promotion. Back then, it never dawned on me that an integral part of my life as a writer would be hawking my books. And certainly, back in those days of rotary telephones, remoteless TVs, and sending letters through the mail, that there would be such things as Facebook, Twitter, or even more exotic stuff like viral marketing and SEO.

But now it seems like I could spend all day promoting my work via Yahoo Groups (which seem to have several groups for every genre), social networking, blogging, and website maintenance. All that I mean no time for eating, sleeping, reading, exercising, TV, movies...and yes, even writing. There are promo opportunities galore for writers...and all of them can be done right from the comfort of one's laptop. You can literally post excerpts, synopses, good reasons to buy books, and much more 24/7.

But is anyone listening? For example, I belong to several Yahoo Groups, some for horror readers, some for fans of gay fiction, some for fans of ebooks, others for just fans of books in general. Now, if you're one of the uninitiated and you're unaware of these groups, you may be surprised to know there are hundreds of people posting every single day to these groups...and my experience has been that most of the people doing the posting are authors. You post news about your new book, latest review, or whatever, and a thousand other authors are posting right after you, with news about their books.

Is anyone listening?

I happened to notice a writer friend I very much respect and admire--and who is very successful in gay fiction never posts to these groups, doesn't Twitter, shamelessly neglects Facebook and even its sad cousin, MySpace, yet that author's books and readers continue to grow in number, eclipsing even those writers who are blogging and twittering their little hearts out. So I asked her: what's the story? She told me that she long ago came to the conclusion that for her, social networking and chatting up Yahoo groups and the like didn't ever make an appreciable difference in her sales. In fact, she said, once she stopped doing those things (more out of lack of time for it than anything else), her books continued to grow in popularity. She attributed it to two things: the first is having a quality product, or a good, well-written book that people wanted to read; and the second to word-of-mouth, which would follow naturally from having a good, well-written book that people wanted to read. The other things she mentioned was publishing frequently. Gone are the days when writers can wait years for their next book to come out--we are a short-attention span society. And she thought keeping her name in front of readers with regularity made all the difference in her book sales.

Food for thought.

I have been trying lately to evaluate what I should and shouldn't do as an author to let people know about my books. I do blogs like this one. I have a website. I Facebook. I Twitter. I send out regular messages to Yahoo groups, but I wonder: who is reading this stuff? And are they reading it and going on to buy my books?

One thing I have concluded: promotions don't sell books. Books sell books. Give a reader a story they want to read and it will sell. I have published enough to have a handle on what has been successful for me and what hasn't been. Horror? Somewhat. Quirky humor? Eh, not so much. Thrillers? Kinda. Romance? Bingo! Romance readers have to be the hungriest readers out there...and they seem to put their money with their mouths (or should that be eyes?) are.

I guess what this blog is all about are two big questions:

1. If you're a reader, how do you find out about new books? What compels you to buy a book?
2. If you're a writer, what kind of things work best for you to promote your work? Or is it more about just having a quality product and making it available?

I would love it if either, or both, of those groups would take the time to leave me a comment and let me know what gives.

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  1. This is a great question. I'm an author too and I've always wondered that same thing. I post everywhere and do all those same things, but does anyway read it? I have been doing ok with one of my books but the other isn't really getting many sales. The first one I have is a series so people know that part 2 is coming. I think readers like to get to know characters and knowing that it's a series and they can keep reading about them later helps. I also have a book trailer for the book. The second book that I wrote isn't in a series and no book trailer. So maybe those things is what is helping the first book. I don't really know, but I thought I would put my two cents in :)

    Lizzy Stevens

  2. I'm a reader/book blogger. I mostly find out about new books via blogs of other readers, plus Jessewave. Lily's weekly update of new m/m books is very helpful.

    But for older/previously published books, it's pretty much from blog recommendations. I do a lot of promos/giveaways on my blog - I do a mixture of new/forthcoming and of previously published books. For example, right now I'm giving away a copy of PA Brown's L.A. Heat - I was afraid that everyone would already have it, but it turns out that isn't the case.

  3. P.S. And I'd be delighted to coordinate some sort of promo/giveaway with you, Rick. :)

  4. For print, a good cover and interesting blurb make me want to buy. A catchy title helps as well, if I'm wading through books at the book store.

    For ebooks, I tend to check the publishers I enjoy every week and see what's new. If something looks good (see the reasons for print above) then I buy it.

  5. Hey Rick,

    I blogged about this very thing on my blog back in 2008. I've found that within any online group, there are authors and there are readers. By being active on the the groups that have a respectable number of readers, you will definitely draw attention to your book and sell to a reader that might not otherwise have known about you or your book. There are authors who will tell you that endlessly promoting on social sites has sold hundreds of books for them. Is it true? Only those authors know.

    For me, I've always questioned Facebook. But in any case, I believe an author has to draw the line somewhere. You must have time to write....and promote. One can't overwhelm the other. Pick the online groups and sites you like best and forget the others. Spend only a short time on Facebook.

    Most important....keep writing.

  6. Frankly, hard-core promo-ing authors put me off. If I read the same badly-written exerpt and the same old "YAY I GOT FIVE STARS AT FIVE STARS BLOG" post on ten mailinglists, I'm more inclined to NOT buy the book.

    There's a huge difference between hard and soft selling. I wish other writers knew the difference and would stop trying to ram their books down my throat by sending me 15 emails per day. They just get deleted and the author put on my mental "obnoxious spammer" list.

    Which is, I guess, not the effect that promo-ing authors want to achieve.

  7. Hey Rick!

    A book cover very seldom draws me in. I'm captured first by the book title; second by an author's name (if it's known to me); third by the blurb about the book; fourth by reviews (if I've seen any).

    Obviously none of that is going to happen if eitehr I don't go to a book store (which I no longer have time to do) or it hasn't been brought to my attention through some sort of promoting.

    With my busy schedule, the ways I learn of new books is through the Sunday book reviews in our local newspaper... but primarily through social networking sites (specifically Facebook). If a writer talks about his/her book I'll pay attention. If a friend talks about a book they're read, I'm all ears. If those have sparked my interest enough, I will look to see what other sort of promotion the author/publisher has provided, ie blogs, reviews, etc...

    Rick, my friend, don't forget that I have learned to become the self-professed KING OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION! If you don't tell folks, they don't buy.

    Have a great Thursday!

    Joe the Candleman

  8. I buy a book because the content interests or intrigues me. I have a few favorite authors, but they tend to be the one-book-a-year variety, so if the blurb grabs my attention I'll buy it. My one true weakness is British cops--if there's one in the story, I'll buy it, I don't care who wrote it.


  9. Note to self: add British cops to my books.

  10. Well uh, I sorta blog and sometimes review but mostly I just seem to upset people...

    What makes me buy a book????

    Oh my, this might not be exactly on topic...

    #1 Great cover art that makes me want to read the book or even just own it for the artwork.

    That may sound really shallow to an author but it's more true than you think.

    #2 Remind me this book is simply like other books I really liked.

    So this might also seem lame. But I really would love to see more stories based on a trope or type of story but with gay characters.

    But with style mind you, like Brokeback Mountain or Longhorns did ripping off the Cowboy Romance or pulp story or Master of Obsidian did having fun turning the tables on Vampire Romance...

    Things I have looked for but not found yet Highlander and/or Braveheart type stories.

    Sometimes I think authors do not realize how easy readers tastes really are. AT least mine are... I like and will buy all types of stories but yeah if your book reminds me of something I enjoyed before even as a straight romance it's an easier sale.

  11. That's some good insight, Teddy...and probably not as surprising as you might think.

  12. LOL! "Oh, look, there's this book's random and completely unrelated to anything British cop!" It could become a signature feature...

  13. OK--I'm a reader. How do I find out about new books? It used to be through the gay newspapers but they're gone now so I either go to the bookstore to browse or read some of the authors work her on Facebook (I believe that's what convinced me to buy your books).

    What compels me? The subject matter or the name of an author who previous works I liked. If I liked his previous books a LOT I buy it without even looking through it.

  14. Chris, I could have my Brit cop do Alfred Hitchcock like cameos in each book I write from now on.

    Wayne, thanks for giving me some validation that Facebook does work.

  15. Rick,
    This question has been on my mind for a year now. I'm trying to do all the marketing things everyone says to do on the internet, but I can't see that it makes much difference and it takes so much time I don't have any left to actually write or read. What's wrong with this picture?
    R. Ann Siracusa

  16. The main ingredient I require of a book is that it reveals what humans are comprised of. The text an author offers must increase my grasp of the essence of being human.

    If a book puts the light-of-day on the attributes of the human consciousness, it becomes a Must Read.

    Adam of CA.

  17. Well, as a writer, I've found that limited promotion does help. I have a few (five or six) groups I regularly promo on a couple of times a month, and when my publishers have chats I try to attend those. I Facebook, blog, and have a newsletter. I also have a Twitter account but it tends to get neglected.

    I have backed off of MySpace because it never seems to really pan out.

    You have to pick and choose your promo venues and you can't spread yourself too thin. Guest blogging and interviews are also good, commenting on others' blogs, discussion forums where you get involved in threads and not just pimp your own stuff. LOL

    You have to promo at least a little. I notice a decided drop when I do no promo.

    But yes, you absolutely have to keep publishing, keep your name out there, even if it's just a freebie short on your blog for people to download. Keep your name out there somehow.

    I also have a newsletter on my site where I don't spam people, I post less than once a week on the average, and it constantly grows. Make sure your website/blog are in the "About the Author" section of every release you have so people can find you.

  18. After much failed experimentation the past few years, I've landed on a kinda/sorta formula. My blog attracts new readers with likeminded interests. My website does not necessarily attract new readers, but rather catalogs my backlist for readers once they've happened upon one of my titles elsewhere. I Tweet to announce blog posts, and to chat on days when I feel like a hermit in need of social interaction.

    Facebook and MySpace are just sort of there as backups. There was a time when I used MySpace to actively target new readers thanks to the interests search, but now MySpace is in its final death throes, so I re-strategized and don't use it much anymore.

    I've found the groups are only productive during M/M-specific chats, as actual *readers* seem to show up at those. Otherwise, I don't do the groups anymore outside of occasional announcements.

    I keep my Goodreads listings current, but then leave it up to readers to come in and discuss.

    Mainly, I try to focus on writing, while blogging every few days about topics of interest to both current and potential readers. I switch the focus to promo the first few weeks after release, then get back to writing. It seems here in high volume e-book land, those first few critical weeks see the highest number of sales, then start dropping off into backlist territory. I think the best thing we can do is write the next book, leaving our readership provides to promo our work via word of mouth, a much more valuable tool than either we or our publishers can provide.

  19. I'm both a reader and a writer, so I'll answer both.

    If you're a reader, how do you find out about new books? What compels you to buy a book?

    For me, it's a mix of methods. I used to work in a bookstore, which made it really easy to find out about new books. I think that's what I miss most about the job. I still visit my old workplace to see what's new. I also find a lot by browsing the new arrival shelf at my library. And also word-of-mouth, as well as word-of-blog. I am really interested in seeing what other authors I enjoy are reading on their own time. I do often buy things that authors I like promote on their blogs, and I wonder if that's a generational thing. I was born nearly 20 years before Facebook existed, but I'm also among that first group of college students to start using it (back when it was student-only). I like to keep tabs on my favorite authors and their new releases through Facebook and blog.

    If you're a writer, what kind of things work best for you to promote your work? Or is it more about just having a quality product and making it available?

    Honestly, as a beginning writer, I'm still working on this. I have a Facebook account and a blog, but am not sure how useful that is yet. Of course, I have only been publishing for about a year, and just had my first anthology appearance last week, so I'm still in the reputation-building stage. I'll get back to you in a year and see what I've noticed.

  20. What compels you to buy a book?
    1. Cover
    2. Excerpt
    3. Heat Rating (I don't read sweet & sappy)
    4. Reviews


  21. Hey Rick. As a writer, I've found that the 'crowd' moves from one to another social network group. A few years ago 'livejournal' and 'Myspace' were followed with a little more interest. I do kind of try to keep track of where the readers are. I've found blogging is still a good way of letting them know I have a new book out. HOWEVER those are people who already know of me.

    As a reader, I get new author names and recommendations from review blogs, and, lately, 'Goodreads'.

  22. I'm a reader (tend to be a reader even on the groups and blogs - especially with the interwebz issues of the few months) and I buy books that come to my attention ...

    So, it may be the newsletter from the publisher or the author announcing the releases, a comment made on a group or blog, an "I loved this because .." message, the blurb, the characters, the continuing story arc (must read the whole series!) or stumbling back through an author/reviewer/publisher blog or a theme day in a Yahoo!group. *shrug* Any and all of the above (including negative reviews and comments) can be the final decision-maker.
    If I come across mention of a title, I'll check my bookmarks to see if I have noted that title (filed under Books To Get or in one of the sub-folders of Books To Get Maybe (with places for mystery, SFF, historical and so on) and if I don't have any reviews bookmarked, I'll go off to the "usual" sites to see if they have covered it. The actual "rating" or score of a review is not the bit I'm after - it is the general comment (there may be a deal-break or maker in there or in the follow-up comments ..

    I'm still very connected to my lj and as my flist is full of readers (and some writers), I get rec's from them. I'll often friend authors I read in lj.

    As a general rule, I'm more likely to read posts from a "joint" group, like GWR, than to be able to follow every post in a blog (especially as I have internet issues, so being able to read the messages a day-week-month or so late is easy), although I try to keep up with the few author ones I belong to (v chatty bunch, so I tend to fail!). I am unlikely to join any more single author groups on Yahoo!, not because I don't read their books, but because I truly can't keep up (I will sign up for newsletters/announcements of upcoming releases) and feel guilty about falling behind on events in the groups I do belong to.

    I signed up for GoodReads a year or so ago and decided not to get involved - I am struggling to keep up with the rec's from elsewhere and I don't want to have my BookAcquiring time exceed my BookReading time.

    I check out publisher web sites every week or so (which is where I may be tempted by a beautiful cover *am deeply shallow*) and a year or so ago I started putting calendar events for upcoming releases that sound intriguing - I don't always end up buying the book, but I don't miss out on the chance to check it out.
    So any given title may have been bookmarked by me at least twice before it is released of review - from the author's excerpt in a group or blog and the upcoming page on the publisher's site and if that isn't enough to persuade me, the early reviews get bookmarked too. It means I can look back a few months later when I am "in the mood" for a particular author/theme and make a decision while dinner is cooking. :)

    Discovering a new-to-me author often results in a back-list buy-up and I check to see what authors-I-like like to read.
    I tend to follow my nose a bit, too - so may end up with 20 tabs open in my browser as I chase link after link of intriguing books (a bit sad when it all falls over, thank goodness for the Restore button!).

    Oh and I impulse shop like a professional! My TBR (in bookcases and folders) is formidable - I consider them Rainy Day and When I'm In The Mood For security.

    In a side note: It seems to me that recently there has been a bit of divergence between covers and blurbs - for example, the image may show two people but the blurb indicates three (or vice versa) or perhaps it is sounds like a thriller, but the cover suggest something fluffier. Am I the only confused one out here?

    Cheers and thanks for asking!
    H aka mistry89

  23. Sorry, Rick, a cameo won't do it. I want a big, hunky British cop as the principal character. There's just something about those clunky black boots and the navy serge uniform with the silver buttons that gets me every time.

    P.S. I can appreciate a great book cover, but isn't buying a book for the cover rather like buying a product for the packaging. What if you don't like the contents?

  24. I think somebody has a bobby fetish.

    Re book covers: I do think they matter, probably way more than they should, but that's life. I have to admit I have bought a book because I loved the cover. And I think that bad covers can actually harm a book...but that's another blog.

  25. After the writing conference I attended this past weekend, this topic has been on my mind a lot. I've made a few forays into online promotion, mostly laying groundwork for what I hope to do in the future, but the thing I always end up thinking is that none of that work is writing.

    I'm totally behind the British cop thing, though.

  26. I buy a book if I've read the author and like their stuff. So, yes, a good book sells a second book. Or a good first book in a series sells the second one.

    When will I try a new author?
    Word of mouth is good or a friend loans a book to me. Usually it is my mother in law who's an avid reader. She got me started reading with sweet romances. I ventured into steamier on my own, so she doesn't take recommendations from me. I am hooked on the warrior books, yes talking cats, that my son recommended. He wanted me to read it, so I did to encourage him to keep reading them. Now we talk about them.

    A library book. I will check out a new to me author at the library. This way, if I don't like it, no big deal. If I do, I might buy them next time I see them.

    Used books at a fraction of the cost. If it looks good and it is cheap, I'll spring for it. (.25 or so) This has gotten me to buy the author at full price.

    A local author or someone I know. I like to support my local writers. And if I see a name where I have met the person in a local writers group, I'll check it out.

    Ebooks- I tend to look at who published it. While all books at a publisher are not the same, they tend to follow the same lines. Meaning steam or plot line. Editors buy books they like and want to work with. And people tend to like a certain type of book. So, in most cases, you can expect the same type of books from the pub. If I liked one book from one author, I'll try another author at the same pub if I like the blurb.

  27. As a reader, my greatest thrill nowadays is access to excerpts. Obviously, a print book I can browse, but I don't often go to stores nowadays, so the excerpts for books posted on the net are GREAT. I personally buy almost entirely on the basis of (i) authors I already love and trust to produce good product, and (ii) new authors with a writing style that engages me.

    I'd rather hear from an author about their releases and then the occasional additional post about something I might enjoy or want to share, than a constant stream of WIP-notes and chatter. Note: I don't mind reading pure promo on their blog about new releases, either, because it's how I find out about it, though I do like the occasional non-pimping post to balance it.

    As an author, I'm most like Katrina, I think, finding the level of blogging and promo I can cope with, and pimping at m/m-specific chats and around launch dates. I don't do as much as many others, but I think at a certain point it becomes *too* much and turns me off, like others have said :). And God knows how they find time to write LOL.

    I seriously think that promo acts a bit like the Yellow Pages - you can't be sure it results in any specific sales, but if you're *not* listed, there's less chance of catching someone's eye! In other words, you ought to be IN, even at a minimum level.

  28. I highly suspect your friend's numbers continue to grow, because she has formed a stable core audience and has word of mouth working for her now. In short, the thing to understand is that promotion is MORE important before that audience is in place and working for you. As you get six, ten, twenty works out for sale, it becomes less important...if sales are good and continue to grow.

    Is it ever not important? I don't think so, but some people do. Why do I feel this way?

    I have some favorite authors that I actively SEARCH for new books from every few months and keep wish lists of books due out from in the next year or so. If you are not one of those favorite authors already, it doesn't matter if you have no previous books out or two dozen, you won't sell to me, if I don't know your book exists.

    Unlike many readers, word of mouth rarely works with me. Same thing for reviews. I don't care if Jane Doe and John Smith like someone's work. If I don't already know that I usually agree or disagree with Jane and John's reading tastes, that is useless. The same goes for blurb quotes from famous authors. Just because I like READING Sherrilyn Kenyon does not mean I will enjoy reading the same books she enjoys reading.

    What does make me buy a book? A title may catch my attention...enough to get me to look closer. Covers may turn me off but not spur me toward a sale. Once you have my attention, you MUST provide me an engaging blurb that does not sound like a copycat of 50 other new releases that year. Then you must provide me with a clean, engaging excerpt. If your book is poorly presented via blurb and excerpt, you can forget me buying. If it's well-presented and sounds intriguing to me, you have just made a sale.

    Where do I find most information about new books? Yahoogroups. 95% of the information I get about new books I purchase comes from Yahoogroups. Some from chats, but mostly Yahoogroups. The rest comes in the form of paper promo at conventions I attend or by browsing in the store (where I STILL need a good blurb and first few pages).

    Now, what do I find works, as an author? A little bit of everything. You see, some people are like me in how they find new books. Reviews/word of mouth work on some people. Social networking works on some people. Chats work well for me. Blogs work on some. Ads work on some.

    Any given thing you do will appeal to a certain subsection of the readers and not to others. My rule of thumb is... "If it doesn't take too much of my time and money, it's worth a try." At least, I am attempting to reach those readers.

  29. As a very, very new writer, I've found that only reviews make the difference. Even fans of mine on YouTube that follow me on the social networking sites didn't buy until I was able to start posting good reviews. People want more than the author's word that their book is good, especially when they are relatively unknown.

    As a reader, reviews matter to me the most. I'm willing to do the leg work to find the exact kind of books I like (plots not based on sexuality but that still contain a classy dash of romance) but the reviews have to sell it from there.

  30. Wow...thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. I'm overwhelmed by the response and your differing viewpoints both confirmed what I already knew and surprised me. I think Clare London summed it up best with her "yellow pages" comment...whatever you do as an author, readers have to know you're there...

  31. Aleksander,

    Sorry, but I have to disagree here. If an author is on ten lists I am, I have no problem seeing that same promo on all ten lists (i.e. release notice or something similar). That's what the delete key is for, and I use it often when that happens. An author that doesn't cross-post to different groups isn't thinking. There will be SOME crossover, but there will also be readers on X list that are not on Y and Z and vice versa.

    What makes the difference for me comes down to five things...

    1. Does the author keep repeating the same post on the same list or having someone else do it for her? If the author is doing it, it's a hard sell and a spam. Like you, I hate that.

    2. Does the author use the wrong days for promo, as per the list rules? If the author is, it's spam. (Keep a database of which days are correct and how to post/posting rules, for pities sake!)

    3. How often does the author post promo posts? This is a less precise thing. If an author has three releases in a as many weeks, I don't see anything wrong with announcing all three. It's legitimate. If he is posting the same thing, over and over on the same list, even spaced a week for the proper promo day, that's spam. Also, announcing every little thing can add up to spam. A single update post is better than ten smaller ones about little things. In fact, some lists require that.

    4. Do the posts have relevance? Promoting an erotic romance book on a YA list or a contemp romance on a spec fic list is not cool. Also, posting reviews from other sites on the Yahoogroup for a review site is wrong, unless they specifically allow it. If you are discussing a subject, and you want to use an example from one of your own books, that is usually okay, as long as you don't hard sell with it. A mention is fine. Which brings me to...

    5. Does the author post on other topics? Unless the list is just for promo (there are some), you should make an attempt to discuss other subjects on the list, as well.

  32. I agree with your friend about the Yahoo Groups re sales and growing readership. I've noticed the same thing about my work.

    You grew up on the banks of the Ohio River, eh? I live only a few miles from the Ohio River! I'm in SE Ohio about 40 min downriver of Wheeling, WV. Small world!

  33. i am an AVID reader. since i am always looking for something new to read and my budget is tight, i hit the ebook web sites first. if i find something that sounds interesting i go to the author's site for a little more info on the book. sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't since not all web sites are current. i also try to catch as many promo chats as i can for excerpts. i also have a handful of blog sites that i check out.

  34. Faith, I grew up in East Liverpool, OH, just a hop and a skip away from Wheeling.

  35. Rick,

    You're from my neck of the woods, then. I'm from Pittsburgh and spent a lot of time in surrounding communities.


  36. @Brenna: There's always a fine line between promo and spam, I agree. But as a reader - and I'm a reader, too - I really don't like authors popping up in mailinglists (that are not just or even not primarily for promo) and only show up to say "BUY MY BOOK" and then vanish again.

    In another instance, I've been contacted on Goodreads via unsolicited PM where a Big Name Author told me that since I had Lolita on my "to read list", I'd want to check out his het romance. I told him politely thank you, but I'm not actually reading het romance. He kept pushing his books at me, and I said, I was mostly on Goodreads to network and to talk to others. He flat-out told me that he's only there to sell his books and isn't interested in anything else ("too busy").

    Apart from his pushy, obnoxious hard-selling, he'd broken several rules of promo-ing. He looked like an *sshole, and reduced my inclination to read his stuff to Nil.

  37. Aleksandr,

    On that, I can completely agree. As I said, one of my things is whether or not the author does ANY other interaction on the lists that allow it.