Marketing: tips to beat the sharks and save yourself a lot of heartache

As I’ve said before, once you become a self-published author, there are some who will view you as a walking wallet to be divested of as much money as possible.

There are a good number of reputable sources of advertising. Some will give you spectacular results, some are decent, some don’t work for your book. You need to experiment to see which are the most effective. At best, you make money, at worst you lose some money.

There are also the sharks. Quite different from the reputable advertisers which just don’t work for your book, the sharks can harm you substantially, even if they might also increase your sales.

How, if you’re only paying $10 for an ad on their platform?

Well, there is this section in the Amazon Terms Of Service:

Misuse of sales rank:

The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. Any attempt to manipulate sales rank is prohibited. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders, including placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.

If you’re paying $10 for an ad, most sites will put your book somewhere that you can see it. They send an email to their list or have a website or both. But if they don’t do this, if their answer to how they generate the sales is “blogs” or some mysterious thing you can’t see, then how do you know they’re not doing any of the above things that break the TOS?

Not an issue? See this story of the SFF Marketing Podcast’s Jeff Poole, whose book in KDP Select received page reads from fake accounts without his knowledge. Amazon states that checking out advertising service is the author’s responsibility. He did not use any ad sites, and spam accounts probably registered reads for his book in order to mask other activities. Because of this, he was able to restore his account. What if he had, unwittingly, paid for a service using tactics that don’t pass the TOS? Amazon loves the ban hammer, and it wields the weapon hard.

So, if you are looking at spending money on an advertiser’s or promoter’s site or project, any amount of money, but especially if it’s a fair bit of money, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How do they advertise, where is their site and can I sign up to see my own book being featured?
2. Did I google them and am I happy with what I found? Multiple reports of tardiness or poor customer service usually does not bode well.
3. Do they come across as professional in their correspondence with me? Big no-nos would be slagging off other promo sites, putting you on mailing lists you haven’t asked to be on and being overly defensive.
4. The biggie: if you’re going into collaborations, how good is their contract, in particular with regards to refunds. Don’t think you won’t need it. We all go into things in good faith, but shit happens, people get sick, stuff gets delayed and you want to make sure their contract covers all these eventualities. How do they list your responsibilities and theirs? Who owns the resulting work and for how long, and do they ask for tax documentation as they should? Do they give you a invoice and do you pay to a business name rather than a person? Are you paying into a Paypal business account? Those are all things that I’ve found out to be important.

Do a bit of research, and save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.

Writing success: There are no shortcuts

Let’s repeat that: there are no shortcuts to writing success.

You will often see people recommending that when you want to sell well, you have to copy what the bestsellers do.

Yes, you do, but there is a genuine way and a misguided way to go about it.

Misguided? Well…

Bestsellers have books with lots of reviews, so people will do all sorts of things to get lots of reviews. Make no mistake, it’s not a bad thing to give out copies to your fans to get a few reviews immediately when the book is published. But large-scale review-gathering? What’s the point? The successful books got those reviews because they sold a lot, not the other way around.

Bestsellers may have quotes from reviews in the description. Sure, if you have a quote that looks good, use it, but if you have to put “Amazon reviewer” in your quote, then it looks a bit silly, doesn’t it? Again, those quotes came about because people read the book. If you pay for quotes or reviews (Kirkus!) then you probably end up looking a bit desperate if the book doesn’t sell.

Bestsellers may have (emphasis on may) have made bestseller lists. While publishers have gamed these lists for many years, gaming by self-published writers has reached epic proportions, which is why the NYT bestseller list has combined some categories, making it harder to get on those lists.

But why would you want to, if you haven’t actually written books that have anywhere near earned their place? If readers go to a page of a touted whatever-list-bestselling author and all they can see there are books that don’t look in the slightest like they could have earned that listing, what are they going to think? It just devalues the list, if readers actually took notice in the first place.

So what does matter?

When you look at the pages of successful writers, you will see either of these things:

  • One or two books that sell an insane number of copies a month
  • Lots of books, most of which sell a decent number of copies each month

All of them sell books that people want to read. They get reviews because those readers love the books, and the writers occasionally make lists because people buy the books when they’re on special.

Goosing reviews or bestseller lists is putting the cart before the horse.

Write books first, work on your craft, produce material regularly. The rest will follow by itself. Yes, it’s likely to take a while.

You can toss any amount of money at tricks that will make you look better, but ultimately it is about the books. People are not dumb. Social proof comes about because people read the books, not the other way around. Therefore, make your books the best and spend your energy on doing that.

There are no shortcuts. You can’t buy long-term, viable success.

Sorry, probably not what you wanted to hear.

Writing: The two traps that will cost you sales

As I prepared to go to the gym this morning, I scrolled through my marketing podcasts to see which one to listen to.

It struck me that they were all one of two varieties.

Type 1:

How to write a novel in 5 days
How to write 24 novels a year
How to write 5000 words while you’re on the loo

Type 2:

If you don’t advertise on Youtube, you’re missing out
If you don’t do all these things on Facebook, you’re killing your sales
You have to have a profile on all these new social media sites

Titles are made up of course, but you can see the trends. The first type is all production. The belief that if you write yourself to death, you will sell better.

The second are all marketing, and subscribe to the belief that you have to do this endless list of stuff (ads, optimise your profiles everywhere, check them every month, be in all the groups, etc. etc.) or your sales will die.

I’m saying: both of these routes are a pretty good way to kill all your momentum.

If you go the production route, but never stop to think whether a book is going to be worth your time writing, and, once you’ve written it, never spend any effort marketing it, you’re leaving a lot of sales on the table.

If you go the highly-strung advertising route and spend hours optimising everything and driving people to your page, your mailing list or whatnot, you lose out big time when people arrive at that page and you don’t actually have a decent arsenal of chunky series with full-price novels that they can buy.

With very few exceptions, successful writers do some of both. Authors who don’t produce regular books but do well usually sell additional things like courses. Authors who don’t advertise rely on an audience they might have built elsewhere.

That said, I’ve seen enough of either type, all-production or all-advertising writers fall on their faces to believe strongly in a combination. Writing and advertising augment each other. If your sale slow down, advertise a bit. If your ads fall flat, write another book.

The evil kangaroos of DSS and other things Canberra

At the back of the Department of Social Services in Tuggeranong, there is a paddock adjacent to the staff car park. When you’re there at dusk, you’re greeted with this sight:

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Seriously, how many kangaroos is that?

They’re not cute little weeny wallabies. These are kangaroos. KANGAROOS. Look at the one in the middle of this picture, with his arse to the camera, and the department building in the background:

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I mean LOOK at him (definitely a “him”). That’s the biggest kangaroo I’ve ever seen. If he stands up on his hind legs, he’s taller than a person. The lawns are irrigated and in summer, the roos invade the courtyards. They don’t tend to be afraid either. They’re quite intimidating.
No Australian city does kangaroos like Canberra. They’re everywhere.

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Out of all of the places in Canberra, I like this one the best. That paddock in the first picture? If you cross it, there is a bush path that leads straight to the Murrumbidgee River which has swimming holes. But this here is Lake Tuggeranong in the morning.

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Another pretty view, with complimentary galahs:

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Why you should totally write about politics and be proud of it, too

This morning, the Twitterspere was all aflap about this piece of garbage:

The Top 7 reasons why posting politics kills your career

(please note that this post has been taken down by the site. They cited as reason that “it was acceptable to write about politics when the subject was academically well-researched”, and thus continued to completely mis-understand why this got so much vitriol on Twitter)

Writing about politics kills your writing career. Really?

Do these writers think that if you write any kind of fiction, you can write bland, faceless pap that does not touch on any political points?

Or maybe they confuddle “writing about politics” with “telling people how to vote”.

No, unless you’re a politician, you should probably stay away from the latter, at least in your fiction, and at least as narrator (your characters can totally tell people how to vote!), and maybe most of the time. Maybe. But… if you like politics, go kill the internet with it. We live in a free world.

So let’s just deconstruct this garbage article.

1. You’ll abandon your brand
So? My brand is fiction that cares about issues. It’s impossible to write about issues in society without touching on politics. Even if you wrote the most pappy of faceless pap, you’d still write about politics, by the sheer admission of avoiding politics. That’s politics, too. You know: don’t care, don’t vote, then complain your head off when you don’t like the results. Aren’t I glad voting in Australia is compulsory?

2. You could lose a reader
Yes, I could lose one. I could gain many more by being genuine and not talking rubbish faceless pap.
This is the problem with writers, or people in general: they want to be liked by everyone. This is impossible. It’s better to be hated by some and loved by others than for everyone to go “who the hell is that?”
Bullshit.

3. Productivity And Quality Will SUFFER from flame wars
Yes, it does.
But why every in the world does she assume that writing about politics automatically draws you into flame wars? Ultimately, whether you get involved in flame wars is up to you. If you’re too juvenile to control your impulses to always have to have the last word, fine, avoid the subject. But then avoid Twitter and Facebook, too, and your friends and family might just appreciate it if you did an anger management course.
Sorry, we’re not all impulse-driven angry people. We’re adults and can discuss issues in an adult way, and walk away from those who can’t. Nothing to do with writing about politics.

4. You Could Be Marketing!
Seriously. I got no words. What does she think marketing is? Tweeting BUY MY BOOK? Social issues get people emotionally involved. Emotion forges connections. Connections sell books.
End of. Never heard anything more stupid in my life.

5. It’s Not A Good Look On You. Or Anyone
Do you think I care? Actually, do you think I care about people who care that I get passionate about things… that I get passionate about that also happen to be political. Stuff like equal opportunities for all, education and the biggie, environmental politics? Do you really want me to scrub that off my writing and are you telling me that will make me look better?
What absolute ROT.

6. You’ll Demolish Your Career Opportunities
Feel free to do a bank-account-off. Show me yours, I’ll show you mine. End of argument.

7. You’re Not An Expert (Unless You Are)
I have no words. So now we are supposed to have degrees before we can comment? Holy crap-a-mole. What, so my degree is in agriculture and that means I can only comment on that? Does it mean I am not qualified to vote.
Seriously FFS, I have never heard anything more stupid.

The entire article is just made of stupid.

To repeat: writing about politics is not the same as trying to convince someone that your viewpoint is right.
Writing about politics involves showing the different viewpoints and showing characters with those viewpoints and why they think the way they do.
Writing about politics involves characters expressing their opinions.

Where do you think Ambassador would be without politics?
On one side we have the inclusionist groups that includes Cory and much, but not all, of gamra. Then you have the conservatives including Sigobert Danziger (who is very much into local aid) and later the Pretoria Cartel, who are about business.

And what about Shifting Reality, which is all about how minorities and the disenfranchised are treated. It’s also about minorities within minorities, for example the gay community within the Indonesian section, as well as the ultra-right hypertechs.

Even the Icefire/Moonfire series is full of politics. The whole plot of the second trilogy would fall down without the climate/science aspect.

But any opinions are voiced by the characters. You do not get to know (although you can probably guess) what I as author think, but some characters represent viewpoints I don’t agree with. These are not always evil characters (actually, they rarely are).

My fiction is FULL of politics. I’m proud of it.

Research with Google Streetview

Ambassador 6 and 7 are set on Earth, and therefore I get to look at real locations.

Ambassador 6 is mostly set in The Hague, which the home of the Nations of Earth court. This is, of course, and offshoot of the international court. I’ve built a new building for the Nations of Earth court, and renovated sections of the inner city (heh! Things you get to do when you set your story in the future).

The building on the left is where I’ve put the hotel:

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The canal on the other side of the grassy strip features prominently in the story.

When Cory and his team catch the tram and are followed by someone on foot, this is where they catch up with him:

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In Ambassador 7, Cory and his team are on holiday at his father’s beach house in the Bay of Islands in the northern part of New Zealand:

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He lives in a small community along Parekura Bay:

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Also featured in the story are the game parks in the northern part of South Africa. This is where Robert Davidson has his property:

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This is Fred, Cory’s father’s dog:
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How to sell 11,000 books in less than 4 weeks

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The title might be a little click-baity and just a tad misleading. I can’t tell you how to sell 11,000 books in four weeks, but seeing as that is what I’ve just done, I figured I’d have something to say about it.

My annual sales report for Oct 2015 to Sep 2016 mentions that in those 12 months, I sold 16.6k books. Then in the month of October I sold almost as much in just a single month. The 11k mentioned in the title was just one book. I sold other titles as well. In fact, the very point of selling the 11k books was to sell more different books.

So, what happened?

Well, I finished the Moonfire Trilogy and wanted to do an ad campaign to get more people into the series. I’d made book 1 99c for a while immediately after launch back in June and sold about 700 copies. But then I put the price back up so that I could concentrate on finishing the rest of the series (because refreshing sales dashboards is very distracting).

When that was done, I didn’t want to do another 99c promotion on the same book, but I did have something else. The Moonfire Trilogy is a sequel to the Icefire Trilogy. That series is now about four years old, and while it’s still selling, I felt I could play with it a bit. It also feeds into the Moonfire Trilogy. I spent a bit of time correcting some oopses I’d found, paid for another proofread, because there are always mistakes, always. I tizzed up the covers, and I put one very important line at the very end of the 900-page book: “The Moonfire Trilogy is set in the same world twenty years later. Click here to get the first book”.

Then I did something outrageous: I lowered the price for the entire trilogy to 99c. Then I applied for Bookbub. They said yes.

The ad ran on 8 October.

This happened:

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And this:

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And this:

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I sold 3046 books on that day on Amazon, with another 1500 on other platforms. The Bookbub site gives an estimated number of sales of 2400 copies. I needed to sell 1500 to break even on the cost of the ad.

I was happy. I know from running my own promotions that sets of books always do better than single books, because obviously they’re a better deal.

So I was very happy.

I expected the book to quickly sink into my usual comfort zone: oblivion. This particular book sells a good bit on Kobo, but rarely sells at all on Amazon (people there tend to prefer the individual volumes). I had planned to leave it 99c until this upcoming weekend’s Science Fiction and Fantasy promotion and I hoped to ride a bit on the tail of the promotion. I thought I might sell another few hundred. I sold EIGHT THOUSAND.

The book didn’t sink back down. It stuck to a ranking of around 3000 in the Amazon US store and it’s pretty much still there when I’m writing this. And yesterday, this happened in Amazon UK:

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I have NO idea why any of this happened, except to say a huge THANK YOU to all who bought it. It’s been a tad nuts, to be honest.

The ingredients to this success? Bookbub, no doubt, but to do so much better than their estimate? A good deal, lucky timing, and decent-sized community already familiar with your name. I’ve been featured by Bookbub seven times, so readers of Fantasy and SF will have seen my name a few times, and many more readers will have heard about my books from the SF/F promotions. That’s all I can think of.

The book will be featured in the SF/F promotion this week, and I’ve decided to keep it 99c until 21 November. Next week and the week after, a number of SFF promotion buddies will post to their mailing lists about it. It’s truly amazing to have such a great community.

Ambassador book 1 now out in audio!

Ambassador1AudioSmallExciting news!

The first Ambassador book is now out in audio.

Check it out here and listen to the sample.

I dare you not to swoon at Matt’s voice. He is awesome, and will be doing the next book later this year.

Meanwhile, I’ve completed Moon & Earth (and the entire trilogy!) and have started on Ambassador 6.

Over 100 books free, all retailers

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This totally insane promo is on again this weekend. Over 100 authors are giving their books for free.

Why free?

Because it’s a really good and really sneaky way of getting people to buy the other books in the series.

We’ve been featuring all retailers for a few months now, and that’s been great. The reader membership of the promo’s list is growing so much that I’ve had to shop for a cheaper mailing list provider.

Come along and see what all the fuss is about.

Click here or on the image to go to the promo