Read my books for free: April review drive

I tend not to interfere with my reviews. I don’t beg for them, I don’t write to book bloggers asking for them, and most of the time I barely read them. Reviews are for readers and I don’t want to be that silly author who argued with reviewers.

There is, however, one area where reviews are important: often advertising sites will require a certain number of reviews before you can advertise with them, and others give priority to books with more reviews.

The catch: the reviews have to be on Amazon US.

Stupid. I know. Drives me nuts.

Much as I dislike interfering with reviews, I’m going to do it anyway, because I want to advertise some books, but the reviews are just not happening on Amazon US without my prodding.

So here is the rundown.

Your part of the deal:

1. Have you read a book of mine and posted a review only on Goodreads, your blog or elsewhere? Easy! Copy it to Amazon US. This is possible without having bought the book there.
2. Alternatively, grab one of my free books and post a review on Amazon US
3. Or if there is a book you like, let me know (here or in the contact form on my site, or on Facebook or Twitter) and I’ll send you a file of your choice. Post a review on Amazon US.

My part of the deal:

1. Once the review is up I’m happy to send you another free book of your choice.
2. You can repeat this as often as you want. The offer lasts until at least the end of April.

I would be very happy to add reviews for Shifting Reality (which will get a sequel soon), Trader’s Honour, Soldier’s Duty and Heir’s Revenge, books 2 and 3 of the Icefire Trilogy, the For Queen And Country books and the Ambassador books.

Here is a link to the page where the reviews are needed

Read my books for free: April review drive was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

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Message to self-published writers: please can the spam

can of spam

Beware. There be uncouth language.

This post has been coming for a while and I have finally reached the point where I’m screaming ENOUGH! Enough with the spam and the overzealous tweeting and Facebooking.

Does the following sound familiar to you?

#FREE #Read of Chapter 1 from my #SCI_FI #kindle #Book #militarySCI_FI #fantasy #Amazon

I just copied this randomly off Twitter. I left the link off, for obvious reasons, but I’m sure you get the gist. A useless message, screaming into the void, taking up space in people’s feeds, with ridiculous and stupid hashtags. No one looks at this stuff. How do I know? Well, open an account with bit.ly and you can track clicks on links. Try a few of these daft tweets. Track the links. Who clicks on them? Not many people. Who buys the books?

*crickets*

Yet, some people’s feeds are 100% full of this shit. Often they’re otherwise nice and sane people, else I would have ditched them as contact long ago. But the bucket is full and I’ve had enough, so I’ll be unfollowing the accounts of people who do this. I’ll be stepping out of the Facebook groups that are 100% spam and unfriending people at goodreads who “recommend” me their own books, constantly.

I totally get that social media is kinda fun but not very useful when you’re following a writer and all she does is talk about her cat (I don’t even have a cat). If you have a Facebook account or Twitter account with a decent number of reader-followers, it would be stupid if you never mentioned your books, your new releases, award nominations, sales, nice reviews. But not all the fucking time, OK? And not while using Tweet-bots that retweet the same fucking message every hour.

And then try to tell me that this “promoting” is necessary.

No. These people are annoying the crap out of everyone. And it doesn’t work.

Suppose you were friends with a publicist in a company that sold phones. How would you feel if they constantly cluttered your feed with spam for their products? People: COMPANIES DON’T DO THIS. Companies have worked out that people hate this shit. So, self-published writers seem to think that they can because they are downtrodden souls, and even seem to think that they have to cross-spam each other’s shit under the misguided illusion that this is what is meant by “supporting other indies”.

You know that I loathe the word “indie”, and its use above illustrates why. Self-published writers are not some ghetto, and no more need to “stick together” than other writers do.

PLEASE GIMME A BREAK! Write good books. Eventually, books will sell themselves.

*cries*

I like interacting with writers and lovers of genre. Twitter is a great way to do that, but the relentless spam threatens spoil my enjoyment completely.

So let’s set out a few of my guidelines:

– There are many professional, wonderful self-published writers whose work I have read and will recommend and support in a heartbeat. But I will not recommend any work I haven’t read simply because the author self-published. Sorry, but that notion is ridiculous to me.

– I do like writers’ Facebook pages, if I like that writer’s work. I don’t like many because I don’t want to clutter up my feed. Yes, I know I can stop Facebook showing updates, but seriously, what sort of sucker-upper would I be if I did that? Anyone who comes to my page or blog expecting a return-like, well, tough. I may, but if I don’t know you, I will not.

– I do not retweet people’s promo tweets unless, again, I’m actually familiar with the writer’s work.

– I have no issue with the occasional promo tweet. Specials, new releases, that’s all stuff you followed the writer for in the first place (or at least stuff you shouldn’t be surprised or annoyed to hear). Blog posts? Awesome! That’s what Twitter and Facebook are for. That’s how these platforms work and how they can be used to sell books indirectly.

Just do me a favour: CAN THE SPAM!

How do you promote your self-published book?

So, you’ve written a book, and published it. Great.

The next and inevitable question is: how do you sell it? How do you find people who are willing to read it and recommend it to their friends? How do you–gasp–promote it?

I have to admit, I hate the word “promote”. It conjures up images of sleazy door-to-door salesmen, of people who constantly tweet about their books, people who send you direct messages about their book and otherwise bother you for something you might have been interested to check out, but are now no longer.

A myriad of marketing options are being dreamed up daily by all sorts of people, most of them with good intentions, but most of them with a poor understanding of how people decide to buy books. Every day, I see sites pop up where people can post their books. Visitors are then encouraged to “like” the page and the number of likes are given as a measure of success for the page. Some sites are quite elaborate, well-designed and pretty. Except… do they have ANY members at all who aren’t authors trying to sell their books?

Then what? Paid advertising? At some point you may decide to try paid advertising. It can be beneficial, but its benefits are almost always indirect, in other words, an ad gives you name recognition but few, if any, immediate sales. I consider paid advertising as a way to show my appreciation for sites that I like. They need to make money. I don’t mind giving them some, and as bonus, I get a pretty graphic on their page.

Tweeting, blogging, paid advertising are all auxilliary ways to market yourself, and highly time and/or money-consuming and inefficient ones at that.

Here is the quick and dirty on selling your books:

The first way to promote your book is to write a good book. People read it. They like it. They recommend it to friends. Word of mouth is still the way in which most people decide what to read. No, publishers don’t know how it works either. Invest your time and energy in writing, not blathering on social media (unless the blathering is in your off-time and it’s actually social). Spend your money on ways to improve your book rather than on ads.

The second way to promote your book is to write another book. Because when people like book 1, they can buy book 2. Spend your energy writing this book rather than arguing over/anguishing over or even just reading reviews of book 1. Book 1 is done and dusted. Reviews won’t change it and just as good reviews won’t sell a book, bad ones won’t make it tank either, if you’ve done your homework (see point 1).

The third way to promote you book, which is actually a long way down from points 1 and 2, is to be present and to be genuine. A whole host of stuff could fit into this point. Have a website, have a blog, be on Facebook or Twitter. Have places where people can find you, engage with you and find out about books you’re writing, cons you’re attending or backgrounds for your fiction. Encourage people to like your page, subscribe to your blog or newsletter. What is contained in this point will vary from writer to writer. It’s something you should feel comfortable doing, and something that shouldn’t take you away from writing.

The most important thing about selling your books is that it doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep doing points 1, 2 and 3, your chances of doing well are greatly increased.

How much does self-publishing cost?

Just recently, a lot of shit has been flung my way in the form of comments, emails and news items about the cost of self-publishing and the benefits or otherwise about signing deals with service providers. All that topped off this morning with the announcement that Simon & Schuster is starting a self-publishing arm. There is just so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin. They charge from $1500 to $25,000 to publish and market your book. Sorry about the screaming and the language but ARE THEY FUCKING KIDDING?

Let’s re-visit that old popular post Ten Home Truths About Starting in Self-publishing. Point number 4:

4. Don’t go overboard with expenses – make your writing self-sustaining
… Your sales are likely to be very small initially. If you have numerous titles, it is easy to spend lots on covers, formatting and editing. Most of that money will take a long time to recoup. If you get discouraged, you’ll never recoup it.

What should self-publishing cost? Well, at its very basic level…

NOTHING.

Zip

Nada

That’s right.

It costs nothing.

… If you are re-publishing a story that’s been pre-published and has been edited, or if you have a couple of good editing and proofreading friends with whom you exchange manuscripts.
… If you are reasonably handy with Photoshop so that you can produce a reasonably attractive cover until such time that sales warrant spending a bit on a better cover.

Remember that old adage “money flows to the writer?”

It should also apply to self-publishing.

Never spend any money unless the benefits are clear. If you spend $100 on a book cover because you’re crap at Photoshop, it’s clear what you’re paying for. In the case of a very new author or a short story, it could still be too much, but it’s one-off and doesn’t come with contracts and it won’t break anyone’s budget.

However, if some self-publishing “partnership” venue (be wary of the word “partnership”) wants a percentage for “services” that include marketing and such, do the following:

(this is really important)

Look up their titles on Amazon, B & N and other retailers.

What are the book’s rankings? At the point of writing this post, an overall ranking of 100,000 at Amazon requires about a sale a day. A sale a day at B & N will keep a book at about 70,000. That’s thirty sales a month. Say your book was $4.99, that will net you about $100 for the month.

Is this worth giving someone a percentage? Moreover, is this any higher than you could get the book on your own? (My answer to that is: no).

For their “marketing fees”, do the books have any reviews? Reviews, good or bad, mean that people are reading the book. If someone charges a fee for “marketing”, they had better net you some reviews. Sadly, in all cases where I’ve looked at self-publishing service providers, both ranking and reviews have been sorely lacking.

So, what do you actually pay for?

Don’t sign these deals, people. Just don’t.

Making a name for yourself: a different view of paid advertising for self-pubbed authors

My most popular self-publishing entry is a post I made in January of this year, entitled Ten Home Truths About Starting in Self-publishing.

Point seven in this post reads as follows:

7. Paid advertising does not work

Goodreads ads, Facebook ads, I’ve heard very few good results. They may work once you’re a known name, but for an unknown, you’ll end up sounding like every other wannabe out there. Only more desperate. Desperate is bad.

I want to elaborate a bit on this point, and how it can become untrue fairly quickly after your foray into self-publishing.

One thing remains true: direct positive results from paid advertising campaigns are rare. In other words, it is uncommon that an ad pays for itself on the day or soon after.

But let me tell you about my own foray into paid advertising.

Since the start of Amazon Select in December last year, I’ve had a couple of titles in this program. I only have one left, and am strongly considering leaving the program, but for a while, it was very good, as long as your freebie days were mentioned on one of the two main blogs for this purpose: Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today. I’ve only managed Pixel of Ink once, but Greg at ENT has listed my freebies many times, and as result, I sold many books. I wanted to thank him, and how better to do this than to shove him a few bucks? The way to do that is by taking out an ad*. I ran a banner ad from mid-September to mid-October.

Result? Initially, none I could discern. My Amazon sales for September were abysmal. I ran ads for three books. The ad stats said that the clickthrough percentage was the highest for the trilogy. My ad linked through to my Amazon page for book 1.

Did I say that my Amazon sales for September were abysmal? OK, I did. It bears repeating. They. Were. Abysmal.

But. September ended up my best month ever, solely through sales of the trilogy on B&N and Kobo.

Uhm. Okaaaayyyyy?

Let’s look at my own sales behaviour. If I see an ad for something that might interest me, how many times have I clicked the ad and bought the product?

Uhm. Never?

How many times have I even clicked the ad?

Uhm. Never?

But I have definitely bought things I’ve seen advertised, things I didn’t know about until they were advertised, or things the ads reminded me I’d intended to buy. I’ve bought these items just not right then, and not in the way the advertisers suggested. I did see the ad, but didn’t act on it. I filed the information for later use, and then went to my preferred retailer to buy that product.

Most people don’t impulse-buy and don’t like to be told when and where to buy.

So, these people saw my ad on ENT, didn’t click it, but went to buy the books on B & N or Kobo? Maybe. I will never know.

However, sales dropped when the ad ran out.

The ad cost me $50. It ran for a month. In that month, 25,000 people saw the ad. These people will probably, like me, say that they never click ads, but they will recognise the cover of my books the next time they see them. They will recognise me as an author with the determination and stamina to hang around and keep working on my books, and, occasionally, pay for advertising. They may click the page at some stage. They will see reviews, and a bio. They may mentally file me as an author to check out later. At some point later, they may download a freebie.

And this is how advertising works: to make people aware.

If you decide to spend on advertising, here are a few points to consider:

Keep an eye on the Kindleboards for threads that discuss the effectiveness of advertising on various sites. This does not remain constant. New sites pop up every time and old ones go out of favour or become too expensive.

Before you start thinking profits, consider advertising a sign of your appreciation for community sites such as the new Kindleboards blog.

Consider advertising a loss leader. I’m about to head into a three-day promotion for book 1 of my trilogy. I’ll advertise on three different sites (each costing $20) for that day. I don’t expect to make that money back on the day, but there are 2 other books in the trilogy that will cost $4.99 each, and eventually people who’ve read book 1 will want to read the others.

Before your campaign, make sure that your book page is well-populated with reviews and a decent bio as much as you can control. On some of the sites, you don’t have a whole lot of control, but exert whatever control you do have.

Advertise your bestsellers. It’s much easier to push a winner than it is to lift a loser. You may not understand why people aren’t buying it, but if they’re not, leave well enough alone. Did you just hear me say that it might be a good idea to advertise your older, more established books than your newer ones? You probably did.

Consider linking the ad to a page on your blog that links to all the sites where the book can be found, rather than just the Amazon page. People ask me a lot how you get sales on Kobo and B & N. Whereas I can’t answer that question, linking only to Amazon isn’t going to help. Some people hate Amazon. Some people in some countries get charged a hideous surcharge for buying at Amazon, and in some (actually, most non-US English-speaking countries) a Kindle is not the automatic first choice of ereader.

Fact is, most people resent being told where to buy. Oh, I think I said this before, too.

Facebook and Google and goodreads? I don’t know, I haven’t tried them. I violently resent the pay-per-click system. It’s probably just a quirk of mine, but I like to pay an upfront amount and be done with it. Also, I like my money to stay in the community.

I hope these thoughts on paid advertising are useful. It is certainly not something I would rush into, but something you might consider as a part of long-term investment in your writing career and something I’d consider as a part of re-investing a percentage of your earnings into your books.

* A lot of blogs are run by volunteers who receive no payment or other benefits and pay for expenses out of their own pockets. They use advertising to keep running the site interesting for them. If we, as community, value those blogs, we should be supporting them by supporting their ads. For this reason, I refuse to use adblockers. In case of sites with annoyingly intrusive advertising (insert sneeze that sounds like Salon.com), I make a note, and never visit them again.

Bio:

Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. She has also sold fiction to genre magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Redstone SF and Aurealis.
Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (military SF) and Fire & Ice, Dust & Rain and Blood & Tears (Icefire Trilogy) (dark fantasy). Her novel Ambassador will be published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2013.
Patty is a member of SFWA, and the cooperative that makes up Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she has also written non-fiction.

Five thoughts about writer publicity

One of the things that makes the WOTF workshop valuable is that it goes way beyond writing as a craft. In fact, it’s more or less assumed that since the participants got there, their writing was pretty solid anyway, and those writers are ready for the next step. So, we heard a lot about publicity.

A lot of writers complain about having to do publicity, because the word ‘publicity’ conjures up images of the hard sell, and book signings where no one turns up. No one wants to do that. But, I think a lot of people confuse publicity with selling. I’ve ‘sold’ stuff for a long time, and I can tell you: sales and publicity are not the same. Publicity is much more effective than the hard sell for getting sales, but it’s a nebulous beast in that you never know what particular action will be successful.

So here are some of my thoughts about it. As always, feel free to comment.

1. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, or have a blog, or an Amazon page, you’re already in the business of publicity. Yes! That’s all there is to it: a spot where people can find out what you write and what sort of person you are. Make sure the information on these pages is correct and up-to-date, and accurately reflects what you’d like people to read about you and your fiction.

2. Publicity is engaging with people, in whatever form, in whatever place. Choose what suits you, and ignore what annoys you. There is no time in the day to do everything anyway.

3. Publicity is not something you do for a few days, and then let it take care of itself. It’s something that takes a long time building up, and that improves if you put regular effort into it. It’s not something that ever goes away, either.

4. Neither is it something that will give immediate results. If you’re still thinking: I’ll go and advertise my book on XYZ sites and be done with it, you’re going to come away disappointed. The publicity beast is not only relentless, but it needs reinforcement, all the time. Advertising is shouting at people ‘buy my books!’. And yeah, people are smarter than that. They want to know that they can ‘trust’ that you write what they’ll invest time reading.

5. Publicity is showing who you are and what you write by interactions. Interviews (if you get asked–you may exchange interviews with other writers for fun and practice), blog posts (if you don’t get asked), replies to questions on forums (to show that you’re human and generally a good egg).

You hear a lot of frightening stuff about publicity, but I think it comes down to a very simple point: interact and engage in discussions and keep doing this, in the media of your choice.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to keep writing good stuff.

when does promotion become annoying?

I think with people publishing, and self-publishing, and advertising on Twitter and Facebook, everyone comes across this question sooner or later. A lot of promotion is white noise you’re happy to glance at but otherwise ignore, or file for later use, depending on whether it interests you.

The threshhold to the realm of annoying marketing is not the same for everyone. Some people aren’t bothered by promotion, others want none at all. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

We don’t mind self-promotion on a site or blog, if the site contains other, non-promotion material.

We don’t mind posts on Facebook and Twitter, as long as the promoter takes part in the social network of these sites as well.

I suspect that most of us draw the line at personal messages. Personal messages come up on your email program with a beep. You can’t ignore them. You hope to receive a piece of communication you’ve asked for, but instead you receive an ad you haven’t asked for.

I think promotion crosses the line when it no longer allows the recipient to casually glance at it in his or her time, and put it aside. It’s annoying when it’s phrased in language that demands attention (so-and-so invited you to so-and-so launch halfway across the planet). If you are going to target people with emails, select your recipients carefully.

What do you think?

How do you decide what to read?

This is the flipside of book marketing. If you understand why people read what they read, then you have a better handle on where and how to market.

For me, it looks somewhat like this:

I buy my first book by a particular author book because I have heard of the author, and I’ve heard that he/she writes what I enjoy, and I’ve heard that other people have enjoyed this author’s books. This ‘hearing’ of an author happens informally, usually in cyberspace. The author might be part of a forum, the author might write an interesting blog or I might have attended panels by the author at a con, or other such interactions.

I rarely (almost never) pay attention to reviews (don’t read them). I target the books I buy, regardless of the book’s ranking on Amazon or elsewhere.

What about you?

Catch 22: announcing a new project

A new blog project!

Readers of speculative fiction like finding new authors and books. They may be looking for something a bit different, or something in a subgenre that’s not widely available. That’s why we read things online.

More and more authors are self-publishing their books. They either do this to keep out-of-contract material in circulation or they publish entirely new fiction. They like to let the world know, but a lot of conventional reviews sites are closed to them and it gets tiring to beat your own drum. They’re in a catch-22.

Readers may want to try out a few of these authors, but they don’t like the risk of buying something that is not up to scratch. Another catch-22.

This blog series will be about meeting the two in the middle.

For each post, I will give the stage to an author to talk about their self-published book. But, in order to be featured here:

– the author must have some publishing credentials or be seriously underway to getting them (published at least one story at pro level, be a member of SFWA, have attended intensive writing courses such as Clarion, or won awards).
– the book must have a cover
– it must be freely available on ebook sites such as Smashwords and the Kindle store
– it must be speculative fiction
– it must not be free

At this stage, I have no idea how many posts there will be, but I envisage posting no more frequently than once a week, and I’ll keep this open for as long as I think this is useful.

Want to write a 500-word post on your book? Reply below.

Because April is Aussie Author Month, I’ll giving first dibs on Aussie authors.

Should I start a writing blog?

The other day, a friend, whom we shall name Q so as not to cause embarrassment, asked me whether or not it was a good time to get started on a writing blog.

For various normal life-related reasons (stuff like education, job, mortgage and family), Q hadn’t written a while, let alone tried to sell something. Should Q start blogging now, or later, after a sale or two? OK, I shall say something embarrassing anyway: there will be sales quite quickly, because Q is a very good writer, whose style I admire.

As for blogging, I believe that there are a few things going on here:

In the first place, publishers seem to rely more and more on authors to bring their own publicity, especially small press.

Secondly, if for some reason, you break with your publisher (like—they go bust), would you really want to have all information about who your readers are in their hands? Certainly not!

Thirdly, I’ve heard it said on the internet that you need to start building an online following at least three years before selling a novel. I have no idea where that figure came from, but I strongly believe that the sooner you start building a community of online contacts, the better. I feel that sometimes people under-estimate just how much time it takes to build up a following of 1000 reliable followers on Facebook or Twitter, especially if you start as a total unknown. Online social networks are like a drop of ink on a sheet of blotting paper. They’re capable of growth at the edges, but you have to keep feeding the growing spot from the middle. Sometimes the spread will hit a particularly permeable strand of paper, and will expand irregularly, like when you hit a relationship with a superblogger, who has a high percentage of active readers.

Finding who these superbloggers are for your type of fiction and your interests takes a lot of time. Convincing these people that your work is worth their promoting effort takes even more. There are no shortcuts. A reputation as an engaging blogger takes years to build. But then: a blog is like a continuous con panel, where you build the brand that you hope to sell: you as a writer.

Then Q asked: how would you go about starting a blog?

I think that the most important reason these mysterious superbloggers exist is because they provide interesting content. What is interesting content, though? This will be different for each person. I’d advocate that besides writing, and a bit of promotion for your own work, such as when you’ll be at which cons, and which stories of yours will be published where, you concentrate on a particular interest that is related to your writing. If you write historical fantasy, you might blog about mythology, Chinese history or medieval recipes, to name a few odd choices. I write science fiction and blog about science and astronomy in terms I hope everyone can understand. Or maybe you can blog about something that’s close to you personally, such as the care and treatment of the elderly (since you may work in this field or have parents who are in this situation), or services for the blind, or children with autism. Or you might be a scuba diver or a polo player. Anything really, but I think you do need that second interest to make your blog special.

How do you start? Well, that’s easy. You pick a blog provider, choose a decent design (please, people, no grey on black, or anything on black, really), personalise it (as I have done with the image above) and you just start posting. But what about publicity, Q asked, I mean—outside Facebook.

And I went: Ha! Because if you are a blogger, the social networking sites, and I mean any and all social networking and microblogging sites, are your best friends. When you’ve posted on your blog, Twitter and Facebook is where you announce it. Use as many networks as you can and link them all up so you don’t need to post to each individually. Keep in mind that people live in different time zones and have different schedules. Repeat your announcement at a different time of day.

But, you say, I use the RSS feature, and people can subscribe to my blog. The truth is: many people don’t. Don’t be offended about this, and don’t whine about feeling left out, that people don’t love you and blah blah blah. The onus is on you to provide the people with a reason to visit your blog, and to remind them of that fact regularly. Building up a blog following is a lot of work. Repeat: Building up a blog following is a lot of work. Oh, right, I believe I said this elsewhere in this post. It takes a lot of time, and commitment, and religious, regular posting. So that’s why you start now, rather than when you’ve hit the big time. At the moment, the situation is such that you may never hit the big time without it, because unless you strike the really, really big time, no one is going to publicise your book and your brand as author as well as you. Your audience-building plan should span years, not one or two, but five or ten. It is about a constant, regular presence, and two-way interaction.

In short it comes down to a few basics: the sooner you start the better, and the more you keep the networking aspect in your hands, the more freedom you will have later. You may think these people on Facebook and Twitter are your friends, and in many cases, they are, but they are also your audience.

One more thing: Sometimes people talk about the magical ‘readers’, as if they’re totally separate from writers, but I don’t think they are. The other writers are passionate about fiction and read a lot. The writing community is your audience, or at least makes up a large part of it. Not only that, they’re the ones who will carry your publicity for you if they like your work, because they’re passionate about the writing they enjoy.