The Business Rusch: More Passive Marketing (Discoverability Part 8)

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

 Business Rusch logo webThis week, Hugh Howey put a funny post on his website. Titled “One-Man Operation,” Hugh’s post profiles—if you want to call it that—the man who runs Nautilis Publishing in Taiwan. Nautilis publishes Hugh, and according to the post, has existed since 2010, and has done two books per year. They’re always bestsellers. Hugh says his book has sold 50,000 copies in Taiwan alone.

Apparently, the publisher at Nautilis works alone. Hugh wanted to know how the man did it all, what made his books such a success. The answer?

“The blurb,” he says. “The synopsis. You have to grab the reader with the synopsis.”

C’mon. He’s pulling my leg. It’s not that easy.

“Oh, and a good cover.”

Whatever. He’s not telling me. My guess is a deal with the devil. I mean, the guy bats 1,000 in an industry where the whiffs are more common than contact. And he’s doing it alone.

Nautilis also does its own translations, and apparently finds great stories to translate. After all, Hugh hit bestseller lists as a mostly one-man operation as well. That happens when the books are good, even if there’s no promotion.

Hugh clearly doesn’t believe his publisher, but I do. What the publisher of Nautilis Publishing in Taiwan told Hugh is what I always tell you: Passive marketing works. Good covers, good stories, and a good sales-oriented blurb (written in active voice).

That’s enough.

But we all want to do more, and we all want readers to discover our work. There are ways to augment the good cover/good blurb/good story trifecta. Not supplant it. You absolutely need those things. But you can add to it, which is what this series is all about.

I promised I’d move from passive marketing to active marketing. By passive marketing, I mean things that you can do with a little thought and often just with a push of a button. Things that will remain in place for years if you want them to, or things that can be swapped out without blogging, tweeting, or spending major advertising dollars.

I have already done two (four, really) long posts on two of the most important parts of passive marketing—branding and price. But, judging from some of the comments, I skipped a few things that I probably should not have.

(Several things happened during the week which changed my mind on this, not the least of which was writing the story introductions to two different Fiction River volumes and discovering that writers who should know better told me they were born in Iowa on a chicken farm, but couldn’t be bothered to tell me the names of their most recent novel. Let me say simply “AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!” I am now done assuming smart writers do smart things. [sigh])

Last week, a few of you asked if I had covered keywords. I had not. Nor had I covered genre, except to talk about it in reference to branding. A couple of you asked about ISBNs, which I am not going to deal with much here.

Let me simply say about ISBNs that you need one on your book that does not say “Createspace” or “Lightning Source.” You need a publisher name that’s different from yours, and you need to buy an ISBN, either through Createspace or Lightning Source, or through Bowker (which is pricey) to reflect your publisher name.

You are in business, after all. Act like it. Make sure your publisher’s name is on all of the critical metadata.

And there, I used the metadata word, which I’ll use again and again.

For the purpose of this series, I’m going to use the word metadata to mean “descriptive metadata.” I’m too lazy to use both words throughout. I know, I know, there are many other kinds of metadata, even in book publishing, which will give you all kinds of information about sales, readership, etc—on whatever site provides the data in whatever way they want to give it to you.

I’m not going to talk about that, because to track that when you have more than one or two titles on more than one or two sites, you’ll need a dedicated employee to handle the information or you’ll need to hire a service. I don’t recommend either at the moment, unless you’re very, very rich. Tracking that kind of metadata is like hugging a train. It’s also not worthwhile if you’ve only published one or two things. (See the list of assumptions below.)

Let’s move back to descriptive metadata, shall we? This is the kind of metadata that helps readers find you. Yes, there’s an entire science to it. And honestly, keeping track of all that metadata when you’ve published as many things as I have is a game of whack-a-mole.

If you read the comments on my “Book Bargains, Preorders, Nelscott, and Workshops!” post, you’ll see a metadata issue that I had to deal with this week. The Amazon links to my trade paper Nelscott books from WMG Publishing disappeared. Again. The poor staff at WMG has asked Amazon several times to repair those links. The links get repaired. And then, for reasons unknown, the links slip off the books again.

Discoverability becomes harder when that happens. And it’s not just Amazon. On Sunday, as I prepared for the book bundle I’m in with Mike Resnick, Kevin J. Anderson, Robert J. Sawyer, and several other wonderful writers, I looked at the Barnes & Noble listing for the book I was entering in the bundle, Alien Influences, and discovered that the trade paper listing was missing a cover. I have no idea why. It’s being fixed. But I’m sure there are other metadata breaches that need addressing. And once they’re resolved, then others will crop up.

Virtual Whack-a-Mole. And those moles need to be whacked, because metadata is basic passive promotion.

These little glitches are common. One of the many reasons that WMG Publishing went direct with Kobo was that Smashwords never updated the metadata. Often Smashwords titles on Kobo lacked covers or any description at all. You can’t sell a book that way.

So once you have your cover and your sales-oriented blurb (and your really good story), here are some metadata things you need to do right.


Most writers don’t know what genre they write in. They think they have it, and they’re wrong. Don’t feel bad. When I drilled deep into that Sisters In Crime Reader Survey that Elise M. Stone mentioned in last week’s comments, I noted this from the conclusions:

Mystery readers under 50 do not necessarily understand the distinction between the mystery genre and other types of fiction.

Honestly, based on the teaching I’ve done with professional writers, this is true across the genres. Most readers no longer understand genre distinctions beyond the big headline—and that headline is usually wrong.

(Mysteries aren’t just about puzzles for example. Just because a couple falls in love doesn’t mean you have a romance, etc.)

If you the reader don’t know what genre you’re reading, then you the writer don’t know what genre you’re writing. And that’s a serious, serious problem for you, because genre is a very big deal. It has an impact on your branding, on your pricing, and on the ways you will interact with your readers.

All I can do is tell you to learn genre. And I can already see the comments. If young readers don’t understand genre, why should I worry about it? Because it’s part of discoverability, that’s why.

Genre is such a large topic, that all I can do is recommend you take the genre structure class listed here. The homework alone will show you how to study genre, so you can understand it. Please, please, please learn genre. Please.


If you don’t know genre, you can’t do key words properly. Key words, for those of you who don’t know, are part of online metadata. If your book is in any online store, whether in paper or in ebook, your book will have key words associated to it.

The very first key word it should have is its genre. And then its subgenre. And then it’s sub-subgenre.  I’d write an entire post on key words if M. Louisa Locke hadn’t already done so, and so thoroughly that I don’t have to. (Thanks to J.M. Ney-Grimm for these links [from last week’s comments]) There are three posts. Here’s a link to the first.

The short of it all is this:

Amazon, for example, allows seven keywords that help readers find your books using the search function. Readers who know you will search by your name or a series name or a book title. But if the reader is browsing, they might be looking for other reasons. This is where keywords help. As Locke writes in her second post:

Just as authors have no control over which books vendors display in the front windows and on the display tables of their physical bookstores, so authors have little control over what books Amazon displays on the main Kindle Store Page. The one part of this first page that authors do have some influence over, however, is the search bar (found at the top of the screen.) Since many consumers have been trained by their use of Google and other web search engines to search for stuff using keywords, this is probably the most important place to start if you want to maximize a book’s discoverability.

She has a lot of suggestions on how to find the proper keywords. Please read her three posts and the comments, because she has done such a thorough job that I would only be duplicating it here. Go there, and learn.


M. Louisa Locke mentions tags and keywords, which is why I’m going to add this section here.

Some sites allow the use of tags. Others don’t. Some want readers to tag. And some sites use tags behind the scenes. There are ways to game tags, like put the right kind of words in your blurbs.

All I want to say about tags is this, we’re getting into deep marketing juju here, and proper tagging, on an in-depth level, is probably not something you can do on your own.

If you want to understand how important tagging and subcategories of tagging are, then take a look at this 2012 article from The Los Angeles Times about Netflix’s internal tagging mechanisms.

Why would anyone go through all of this? Because of algorithms, searches, and keywords. A lot of businesses rely on algorithms and crowd-sourcing “people who like this will like that” information. I’ve been listening to one single Pandora “station” all year, refining it to my tastes, and that’s an algorithm. I’m going for piano music. Every now and then, I hit something that then links up to violin or viola music, and I have to refine again.

We’re all familiar with this now because of our entertainment tastes.

Think of that when you’re doing anything that will get you into those algorithms.

Be aware, however, that doing it well is both expensive and time-intensive. When you can hire your own army of fans  (or film buffs, as the LA Times calls it), then you’ll know you’ve made it.

Until then, follow Locke’s advice on the short way of doing this, the way that is least time consuming. Be aware that this sort of thing exists, and think about search engines and ease of use as you fill out your metadata information on various e-commerce sites.


I mentioned in the assumptions, below, that you need a functional website as a writer, one that advertises you and your work. Which all sounds well and good, but last night, as I was writing those story bios, I discovered that even bestselling writers have suckizoid websites. (Not just me!) For example, for all of the writers I dealt with last night, I couldn’t find their latest release (despite poking around for at least five minutes), nor could I find the series books in order. In one case, I couldn’t find any books listed at all, even though the author had published a dozen.

As I mentioned before, I’m having this site redesigned this spring (it’s in process). I’m trying to leave what works intact while making this a much better site for readers. It’s a balancing act. So this is a case of do what I say not do what I do. Because at the moment, I too have the wrong kind of website for discoverability.

So let me show you three different websites and tell you what you can learn from them.

First, New York Times bestselling romance writer Stephanie Laurens’ site. It’s pretty, it’s professional, and it answers questions easily. (Note the nifty thing she’s doing with branding as well.)Please go look. It’s searchable. There are two different places on the front page to get a newsletter or join an e-mail list if you want to. (You don’t have to.)

It also easily answers questions about her series and series characters. And new releases are on the first page of the website, so the hardcore fan (see the lists of reader types from last week) can find what’s out right now.

The website also seems appropriate for a romance writer. So romance readers see the subtle genre branding right from the start.

Second, mystery writer Dana Stabenow. Her website is very different.  Not as slick, a little older, but still it does what it needs to do. It’s more blog oriented, which is appropriate, since Dana is also a travel writer (and that writing informs her fiction). You can find out information on her series by clicking the header, but there’s even more information at the footer. You can join the newsletter if you scroll down the side of the home page.

This is an active website, one that the writer maintains almost daily with blog posts, etc, as opposed to Stephanie’s which is more static. But again, it gives the information that all levels of readers—from first-time readers to fans—need.

Finally, take a peek at Hugh Howey’s website. It’s a little loud for me, but it’s appropriate for a science fiction writer. It has a techy feel.

This website combines the static side of website design with the active blog. You can find recent releases and, importantly, what’s coming next. You can order off the site, which is just great, particularly for an indie writer. You can follow the blog if you want to.

It’s a fan-based website, that’s interactive and fun.

Notice that all three websites reflect the writers behind them. All three make it easy to sign up for newsletters—if the reader wants to do so. All three answer the basic questions:

1. What has this author written?

2. What order should I read in (if any)?

3. What’s new?

4. How can I learn about new books (if I want to)?

Some websites need even more data. When you’re writing in a series, you might want to how many books the series will/does have, when the next book is coming out, and how long you plan to continue the series. Get a sense of what the fans want to know, and provide those answers in your FAQ.


I will do a longer post later on newsletters with some dos and don’ts. You don’t need a newsletter. However, you should have a mailing list—an e-mail list, preferably (it’s cheaper)—so that you can notify the fans who sign up when your latest release is coming.

In other words, you don’t have to do something fancy. Just a nice e-mail saying, “Hey, my new novel That Book You’ve Been Waiting For, will appear on Tuesday in all formats on all sites. Thanks for your continued support.” That’s it.

And don’t spam your list. I have new works being reissued every week, and if I e-mailed every time something new happened, people would get a daily Kris e-mail. No, don’t do that. Figure out how to do it right.

The best way to do it? Let readers sign up, and do something whenever you need the reader support. Again, this is a do-as-I-say thing, because mine is still not up and running yet. (Wait until summer!)

Upcoming Titles

Build some anticipation. Let people know it’s on the way, even if it doesn’t have a title yet. Some writers, like Hugh Howey, keep track on their site of their various projects in the works. Others just mention the publication dates of upcoming titles. Whatever works for you as a writer. Let your readers know something is coming, though.


The minute you let your fans know that there’s an upcoming book, they’re going to want to know how they can get it. Indie writers don’t have the same preorder options that traditional publishers do. For example, at the  moment, it’s very hard (if not impossible) to get Barnes & Noble or Amazon to allow a paper preorder (or even an e-book one) if you’re not a traditional publisher.

So what? You can still offer preorders.  Kobo, Omnilit, and iTunes offer ebook preorders with a minimum of fuss.

In the United States, if your book has an ISBN and it has received reviews in major channels (like the real Publisher’s Weekly, not that pay-for-play thingie), then distributors will put that ISBN into their system, take orders for the book from bookstores, and then order copies of the book the moment it becomes available. How do I know this? Because it happens over and over again with WMG titles.

(And yes, I’ll tell you how to get reviewed in those venues in a future post, but you won’t like what I have to say…)

Finally, you can and should do the preorders yourself. Dean and I learned this a million years ago when we were running Pulphouse Publishing. If you can’t get into the system (and then, we weren’t doing large enough press runs to go into traditional distribution channels), you can offer preorders yourself that you ship.

At Pulphouse, we did it with a paper catalogue, but now, you can do it on your website. Offer the paper book, signed, as a preorder at a good price. Remember to include shipping, because you’re going to have to ship copies to your place, before shipping them out yourself.

Once you announce the book’s upcoming publication, make sure you have a preorder page on your website. Use the various options for payment, like I use PayPal below, and then take the order.

Before the book’s release, order your copies, sign them, and mail them to the fans who signed up. As a relatively new writer, you won’t get many preorders at all. If you’re a hybrid writer, you might get more than you want to handle, so enlist the help of friends and family to aid with shipping.

Here’s how WMG Publishing has set up its pages for the March release of Street Justice (under my Kris Nelscott name) which it is promoting heavily.

Note the booksellers link. Because you can always sell direct to booksellers off this page as well.

If you’re doing the right kind of series, by the way, you can also do subscriptions. Fiction River does.  Dean does to his Smith’s Monthly Magazine.  Just remember, subscriptions should give the subscriber a break for paying up front. So price accordingly.

It doesn’t take a lot of work to set up preorders. You should do so.

Remember, however, that on the print editions, if you do a preorder on your website, those book sales will not count toward any bestseller list. Just like some ebook sales won’t either (Omnilit, for example). Oh, well. What would you rather have? A good Amazon ranking or a lot of books sold to hardcore fans? I know the answer for me.


If someone in publishing asks for your bio and/or you put a bio on your website, think about this.

No one cares if you were born in Upstate New York to a math professor and a homemaker. They don’t care if you’re the youngest of four children or that you’re happily married. They don’t really care if you are childless, but spend your time with cats. They don’t care if you live on the Oregon Coast.

They don’t.

They want to know how many books you’ve published, how long you’ve written, if you’ve won any awards, been on any bestseller lists, how many copies of your books are in print, and if you’re working on other books.


I went to writer website after writer website after writer website last night as I wrote story blurbs for Fiction River and got to find out people’s personal lives (sometimes too much—if I want to steal your identity, people, thanks for giving me the keys) but nothing on the writing and the books.

That’s my bio above, but it’s not the one I give to magazines who request it or to the media. I have a variety of bios, all of them focused on my career. I have one for Kristine Grayson, one for Kris Nelscott, one for my mysteries (under both Rusch and Nelscott), for my sf, for my short stories, for my mainstream work, and so on. I even have a catch-all. The stupid long bio on this website? It’s there to tweak someone who told me I didn’t put enough there. It’s place-holding until the new website is up and running.

But really, no one cares that your Great-Aunt Mildred forced you to take elocution lessons in the fifth grade. Readers care about the next book you’re planning to publish. Or the one you just published.

Think about it.

Frequency of Publication

One of the most important passive discovery tools you have is frequency of publication. It took me a while to get past my Midwestern reticence on this. Plus I had the crap beaten out of me verbally and critically for two decades for being a fast writer.

(I was unfortunate enough to start in science fiction, where one book per year was considered fast [back in the day] rather than romance where five books per year was scarcely noticed.)

So I spent a lot of time hiding my speed. I still have trouble mentioning it at times.

However, this modern publishing world has finally caught up to most romance writers and writers like me. Readers like to have a lot of choices. And as I read through that Sisters In Crime Survey, done in 2010, I found this under a category called Points To Ponder:

James Patterson appears at the top of lists of popular authors cited by both younger and older readers, suggesting the frequency of publication may contribute to name recognition.

Realize this survey was completed in the last few days of the Dark Ages of Publishing, before ebooks really took off, and it became clear to industry watchers that frequency of publication really does make readers notice a writer—in a good way.

The more you publish, the more readers will notice.

Note that they will not buy everything or even anything, but they will recognize your name, which will put you in the conversation.

In other words, it really and truly will help with discoverability.

There are a variety of ways to do frequency of publication.

For example, I do one method on this website (yay! Something that I do right here. [VBG] ). I publish—without missing—a short story every Monday and a blog every Thursday. You folks know you can rely on that.

I’ve run the short story—which is free—since November of 2010 (and have yet to repeat a story!). I take the free story down the following week, so you only have one week to read it on the site.

I’ve run the free blog post (with the donate button) every Thursday since April of 2009.

My profile as both a nonfiction writer and as a short story writer has gone up tremendously. I can see the difference in the sales of my work on the various sites because of these two things.

I’ve also been concentrating on getting my backlist out, which means there’s new material almost weekly from me in ebook, and monthly from me in trade paper and/or audio. I’m selling hundreds of titles each month, not counting the individual sales of each title.

Readers have choices not only of format—ebook, paper book, audio book (and soon, apps!)—but also of genre, and type of story.

What’s most fascinating to me is I’m beginning to see segments of my readership coalesce—readers who buy this kind of book buy the latest version of that kind of book—without me doing any active promotion at all.

I will be doing active promotion throughout 2014, and I’ll be mentioning some of it. I’ll also be experimenting.

As for this blog, I’ll move to active promotion techniques next week.

Once upon a time in a land far away, I used to do public radio fundraisers. Yep, I was one of those annoying voices on the station begging for money instead of giving you the program you actually tuned in to hear.

Sometimes, writing this little bit at the end of the blog reminds me of those days. Today, I feel like I’ve gone on too long. So I’ll let the standard phrasing do the work.

If you feel like you learned something or you get something valuable from this blog, please leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks so much!

Click here to go to Paypal

“The Business Rusch: More Passive Marketing” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:

I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.

Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, beginning with this post here.

Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.

Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.

Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)

Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words,  if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.

Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)

Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)

Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.

Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]

Those are the assumptions.

Now, I have one big WARNING:

Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.

I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.

71 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: More Passive Marketing (Discoverability Part 8)

  1. Hi Kristine,

    Thanks for a helpful post once more. I have really enjoyed this series of blog topics and can’t wait for the rest. Went and checked out my website bio and realised I had been doing the right things (I hope). I may have missed it, so apologies if someone has mentioned it already, but I have two bios on the website. The first one is the short, sweet one with the books and their links. It’s the first one that comes up. Readers then have the option to go read the long version if they wish to, where I talk about more personal stuff.

    With regards to preorders on Amazon, something strange happened with my books. I asked KDP that question about a month ago with regards to the releases I have planned this year and I was told self-published authors can’t set up preorders even if they have loaded up files for the cover and interior. However, when I launched the second edition of Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book#1) and the revised edition of King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2) earlier this month, the new paperbacks came up as available to preorder on Amazon US and UK. I don’t know if that’s because I had already set them up on Lightning Source and Nielsen Pub Web (UK ISBN Agency) with their delayed publication dates, or if it’s because the books existed as paperbacks before on Amazon. Right now, both the old and the new paperbacks are being displayed, even though I have unpublished the older ones via my printer and also updated my data on Nielsen.

    I’m going to try an experiment with Greene’s Calling (Seventeen Book#3). It’s scheduled for release early June 2014, after it’s done its stint on Netgalley as an ARC (I’m putting the paperbacks of all 3 books up on Netgalley one after the other, through the Patchwork Press Netgalley Coop). I’m going to set up the paperback through Lightning Source and Nielsen with a delayed publication date and see if it appears as a pre-order page, where advance reviews can be left. If it doesn’t, then I will have to stick with plan A, which is to publish the ebook. I may have to do this anyway, as most of my readers will want the ebook, so there’s no point them ordering the paperback (unless Amazon allows it in Kindle Match before its release, in which it might be worth it for some readers).


    1. Books get to Amazon in different ways. One way is through other distributors, and that usually allows preorders. I suspect that your hunch about the Nielsen Pub Web is correct. But do I know for sure? Nope. Thanks for the report!

  2. I’m an avid reader and would like to make a few points from that perspective.

    First, Kris, you are doing okay without a newsletter. After I found you on the web, I’ve come back every week for the free short stories which I really enjoy. I did sign up for Lawrence Block’s newsletter, redundant now that he’s on twitter, for the book announcements and the freebies, but you give give your readers a free story every week. I have started reading your business blog lately just to marvel at the industry. Based on some of the survey data you’ve mentioned, I appear to be more tech-savvy than the average reader. Also, I have never been to a convention, am lucky to live in an area that still has many real bookstores, and use my library voraciously. All of the information you give about covers and blurbs and genres ring true to me as a reader.

    I’m very glad someone mentioned making websites user-friendly for mobile devices. The newly-designed WMG website is not iPad/iPhone friendly while your current website is. So when you re-design please keep that in mind.

    While I have to agree that when a reader searches the internet for an author, we want to easily find their list of books (hopefully in order with short descriptions, and hopefully with upcoming books shown), I have to say that when I first read Mercedes Lackey’s bio I was fascinated to find out that she’s a wild birds rehabilitator! But yes, you can list all of your series first (linking to the relevant pages on your site) and then mention the fascinating personal data. While it is true that many author sites are not user-friendly this is sadly true of most websites in our era. Thanks for all you do!

    1. Thanks, and thanks for the vote of confidence on no newsletter. I’ll still do one for series, etc, but glad to know the readers are happy.

      Mobile friendly is a key point for all the website designs. WMG hasn’t done their new design yet. It won’t be up until March, most likely. Same with my new site. This site is melting down since the theme is old. It’s getting hard to load with most browsers. 🙁

      Thanks too on the personal data front. That helps.

      1. Just to clarify, up until several weeks ago, the WMG site would expand on my iPad which it no longer does. It also has a different look than before, so some update has definitely been done to it that is not mobile-friendly, much harder to read because of tiny print. I know because I had been enjoying the free Friday stories there.

        1. Yes, some changes were made there because of other issues. But none are permanent, and they’re certainly not the direction the website is going in. I forwarded your note to WMG so they can address this before the big changes happen. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy the Friday stories again soon!

  3. It is strange James Patterson’s appeal. I was at a warehouse shopping center and a young woman giving out free food samples was talking to a middle aged man about one of Patterson’s series, which book they were on and how much they looked forward to the next release. I stopped to eaves drop (yes, sometimes curiosity wins over good manners) and soon there were six more people crowding around talking about the same series. What was interesting was the diversity of reader – all ages and ethnicities and economic levels. Yes, they all agreed he might not be the one writing them, no they did not care they just wanted more and fast.
    Later that night I manned a book table for our scout fund raiser and again Patterson was the first to go and the rest were authors who had were fast writers and had lots of books and series.
    I’ll admit I’ve never read Patterson, just not the genre I enjoy, but it was really amazing seeing all those people get so excited about his books.
    I have to say Patterson is a whole lesson in marketing all by himself.

  4. Kris, I realize that I’m an unusual reader, but I’d want to hear about the Iowa chicken farm every time.

    Sure, always include your latest release, because your fans want to know, and you want to make it as easy as possible for your fans.

    To me, the difference is between friends and fans. Friends do not want to hear relentless marketing. We are all drowning under a sea of commercialization. Friends want to connect with you, and they think your kids are a lot cuter than your latest novel.

    Meanwhile, your fans want you to shut up and write the next book.

    I realize that the fans are the ones who pay the bills, so it’s more important financially to cater to them. But I’m not comfortable blathering on and on about my work, which would turn off a lot of Canadians, and human beings in general, anyway. I have other stuff that’s important to me, too (my family, the environment, other people’s work, etc.). And if I blog about things that seem irrelevant, the stats sometimes show me a different story. For example, the number one outside search that brings people to my website right now is “no one came to my birthday party” (, and I find that poignant. It reminds me that I plan to compile those essays into a book, because other people had seemingly disastrous birthday parties, and this way, we feel less alone.

    Obviously, I agree that if you’re going to do passive marketing, you’ve got to put the information out there clearly and simply, without sickening people by over-promotion. I’m really enjoying this series. I just wanted to cast my vote for occasionally revealing the person behind the persona. Your true fans can always Google the information you forgot (although they shouldn’t have to), but only you can give them a peek behind the mask.

    1. You can say she was raised by Iowa chicken farmers and now lives in New York City–after you give your latest release and some information about your work. The problem is most writers don’t ever give the information about the work, and always give the Iowa chicken farmer information–which is not marketing or discoverability (y’know, the name of this series of posts).

      You’re right about personal blog posts, which is a whole different thing than bio information. Good point, though.

      1. Kris, because of this post, I went and changed my bio. The first line mentions the number of books I have out and what the names of my series are. I didn’t put in the titles because there are nine of them, with two more on the way, and I thought that would be too much. But I did keep the funky personal info, partly because I explained my love of the strange and paranormal (I write paranormal romance). Now I’ve just got to make sure the new bio is in place everywhere. 😉

  5. Genre’s tough because it seems like a lot of people don’t understand it. I’ve even run into conflicting opinions from agents. When I was submitting thrillers, I tried to learn as much as I could as to what makes a thriller. Then I’d run into an agent who says, “Thriller is a subgenre of mystery,” and another agent who says, “I take mystery, but I don’t take thriller.”

    But the worst is when the publisher relabels a book in a new genre. There are several writers I will never read again because the publisher labeled an obvious romance novel as a thriller. If I want a romance, I know where to find those. I don’t need someone trying to sneak it past me. Yeah, the publisher got the sale, but they aren’t getting any more.

  6. Kris,

    Thank you.
    Just… thank you. For continuously putting this out here, rain or shine, flame war or indifference or enthusiastic agreement.

    I may not always agree with you, and I may sometimes think that what you’re saying isn’t applicable to our four books, but I really respect your experience, intelligence, and advice. You’ve challenged me a lot, and I’ll always look at why you think what you do. (And often as not, come around to agreeing with you, later.)

    Thank you.

  7. I was curious to compare the Amazon print category breakdown to the kindle store category breakdown. They’re not the same. For example, Horror titles in the Kindle catalog are listed under mystery-suspense-horror, and then the various subheads. Kindle has a literature & fiction-genre tree, but horror isn’t listed in the genres. But to find printed horror books, you find them under literature & fiction-genre-horror, and then the various subheads, but they’re not the same subheads as in the kindle catalog. It would seem to make for confusing browsing–I felt I really had to dig to find the print horror titles.

    I’m assuming that if you’re traditionally published you don’t have much influence on the keywords your publisher uses?

  8. If you’re a children’s author like me, your readers really do want to know if you’ve got a cat. In that case, it can be worth having an ordinary author bio of the type you recommend plus a FAQ section with the type of question children ask.

  9. Just last week I created a new landing page for my writer website. It features my current latest release. And I plan to swap out the material with each new release.

    I was feeling very happy with the change – more emphasis on my books, less emphasis on me. (Before the change, my blog was on the landing page. Bad.)

    I figured the site organization was set for a while.

    Then I clicked your link to Stephanie Laurens’ site. (Very nice, indeed.)

    And quickly realized that I didn’t have a brief, simple list of my titles. Ooops! My list included thumbnail cover images and brief blurbs. Fine for a reader unfamiliar with my work and who wants to know more about my offerings.

    But seriously annoying for a reader who just wants to check that she really has read everything I’ve released. Or needs to know the last title of the Lodestone Tales series. Or whatever.

    I needed to make things easier for that reader.

    So I spent all morning re-organizing the website!

    A productive morning. Just not exactly what I’d planned. 😀

    Thank you! I’m the better for it!

    1. Glad my Books page helped! I always had a Book List, but it got buried with all the pages with thumbnails, and blurbs – when I redesigned the site I stripped away everything else and made sure that on all pages throughout the site (which is largish), that list is only one click away. That single simple page – purely a list of titles and nothing else – gets the most hits of any page on my website – Google lists it as the top page within the main site.

      And I did it that way precisely because of your reasoning – it’s what readers want most when they go to an author’s site. Also, as you hope it’s the page that readers will then click on from (to another page to look at a specific title) a page with just text loads fast and doesn’t keep them waiting.

      1. Thanks, Stephanie. I also really liked that your newsletter sign-up is accessed from the navigation bar. That will be the next change on my own site. Since my site has it in the sidebar, I’ll keep it there (I think). But I’ll *also* have a sign-up page accessed via the navigation bar. So much to learn!

  10. “The blurb,” he says. “The synopsis. You have to grab the reader with the synopsis.”

    Since I started writing fiction again last year, I’ve been trying to re-develop my “writer’s eye”, but also a “marketing eye” for when I finally get my shit together and try the self-publishing thing. One thing I’ve been noticing is that a lot of the blurbs writers do for their books kind of… well, kind of suck.

    Scalzi recently had a self-promotion thread on Whatever, where the writerly members of his readership could promote their latest work. Out of over 300 comments on that thread, there were only about a dozen I noted down to check out further. And only one self-blurb that I felt really *clicked* on multiple levels as effective promoting.

    (That successful blurb was for a contemporary lesbian romance, which is way outside of my usual genres of interest. But the writer, one “B. Thorn”, described her book’s major situation well without revealing TOO much of the plot — a common failing in many of the other comments on Scalzi’s post — , established a connection to her personal life, and told an amusing anecdote about her own aunt’s reaction to the book. She had a distinctive “voice” and style to her self-blurb that most of the other self-blurbs lacked. So even though her book wasn’t normally the type of thing I’d be interested in, her blurb piqued my interest enough to go take a closer look.) (Alas, after such a promising blurb, her book, “A Stringed Instrument”, turned out to have a you-can’t-get-more-generic cover of plain type centered on a solid background. Great blurb; horrible, horrible cover.)

    I also browse the “Giveaways” category on Goodreads on a regular basis, and have been paying attention to how people blurb their books there. Some people don’t put ANY description of their books there, just the cover image. Some just say “Giving away __ copies of my latest book!” or “___ five-star reviews on Amazon/Goodreads!”. (My response to the latter type of promotion is “Big fucking deal. Does there exist a book so awful it doesn’t get four- or five-star reviews on Amazon?)

    On the opposite end of the spectrum from those “Say Nothing About The Actual Story” so-called blurbs are the longer entries that tell so much of the plot that you end up not feeling any need or desire to read the full version. (For that extra bit of fail, there are the fantasy books whose blurbs reveal they’re set in The Empire of Excessive Apostrophes.)

    In short, I find a lot of those blurbs (especially the Goodreads Giveaways ones) throw away an opportunity to market effectively.

    Some off-the-cuff rules for blurbing: Don’t tell too little. Don’t tell too much. Don’t be irrelevant. Tease the potential reader about your book; don’t give them the entire Readers Digest Condensed Version. Don’t just tell them how your book is like other books; tell them how it’s different from those other books. Be concise. (And, oh yes, copy-editing is just as important for your blurbs as it is for your actual book.)

    1. Copy-editing blurbs is /vital/. If I notice comma-errors or any of the things that make me scream about a book… I don’t buy. (I edit translations sometimes, and cannot afford to dull my eye for typos — not even for the best story in the world.)

      Any typos in this post will be blamed on tablet auto-correct.

      1. I didn’t spot any errors, A. Beth!

        Blurb errors make me think there will be book errors.

        Bruce, you forgot the worst of all — NO BLURB!

        I came across an ebook last week, title was good, cover art ok, and there was no blurb whatsoever. Nor any tags. I had no idea what it was about. It could have been the finest book ever published, but I didn’t bother downloading it.

    1. Readers care. Don’t name the imprint after yourself. Readers look for ways to cull the material as well, and if they think you’re published by some publisher, they’re happier than if you’re published by It’s really not that hard to do. Again, your writing is a business. Do you name your retail store Kris’s Retail Store? Or do you come up with a name that reflects the product inside? Come up with a business name. It’s not hard.

          1. Heh! OK, thanks for expanding on that. I was seeing the bits elsewhere that readers look for recommendations, cover art, sample chapters (all of which make sense, since I do that as a shopper) and not that they would look for the press name.

      1. I’d add to check at or some other domain registrar before deciding on a name. The availability of a domain name was the deciding factor for a couple of choices I had rolling around. I picked something distinctive yet easily Googled.

        1. That’s their brand name. They didn’t start with the stores. They sold the brands in other stores. When the brand became big, then they opened their own stores with the brand name. Different thing altogether.

  11. Kris thanks for the bit about tags! Never occurred to me to put in the genre and sub genre. Duh. Also thanks for giving me two new writers that I have to read!
    A question about bios though. You talk about not adding too much personal stuff in, yet I notice Dana Stabenow’s bio was stuffed full of personal info and that’s what I liked the best. Mostly, because she’s very funny. I wonder if you can explain it differently – why not to add the personal info in, because I didn’t get it. I understand the part about making sure the basics about the books and your writing career must be there first.

    1. It’s marketing. That’s the most important part. Your bio is marketing. Remember that. The other stuff, unless it’s relevant, doesn’t belong. And Dana’s personal bio is relevant to her nonfiction. (And in some ways to her fiction.)

  12. Let me simply say about ISBNs that you need one on your book that does not say “Createspace” or “Lightning Source.” You need a publisher name that’s different from yours, and you need to buy an ISBN, either through Createspace or Lightning Source, or through Bowker (which is pricey) to reflect your publisher name.

    The only problem I have with having a custom ISBN is the small print on CreateSpace that says:

    Not eligible for distribution through the Libraries and Academic Institutions channel.

    How do you get your books into Libraries if you are using custom a ISBN.

  13. Kris, thanks for another great entry in this series. I had a question. You mention:

    “Let me simply say about ISBNs that you need one on your book that does not say “Createspace” or “Lightning Source.” You need a publisher name that’s different from yours, and you need to buy an ISBN, either through Createspace or Lightning Source, or through Bowker (which is pricey) to reflect your publisher name.”

    Buying a custom ISBN through CreateSpace costs $10, but doing so removes the option to be included in the Libraries and Academic Institutions distribution channel. Do you feel it’s worth the $10 to list your own company as the imprint of record and not have access to those distribution channels?

    Readers rarely look at the publisher name on a book; are they looking at what company is listed as the imprint of record?

    1. Sigh. I’ve said this many times, but I’ll say it again. Right now, CreateSpace has no library distribution. It will in the future, but right now, it doesn’t. So when you disconnect, you’re not harming anything. If you want to get into libraries, do a library edition from Lightning Source, and call it a library edition to differentiate it from your Createspace edition. You’ll have two different editions at the same time, but that’s normal too.

      1. I’m wondering what you think of what’s come to be known as “Plan B”, where you publish to Lightning Source, then once that’s underway you publish to CreateSpace using the same ISBN (which you’d have to buy via Bowker, iirc) but using it only for Amazon worldwide and not extended distribution? The goal is to bypass the availability problems Amazon is reportedly having with LS/Ingram-sourced books (i.e., the book is often not available or available in 2 weeks).

      2. Just thought I’d mention, Createspace may not officially distribute to libraries, but that doesn’t mean that something published through Createspace can’t get into some libraries. My library, and quite a few others I know of, order almost exclusively through Amazon, because it’s cheaper, easy to track purchases, and arrives much faster. We do our own physical processing, though, so any library that wants a library edition or the labels already on the book would be out of luck

        1. Thanks, Beth. Thanks for confirming this. I do know this, but I didn’t want to mess up the issue (which is the button that if you use your own ISBN you can’t get into libraries). Libraries order from a variety of sites, especially if patrons ask for a title. Also, folks, remember, you can do your own library editions from Lightning Source or any other source. 🙂

    2. Assuming Createspace start distributing to libraries, you still have access to those channels, just not with your ISBN. Creating a second copy of the book with a Createspace ISBN for the libraries channel is trivial.

  14. I’m reading this series with rapt attention. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences! This is invaluable to new writers and publishers just getting into the game.

    Regarding the websites, there’s one criterion missing, and it’s something I feel should go at the top of the list: Is the website mobile-friendly? If not, you are essentially closing the door on a huge and growing sector of the internet audience. The mobile internet has been exploding in the past few years, changing the internet at least as profoundly as ereaders have changed publishing. Yes, most smartphones can render out a desktop-sized website as-is, but can you read it? I find that most author sites are not mobile-friendly, and most of those are illegible on my iPhone. I’d argue that investing in a website that is not mobile-friendly is akin to publishing your books but refusing to offer them as ebooks.

    Of the three example sites cited above, only Hugh Howey’s is mobile-friendly. How can you tell? Just grab the corner of your browser with a mouse and narrow the window to about 300 or 400 pixels wide (about 1/3 the width of a typical website) and see what happens. Hugh’s site reformats into a very nice and legible layout for reading on mobile devices. The other two sites do not, and would be very difficult indeed to read and navigate on a smartphone or small tablet.

    (My day job is running a web development company. We’re at the point where we simply will not accept any project that does not include mobile support. In fact, the best practice is to develop for mobile devices first, and then build out the desktop features on top of that.)

    1. Particularly important for These Kids Today, who do everything on their phone. As does my hubby, who was born in ye olde 50’s.

      And even people who usually use their laptops find themselves in airports with layovers and nothing to entertain them but their phone/tablet. They’re going to buy an ebook from someone they can read about easily.

    2. Totally agree with the mobile-friendly issue – it’s a must. Just (two minutes ago) checked my site stats – a solid 35% of hits come from mobile (tablets and phones) on a regular basis. I checked the devices – all the majors well-represented. You might want to check the validity of that simple test of yours. To be clear, what you suggest (reducing the size of desktop browser screen to that width) probably will break the site as shown on a desktop, but the mobile display sizes perfectly and expands for easy reading. Hope the stats above stress the point of how important mobile-friendly is. (And thanks for the mention, gracious hostess!)

      1. I checked all of those sites on my iPad Mini and they all work fine. You go to the column you want, and you can “stretch” the type to make it legible on your device. All 3 of these work that way. The new WMG publishing site is written in a format that does not expand. There are several new irritating sites that have started doing this which is very annoying! However, none of the sites Kris listed have this problem.

        1. There is no new WMG Publishing site. It’s not up yet. They’re still working on it. They’re making mobile friendly a high priority. I find it irritating too when something is hard to read on my mobile device.

  15. Very good post! You’ve given me lots of ideas. Every Thursday I do a post. I’ve been doing a novel on line. I’ve been very faithful in my posts and although it’s a very small number, they show up. I’ve did this before I’ve started to publish which will be in the next few days. I will announce there. I did this to attract readers.
    I made a different website for the romance and will direct them there after I publish. I like the idea that Stephanie Lauren does with her logo. I like that a lot. My pen name for my erotic romances is Elizabeth Baillie. I seen another Elizabeth Baillie who spelled her name the same way. I don’t know if she is a writer or not but the idea of that logo would identify me.
    To do the preorder thing would be nice to do as well. I’ve taken an inspiration from Dean with his Smith’s Monthly. I’m going to do sort of the same thing. I’m going to publish what I will call a Romantic Hearts series that will contain a novel, novella and short stories or novelettes. I hope to publish that four times a year.
    To do a preorder for that would be nice. We’ll have to work on these ideas and see what I can do.
    Thanks for the inspiration on these posts and look forward to reading more.

  16. “Most readers no longer understand genre distinctions beyond the big headline—and that headline is usually wrong.”

    I wonder if you’re missing something here.

    If genre is just a marketing tool for readers, to give the readers an idea of what to expect from the book, and readers have come to expect different things from the genre, then the genre has in fact changed. Oh sure, industry insiders can wag their fingers and say, “No! A mystery must have X!” But if the customer, the reader, no longer thinks X is essential to a mystery, it really doesn’t matter what the industry insider thinks or says. It’s like one of my pet peeves: decimation. To be decimated means to have 1/10 of a population killed off (it comes from the Roman Legions). But the common understanding of decimation seems to be the complete destruction of a group. It does no good for me to shout from the rafters that it does not mean what you think it means. I may be technically correct (I am) but the world has moved on, and so has the language, apparently. I wonder if this lament about genre understanding is similar. Is genre not, in reality, what the customer believes it to be, first and foremost?

    1. No. Genre is a marketing category. Readers know what marketing category they’re looking for, even if they don’t know how to label it. They walk into the correct section in an existing bookstore, and then look for other things about the book. That’s all you’re setting up here. If you fail to learn genre and its nuances, you fail the most important part of passive marketing.

      1. I get that. But if what we learn does not match what the readers expect because their thinking has shifted while the official definition of the genre has not, doesn’t that also equate to a marketing fail?

        In other words, wouldn’t it make more sense to examine what the readers think the genre means now and adjust to that, rather than to say, “The readers are wrong, too?”

        Seems to me they can’t be wrong; they’re the customer.

          1. Even if as a whole a lot of readers don’t know genre; The readers who read and buy lots of books most likely do. Once they have found and liked you from a casual shelf check, then they buy, and many of us buy more. As an example of Genre and sub-genre meaning something; I will probably not buy romance novels, except that I have found a few authours that I enjoy as Sci-Fi romance. No one marketing plan is going to get to all readers.

  17. Regarding websites:

    Of the three you list, Stephanie Laurens’ website breaks slightly when javascript is disabled The other two work beautifully.

    There are a variety of reasons one might not enable javascript, so I would suggest to anyone setting up a website makes sure the site still looks attractive and the core functionality works without it.

    1. I use NoScript with Firefox to reduce the amount of tracking and see this all the time. I take it into account of course, but it’s better from a website owner’s POV if javascript isn’t used.

  18. Great material, as always 🙂

    I do want to gently disagree with your point on bios. You’re basically saying that an author bio is another opportunity to showcase your other work, which I can definitely get behind. But when I, as a reader, go to read an author bio, it’s because I want to get a glimpse of who and what the author is – not because I want the author’s latest marketing update. An interesting, attention-grabbing bio will endear an author to me much more than a list of books and awards. (If I like an author and want more of his work, it’s a lot easier for me to google the name and check out what else interests me.)

    What I think works best is striking a balance. Certainly a mention of a recent or upcoming release won’t go amiss, alongside personal information and color. But the best bios, I think, would be the ones that mention some other writing, and connect that to the author’s background and interest. That way I go “Ooooh, the author’s an interesting person! And, look, s/he’s written cool stuff about the interesting bits!” Don’t write pure ad copy; write content – to wit, content about how awesome the author is, because that’s what people read bios for – with a strong, essential marketing component.

      1. But I too love those! Not where you live, or how many kids you have (and FOR SURE not how the Perfect Children are the Only Reason For Living, in which case why are you wasting time with writing?). But a fun fact that influences the writing sticks in my head, be that how you grew up or what your job was. ONLY if it has bearing on the writing, though. If you grew up on a chicken farm and you’re writing future-mil-SF, I don’t care. If you grew up on a chicken farm and you’re writing about skullduggery in the agricultural markets, okay.

        Also, there are so freakin’ many awards nowadays, I’m not really impressed with lists upon lists of those. (Plus, boring!) If you have a Nebula or a Rita, fine, but if it’s a “Greater Northeast Council of Self-Publishing Mystery Writers”… yeah, trying too hard. Leave those out. Nobody but you and your mama cares.

        1. I wondered about this also.

          I totally get that most readers have no interest in me, the writer.

          But, as a reader myself, if I bothered to check the author’s bio, I was definitely looking for the more personal angle.

          The long lists of awards and other titles went through my head like a mystery writer’s list of clues meant to distract and then be forgotten.

          An interesting bio with character and quirks – that held my attention. And cemented the writer in my consciousness more strongly, so that I was more likely to look for their other books when I was in the bookstore or library.

      2. As a reader, I like reading personal details only about my favorite authors, those I’ve already been reading. For example, I like hearing a little bit about Kris and Dean’s cat, Walter White (maybe because I’m also a big Breaking Bad fan). 🙂 So maybe save those details to use occasionally in a newsletter? Maybe.

    1. When I read an author bio, I’m hoping to get a quick pointer on what else they may have that I’ll like. If they have a new novel coming out in the spring and say that in their bio, they have my attention. And it doesn’t come across as a ‘marketing update’, but simple courtesy. Many writers don’t do this, which gives me the impression that they don’t have anything else coming up to talk about. And that doesn’t encourage me to go searching for them online.

      People have short attention spans nowadays. Mentioning your next book, or your last book, gives people something brief and concrete that sticks.

      Lastly, I think it’s important to remember: people don’t go looking for more of your writing because your bio was interesting, or because you’re interesting. They look because your writing was entertaining.

    2. I’ve never looked at an author bio for the purposes of finding their other works. In print books, those were usually listed in the front of the book and the bio was in the back. I always hope for a little glimpse into the person who wrote the book when I look at a bio. Because when I read a really good book part of me always asks “who was this person whose story enchanted me so?” It’s always disappointing when there’s nothing more than “he lives in so and so and wrote this and that”.

      1. For me, it depends on the context. For example, in a convention bio, I want to see if they seem worth spending my time at this panel, or if the authors at that conflicting panel over there are more interesting. However, if they mention their latest book, I’m much more likely to remember it and pick it up later.

        On an Amazon page, their also-bought are right there, so I’d rather get who they are than what they’ve written. (In some niches, it’s also important to note if you have experience in the field, and how much. I’m much more likely to try an unknown milscifi book if the author indicates they’ve served. A rather generic looking fantasy about the Wild Hunt sold on the author’s bio of a fox-hunting background. And so on.)

        On the other hand, in an anthology or magazine, if I like the story, I’m looking for the next related title by author.

  19. LOL Why is Hugh so surprised? He started out as one-man operation.

    I know I didn’t understand the power of passive until two years ago. I followed Dean’s advice; I created a pseudonym for a work I didn’t want attributed to my legal name (for lots of reasons I won’t get into here). My only active marketing was three sample chapters in the back of a friend’s book. Now, Alter Ego is outselling my books. People think I’m lying when I say I’m not doing any promotion.

    Obviously, I need to reread M. Louisa Locke’s post. It’s a sign when I saw the same link in David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visible within a half hour of reading your column. *smile*

    Thanks for taking the time to fill in the blanks.

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