Advertising Strategies: a Work-in-Progress

Maze

Source: Shutterstock

As of maybe six months ago, I’m a fully independent or self-published author, what is sometimes referred to as an “author-publisher“. I like that term, because it conveys the sense that self-publishing is more than just banging out words and then sending them out into the world, all naked and unprepared. There are things one needs to consider, things a publisher usually does. Two of those are editing and book design, and I’ve blogged about those before.

The other thing that a publisher does to a greater or lesser extent (at least, if you’re lucky and they are any good) is advertise your book. In the case of small or independent presses, you may have a small or non-existent presence in bricks-and-mortar stores, so you can’t rely on people stumbling across your work by accident. That’s where advertising comes in.

I’m still feeling my way through the morass, trying to find strategies that work for me and my books. I thought it might be helpful to others (and for my own future reference) to catalogue some of them here.

Book blitzes

These are generally organised to try and raise a bit of word-of-mouth attention when a book first comes out; kind bloggers share promotional content. Sometimes they result in a few adds to peoples’ Goodreads shelves, but I haven’t noticed a huge number of sales as a result. Maybe I’m just not doing them right! Certainly, I wouldn’t do a blog tour with customised posts, as I don’t think the time invested would be worth it. But I would do a book blitz for each of my future releases. Every book deserves a birthday party.😉

NetGalley listings

Publishers will usually list books on NetGalley, which is a site that allows reviewers to apply for free ebook copies of books in exchange for an honest review. It’s a lot of reviewers’ bread and butter. But it’s expensive to have a NetGalley account, so, for an independent author, it’s generally more cost-efficient to buy in on a co-op such as this one. I had a three-month co-op when Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath came out (I had each book up for about six weeks), and a one-month co-op for Lucid Dreaming. I got a bump in the number of reviews on sites like Goodreads, but, like a blitz, this is about word of mouth rather than direct sales.

Facebook advertising

I saw a tweet that described Facebook advertising as being as effective as setting your money on fire. The metaphor probably works better in countries where the money is made of paper, but still, it’s not too far off. I have tested a handful of ads and have seen no return. These days, the only thing I’d pay to advertise on Facebook would be occasional posts on my author page; Facebook throttles visibility of page posts so that not everyone who likes the page will see them. If you pay them money (the extortionists that they are), they will share the post more widely. In terms of impressions, this is quite effective … but I’d reserve it for significant updates, such as book releases.

Free book promotions

This has been my most recent effort, and also my most successful to date. Because it is my most recent, I’m going to go into a bit more detail, with some numbers. (This does feel a tiny bit like airing dirty laundry, but if you promise not to oggle my underthings I think we can all ignore that!)

I made the Isla’s Inheritance ebook permafree (ie I have no plans to set a price for it again), and advertised it via the “Buy a Series Post” option at Freebooksy. They have a significant market reach and people loooove free stuff. When I previously advertised a sale of my erotica novella (*cough*), I had a ton of downloads, so I knew it worked.

In the first two weeks after the promo ran, I had almost 5000 downloads on Amazon and a handful at the other sites. Isla’s Inheritance made it to #2 on Amazon US for free Paranormal & Urban Fantasy (as I write this, it’s sitting at 233).

Isla's Inheritance free ranking

There haven’t been a huge number of reviews as a result, but there have been consistent sales on books two and three in the series. I didn’t expect that people who downloaded the book would buy the sequels so quickly, but on the first day of the promo I had four sales of Isla’s Oath and one of Melpomene’s Daughter — suggesting that there were at least four people who read it straight away and liked it enough to keep reading. (If you were one of those people: thank you!)

Within the first two weeks, the promotion had paid for itself with sales on the other books. It’s the first time a promotion has done that for me, so I’m pretty pumped.

There are a few caveats, however. The first is that obviously I didn’t make a penny off those 5000 copies of Isla’s Inheritance; this means that, in order for me to even break even on the trilogy, sales on the other two books have to cover not only their own production costs but those of the first books as well. For this reason, I wouldn’t personally make a book permafree that didn’t have sequels available — because, while I don’t expect to be rolling around in piles of money, I’d at least like to imagine I might recoup my expenses at some point.😉

The other caveat is that there hasn’t been much, if any, cross-pollination to my other book, Lucid Dreaming. I expect that if people finish the trilogy and enjoy it, and they decide that they’d like to see what my adult (rather than young adult) book is like, that might happen … but it will be slower.

What next?

Now that the sales bump from the Freebooksy promotion has more or less worn off, I’ve decided my next experiment will be with Goodreads advertising. I read a really interesting blog post by Lindsay Buroker on how she made it work for her, and I’m keen to give it a try. Goodreads has a big advantage over Facebook in that at least we know the people on there are readers to start with.

Wish me luck!

If you’re an author-publisher, have you tried different forms of advertising? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?  I’d love to hear about it!


Isla1_Front_smlDo you also like free things?

The Isla’s Inheritance ebook is available free from the following retailers:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia

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Review: ‘The Well of Ascension’ by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension

The impossible has been accomplished. The Lord Ruler – the man who claimed to be god incarnate and brutally ruled the world for a thousand years – has been vanquished. But Kelsier, the hero who masterminded that triumph, is dead too, and now the awesome task of building a new world has been left to his young protégé, Vin, the former street urchin who is now the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and to the idealistic young nobleman she loves.

As Kelsier’s protégé and slayer of the Lord Ruler she is now venerated by a budding new religion, a distinction that makes her intensely uncomfortable. Even more worrying, the mists have begun behaving strangely since the Lord Ruler died, and seem to harbor a strange vaporous entity that haunts her.

Stopping assassins may keep Vin’s Mistborn skills sharp, but it’s the least of her problems. Luthadel, the largest city of the former empire, doesn’t run itself, and Vin and the other members of Kelsier’s crew, who lead the revolution, must learn a whole new set of practical and political skills to help. It certainly won’t get easier with three armies – one of them composed of ferocious giants – now vying to conquer the city, and no sign of the Lord Ruler’s hidden cache of atium, the rarest and most powerful allomantic metal.

As the siege of Luthadel tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

The Well of Ascension is book two in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, and I would strongly suggest not trying to read it as a stand-alone novel. I reviewed the first book here if you want to decide whether this series is for you. That review also largely holds true for book two. I’ve given this book 4.5 stars as well, though my niggles are different this time around. (I considered a 4-star rating instead for this one, but the plot twists deserved that extra half star!)

Still, let’s recap.

Things I loved

A little slice of a big  world. Despite the fact that almost the entire story is set in or immediately around Luthadel, there is a sense of a much bigger world out there, one that has an impact on Luthadel and the fate of the former empire. Still, I liked the narrower focus — sometimes, fantasy novels that involve army-scale warfare start to read like a book on military tactics. That is never the case here, which is — to me — a good thing.

A cast of characters who aren’t black and white. We gained a sense in the first book that even the Lord Ruler, the tyrant demigod who ruled for 1000 years, might not be 100% evil (maybe 90%? 85%?). On the other side of the coin, Kelsier, the supposed hero of the piece, had grand ideals but was just as brutal in his own way. That trend continues in the second book. Elend is sweet but idealistic to the point of foolishness, while Vin is highly competent but torn and indecisive. We get to see snippets from a much broader range of characters in The Well of Ascension, giving us a greater sense of what motivates them, why they think they are the good guy. My most unexpected favourite is Breeze, the lazy and manipulative soother who somehow turns out to be very sweet, in his own way.

The plot twists and turns (like a twisty turny thing). I thought I had a pretty good idea of where the second book might go, and in some ways I was right, but in others … yeah, there were some massive reveals in The Well of Ascension that I did not see coming. I love it when that happens!😀

The ending struck a balance between completion and dun-dun-DUN. Writing a series with a meta-plot over three books can be tricky. But there is enough of a resolution in The Well of Ascension to make me happy, while there is also enough left unresolved (and we’re talking big ticket items here) to keep me reading. I expect I’d be less sanguine if I’d found this series back when it was first released, though. Knowing I have the third book sitting here, ready to go, really helps.

Things I was less fond of

I wanted to shake some of the characters. One plot device that sets my teeth on edge is when there’s a disconnect between characters that could easily be resolved if the two of them would just say what they are thinking. I know people aren’t always 100% honest in real life, and I can see how the misunderstandings came about in the book … but at the same time, gah! I wanted to shake both Vin and Elend until their teeth rattled. (But mainly Vin. Though she’d kill me in a messy fashion if I tried.)

I wanted to give some of the characters advice. There were times when I could see potential solutions to problems that the characters didn’t even seem to consider. For example, early on in the book, Vin and Elend discover there’s a potential shape-changing infiltrator in the palace, leaking information to one of their enemies. Vin discovers that said shape-changer is immune to emotional allomancy (magic); she also knows due to circumstance that Breeze, the best emotional allomancer in the city and probably in the world, absolutely cannot be the imposter. Why not tell Breeze about the issue, set him to testing people’s reactions? Even if it wouldn’t have helped in the end, it would have made the characters seem slightly less ineffectual at times. (Of course, maybe the goal was for them to seem ineffectual, in which case, good job, Sanderson!)

Final comments

The fight scenes are truly brutal, but if this were a romance you’d describe the heat level as “sweet”. I gather that could be said of all of Sanderson’s books, so if that’s what you look for in a fantasy novel — as well as an intricate world that focuses on people rather than large-scale politics — then you should definitely read this series.

Four-and-a-half stars


40 Revolutions Around the Sun

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Off and on at the blog I mention Chuck Wendig — not only have I read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed a bunch of his books (the most recent of which was Aftermath, his first Star Wars novel), but I love his writing advice posts and his hilarious, often profanity-riddled style.

One thing about Chuck is that he and I were born only a few days apart. That’s right, we’re practically twins! And this week he posted an epic list of 40 things that he has learned after four decades of life. You should go read it.

Yes, this is my round-about way of telling you I also turned 40 this week.

Earlier this year, I felt vaguely uneasy about my impending birthday. I mean, 40. I wouldn’t be able to say I was in my 30s anymore — as though that one day between 39 and 40 would make a huge difference, be somehow transformative. But it’s all a bit of a lie that revolves around us humans placing significance on certain things, like round numbers, multiples of ten: a number we’ve chosen to obsess over presumably because of our (traditional) number of fingers.

When I was a kid and the various adults in my life would ask me, on the day of my birthday, whether I felt any older. I’d always feel like the answer should be yes, but it was always no.

I do feel older now, but it’s a feeling that’s been creeping up on me for a while. I have a smattering of silver hairs that I’m rather fond of, mainly because they are politely behaved; in contrast, I also have a handful of weird, crazy white hairs that refuse to obey trivial things like gravity. My knees have have started to crunch like a pepper grinders when I walk up stairs. And my optometrist assures me that bifocal glasses are in my near future (she’s mean like that).

Still, there are upsides to being 40; to me, they are mostly about having a better sense of perspective. I was talking to a friend today about how when you’re in your teens and 20s you (and by “you”, of course, I mean “I) care way too much about what others think. Not just people who are dear to you, but random strangers. People you go to school with or work with but to whom you’re not close. There are probably sound evolutionary reasons for it — if you’re too different from the herd, you might get driven out, be unable to find a mate.

(Hehe, she said “mate”.)

Although I doubt I’ll ever be able to completely dismiss others’ unsolicited opinions, they don’t mean as much to me as they used to. If someone thinks my comfortable shoes are daggy, or raises an eyebrow at my geeky t-shirt, so what? If they don’t like a book I wrote and leave a negative review, then eh, they are entitled to their opinion.

So was turning 40 traumatic? No, actually, it was kinda cool. I had a variety of tasty meals with different groups of friends and family over the course of this week, got to catch up, had a few laughs. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to have an EPIC BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZA — setting too-high expectations and then being disappointed is another thing I’d like to think I left behind last decade. I got hugs and warm wishes from people that mattered.

I wouldn’t be able to come up with a list of 40 things I have learned, partly because Chuck stole all the good ideas already. But there are a few things I’d add, random pieces of advice I’d give to younger-me if I could:

Unfriend or otherwise cast off toxic, judgemental people from your life. They aren’t worth the stress and grey hairs, and they definitely aren’t worth the crazy, gravity-defying white hairs.

Be prepared to make sacrifices to do the thing you want to do. I’m not much of a risk-taker and I’m definitely not saying you should quit your job to write your magnum opus, but maybe you could watch a little less TV?

Find something physical that you like doing and then actually do it. Regularly. Even though my knees were mostly fine till I started karate, I’ve felt a lot better about myself since I joined.

Wear sunscreen. It’ll mean less wrinkles (and also less chance of skin cancer) when you’re older.

Be kind to yourself. All those people who say that one day you’ll look back on photos of yourself when you were young and realise you were hotter than you thought at the time ARE RIGHT. The bastards.


In case you missed it, earlier this month, over at Aussie Owned and Read, I blogged about Four Awesome Writery Rewards for Good Behaviour.

AussieOwned_Contributor


Review: “Mistborn: The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn The Final Empire

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?

In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage — Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

After devouring and enjoying Elantris, I decided to pick up the first book in what may be Brandon Sanderson’s most famous series: Mistborn. And I can see why so many people recommended it to me. Holy wow.

Things I loved

The unique world-building. Instead of traditional wizardly magic, or magic that takes a formless power and shapes it via one mechanism or another, Sanderson based the magic in his world on the idea that some people can consume or “burn” certain metals and alloys to achieve defined effects. I’d love a glimpse into Sanderson’s mind, that he was able to come up with something like this! But I’m not sure you could convince me to swallow a lump of iron, no matter what the supernatural outcome…

A variety of characters that I grew to love. Despite what the blurb suggests, Kelsier and Vin aren’t trying to save the world alone — they are part of a crew of thieves contracted to do a “job”: overthrow the government. Even though some of the crew were crazy-impulsive (Kelsier), others were vain (Breeze), others were surly (Marsh), and some made cynicism an art (Vin), I loved all of the main cast to one degree or another. The fact that these characters — all of these characters — have flaws makes them seem more real.

Of all of them, Vin is the one that experiences the most character growth, probably followed by Kelsier and the nobleman Elend. This are the book’s three main characters (each sharing the POV at one point or another), so that’s to be expected.

The sense of a larger story. Because this is the first book in a trilogy, there are a lot of things left unresolved, most of them in the backstory. It gives the world a sense of depth and makes me eager for the next instalment. For example (note: very light spoilers follow), what happened to the Lord Ruler at the Well of Ascension? What’s the go with the ancient, apparently amorphous bad guy known as “the Deepness”? How is said amorphous, gloomy bad guy connected to the amorphous, gloomy mists that shroud everything come nightfall? Are the ash mounds really volcanoes that will erupt and kill us all?!

The plot twist. It’s one of those ones where you feel like you should have seen it coming afterwards, but that isn’t blindingly obvious beforehand. (At least, it wasn’t to me.) Nuff said.

Things I struggled with a little (especially at first)

The talking. A lot of time, the characters are talking, plotting and scheming. Sometimes they are confiding or manipulating too. This was often levied with humour or with emotion, but early on in the book I found some of the crew’s planning sessions a bit of a slog.

The metal magic. Once Kelsier explained how the metals work to Vin, I was fine. But there’s one scene from his point of view before that, where he’s doing all sorts of things with different metals, and I got really, really lost.

Other observations

There is no sex (there’s barely even a kiss); however, there is quite a bit of violence and some fairly grisly corpses. I wasn’t bothered but YMMV.

Four-and-a-half stars

 


Review: ‘Fairest’ by Marissa Meyer

Fairest

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

There aren’t too many authors who are so popular that even their novellas get a traditional paperback release (most  bridging novellas are released as ebook only, or maybe POD). Marissa Meyer’s Fairest is one of these rare books and, having devoured it in an evening, I can see why.

Fairest is book 3.5 of the Lunar Chronicles. If you’re not familiar with the premise of this series, it’s basically an alternate Earth sci-fi where each book in the series is inspired by a fairytale. But the books don’t really stand alone; there is an overarching storyline, with the stories of Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and now Levana intertwining. (Winter’s story comes next.)

Levana is the queen of Luna, the moon colony; think the wicked queen from Snow White and you have her basic character concept. Pretty one-dimensional, right? Nope. The beauty of Fairest is that we get to find out how untrue that characterisation is. The story begins when Levana is fifteen and her parents are assassinated, and follows her sister’s coronation, Levana’s “romance” with the guard Evret and pseudo-adoption of Winter, the birth of Selene, and all the horrible things that follow. We get to see through both current events and flashbacks just why Levana starts out a little bit damaged … and why by the end she’s as broken as the the mirror on the wall.

The thing is, despite all the awful things Levana does and who she turns into, you can’t help but feel bad for her. She’s a product of a terrible environment, and one part of her just wants to be loved. Of course, that in no way excuses her behaviour — from murder to what amounts to rape and psychological torture — but you can’t help but think that if someone had taken her away from her family when she was a small child, she could have been a wonderful person. Certainly she’s not as inherently evil as her older sister, Channary, not at first … although that’s setting the bar pretty low.

I mentioned rape and torture. Levana is a Lunar and has the gift to influence others’ minds and control their bodies … and Evret doesn’t want to be anything more than her friend. It’s fair to say there is no romance in this book. There were times I felt physically ill at the things she did to that poor, poor man. Still, what sex there is fades to black — it is a young adult series.

All of this amounts to an amazing five-star read, because you have to admire the talent of a writer who can make you pity and loathe a character all at once. If you’ve read the other books in the series and are wondering whether to dip into the novella: DO. You won’t regret it. And if you haven’t read any of the series, start with Cinder.

Five stars


Ten examples of how the English language is trolling us

Regular readers of my blog will know that my full-time job is as an editor. You’d think that I’d be fully across all the various, ugly, beautiful permutations of English and its stupid-arse spelling.

You’d be wrong.

What brought this to my attention most recently is that in my latest manuscript I spelled “lightning” wrong. Like, every single time. My finger itches to put an e in there, but noooooooo, that would be the verb meaning to make something lighter. As in, “The lightning is lightening the sky.”

Because obviously.

Eyebrow Doctor

Now, to be fair, since I don’t work for the BOM, I don’t read about lightning in my job very much — so it isn’t something I’ve had trained out of me. But still, I did want to pull my hair out a little bit.

Here are some other examples of the ways that English is trolling us:

Alter / altar. One is the verb meaning “to change”; the other is a sacred table or platform at which religious offerings are made.

Baited / bated. One is describing something with bait (such as worms) attached. The other means “restrained” (with relation to breathing) — so the phrase “with bated breath” means with held breath, not with a mouthful of raw prawns. On behalf of all those romance heroines out there, I think we can say that’s a relief.

Blonde / blond. I gather this one is the fault of French, which has gendered adjectives. There, blonde is feminine and blond is masculine. In English, that’s sorta kinda true, but the application varies; my former publishing house’s convention was that “blond” was the adjective that describes hair colour and “a blonde” is a woman with blond hair.

Compliment / complement. The first is a nice thing someone says about you; the second has a bunch of meanings but generally relates to something that completes a thing or makes it perfect.

Climatic / climactic. One relates to weather; the other is the, er, climax of something. I have seen the wrong one used. Who knew weather could be so exciting?

Discreet / discrete. The first is wise, prudent or judicious; the second is detached or distinct. (I still have to look this one up every time.)

Exercise / exorcise. The first is physical activity and the second is to drive out an evil spirit — possibly in response to having seen me exercise! (Scary stuff.)

Grizzly / grisly. The first is something grey or a type of bear (but not a type of bare!). The second is something gruesome.

A sanction can be both authoritative permission and a provision of a law that enacts a penalty for disobedience — so two things that are OPPOSITE to one another. And in my dictionary, at least, as a verb it always means to approve or ratify something — so sentences such as “the UN sanctioned X country for breaching Resolution 1234” are actually saying that the UN approved the country’s actions rather than punishing it. Oh, UN, you so crazy.

Storey / story. One is a floor of a building; the other is a tale we tell ourselves. (This one’s not for US readers, who I gather use “story” for both…?)

So, all of that being the case, how do you avoid your writing being full of hilariously climaxing environments and buildings where each floor is a tale (but not a tail) of wonder (but not wander)? The answer is at once deceptively simple and also a lifelong job:

  • Read a lot
  • Own (and use) a current-edition dictionary of the specific English variant you’re using
  • Proofread your work (I noticed an incorrect “it’s” when I proofread this blog post — gah!)
  • Proofread it again (I did)
  • Have someone else proofread your work — copy editors are worth their weight (not wait) in gold
  • Make a list of words you know you get confused, and then double-check their usage whenever you see (not sea) them

What’s your favourite pair of words that are usually mixed up? Are they about meeting the principled principal? Having dessert in the desert? Eliciting illicit activity? I need (not knead) to know now!

Pleased Doctor


Review: ‘Any Port in a Storm’ by Emmie Mears

Any Port in a Storm

After months of training a budding army of human/demon hybrids, Ayala and Carrick have worked out most of their differences.

Who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning. Who’ll feed the bunny before they go out to make mayhem. Who gets to keep the jeeling claw they found in Forest Hills. You know, the important stuff.

But when Gregor sends them out with their battalion of shades and the mission quickly lands on the wrong side of Ayala’s “don’t kill norms” moral line, she quickly discovers that maybe morality wasn’t the motivator behind Gregor’s pet project — or at least not when money’s involved.

And when a trio of shades starts murdering the populace in Nashville again and targeting places and people significant to Ayala, her desire to help her own comrade shades stay on the good side of the Mediators will place her at their mercy again.

With the Summit fracturing and demons closing in on the city, saving the shades and herself may cost Ayala everything.

This is the sequel to Storm in a Teacup, one of my new favourite urban fantasy series. (You can see my review of the first book here.) It’s fun, past-paced and clever, and Emmie Mears’s voice again doesn’t disappoint. The main character, Ayala, could sass for her country!

Sadly for her, she’s instead stuck killing demons, and trying to avoid getting sucked into the sort of intrigue that inevitably pops up when you have a large group of people working together — even if those people are Mediators, people destined from birth to be unpaid monster-hunters. And political intrigue isn’t the only thing she could be sucked into: the demon-infested swamp that is encroaching on Nashville (where the books are set) and the maws of the demons themselves are also ongoing concerns.

Any Port in a Storm doesn’t stand alone, so if you haven’t read the first book, you’ll be very lost with this one. (Go read the first book. We’ll wait.) It continues some of the plot threads from the first book, introduces some new ones, and continues the meta-plot that is the looming threat of the demons’ overall plan — whatever that turns out to be. There is a conclusion of a sort, but as with the first book some threads are left untied to continue in the next one. (Think of it like a season of Buffy: the monster of the week is more or less dealt with, but the season’s Big Bad soldiers on.)

Any Port in a Storm contains some swearing, but there’s no sex or even kissing. The relationships revolve around friendships and family, which I found a refreshing change; urban fantasy, unlike paranormal romance, isn’t all about the love interest. And although I didn’t mind Mason in the first book, I didn’t ship him and Ayala, so him being gone didn’t bother me so much.

I enjoyed this book enough that I one-clicked the third book in the series, Taken by Storm, and can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into it. If you loved Buffy, you should definitely check out Ayala!

Four-and-a-half stars


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