The Business Rusch: Publicity Campaigns (Discoverability Part 14)
As I started this post on a Monday night over two weeks ago, my Kris DeLake novel, A Spy To Die For, ranked #1 on two Amazon bestseller lists. Both are subgenre lists:
1. Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Science Fiction
2. Books > Romance > Science Fiction
And #6 in another:
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Espionage
To be perfectly honest, Spy doesn’t belong in the mystery/thriller/espionage category at all. Some readers are going to be very disappointed.
I’m not responsible for the rankings (or the keywords). Sourcebooks, the novel’s publisher, set up A Spy To Die For, as one of that Monday’s Kindle Daily Deals. Unlike the Kindle Daily Deal that Sourcebooks had set up for one of my Grayson novels on the day after Christmas, this deal listed Spy on the front of the Daily Deal page, and on the e-mail that got sent out.
It got a response.
I have no idea what the sales numbers are, because I won’t see them for months (Sourcebooks being a traditional publisher). I also don’t know how much Sourcebooks paid to be part of the promotion. I know they’re doing a major investment in the daily deal, at least according to the e-mail that I received announcing this one. At least one Sourcebooks novel daily was part of the Daily Deal for several days in March.
Let me be perfectly frank here:
I have no idea why Sourcebooks included Spy in this promotion. Yes, they have two of my DeLake books, both backlist now. (Spy came out in July.) Sourcebooks and I jointly canceled the contract for the third, so there are no new Sourcebooks DeLake novels, and I personally am not going to get to any of my other series until I’m done with this massive Retrieval Artist project.
The Grayson novel that was part of December’s deals was even older than Spy, and that promotion made a touch more sense to me. Sourcebooks has five backlist Grayson novels, and getting movement on them is a good idea. Kinda.
But from an investment point of view, why spend the money on an old book with no new books on the horizon? The entire staff at Sourcebooks knows that I’m not going to publish any more novels with the company. The promotion dollars are better spent on other writers with upcoming books.
All I can think is this: Sourcebooks has an in-house algorithm that flags backlist novels for promotion every few months or once a year or something. Once the novel gets placed in the promotion cycle, then the promotion goes ahead as planned, no matter what’s happening with the author or the other books in the series.
I have to applaud Sourcebooks for marketing its backlist titles. Most traditional publishers don’t market most of their backlist titles at all, except for their bestselling titles. Or they only market the most recent backlist novel when the next novel appears.
The fact that Sourcebooks invests continually in its backlist is one of the many reasons I chose to join the company in the first place. They’re an innovative business that is constantly trying new things.
So I shouldn’t complain—and I’m not, really. I’m just puzzled. Because it seems to me that Sourcebooks, as innovative as it is, is also practicing one-size-fits-all marketing.
You hear this all the time: writers have to do x, y, or z to make their books work. Suzy Q. lowered her book’s price, so it’s doing well. Or it isn’t doing well. Susie X. spent $20,000 on advertising her latest, and hit The New York Times extended list. And so on.
The success of Kindle/Spy deal has little to do with the type of book or even its price. The novel was also $1.99 on Barnes & Noble on that Monday, and wasn’t moving very many copies at all (as far as I could tell from B&N’s algorithms).
The reason this particular sale is successful is that the book has a wonderful cover, and it was on the front page of the deal/e-mail. When my Grayson novel was on page 12 or whatever of the deals, it didn’t do nearly as well. In the past, when a novel of mine has been on the first deal page, it’s done well, and when it’s not been on that page, it has done…less well.
The halo effect is smaller too.
Kindle’s deal e-mail is targeted advertising. Readers have to sign up for it or be a member of Amazon Prime to get it. If the book gets on a bestseller list, even a subgenre bestseller list, like Spy was for nearly two weeks, the list acts as advertising.
A few months ago, as I was being excoriated on the Kindle boards for never having a book in the top 100 of any Amazon list [Rusch pauses, shakes head, forces herself to continue], Fiction River: Hex in the City sat on top of three different subgenre lists. Dean and I are the series editors of Fiction River, although credit for that particular volume goes to the actual editor, Kerrie L. Hughes, and to the authors whose stories make that one of the most delightful issues we’ve done so far.
When Hex hit the subgenre lists—with no paid promotion from WMG, no Kindle Daily Deal, no reduction in price—the halo effect lasted for days. People saw the book on the list, then ordered it. The sales stayed high because of the list. The other Fiction River volumes rose in sales as well, just as you’d expect.
This is why traditional publishers buy slots on a bestseller list. Many so-called bestseller “lists” are paid advertising positions. The Barnes & Noble list (inside the brick-and-mortar store) is paid advertising. So are the books that are marked 1-10 at your grocery store or at any non-bookstore, like Costco.
If you go into a chain bookstore or a chain store that carries books, and see a bestseller list that’s in-house, it’s probably paid for. If the bookstore and/or chain store labels the books as part of an outside bestseller list—like The New York Time bestseller list— then the books on the shelf ranked one through ten part of an unpaid list.
As we discussed last week, traditional publishers pay for all kinds of advertising. And we writers can too, if we set up our publishing business properly.
But, as folks mentioned in the comments, doing so sounds like a whole bunch of work.
It is a lot of work.
The question is not is this work worthwhile?
The question is when is this work worthwhile?
As I’ve said all along in this series, the last thing you want to do is one-size-fits-all marketing.
Each book that you publish should have a different marketing campaign. That’s not how the Big Boys of Publishing do it. They market books according to advance levels or expectation.
Did they pay more than a quarter of a million dollars as an advance on that book? Then it’ll get the same kind of marketing that every other $250,000 and above (advance) book gets (regardless of genre).
Did they pay less than $10,000 as an advance on that book? Even if the book breaks out, gets great pre-publication reviews and a ton of pre-publication orders, the marketing remains the same as every other book in that publishing house that received $10,000 and below as an advance (regardless of genre).
Which is really stupid. And not something you want to repeat.
Here’s what you want to do. You want to plan the campaigns for the right reasons, and in the right way for you.
Over the past several months, I have given you a ton of options on how to make your work visible. Now it’s time to implement some of those options.
First, you have to make an overall decision on your marketing. Are you marketing yourself or your books? Because there’s a huge difference between being a famous writer and having written a well-known novel.
Some writers give speeches and travel everywhere. They’re guests at every convention they can think of or they receive speaking fees. These writers become celebrities in their own right. From the 1970s through the 1990s, a friend of mine graced the television talk shows and was well-known for espousing controversial opinions. That same friend made at least five figures for each public appearance (plus expenses). That friend, by the way, turned out almost no new material in those twenty years.
I’m currently watching two other friends do the same thing, and those friends are slowly discovering that writing time dwindles in the face of celebrity. One of these friends has always flirted with celebrity, and will probably do more than flirt for the next few years. That friend hardly writes at all any more.
It’s a choice that you, the writer, must make before you start promoting anything.
You can probably tell my choice in my tone. I don’t want to be a celebrity. I did a lot of conventions and traveling when I was editing Pulphouse and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. My health made me cut back about the same time I stopped doing the editing (thank heavens), but I would have cut back anyway. I’m an introvert, and I truly hate being recognized. In fact, back in the dark ages, I quit an on-air radio job because people recognized my voice in restaurants. I am good at the celebrity thing; I just don’t enjoy it.
My celebrity friends make more money than I do, just on their appearances alone. But the thing is: once they stop appearing places (like the friend who was famous in the last two decades of the 20th century), the money dries up as well. If you keep writing, the money continues, even when you can’t face a crowd.
If you decide to market yourself rather than market your work, you’ll have to find your own path. The rest of this blog won’t help you.
But if you choose to market your work, then the tips that follow will make a difference.
First, you need to assess the work you’ve published. Is each item worth promoting? I’m not talking about quality here. I’m discussing time versus earnings.
For example, for me, it’s not worth promoting every single short story I publish. I’ll let my fans and readers know that a new original story is out, but I’ve even stopped mentioning when WMG Publishing reprints my backlist shorts. If someone discovers them, fine; if they remain undiscovered, fine. I only have a finite amount of time to promote my work, and I’ll use that on projects that can have a halo effect.
When you’re assessing, realize that each project is different. For the rest of this blog, I’m going to discuss novels only.
In the assumptions below, I mentioned that the advice I’m giving is for people who have published much more than one novel. If you’ve only published one novel, write the next one. That’s the best discoverability you can do.
But let’s say you’ve published nine novels, three in one series, three in another series, one standalone, and two in the current series. You’re about to publish the next novel in the current series. And you’re almost done with another standalone novel. And this week, you’ve decided you are going to start promoting everything in your inventory.
If you do too much at once, your readers will get tired of your promotion. A very well known writer who has published more than I have sends me a newsletter listing every time something new comes out—which is often as much as three times per week. Don’t be that person. Remember your readers have a life as well, and want to pay attention to that as well.
So how do you promote?
You figure out what your marketing budget is—in time and in money—and then you allocate your scarce resources. You probably won’t be able to promote everything.
And you definitely shouldn’t, particularly all at once.
In my opinion, each series should be viewed as one unit, one project. A single book in an uncompleted three-book series isn’t worth promoting—yet.
But, according to our hypothetical, you have two finished series. If they’re in the same genre, then they’ll feed on each other. If they’re in different genres, then they won’t help each other at all.
Let’s assume they’re in different genres. So you must decide which series is worth your time, at the moment. If you have a political fantasy series like Game of Thrones, then you might piggyback on the promotion that’s happening right now, as the new HBO season premieres.
Or you might decide to wait until fans have watched this season, and are now searching for something to fill the void.
You think about how to do this, and then you work on it. Backlist, in particular, needs some creativity. Pay attention to the culture around you. If you have a novel set in 1865 at the end of the American Civil War, time your promotions to coincide with all the news articles that are going to appear at the 150th anniversary in 2015. You might even be able to promote in odd places—like take an ad in Civil War Monitor, or maybe see if you can write an article for them that perhaps mentions (or concerns) your book.
The same goes for location. If your book is set in Appomattox, then talk to the news outlets there for special promotion around the 2015 celebrations. It will give the newscasters a slightly different version of their story, and it’ll get you some different promotion.
The key to backlist is this: It stays in print. We writers never used to have this luxury, so we’re not used to thinking about it in that way. We don’t need to shove our backlist into the old promotion methods, and we don’t need to ignore it either. Nor should our backlist books be promoted the same way each and every time.
Think about each project, maybe schedule a time to promote it, and then don’t worry about it. Maybe promote one backlist novel every quarter.
Or capitalize on promotional opportunities that come your way. You don’t always have to promote your latest novel. In fact, you probably don’t want to. Scatter your promotions around. Readers discover different books in different ways; help them find the right book for them.
For example, earlier in this series, I mentioned cat bloggers. That encouraged Bonnie Koenig to ask me to guest blog on her cat-oriented site, and she brought me to the attention of other cat bloggers. Right now, Layla Morgan Wilde is doing a giveaway of one of my short story collections, Five Feline Fancies, to promote her blog Cat Wisdom 101, yes, but also to promote my cat-oriented fiction. (Thank you, Layla!) I didn’t ask her to do this. She just is. So it’s in my best interest to let people know the promotion that she’s doing exists.
The collection, by the way, has been out since 2010. It has new life this spring, thanks to a connection made through a throw-away comment on this blog—and my willingness to do a few guest blogs in an area different from one I usually promote.
Similarly, the story bundle that ended yesterday got promoted to a variety of different places. Most of us writers in the bundle go directly to readers whom we know—and we tend to know the same readers/fan groups. But the Challenger Center, the charity that some of the funds from the bundle went to, also e-mailed their mailing list—which I know is very different from the lists that we writers have. We found new readers that way, and the readers get to sample our work.
Last week, I got some pushback on using the old ways to promote your work. Most of the old ways—traditional publishing’s way of doing things—is based on the Newer! Better! Stronger! method (okay, I watch way too much Jimmy Fallon [or listen to too much Daft Punk]). Seriously, the old ways are based on this attitude: Buy this book now, before it spoils! Buy it before everyone else does! Be the first on your block to read this book!
That’s because traditional publishers believe that books go out of fashion within weeks, if not months. All of this is based on an out-of-date attitude, something that was true just ten years ago—that books had a short shelf life in brick-and-mortar stores. Even though books now stay in print indefinitely, most traditional publishers still base their promotions on the old-fashioned notion that a book is worthless when purchased six months after its initial release.
Most of the traditional promotion to bookstores is based on that books-will-spoil notion. This is why major review publications only review new releases, and why ARCs need to be completed six months in advance. Bookstores do their ordering based on what’s coming, not on what’s available. Your book has to be in the what’s coming system.
When bookstores are ordering for the first time after the book came out, the bookstore is less likely to promote that book and less likely to put that book on the shelf. Instead, the bookseller will put the order behind the counter for the reader who did the special order.
Once again, look at Dean’s blog on how to get your books into bookstores. If your upcoming trade paper release has been reviewed in major markets, booksellers will want to order in advance. If you announce a release date and have an ISBN, then the distributors will take orders for that book—even if the book isn’t out yet. So your book is being preordered without you lifting a finger.
Because your book will have to wait six months from the moment it’s finished to the moment it actually goes on sale, you’ll want to use the old ways to market your work only on the most special project. Something standalone, perhaps, something that might be award-worthy (award nominations aid discoverability), something that might benefit from bookseller word of mouth.
Some genres work best with reviews and lots of lead time. Most mystery fans, for example, buy more paper books than e-books. Plus there are still a lot of mystery bookstores. (We’re seeing that with our Fiction River series: the Crime issue has had the most paper sales upon release of any of our issues. We did a traditional promotion, with ARCs and press releases to mystery publications, with that edition of FR.)
So your mystery novel might benefit from the traditional approach.
Romance novels generally don’t get a lot of traditional media coverage even when the novel is by a Big Name author. Plus, a lot of romance readers prefer ebooks to paper books. (Or mass market paperbacks, which indie writers can’t do yet.) So, a traditional push on a romance novel might not be time (or money) well spent.
Be strategic—and figure out your promotion campaign (if you’re going to have one) before your finished novel comes out. Sometimes it’ll be worth the six month wait to do the ARC and all the traditional promotion. Sometimes it’s simply a loss of six months of sales.
That’s your decision—and one you should always think about when you’re finishing standalone novels.
What about that hypothetical half-finished series I mentioned above? What about the third book in that series?
Promotion again depends on genre. It also depends on how the previous books in the series were promoted. Are you continuing a formerly traditionally published series out of your own press? Then use the marketing plan that the traditional publisher used (and improve on it).
Has the series been indie from the start? Then use indie techniques.
When you finish the series—after book three or book five or book six—then you do a major promotion on the entire series. You’ll bundle the books together for easy purchasing (while keeping the individual novels in print) and you can do a post-publication ad buy in traditional markets for the entire series.
However, as you’re releasing new books in that series, you want to focus your promotion on book one of the series. The thing that traditional publishing has always done poorly is promote a series. In the past, Book 1 was usually out of print before Book 3 came out, so new readers could never jump on board. Series often died because the readership didn’t grow fast enough. (Traditional publishers don’t see the contradiction here—they still take series books out of print, although now, they often do it only with the print version—you know, 80% of the market…)
Your series remains in print, so your promotion on the new book in that series should have a two-pronged approach. The first prong goes to long-established readers of the series. You blog about the new book, you send out a notice in your newsletter with the new book’s publication date, letting everyone know the book is (or will be) available. Urge them to buy sooner rather than later, so you might have a shot on being on one of the various bestseller lists—even if it’s a subgenre list. (It does add to the book’s promotion.)
The second prong of your approach? Discount that first book in the series. Maybe buy a Book Bub ad for it. Let your fans know that the first book is available for a lower price, so they can hook their friends on the series. Make sure the lower price is for a limited time only, because you want this promotion to be special. You want people to hurry to the first book, so they’ll read through the series to get to the new book, and boost its numbers.
You promote that first book every single time you get a new book in the series. If you permanently keep the price of the first book low, you can’t do these promotions—and that will actually harm discoverability. So lower the price when the new books come out, then raise the price after the Discover-The-Series promotion is over.
You can always use that first book in other promotions—like group book bundles (which we discussed a few weeks ago) or six months later, when the sales of the new book start to flag.
In my Retrieval Artist series, many of the books stand alone. I’m writing a mini-saga within the series, and when that comes out, the first book of the mini-saga might be worth promoting, instead of the first book of the overall series. I’ll be discussing strategies with WMG as the time gets closer.
Remember, your promotions can happen at any point. Don’t want to promote Book 1 right now? Wait a few weeks and do it then. Or do it when the sales flag. Promote your standalone titles in the proper season—a winter book in winter (promote in the US in December; Australia in June), a beach read in summer (reverse the above promotions). You have lots of choices—and they’re all limited to your imagination…
…and your time and your finances. Remember, every moment you spend promoting a book is time you cannot spend on writing. You can find a million ways to promote, which means you can find a million ways to avoid writing.
In short, then:
Whenever you release a new book, have a publicity campaign planned for the book—even if the campaign is to not promote the book for a year or two or ever.
Think about what kind of promotion this new book should have, then stick to your plan. Make sure each of your books has a different promotion plan from the other books. Treat the books like the individuals that they are.
You’ll do so much better that way, and you won’t waste your valuable time doing the same old thing that everyone has seen before.
This post went long, which shouldn’t surprise me, since it covered quite a bit.
So…for the sake of brevity: comments, ideas, e-mails, and opinions welcome. Donations gratefully received to help me continue the blog on a weekly basis.
Thanks so much for your time and your visits!
“The Business Rusch: Publicity Campaigns” 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, which you can find 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.