Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Tyranny of the Platform, by Linda Apple

When the concept of building a platform first entered the writing world—yes, I am that old—I got right on it. Publishing had turned the corner. No longer were we at the mercy of the big publishing houses, but e-books were on the rise, small presses, and even self-publishing had lost some of its stigma. All of this, of course, meant authors had to promote themselves, thus, build a platform. 

This made perfect sense to me. In my mind I visualized a rock concert with a high platform so all could see the band. If I wanted my writing to get noticed, I realized I had to stand above the bazillions of writers. So I made a better website, I started blogging, and I was already a public speaker which fit nicely into platform building. 

And then . . . 

Social media came into its own and provided a fantastic way to build platforms, get noticed, and promote. Now we are told to post on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, get on Google+, pin on Pinterest, read on Goodreads, link on Linkedin, upload on Instagram, etc, etc, etc, 

Lord help me!

Now when I am writing, in the back of my mind the little social media nag sits on my shoulder saying, "You need to post, tweet, get, pin, read, link, upload, etc, etc, etc, because if you don't why write? Who is going to see it anyway?"

So I start posting, tweeting, getting, pinning, reading, linking, uploading, etc, etc, etc, and my writerly muse sits on my shoulder and says, "You need to be writing. Because if you don't write, there will be no reason to do all those crazy social media things. 

Shades of King Solomon threatening to divide the baby between the two mothers! 

Platform is important. It is essential. But it can also be a big pain in the writer's derriere. I had to stop and consider my relationship to the social media world. First I had to know myself and my strengths. I am an encourager, a mentor, an idea person, a teacher. Then I thought about what inspires me to buy a book. Usually, it is word of mouth. Someone else has read it and suggests it to me, or I may have met an author at a conference. Most of the time it is because I'm interested in the genre. 

Then I had to consider what made me ignore a book and that was the deluge of pictures on Facebook of open boxes of books with squeee written above it, or the torrent of book covers filling up my twitter feed. I just roll my eyes and skim over them to the next thing. I didn't like feeling like I am being manipulated into buying books. However, when I know an author is truly interested in me and wants to invest into my life instead of focusing on what I could do for him or her, I pay attention. Simple huh? 

With that in mind, since I'm an exhorter, I started putting quotes and illustrating them on Facebook and Twitter. Each morning, while sipping my first cup of coffee, I pray and ask, "What should I choose today? What do people need to hear?" On Saturdays I use a funny quote and on Sundays something that reflects faith.

This works for me. It is a platform I'm good at. And no matter where I go or speak, I have total strangers come to me and tell me how much they look forward to my posts each morning. Plus, they tell their friends! Word of mouth.

Then, when I have a new book, I come right out and say "Hey, I have a new book."  No backdoor approach for me, by the way, I have a new book, if you have time you might want to check it out. Why do I feel I can be so bold? Because I have built a community. My followers do not feel used by me, instead they rejoice with me.

So this is what has worked for me. Now I would like to open this blog to discussion:

Do you agree with my frustration? Disagree?
How do you handle platform building?
Do you feel we should try and use them all? Just a few?
What has worked for you?

I look forward to hearing from you , because as writers, we should never stop learning!

 photo Linda_zpsut2iuxtv.jpg

Linda Apple is the author of Writing From Your Soul, Writing Life ~ Your Stories Matter, Connect ~ A Simple Guide to Public Speaking for Writers, POW; Promises Kept and Women Of Washington Avenue, her debut novel and the first book in her Moonlight Mississippi series. Her personal experience stories have been published in 16 of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her devotions have been published in numerous devotion magazines and books. She lives in Fayetteville Arkansas with her husband, Neal, their five children, five children-in-love, and ten grandchildren.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What You Missed Last Week

We had a hodge-podge of speakers chosen from among our own membership last week, and if you missed it, you missed out on a lot of fun. The three of us--Kathrese McKee, Annette O'Hare, and I (Linda Yezak)--have taken different paths to publication, and we each have lessons to share that we learned along the way.

First up was Kathrese McKee, author of the incomparable YA fantasy, Mardan's Markand it's sidekick novella, Healer's CurseKathrese held up her two covers for Mardan's Mark and discussed why the first one was, believe it or not, ineffective.

This is the "old" cover. Notice the model's age. Since YA is to appeal to kids between 7th grade and high school, this model is too old. The other elements of the cover photo are perfect, including the font, the mark, the cowl covering the model's hair, although the compass overemphasized the pirates.

Kathrese drove home the point of keeping your audience in mind when you're having your cover created. Although I love this cover, I can see how it wouldn't appeal to the YA crowd. They want the heroes of the stories they read to be closer to their own ages.

Here's the new one:

The new cover also has the key elements in it, including font, the emblem illustrating Mardan's mark, the cowl covering the MC's hair--but the age of the kids on the cover is much younger, which illustrates the novel as YA.

Kathrese emphasized the branding elements of a cover and the importance of having these elements consistent in all the covers being created for a series.

She also reminded us that we can't do this job alone. The writing, yes, but everything else that goes in to creating a book requires help, which is why networking is so important. As she says, we're not in a vacuum.

Moving on to sweet Annette and her hilarious story of hammering on the editor's door until she got the response she wanted. She recounted her query history that culminated in her getting a contract for Northern Light.

Like it or not, the query process requires waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. Expecting a response the same day of submission is unrealistic. Sometimes it takes months. Annette realized this and was patient for an entire four days. Then she entered the Pester stage:

"I don’t want to bother you, but…
Did you receive it?
Are you working on it?
What do you think?"
Which, eventually, led to the response:

"It's not a good fit because...
It’s not romancy enough.
It has 3 POVs.
It has contrivances.
It has a side story.
It has too much controversy."
Annette, not being one to take "no" for an answer, re-entered the Pester stage:

She e-mailed the editor.
"Were there parts you did like?
If I made some of her changes would you take another look?"
The editor wrote back:
"You have a lovely writing style
And wonderful characterization
And if you make some changes I would happily take a second look."
So that’s exactly what Annette did, and the editor confirmed receipt this time because she knew Annette would pester her again.

Long story short, Pelican Book Group finally did contract Northern Light during the ACFW Conference in St Louis, 2014.

Annette shared her insights:

First The Pros:

1. I was able to get a publisher without going to conference and without an agent.

2. Since Pelican is a small publisher I worked with them one-on-one, I was able to ask questions on a personal level, such as: Why don’t you love my book? What can I do to make you love my book? Help me to help you!

3. I had a lot of input on my cover art and think it turned out beautiful.

4. I was able to negotiate with the editor about what they considered controversial and changed some things to make both parties happy.

5. I learned a ton! You know how your first book is usually a learning experience? Well, your first to publishing is a learning experience as well.

Now The Cons:

1. Having signed with a small press, there’s hardly any help with marketing. I’ve worked very hard to market my books with no publisher help.

2. Even though I got the contract on my own I still have to pay my agent her fee on this book. She couldn’t even negotiate a better deal with Pelican. My daughter figured out that after everyone gets their cut I make less than a dollar on every paperback sold, a lot more on e-books though. BUT, I do not regret signing with my agent one bit.

3. You know all those pictures of authors opening big boxes of books. I did that too, only I had to pay for them. At a 45% discount of course. They gave me 2 free books and 10 digital copies.

4. I doubt I’ll ever see my book in bookstores.

5. My book released February 19th and I’ve yet to see my sales numbers from the publishing house. So for now I’m pretty much in the hole.

I think there are several of us currently abiding in that hole, but we're learning how to dig our way out.

As for me, the entire point of my discussion was to remind everyone to do their research.

My writing partner and I worked for seven years or so to produce our Dan-Brownesque conspiracy thriller, The Simulacrum, and finally got to present it to editors during the 2010 ACFW Conference in Indianapolis.

Brad had done the research pertaining to the arguments of Creation Science in opposition to those of the theory of evolution and sketched out a rough plot--then gave me carte blanche to write the story around the research. I had my own things to research as I wrote, including what kind of gun to give my ex-marine and what the Virginia State Coroner's emblem looked like.

We pitched to Guidepost (for some unknown reason) and to Kregel, whose acquisition editor appeared acutely interested. She requested the full manuscript. We celebrated--and hounded our agent to keep up with where the manuscript was in the review process. We made it all the way up to final committee.

The verdict?

"I'm afraid the kids may have overextended themselves" are the only words I remember, but what sparked them were the final editor's observations made within the first ten pages of the story.

1. There is no such thing as an ex marine.
2. Marines--current or retired--don't carry Rugers.
3. The state coroner wouldn't likely to be called in on a municipal case.

The manuscript was rejected, even though the errors were minor. But reaching the point of rejection had taken so long, Brad and I decided to put the book out ourselves. After we did, we received a review from someone who dinged us on another faux pas, which never even crossed my mind to double-check. Did you know that the nickname for a BMW is Bimmer, not Beamer? I didn't. Oops.

So my advice to the crowd last Saturday was this: If you don't know, research. If you do know, double-check.

Three women, three snippets of wisdom. We all learn from each other.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Book Promo Services: an (Incomplete) Overview

I've started working on my marketing plan for the July 5th release of The Final Ride, and I tell ya, this is nuts. First thing I did was to hire someone to help me organize, let me know what to do and when to do it. She charged $50/hour and took only one hour to get me lined up. (I'd give her name, but I don't think she's still taking clients.)
I'm excited to have a checklist and timeline to work from, but one thing she didn't include are the book promo services. Research for that is my responsibility.
When my friends and I put out the six-book set, Much Ado about Love (now off the market), I learned a lot about the value of these wonderful sites. We used eReader News TodayFree Kindle Books & TipsBook Sends, and Digital Book Promotions. Let me tell you, I was amazed with the results. BookBub is the best, but it was a bit high for us. Doesn't mean I wont use it in the future.
It made a difference to divide our advertising costs six ways. Now that I'm doing this on my own, it's going to bite a little bit. I'm looking at the smaller promo sites, like eBook Soda (flat $15.00 price, plus $6.00 for Twitter and $6.00 for Facebook ads) and Fussy Librarian (priced per genre, but no charges over $16.00). These two may have smaller circulation for their newsletters, but I've used them before with pretty good results.
Book Sends has a menu of services, so it can be expensive or reasonable, depending on what you want. For my genre, they have a newsletter circulation of 11,500, and for a 99c special, I can land in their newsletter for $15.  Also, considering I write Christian Fiction, I can look at the sites that specialize in my genre. Faithful Reads, for instance, has a flat rate of $25. I haven't figured out Inspired Reads yet. I must be missing something, because I didn't see submission instructions anywhere.
At $50 for a 99c ebook, Book Gorilla is probably as expensive as I'm willing to go. So that means I can have ads with the ones the group for Much Ado about Love used. Digital Books Promos charged $30.00 for our 99c box set; Free Kindle Books & Tips and BookSends, $25.00, and the whopper of our budget, eReader News Today, $45.00.
Most of these sites encourage you to have special prices on your ebook of 99c or free. Some won't take you unless you've priced your ebook that way, others charge considerably more if you're promoting a book at a higher price. Some have pricing scales depending on your genre. Most prefer that you already have at least ten reviews, with the bulk of those reviews being 4-star and higher. Most prefer--which makes perfect sense--that you have a professional product: well written, with an eye-catching cover. And you should have a professional product whether you're going to use one of these services or not. That should be considered a no-brainer.
Then there are the few that will accept new releases. Free Kindle Books & Tips, Book Gorilla, and eBook Soda accept new releases as long as you've got a track record they can look at. And since all the services have a restricted period between one ad and the next (90 days between ads for the same title), I may save these for the new release and use the others to advertise the special price on Give the Lady a Ride. Giving the first in the series another shot at an audience will increase the readership for the second in the series, The Final Ride.

If you're in the same boat I'm in, determine what your goals are, what your budget is, and what your timeline is, then go explore the different services. Look for their requirements and circulation, and how much bang you'll get for your marketing buck. BookBub is undoubtedly the best where circulation is concerned, and if you have the budget for it, give it a shot. It should definitely be on the top of your list.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Coming in April

These three characters are speaking on the 16th.

Heaven help us all.

Kathrese McKee, Annette O'Hare, and I (Linda Yezak) will be sharing some tidbits about our writing journeys. The road to publication is paved with the blood, sweat, and tears of the authors who travel it. Some are lucky enough to reach their destination. The only thing certain about this journey is that you'll never arrive if you shut down your engine.

We three are revving up for the next mile marker.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

You Gotta Know When to Hold 'Em: Marketing & Advertising for the Indie Author

Let me warn you now: this article is longer than what I usually post here, but I think it's worth it. In keeping with our theme of "Marketing," I went in search of an exceptional article to share with you, and Heather Day Gilbert pointed me to her two-piece article for NovelRocket. Fit the bill for "exceptional." I hope you learn as much as I did from the piece.


I asked several authors to fill me in on advertising and marketing tips—in other words, share what's worth the money and what isn't. While each author had different experiences, we hope you can take away ideas that light your marketing "fire."

As we all know, indie publishing is FAR from one-size-fits-all (thank goodness!). However, I'm pretty certain all these authors would advise you to only take on as many of these marketing/advertising opportunities as you can handle, both financially and personally.

Some authors had no noticeable sales spikes from their book trailers. But the overall recommendation was that if you do a trailer, make sure you share it pre-book release and make sure it's an accurate, yet short trailer. However, the advice was also offered to keep your budget small on trailers, since they're not the focus of your marketing process, just an addition to it.

This was, by far and away, the method most authors recommended to get the word out on your books. This means you need to be established in various forms of social media. Points mentioned in this regard were:

—Tweet regularly. You can join tweet exchanges (this was news to me!) where you tweet for others and vice versa. Spammy tweets are not recommended, though, so try to keep your tweets more personal and don't litter the feed with them.

—Determine your twitter audience. Heather Sunseri, author of Mindspeak and Mindseige, advises authors to be real, which means sharing tidbits about your life. But she also advises not to stray far from topics that would interest your target audience.

—You can also prepare book release or other tweets and share them with your followers, groups, or launch team. It's easy for them to copy/paste them (I'd recommend hashtagging for more specific notice).

—Line up blog interviews ahead of time. You never know which blogs will drive the most traffic to your book, so the more blogs you visit, the better. I personally had several purchases after appearing on an ABA Medieval site that has thousands of readers, but I also had several people put my novel on their To-Read list after I visited a fellow homeschooling mom's blog. Basically, figure out where your reader demographic congregates and request a guest post, interview, or review slot.

—Lock in book reviews ahead of release time (let early readers read your book). That way, when your book launches, some of the first reviews to hit Amazon and Goodreads will be from your early readers, who've had time to thoroughly review your book. Please realize, those initial Amazon reviews will stay in place as the first ones readers see.

And since a self-publishing launch doesn't have to happen all at once, continue asking review sites to review your book, even months after you launch. The beautiful thing about self-publishing is that we don't have to stop marketing our books—it's the "slow burn" effect, which I'm sure I've mentioned before and will continue to mention!

—Facebook was mentioned as a wonderful way to reach readers on a personal level. Initially, I avoided having a FB Author page, but it has been my best source of connecting quickly with my readers.

—Email lists/Newsletters are consistently touted as the best way to get the word out to readers who love your writing and will buy your books. MaryLu Tyndall, who's maintained a substantial e-mail list for many years, recommends placing an email signup in multiple locations (blog, FB, etc). MaryLu offers a book giveaway to new subscribers once monthly. She also recommends only sending email updates when you have something newsworthy to update, so you're not inundating your subscribers with unimportant emails.

—If you're comfortable with it, public speaking was mentioned as an effective way to increase your book's reach and sales. Libraries often love to have authors visit and field questions about their books (especially if your book is in their library! Make a point of donating and signing yours to your local library(ies) once you have softcovers.)

—Book clubs and direct contact with your readers were also considered crucial, even if they didn't result in massive sales. The idea of giving back to your community, via signings and public speaking, was a driving factor for many authors.

—Also, updating your alumni sites and contacting local papers are small but crucial steps to get the word out closer to home.

The consensus seemed to be to do as much or as little as you can afford.

—Bookbub was consistently mentioned as being worth the advertising cost, but you have to make sure your book is at a competitively low price (say, 99 cents; or even better, FREE, which can seriously bump sales/reviews afterward), and you've categorized it in the right genre. ENT (E-reader News Today) is another site like this. Just know that these sites generally require a minimum number of Amazon reviews and are more selective about what they will pick up.

—Authors also said that although you might not get fast returns from paid ads, the result of consistent exposure to a book ad might pay off later. I have mixed feelings on Facebook ads, since in the interests of experimentation, I paid $30 to boost a Facebook post advertising a radio show I did with blogtalkradio. I was able to target it to the US, Iceland, and Norway (Viking haunts). I will say I might've gotten a couple new followers and a couple book sales, but I don't think I boosted the right post. It's probably better to boost one when your book is on sale for 99 cents or free. If you've done a paid Facebook ad, please comment below with YOUR results and suggestions.

This idea brought mixed responses; namely, that judges are quite subjective and feedback can run all over the board. If you're only looking for exposure and not feedback, I'd recommend free online contests, such as reader's choice awards or e-cover art awards. With these contests, you gain some exposure but don't have to pay to enter. As an indie, I have to ask myself why I am entering award contests, when my readers really don't care if I have awards in my bio or not. For me, it's not worth it to pay to enter contests at this point.

However, as of March 6, 2014, ACFW has announced that indies can be eligible for Fiction Finder and the Carol Awards (in 2015). Although there will be minimum requirements to meet, I feel this is a huge step forward for Christian authors as a group. I hope more contests open doors to self-published novels and novels produced by smaller houses. I think this will bring a wealth of previously undiscovered gems onto readers' radar. I could definitely see the benefits of entering a contest like that.

I think the key with contests is entering ones you know will reach your demographic/readership. For example, enter mysteries in a mystery contest, Christian fiction in a Christian contest, etc.

Sites such as The Fussy Librarian and eBooksoda deliver book recommendations to readers directly via email. Both are just getting off the ground, but I've already gotten feedback that one reader found my book through eBooksoda. They are choosy about genres they accept, but it's worth checking into.

Radio interviews and vlogs are another great way to gain exposure and connect with your readers. It's easy to set up a YouTube channel, so your vlogs can be centralized in one place.

I quickly learned that only certain book review sites will accept indie novels. Most larger sites work directly with publishers. But if you poke around the internet and watch who's reviewing authors in your genre, you can find individuals or sometimes larger groups willing to exchange a review for a free book. There are a couple Facebook review sites for Christian authors to connect with reviewers: Crossreads Reviewers and the recently established Christian Fiction Reviewers. An excellent post I recently discovered on all the ins and outs of finding reviewers was here at The E-Book Author's Corner.

There are also author co-ops that utilize NetGalley. I paid an author friend to use her slot for the month of February. I would just give the caveat that if you go with a co-op, make sure your genre matches what your group usually distributes to readers. I didn't garner large numbers of reviews, but I learned that one library might purchase it, so that was a win for me. I'll probably try this route again.

I have mixed feelings on authors doing freebies. I know it can generate early release buzz, but then again, you run into readers who aren't in your target audience and might give lower than average reviews. I'd love your thoughts below on freebies (as a reader OR an author). I have found some favorite authors via free Kindle downloads, but that generated no income for said authors. However, it did generate a loyal influencer who will spread the word and buy all the author's future books. Therefore, I am planning to do this at some point, if I choose to go with Kindle Select.

Nowadays, you don't have to look far to find the latest book giveaway, often complete with a free Kindle/ipad/mp3/Amazon gift card. I wonder about the effectiveness of these costly prizes. Yes, they draw a lot of attention and plenty of entries. But do they pay off in the end?

Staci Stallings, co-founder of CrossReads, shares that CrossReads offers a $50 Amazon gift card with their Book Blasts twice a month, which links readers back to author sites and social media outlets, resulting in solid increases in an author's audience. However, an uptick in sales on featured books tends to correlate closely to the book's price point, with 99-cent and free books getting the most boost.

I've had mixed success with book giveaways on blogs...I would say 8 out of 10 winners will review my book and spread the word. But much of this just depends on how your particular book resonates with that particular winner. I've decided not to spend my profits on electronic incentives for giveaways.

I'd also like to point out the importance of following through on your giveaways. I think many of us have had experiences where we've won a book and the author never made good on sending it to us, or finally it showed up five months later when you'd forgotten all about it. Now, maybe I'm just a gal indoctrinated with Southern ideas on courtesy, but I believe if you promise something and don't make good on it, you look like a liar. In other words, it'll reflect very badly on you as an author. If there is a good reason why you can't get that book out, offer a gift card or alternate gift. But at the very least, contact the winner and apologize.

As I've said in previous posts, Goodreads giveaways are a great way to get many people to add your book to their To-Read list, thus increasing your visibility on Goodreads. Some of those people will eventually buy your book, even if they don't win. But I'd just advise to offer at least three copies of the book and let your giveaway run a month so it will reach more people who might potentially share it with others and review.

Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling. 

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert--Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Trial by Twelve, the second in her A Murder in the Mountains series is available on Amazon.