How to fail at book marketing

Sorry about the click bait title. Over the last few years, I’ve worked out selling books is—to use that old cliché—the hardest bit of the book journey.

Writing and publishing is the gentle 5k run bit. Selling is the marathon. Scrap that, it’s an ultra marathon. That horrible hard one people run in the African desert where most participants drop out long before the finish.

Anyway, here are the bits of branding and marketing I’ve made a spectacular mess of…

Self-promotion via social media

It’s free! You can reach thousands, no tens of thousands of people.

In theory, yes, if you’ve managed to add tonnes of folks to your platforms. And your skin is thick enough not to cringe when you upload yet another self-promotional post. You guys!!!! So EXCITED for you!!!! My book is out next week. Pre-order now. You guys are the BEST. XXXX

And seeing as millions of people are online trying to do the same thing, your voice drowns out in the all the noise anyway.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Concentrate on a few platforms, keep the messaging consistent and find a better way of engaging the people I think want to read women’s fiction.

A website

Cool. I’ve already got a blog. That will be the best place to promote my stuff, right? Do as I did. Start your blog on a different subject, change direction half-way through so now you have half your followers who signed up expecting one thing, and the other half expecting something else.

Try to craft blog posts that cater to both. Always a winning strategy, hmm?

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: When I decided the focus of my blog was to be books and writing, I’d have set up a new blog and started from the beginning. Then I could have targeted the audience I wanted more effectively.

The cover sells the book

Yes it does. Most of my books have beautiful covers (see left). If people spot them in the first place. Amazon’s too crowded for visibility these days unless you pay for adverts, the cost of which have risen to ridiculous levels in the last six months because, guess what, everyone else is advertising too.

Put yourself EVERYWHERE

I’m on every single online platform in the world (feels like). Proper authors have virtual assistants who do this kind of thing for them. They make sure all links work, keep newsfeeds up to date, check notifications, respond to queries etc., etc.

As I don’t have a VA, I wrestle with remembering passwords, if I’ve priced my book consistently across all channels and which promotion I’ve tried to implement on what book and when. The admin of social media accounts is what they will make people do in prisons for punishment in years to come.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Scale back my social media accounts to the ones I think work for books. (Pinterest? Instagram and an active, engaged Facebook group perhaps?) I’d also write out checklists for the books’ admin and schedule social media time so it was consistent but not a procrastination tool.

Hope a plea for reviews at the end of a book is enough

Most authors will agree with me–it stings like mad when people you know read your book and don’t review it… (That’s if they read it in the first place instead of just buying it out of obligation.) Anyone who doesn ‘t work in the freelance world, which is what anyone who writes a book does, might not know how crucial reviews are nowadays. Make allowances for them.

Think TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Yelp and Uber. Without reviews, you are invisible. Review begging is everywhere. From restaurants with signs on the door, to podcasts that end with a plea for the listener to review them on iTunes, it is common. Even if you would rather your dentist removed your wisdom teeth, remember everyone else is at it too.

It is also worth remembering that the proportion of readers who review a book is much, much smaller than the number who read it.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Focus on finding plenty of advance readers who are happy to read the book ahead of publication and review it as soon as the book comes out. This can’t be the condition they read the book, as that is unethical. However, if they do like it with any luck they won’t mind leaving you a review.

Flit from one thing to the next

See above. Ooh, this bright new shiny thing will work for sure! Tries new thing. Fails. Out there, services for authors have sprung up like weeds in the last five years.

From publishing services, aggregators who distribute your book to channels you’ve never heard of, to software that promises to analyse Amazon for you and reveal the mystery keywords that will help your book reach the heady heights of front page listings. Then, there are the gazillion (expensive) courses that focus on marketing and selling.

Throw plenty of money at your books and sure, they will sell. What is someone with limited disposable income to do? What’s worth paying for? My thoughts are covers, editing and proofreading and a small budget for ads. Other than that, I’m sure other things work. I just don’t know which ones.

Not knowing when to give up

You will never sell enough books to make an income. You’ll be lucky to break even. Say, someone said that to me six years ago. They guaranteed their promises. At the time, I would have given up.

Now? No, not at all. I love writing and creation. Last week, I spent a few hours wrestling with the plot of the latest book I’m writing to make it flow better. When I’d finished, the glow lasted the rest of the day and into the weekend.

If you make your goals teeny-tiny—sell enough of a book to pay for what I spend on covers, editing and proofing—achievement looks much more do-able.

Small things convince me to continue—the number of people who downloaded my freebie book. Strangers’ reviews. And some not so small either, such as last year when one of my books got long-listed in the Wattys (151,000+ entries).

Keep calm and carry on…

pink glitter publishing Emma Baird

The Kobo Experiment part one #amwriting

""My books are on Amazon, of course they are, but what if I stopped focussing on making Amazon the bee all and end all, and took a punt on life outside the mighty behemoth?

In the UK as in many other countries Amazon is blamed for destroying the high street and the old model of business. It’s a Darwinism type principle (only the fittest survive), but you could argue that too many regulators have moved too slowly to put the requisite checks and balances in place.

I use the site so moral objections come with that all-encompassing qualifier, “yes, but…” I buy from it, I sell books there and I read the reviews before I purchase things. A qualifier for the first part of that sentence—I try to sell books on Amazon.

It’s almost impossible these days without splashing out on Amazon ads, thanks to the algorithm changes they have made. Bear in mind this charge is on top of the commission Amazon takes on each sale.

Still, it is worth remembering that it’s easier to be a big fish in a smaller pond. Almost everyone agrees that if you want to sell books on Amazon, we’re now in pay to play territory. Advertise, or die; your book thrust into the seventh, eighth, ninth page of rankings. They’re the pages so few people bother with. (And dear reader, it is worth checking them out— the ranking is more to do with advertising spend than anything else).

One huge irony is that even if you make a book free (the first in a series so you can persuade people to then buy the rest of the books in that series) is you still need to advertise that book, as ‘free’ doesn’t give you the same visibility it used to.

Downloads of my books world-wide.

What if you hang out in the little ponds? My first e-reader was a Kobo. My husband, he of the intense research before you buy fame, reckoned a Kobo was a better bet than a Kindle. You could use it to get library books. I agreed. It’s lack of advertising (well, apart from books), the long battery life, the eye/head/mental health type screen are additional bonuses.

And, shock horror, Kindle and Amazon aren’t as widespread as you might think. Look beyond the US and the UK and you see a healthy e-book market that doesn’t just want the mobi. docs (Amazon only) but screams for epub files (what every other e-book reader uses).

To be clear, I don’t intend to take my books off Amazon–just to concentrate any marketing efforts elsewhere.  So far, a £3 promotion I ran on Kobo has resulted in more than 625 downloads of my free book in more than 40 countries. In the digital world, this is nothing but we small folks save the website address in our favourite buttons and update every day just so we can watch the number increase. The next step is to work out what can you get from a free promotion:

  • One, make sure there are links to all your other paid books in there
  • Ditto, a sign-up for a mailing list
  • Third, a teaser for the next book.

You can still use social media for a bit of ‘advertising’. But as a writer, I identify (as most of us will) as an introvert. Self-promotion on social media platforms—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al—makes me feel as if I need three weeks in a solitary retreat. One where I beg the universe to reveal my higher calling and release me from the grubby modern-day world of non-stop self-promotion.

So far, she has come up with—make white chocolate raspberry cake! The people want to eat cake! Closely followed by, still not cleaned that silver platter you inherited? Pity, your sister would have done it by now had she been given it. Be the best owner of a cat there has ever been.

cat sleeping on laptop

The best owners let their cats do this.

Apart from the latter the inner voice hasn’t been one hundred percent helpful.

My mission for the rest of 2019 is—not to bother with Amazon Advertising, work out what I can do on Kobo and share the results with you.

Jedburgh abbey

Borders country – inspiration for writers (and terrific places to visit)

Do you ever visit places because you’ve read about them in fiction? Writing can do that—conjure up places, educate you and inspire curiosity.. Years ago, I visited Rosslyn Chapel thanks to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and this year’s spring break featured a trip to Vindolanda.

Vindolanda, in case you haven’t heard of it, is the remains of a Roman army camp in Northumbria, what was the edge of the empire for centuries. I’d read a couple of historical fiction books by Adiran Goldsworthy that featured Vindolanda, and as I find the Romans fascinating I was desperate to visit.

VindolandaWhat a place… Northumbria is wild and rugged in places so picturing a Roman army in situ and their guarding of the fort and the nearby Hadrian’s Wall is easy to imagine. The remains of the fort and the surrounding villages are complemented by a museum, every artefact in there excavated from Vindolanda.

Preserved shoes

A remarkable set of conditions resulted in the find of the largest number of Roman empire leather goods in the world. (I know; in cold, damp England of all places.)

And Vindolanda is also famous for its collection of wax tablets—basically, cards people wrote on, from an invite to a child’s birthday party, to a letter to the commander from a soldier protesting at the injustice of a severe beating.

How does the past come alive? When people in those times write about their ordinary lives, and the curators of Vindolanda view the tablets as their most precious find. Rightly so.

Sir Walter Scott

Still on the writer theme, we visited Smailholm Tower, made famous by Sir Walter Scott. The famous Scots writer stayed at the nearby Sandyknowe farm when he was a child to recover from illness.

There, his aunt Jenny taught him how to read and the tower, by then unoccupied and derelict, stirred in him a lie-long passion for the history and ballads of the Scottish borders, from fairy tales to the legends of the Reivers. His second publication, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, tells many of those tales.

Tamlane figurine displayThe tower has lots of little models that enact some of those ballads and fairy tales, created by a local artist. (I wish I’d taken note of her name because I can’t find mention of her anywhere.)

I loved them, and my picture here doesn’t do The Young Tamlane justice. The ghost horses, the woman who sits on his cloak to save him from the fairy queen… again, powerful imagery.

Abbeys

The Scottish Borders are studded with the remains of abbeys, and we visited three of them.

In the 12th century, King David I thought their construction would impress and awe his English neighbours—look how wealthy and sophisticated we Scots are, kind of thing.

Mel;rose abbeyUnfortunately for the abbeys of the Borders, their proximity to the English made them easy targets in times of war. Of the three we went to, Jedburgh (featured image), Kelso and Melrose (left), the most intact one is the Cistercian abbey at Melrose and it’s awe-inspiring.

 

Old churches and abbeys fascinate me, especially when you consider the work that went into building them. And given what happened to Notre Dame this week, the abbey visits felt particularly fitting.

Food, glorious food

picture of woman with a glass of wine sitting in front of a ruined abbeyIf greed is your motto, Northumbria and the Borders offer plenty of choice when it comes to food and drink. We stopped off at a quirky place near Hadrian’s Wall for lunch one day, its walls festooned with beagle pictures and horse brasses. The Belter’s Bar in Jedbugh specialises in home-made beefburgers and the choice of toppings huge so we ate there twice.

And finally, the weather in Scotland hasn’t been great so far this year but on the final night of our holiday, it was warm enough to have that first drink outside. As you can seen from the background, drinking in the shadow of historical monuments adds gravitas to the occasion…

Pink Glitter Publishing logo

Instagram for #writers

These days, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you need advanced design skills to promote your books effectively. A lot of the author folks I see on Instagram and Pinterest with followers in their thousands and tens of thousands regularly post beautiful, professional images of sleek iMacs, instead of ancient, battered laptops as this writer uses, accompanied by meaningful quotes.

I’m flummoxed. My design and photography skills are crap, my marketing budget negligible and I keep muttering to myself, writer NOT designer. Different skill set!

Anyway, I’m trying to make smarter use of Pinterest and Instagram as they are thought to be more useful to writers than Twitter. I’ve come up with some ideas. Feel free to borrow them:

Hashtags—for many of you, this is stating the obvious but you need the writer or book genre related hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writerscommunity, #bookstagram , #romcom etc., even though the writer in me loathes hashtags.

An extract from your book—this is my favourite one as it gives you the opportunity to share your writing. I find an extract, copy it from the book, expand the font size to 16 or 18 and then use the snipping tool to make a screen grab, share it in Dropbox and upload to Instagram from there.

Screen grabs are great in general because you can do things such as copy one of your reviews on Amazon (a positive one, obvs), the words THE END when you finish a book and your dashboard on Kindle Direct Publishing or Kobo if you hit an upwards-soaring run of sales.

Hand-written notes you then photograph—another goodie. In 2019, few of us see other people’s handwriting. Mine isn’t brilliant, but it’s readable. If you can ask a question or make a funny point, even better.

Shameless use of your pet—okay, so then you attract likes and comments from the cat lovers, but I reckon many of them are voracious readers too. My cat, handily, likes to park himself next to my laptop. Endless photo opportunities with the hashtag #catsandwriters

Book covers, obviously—and you can share versions you’re considering and ask people which one they think is the best. Again, you can post them on Instagram via Dropbox. (You need to upload the Dropbox app to your phone to do this, and be aware that on a free account there are limits to how many devices you can put the app on.) When you pay a designer to create a book cover for you, it is worth paying the extra for promotional images which can be used on all the social media platforms. This gives you a library of images to use for one book.

Home-made covers—because I post most of my writing on Wattpad, I create home-made covers on Canva. Canva is useful in general for creating images and you can use it for Instagram and Pinterest posts.

Infographics—I’ve done one so far, but a list of points about writing (and particularly if you’re offering advice) works brilliantly as an infographic. If you label it well and edit the metadata, this makes it more likely to show up in Pinterest searches.

Videos. You can create home-made ones on Lumen5.com and they’ll offer you the option to download file sizes good for Instagram or Pinterest. I created mine from the blurb for my book on this blog.

Pictures of what you imagine your main characters look like, which works well on Pinterest for visibility.

Here are some of the examples of pictures I’ve used on Instagram:

Extract from Ten Little Stars

This week I’m… #amwriting

This week I’m #amwriting

Selling books… sort of. To date, I’ve ‘sold’ 465 copies of my free book, Ten Little Stars. I ran a promotion for the book on Kobo* (£3 for a week) at the start of March and downloads have been consistent ever since, averaging 15 a day.

So far, it has translated into one sale of one of my other books, though I can’t prove the two are related, but no sign-ups to my mailing list yet (I advertise both in the free book). I think, however, this is a long-term process so I’m not discouraged. And it is gratifying that at least someone is reading my stuff.

The fab thing about publishing a book yourself is that you do get to change it easily. Seeing as Ten Little Stars is doing so well on Kobo (#361 in fiction and literature anthologies), I added the first chapter of my about to be published rom-com, Highland Fling, to the book in the hope that I can fix it in folks’ minds. and they will rush to buy it when it comes out…

The picture at the top of this post is an extract from Ten Little Stars. I’ve been experimenting with images for Pinterest and Instagram. I’m a words woman, rather than pictures so I took an extract from the book, blew up the font size, used the snipping tool to make a file in Paint and voila – a neat little extract in a picture.

#amwriting update

Finishing off the sequel to Highland Fling. Stand-alone books don’t work as well in the indie world as a series, so I took two of the support characters from Highland Fling and gave them a story of their own. It means I get to stay in Lochalshie, the Scottish village I made up which is based on the town of Arrochar in Argyll and Bute. If Highland Fling is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice as most romance novels are, Highland Heart is more along the lines of Persuasion, thank you Jane Austen.

Celebrating my mum’s birthday. Brenda B celebrated her birthday on Friday, so we gathered together at my sister’s house for a family celebration on Saturday. My sister outdid herself with the food – pulled pork, two different types of salad, sausage rolls, sausages (get the feeling we’re pig mad in my family?!), potato salad and a birthday cake made from individual chocolate brownies.

Sleeping with your cat is good for you. Fact.

Spending quality time with the cat.

Well, why wouldn’t you? He’s a lovely bundle of furry fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*May the universe rain down blessings on Kobo and the excellent tastes of Canadians in general, to date the biggest proportion of the Ten Little Stars down-loaders country-wise. 

The murky world of ghost-writing

Grr. grr… Photo thanks to Keith Ellwood on Flickr and reproduced under the Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

Another day, another joke of an invite from Colorado Fluffies* to bid for a ghost-writing job. Note the marvellous budget they are prepared to pay you for 80,000 words of original copy you will receive no royalties or acknowledgements for… (I did the bolding and added the red text).

Check out the website – it claims to have four authors**, none of whom are pictured, presumably nom de plumes for a stable of writers and a lot more than four of them.

The modus operandi is, I’m guessing, the Amazon rapid release model – i.e. one book a month, which is obviously easier if you have many writers working for you on pitiful wages.  

I’m not against ghost-writing. As a copywriter, I’ve created LinkedIn posts, website articles, opinions and more for business owners in their names for years. It’s standard practice in the traditional publishing industry for celebrity writers, and I have no objection to that. But honestly, the money here is so bad, the attitude so disrespectful to the writing industry and the deadline for delivery so unrealistic, my blood boils…

Hi there! We need several romance eBooks written, of 80,000 words. We’re looking to create an ongoing business relationship with chosen freelancers. We run a big publishing company and we have many projects ready to be developed.

Short and sweet.

Themes of the stories include WESTERN HISTORICAL ROMANCE. The proposed budget for each book is $1.200 ($1.5/100 words). (Oof, you’re too kind!) We are 100% willing to increase this budget up to $1.8/100 words in case quality is of very high standards and adherence to deadlines is kept.

NATIVE English speakers only.

Content should be creative, HIGH QUALITY and 100% original.

It really needs to talk to the audience. Something that they can relate to. They need to identify with the characters.

CAPTIVATE THE AUDIENCE, stimulate thoughts in the mind of the readers. Must be experienced and have excellent spelling, grammar, and punctuation (so as well as delivering 80,000 words in a month, you have to proofread your own work too?) with this type of writing.

All material must be original content and written in your own words. Research the niche or topic (what, on top of meeting that unrealistic deadline?) that we give you in order to understand the MINDSET of the READERS. The project is divided into 4 parts of 20k words. Each part is expected to be delivered each week (a week and a half, max). This means we estimate a period of approximately a month for the whole 80k words. However, deadlines are open to​ negotiation.

The eBook should be delivered in .doc or .docx format. You agree that you will own no rights to the work or parts of the work and you understand/agree your name will not appear anywhere on the work. I would retain all copyrights to any of these stories.

Final Note: We have a big publishing online business, so we would like to hear only from determined and highly skillful​ professionals (offer decent money then) to apply. Thanks, hope to hear from you soon!

*Not its real name.

**You won’t find any of these authors on Twitter… Or Colorado Fluffies itself. 

 

Emma Baird

Shoes and women’s fiction #amwriting

Mary Janes with cat detail on front

My lucky shoes – sort of

Ever noticed how often shoes turn up in women’s fiction—and specifically on the front cover? I’ve treated you to a picture of my favourite pair of shoes (to look at, not to wear as they are murderously uncomfortable) that incorporate one of my other great loves.

So what is it with shoes and women’s fiction? Let’s start by blaming Cinderella, the only woman in the kingdom whose feet fit the delicate glass slipper and endear her to the prince. (And thus cementing femininity to the owners of small, slender feet.)

It isn’t women’s fiction, but the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy clicking together the heels of her shiny red shoes is another enduring image. Did you ever covet those red shoes if only for the promise they might magically transport you from one place to another. And that must be a metaphor shoe manufacturers all over the world seek to exploit. Wear our shoes and you too will be lifted instantly from your dull world and your mundane existence.

Carrie Bradshaw must take a bit of the blame too. Sex and the City famously featured an episode where the fictional heroine was robbed of her Manolo Blahniks* at gun point. And it is that theft, rather than the bag or the money that bothers her the most.

Chick lit tends to run with the assumption we are all shoe mad. It’s not a huge leap. I called this blog High Heels and Pink Glitter when I started it and I even mocked up a chick lit book cover using that too-common image of bare legs and sandals. I have plenty of acquaintances who love shoes, even just to look at if not to wear. In my many years of wearing high heels, the decorative value is hugely disproportionate to any wearability. The only heels you can walk in are block ones of not more than three inches and wedges. Even then, I don’t advise you to travel far by foot.

But yes, the assumption is often there that a heroine’s adoration of pretty, delicate, impractical foot wear is shared by us all. Here are two:

“Paris is a heaven for all woman’s obsessions: hot men, great chocolates, scrumptious pastries, sexy lingerie, cool clothes but, as any shoe-o-phile knows, this city is a hotbed of fabulous shoes.”

Kirsten Lobe, Paris Hangover

“Besides, I’d seen a really nice pair of shoes yesterday in the mall and I wanted them for my own. I can’t describe the feeling of immediate familiarity that rushed between us. The moment I clapped eyes on them I felt like I already owned them. I could only suppose that we were together in a former life. That they were my shoes when I was a serving maid in medieval Britain or when I was a princess in ancient Egypt. Or perhaps they were the princess and I was the shoes. Who’s to know? Either way I knew that we were meant to be together.”

Marian Keyes, Watermelon

It isn’t a trope that is going to vanish soon, but women’s fiction that veers toward the comedic or romcom often turns it on its head by featuring heroines who prefer sneakers, Birkenstocks or trainers—the comfy stuff most of us wear 99 percent of the time.

Here’s my own take on it from Highland Fling:

“I made a token protest and gave in. It was always better not to argue with my friend, who is the oldest of four sisters and well-versed in giving orders. Besides, the dress was fabulous—a mustard floral frill skater dress she’d matched with a deep purple and silver crochet cardigan. The belt was silver too, so as predicted it matched perfectly. I argued in favour of my Converse trainers to give my outfit a fierce edge and lost. No, she said. For such an occasion, high-heeled cork wedges were the only options.”

 

*By the way, two years ago Marks and Spencer’s created a lookie-likey version for a mere £35… You’re welcome.