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…

High Heels and Pink Glitter – the Books

This week I’m…trying out other people’s blog ideas (thank you Sandra). She posted a piece at A Corner of Cornwall where she took the title of her blog and looked at books that started with the same word.

Emma Baird doesn’t easily lend itself to the idea, apart from the famous Jane Austen book I want to read again in a few years’ time but my old blog name, High Heels and Pink Glitter, throws up possibilities.

I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity years ago, but there’s also J G Ballard’s High Rise. I saw the film starring Tom Hiddleston when it came out, and it would be interesting to explore how the story plays out in the book.

High heels features in a lot of book titles, according to Goodreads.com. Gemma Halliday has a whole series of books using ‘high heels’, Undercover in High Heels, etc. There are lots of variations on the theme of head over heels too.

In my twenties, I read a book called Running in Heels by Anna Maxted, which I loved. It featured a protagonist who was the same age as me and working in the same industry, and it felt very current at the time.

Reading the reviews of the book on Goodreads reminded me once again what an individual experience reading is for everyone. The range of adjectives and descriptions used is huge, enough to make you wonder if everyone read the same book. But no, that’s reading for you! One (wo)man’s meat is another one’s poison, etc.

For pink, I found this title – Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies): Amazing women on what the F word means to them, a collection of writing from Hollywood actresses to teenage activists including Helen Fielding, Saoirse Ronan and Karen Gillan. Apart from anything else, I do have substantial amounts of pink in my wardrobe…

Glitter is used in a lot of chick lit too, but I homed in on this example—Glitter by Kate Maryon, a book written for the tween audience. I’d like to read this because the reviews are so good and I want to see how an author writes for that age group. You don’t have to like a genre or be the target audience to appreciate an author’s abilities after all.

Do any of my choices appeal to you?

 

Assured Attention – a Review

Assured AttentionAssured Attention by Jane Tulloch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Assured Attention is the follow-up to Our Best Attention, though you do not need to have read the first book. It tells the story of a fictional department store in Edinburgh through its staff and customers. Each chapter is more or less a short story that stands alone, but there are threads that weave through and everything comes together neatly in the final chapter.
The book is full of likeable characters and neat plot developments. It’s a light, enjoyable read. I don’t usually go for short stories as I don’t find them ‘satisfying’, but this pulls everything together enough for me not to feel it is just short stories.
A great holiday read – and it will appeal to fans of Alexander McColl Smith.

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Day and Night – a Review

Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery (Dottie Manderson mysteries Book 1)Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love a good crime fiction novel – and particularly when it’s historical crime fiction. That gives you added bonuses. You get the time period of the Golden Age of crime fiction, but with modern considerations, such as detailed characterisation and stories that aren’t just plot-driven.

I enjoyed Night and Day a great deal. There are plenty of likeable characters that you feel you want to read more about, a plot that moves along well and lots of enjoyable period detail. (I, for one, love reading about what people ate and long to live in a time where the servants leave me out cocoa and sandwiches when I come in from a night out…)

Dottie Manderson is a gorgeous character – sassy, bright and modern (for the 1930s, that is) and very relatable. She’s partnered with a detective and you just know this is going to play out satisfyingly in a ‘will they/won’t they’ way. There’s a Cluedo feel to the whole story, and I love it for that.

A great read and I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Dottie, Flora et al.

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Fates and Furies – a Review

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies divided our book group – an even split between those who loved and hated it. I fell into the former camp, as I adored the book.

Lauren Groff’s tale tells the story of a marriage and how different it is to the two protagonists. The first part of the book ‘Fate’ tells the story from the husband’s point of view. Lancelot Satterwhite comes from a wealthy background but manages to alienate himself from his widowed mother. His marriage to Mathilde drives further distance between the two, but after a shaky start to his working life, after his mother cuts him off, Lancelot (or Lotto) discovers a talent for playwriting and establishes a wildly successful career, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.

When he dies, the viewpoint shifts to Mathilde, and it here the book becomes splendid. Nothing that seemed like luck or fate happened to Lotto. His wife was there all the time, working behind the scenes to manipulate circumstances – mostly in Lotto’s favour. She engineered their first meeting and marriage. She put in place obstacles to stop him reconciling with his mother. She re-wrote and edited his plays – a lot of the time he wrote them while drunk, so was unable to tell when Mathilde tidied them up – and she even managed to get his fiercest critic on board. And yet, Mathilde comes across as very sympathetic, a difficult, flawed woman dealing with a hugely ego maniac of a husband. (Who is also pretty likeable, incidentally.)

While my book group felt the writing was beautiful, we differed on our opinions about the story’s sensationalism. Did Mathilde’s story need to be quite so dramatic and terrible? (We later find out she was thrown out of her house as a child by her parents after an accident.) I didn’t mind the dramatisation, but perhaps the really brilliant story is that of two very ordinary people living together for years, and yet not really knowing each other?

There are plenty of twists and turns, and I do love a page-turner so the book appealed to me. I read it in three days. Read it and join the conversation!

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The Girls: A Review

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girls* is a gripping read. I’ve read most of Lisa Jewell’s books over the years, and her latest novel is an accomplished achievement. As a writer, she just gets better and better.

The book tells the story of a family who move into a flat in London, which shares a large garden with the properties of other families. The story is mostly told from three viewpoints: that of the 12-year-old daughter, Pip; her mother; and a woman who is a long-term resident.

It starts with the discovery of Pip’s older sister Grace in the garden, unconscious and half naked. The story then moves back to the arrival of the family in the area, and how they adjust to their new lives and living with their new neighbours.

Jewell is known for writing intelligent women’s fiction, and this book is no exception. It has a crime fiction element to it too. Who attacked Grace and why? The final revelation is a surprise, and the author cleverly sets up a few red herrings on the way. Themes that run through the book include trust and adolescence. How would three girls, home-schooled and growing up in a close community react to strangers coming in?

My only minor criticism would be that Pip’s letters to her dad sound a little too grown-up from time to time. There’s the odd word or phrase that’s too adult. Having said that, through her depiction of Tyler and the three Howe girls, Jewell portrays fantastic characters and demonstrates a great understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl.

*The book I read was called The Girls, not The Girls in the Garden. Maybe it has a different title outside the UK.

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Golden Hill – a Review

Golden HillGolden Hill by Francis Spufford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Francis Stufford’s Golden Hill was the first novel award winner in 2016’s Costa Book of the Year awards. I haven’t read any of the other winning category books, but this one blew my socks off.

Set in the mid-18th Century, a young man called Smith arrives in New York with an order for £1,000 in his pocket. Can he be trusted? What does he intend to do with the money once New York’s merchants are able to honour the order?

The book is rightly described as a page-turner and you’ll find it impossible to put down. Smith is the most appealing male main character I’ve read in a long time. The exchanges he has with the book’s other characters are a joy to read and his thoughts on the then colony of America are beautifully descriptive.

Description isn’t something this book lacks. Vivid colour paints in pictures throughout. Stufford makes liberal use of 18th Century terms and language to add to the effect. The insults have a particular 18th Century feel to them and there are splendid ones thrown about. The beginning of the book acknowledges the novelists of the time – Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne and Henry Fielding – and it has awoken in me a desire to read those books.

Often, when a novel holds a mystery in its centre, the final revelation is disappointing. While small clues were dropped along the way, the final reason for Mr Smith’s visit to New York and where the money came from is still satisfying. The last chapter is another bitter-sweet surprise.

Read this book. It’s amazing.

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