Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bootstrapping Marketing/Promotion Advice to a Self-Published eBook Author

 Note:  The following is the advice I sent to a friend, the author of a new faith-based eBook that wasn't selling as well as he'd hoped. He sent me a list of what he's been doing to promote his book. I first critiqued his current approaches, then offered additional advice.  This is used with the author's permission.

First, the book is apparently only available via Kindle. This really, dramatically, limits the market-ability of the book.  I know what stats say about the number of books that are read electronically, but those stats are (IMO) misleading. This includes all free downloads (assuming they’re all read), and all books that have been bought digitally to be read, but which never got read.  For instance, I have bought probably a dozen books from Amazon, but I’ve only read one of them, cover-to-cover, and it was 19 pages long (a 19-page book – imagine! ).

Another example – I launched a book at the National Press Club, and had 40 reporters and four TV cameras there. I got the book reviewed in the Washington Enquirer, I got the author on a cable business program and Sirius Satellite Radio, and via online promotion, I got 500 online press mentions (reviews, articles about the book or the launch, etc.).  I even got Greta van Susteren pissed at me over one of my launch tactics, teasing the book.  The book was available initially only as a download (the production got delayed, not my fault – I was the publicist, not the book manufacturer).  But the bottom line, the online book sold TEN copies.  Ten. 10.  As in “less than 11.”  The author was so pleased with his success that I had to file two police reports over death-threat emails he sent me.  I got 50x more press coverage than he got books sold.  Some of that might have a bearing on the book, but I believe a lot of it had to do with its availability (during the promotion) as an eBook only.

I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear, but I think that’s important when you consider what you’ve done to sell your book.

Beyond that, some observations and questions.

1.     Sometimes, you can get fewer sales because of a low price – and for the quality of what you offer, I think your price is too low. That’s just a gut call, and really doesn’t have a lot to do with promotion – except that some media judge a book by its cover (price).  A $4 book isn’t a serious book. I know it’s humor, but you want it taken seriously.

2.     You offered the book as a free download to four targeted audiences.  Did any of them actually download it? If so, how many?  Can you divide them by category?  The reason I ask is that sometimes “free” does not impart value, which seems counter-indicated, but it’s another sad-but-true issue.

3.     I’m guessing that you didn’t “pre-sell” the book by asking any of the hosts, columnists, pastors or reporters if they’d like a copy before you sent it to them.  People generally respond better to something they asked for, than something that was given to them unbidden. At various times I’ve set myself up as a book reviewer, and I review books in the following hierarchy:

a.      First, those books that I asked for

b.     Next, those books from authors who contacted me, asking if I’d like to review it

c.      Books that come in over-the-transom

d.     Digital or eBooks

Yours was a blend – I almost never review eBooks, but you’re a friend, and you asked, so I did review it (and I’m glad I did). But as a “book guy,” I  didn’t personally feel any sense of value to it – because it’s not a printed book.

4.     I’d be interested in the Google Ad Words you chose (and your success) and what you advertised, and where.  I’ve had no luck advertising online – I’m a partner in a business that (as an experiment) bought a one-month ad in an online publication that has (for our market niche) a very high readership – and we got almost nothing back for our $350 investment – I think we paid about $40 per click-through (or maybe we had 40 click-throughs – but either way, it was a big waste of money).

Now for my recommendations.  And there are a number of them.  Some apply to the eBook, and some apply to my next recommendation (which is to get it printed).  Let’s start with the best way of using social media to get your name and your book’s name out there.

A.     Begin blogging, based on the content of the book.  Each blog should have a “excerpted from ___, available from Amazon”

B.     For each blog, create a video blog on the same topic. Don’t “read” the blog, but use a white board behind the camera with bullet points to help you keep focus. Keep them from 90 seconds to 3 minutes, and post them on your website, but most especially on YouTube

C.     Find other blogs about your topic, and “haunt” them – then whenever you can, post a comment to every possible blog post – and do one of two things:

a.      Agree with the author, but add two or three additional, reinforcing points; or,

b.     VERY respectfully and non-confrontationally, disagree with the author, and give two or three well-reasoned justifications for your alternative view on the subject

c.      Then, on all your posts, note that you are the “author of ____, available on Amazon – follow him at …”

This is the only known accepted way of “borrowing” someone else’s followers, and this is highly ethical under the blogging rules of the road (if you do it right

D.    Follow the news – then, whenever you see a breaking news story that relates to one of the topics of your book (or of any chapter or sub-chapter), write a blog about it – about your “take” on the news issue, keeping in mind that you’re the book author, not the consultant.  Then do a video blog about it, too. 

a.      Follow all the promotion steps below, that apply to all blogs and posts on others’ blogs, but do one more thing. 

b.     Write to the producers of talk radio and talk TV (and to reporters and editors), and say the following:  Regarding this breaking news story (briefly describe the news story), I can help you put it in perspective for your audience.  I am Michael R. Shannon, Author of “Christian Conservative’s Guidebook to Living in Secular Times,” and you can see my “take” on this story (briefly describe) in my just-published blog and video blog here (url) and here (YouTube url).  I am available to appear on your program (or be interviewed for your publication – online or offline).” 

c.      If your comment on the breaking news story is really important, consider sending out a press release announcing it.  Sure, that costs money, but it will also do wonders for your SEO, especially if you use BusinessWire, which is automatically picked up by 294 news aggregator sites, from Yahoo Business to the Albuquerque Times.  This will help get the word out, but do it sparingly for financial reasons.

d.     This is how I got on Neil Cavuto’s program 5x during the 2008 election campaign, though I published my blogs in American Thinker.  But you don’t have to do that to catch the media’s attention). 

e.      Related, when you see an online news story, if it has a reader comment section, post an intelligent comment in that section, with a link to your blog and a mention of your book, with a link to Amazon.

f.       I do this (more or less) and continue to successfully promote a book originally published in2003 by my late wife.  When it went out of print, the rights reverted to me, so I posted it on Amazon as an eBook.  It’s a novelization of a true-fact UFO sighting/encounter in Kentucky in 1955 (my late wife had a relative who was involved in this bizarre incident), and whenever I see a UFO story in the news (and I get a Google topic-search on UFO each week), I wind up selling more eBooks.  So it really does work, not just for generating news coverage, but for getting those who follow the news to find you.

E.     Promote each blog and video blog post (and all of your comments on others’ blog-posts) extensively on social media, (especially the ones you’re posting to focus on breaking news stories, but really, do it for all your blogs, video blogs, and comments on others’ blogs).  Your promotion should include:

a.      Facebook
                                                              i.      Don’t just post on your FB page – join every group you can think of and find that relates to your book topic, and post there

                                                           ii.      Don’t post exactly the same thing on each post – change the first sentence or first paragraph – VERY IMPORTANT – since some of your audience subscribes to more than one group, and will see an identical post multiple times and get turned off

                                                        iii.      Include a link – certainly back to your blog – but also include a link to the Amazon book sale page (the first link will have a mini-display illustration, so pick the link wisely)

                                                         iv.      BTW – I monitor more than 200 FB groups for that business I alluded to above – the one that didn’t get much from our ad effort – and I get measurable thousands of FB links back to our site whenever I do a post … but I spend the time to personalize the posts, usually by (in the opening sentence) alluding to how my topic aligns with the group’s topic

b.     Linkedin
                                                              i.      I don’t use Linkedin much, but they have groups, too – to maximize their use, do as suggested for FB (although the posting parameters are different)

c.      Twitter
                                                              i.      Make sure your Twitter account is linked back to your FB account

                                                           ii.      ALSO, using Hootsuite, create a month’s worth of Twitter posts related to your book topic, but timeless – post 3x/day on weekdays, 2x on Saturday and 1x on Sunday – rotate them by time of day, keeping in mind time-zones (for the business day posts, stay within the 10-3 Eastern time to cover all major time zones – so like 10:38, 12:45, 2:15 (or something like that). Vary it each day.  Use a #hashtag in each one to link to your book topic (when I do this, I begin each one with #PRPro)

                                                        iii.      Then, because nobody archives or really remembers Tweets, keep recycling these, just vary the order (people tend to follow Twitter at certain times of day, but not others, so varying this will reach more people over time)

d.     Pinterest

e.      Instagram
                                                              i.      I never use the last two, but all the experts say you should, so I’ll tell you that, too

OK – that’s what you can do with PR and Social Networking.

Other things you can do include reaching out to organizations that have meetings, and pitch yourself as a speaker.  Authors are generally more credible than non-authors as guest speakers.

Now, this leads to your need to have a printed book.  With all the POD (Print On Demand) “publishers” out there, you can do this relatively inexpensively. Amazon has a print-on-demand service you could use for very little money.  There are lots of reasons for doing this, including:

1.     Lots of people like me value printed words on paper, and prefer books to eBooks.  It will open your market.

2.     When you send out printed/published review books, it looks like you really have something (eBooks are just electrons, after all)

3.     You can autograph those books, which gives them added value (I don’t know why, but people like that)

4.     If you have your book produced by Lightning Source in La Vergne Tennessee, your book can be picked up by any bookstore.  They are owned by Ingram, the largest book distributor, and any book LS manufactures appears in the Ingram catalog –which means B&N can order it, Books-a-Million can order it, and every mom-and-pop store out there can order it.  However, Amazon is cheaper.  I always tell my paying clients to use Lightning Source, but only because of the Ingram catalog (bookstores will typically NOT order from micro-publishers, preferring to order from distributors).

5.     If you have your book published by Amazon – see if you can’t work out a discount price from them for buying copies of your book for promotion purposes.  This is another reason to work with someone other than Amazon to publish, as you can buy in bulk and get discounts from Lightning Source and their many competitors.  However, for my late wife’s book, when it was still in print, we could get review copies cheaper from Amazon (at retail) than we could from the publisher, with their “author’s discount.”

6.     If you have a printed book, join the Independent Book Publisher’s Association – it’s about $120 a year. They are basically a clearing house for publishing support services – but more important, they are set up to help self-publishers and micro-publishers to promote their books. They have special promotional mailings to public libraries, for instance, or to specialty (including Religious/Christian) bookstores. They also go to the major book fairs, and you can have your book on their display table, where bookstore buyers (and foreign rights buyers) can see it.  They even do the American Booksellers Association annual event and the Frankfort Book Fair in Germany.  All of these are fee-for-service, but they are inexpensive and cost-effective – I’ve been using them since the mid-90s, and clients have always enjoyed the benefits of their services.

7.     Whenever you travel, contact the local Christian bookstores (or B&N) and see if you can’t do a reading and autograph books. Then use your PR skills to promote this, so you get an audience.

8.     Check out my blog on book publishing and promotion for more ideas:  http://barnettonpublishing.blogspot.com/

I make part of my living helping authors do all of this – but they don’t have your PR skills, so there’s no reason I can think of (other than greed – mine) for you to retain me.  But if you really insist, I’ll give you a good deal.

But basically, if you follow my advice here, you’ll start moving books.

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