The Business Rusch: More Passive Marketing (Discoverability Part 8)
This 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).
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!)
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 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!
“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.