Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Is Social Media Out For Book Promotion And Sales? Is the # Dead?

I had to force myself to commit to using social media as I started the process of trying to build a sustainable author's platform for the launch of my fiction series. After reading more books on the subject than I want to admit to, I managed to sift through the wide ranging advice to come to a few conclusions:
  • It would seem a social media presence is necessary.
  • Not every medium works for every author.
  • Less is more! Pick one and stick to it!
  • Facebook seems to be the most successful medium.
In the process of researching the subject, I came to the conclusion, and so did a lot of other authors, that my own author website and the e-mail list I build are the most valuable components of my author platform. 

My e-newsletter, The Inspector's Report, is meant to be more than a sales tool. In fact, I don't intend to use it for that purpose except for occasional campaigns. It is meant to be a tool to build loyal fans. Fans who will buy my books when a new release is announced or buy the entire series.

It would appear many businesses have reached the same conclusion. Social media might be okay for somethings, but sales is not one of them. Getting traffic to your own site and getting fans signed up to your author's newsletter is more beneficial.

A recent article in the Daily Mail supports this conclusion based on the behavior of advertisers for Superbowl LI. The article quotes Marketing Land as its data source to indicate that of the sixty-six advertisers only 5 mentioned Twitter and 4 mentioned Facebook in their ads while 41% included the company's url address.

To read the rest of the article click here.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Inspector's Report - The All Important Author Newsletter

Not being the most computer savvy individual, it has taken me a bit to get the signup page for my new author's newsletter, The Inspector's Report, up and running.

Of all the things I have tried to market my non-fiction books, the best tool was my e-newsletter. It allowed me to establish myself as an authority on the subject and put all of my titles in front of potential customers.

It was a lot of work, largely because I published it too often. I sent it out once a week for a total of 40 issues a year, slowing the pace only during the summer months. 

I will say this. Each week my Kindle sales spiked one day a week, always during the twenty-four hour period following the release of that week's e-mail.

It takes a lot of time and effort to build an e-mail list. Over an eight year period, my list grew to just over 5,000 subscribers. 

Building a list that size not only takes time, but you have to be aware of the laws surrounding building e-mail lists. 

The Inspector's Report will be a new venture for me. I don't plan to release it on the same grinding basis as I did my other newsletter. Once a week for a one man operation is a guaranteed recipe for burnout.  Once a month is my goal and I hope a far more sustainable schedule.

In addition to announcements concerning new releases of my works of fiction, I plan to include things only the subscribers to the newsletter will receive, such as:
  • Short stories
  • Back history of characters
  • Reviews of the latest work of science fiction or crime noir I've read
  • History of this and that (I'm a history teacher after all)
  • Answers to reader's questions
  • Plus other stuff I hope my readers find of interest
If you'd like to sign-up for the newsletter, The Inspector's Report, even if it's just to see what the newsletter looks like so you can generate some ideas to start your own, please click here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Amazon Kindle Scout Campaign - A Brief Review

My Amazon Kindle Scout campaign has ended. Within the next fifteen days I will be notified by Amazon whether or not they will buy the ebook and audio rights to my novel The Predator and The Prey. Regardless of Amazon's decision, the campaign itself was worth doing.

It is often said, and printed, being a financially successful author is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Thirty days is not a long time. When running a promotional campaign it becomes a long time. The value of participating in the Amazon Kindle Scout program is the experience allows you to manage a promotional campaign for your book and collect valuable data.

Let me state upfront I have no idea what value Amazon places on any particular set of data when the Scout TEAM is deciding if a title is worth further consideration. Still, for me, the data is interesting and hopefully I can gather some insights into my efforts to promote and market my book.

When a reader clicks on a title's description page and then decides to nominate the book, the image below is what the reader sees.

I have no idea if any of this data will be provided to me by Amazon, but I would love to see how my book rated in each of these categories. If I could only have one set of data from the campaign, this is what I would find the most valuable. Four important marketing aspects are rated by real readers: cover, book description, title, one-line hook, narrative hook. The first 5,000 words of your novel are also provided for the readers, allowing them to get a feel for whether or not they would want to read the book as well as having a chance to judge the copy editing. Finally, readers may make comments about the book (I might pass on those - unless they are all good!).

By campaign end, I had generated 457 hours out of 720 total hours and over 1,000 page views (1,048) of my description. I have no idea how many nominations qualifies as being "good" nor do I have any idea of how many page views is good.

Without knowing how Amazon interprets the data collected, and being the farthest thing from an analytical statistician, I can only make what I think is a reasonable decision.

Without seeing the data from reader evaluations for the four key areas of attracting a potential buyer/reader, I believe I did a good job. The graph above shows nearly two thirds of my traffic came from readers who visit Amazon Kindle Scout on their own accord (If the books nominated by the reader are selected, they receive free copies. Amazon also has an informal competition of sorts. Stats are provided to readers showing their place, or score if you will, on how well they select books. The more books nominated by the reader that the Scout TEAM selects, the higher the reader ranks).

I have to believe I did a good job with the last three items of the four and my cover designer, Robin Ludwig of Robin Ludwig Design, did a great job with the first item, cover design. I say this, because traffic from external links, traffic generated by my own promotional efforts, only accounted for 35% of traffic.

It could also be that the vast majority of my nominations came from traffic generated by my own campaign, indicating, by my math, that only 15% of the nominations came from organic traffic from Amazon Kindle. My hope is a 15% rate is pretty good, meaning it will generate a lot of sales, if I can get buyers/readers to click through to the product page of my book.

The graph above shows me where I have plenty of room for improvement. I hardly ran a sustained campaign. My efforts peaked early and then floundered in terms of page views. The two peaks in the middle when my efforts lagged are from organic Amazon Kindle traffic. The campaign page traffic mix graph shown above came on the last day of the campaign. Each day the graph changes to reflect the data of the last 24 hours. This allowed me to recognize when the bulk of my visits were a result of days when I believe my campaign was generating traffic and visits on days when my efforts did little or nothing.

I managed to scramble and via hours of work, found and joined numerous Facebook groups founded for the purpose of allowing authors promote their work. If you look at the graph below, you will notice the solid run of 24 hour periods where The Predator and The Prey was in the desired Hot and Trending category. Better preparation on my part might have allowed for a campaign that consisted of almost nothing but days on the Hot and Trending list.

Examination of the data on external traffic sources is show below. If you will note, excluding direct traffic from clicking on a link directly to my books nomination page (traffic generated largely by my efforts in the first few days of the campaign), the overwhelming bulk of external traffic came from two sources, Facebook and a Kboards notice I posted asking authors to nominate my book.

I learned four valuable takeaways from the campaign, regardless of whether or not The Predator and The Prey is picked up by Amazon. The first is have a predetermined way to collect data. If Amazon did not provide the data, I would have had no means by which to evaluate my efforts. Get the data!

Second, my campaign was ill conceived. I started strong and finished strong but was awful in the middle. If my assumption that my cover, etc, did its job, is correct and explains the strong performance of the organic traffic from Amazon Kindle Scout, it makes me want to kick myself for not having strong external sources of traffic pushing readers to my books page the entire thirty day period. 

Amazon loves the long tail. Consistency is important to Amazon. My campaign started okay and ended strong, but lagged in the middle. Better planning in advance would have allowed me to spread my reach and generate more external traffic to my book's campaign page.

If this had been an actual sales campaign, how many sales did I cost myself as a result of a weak performance in the middle of the campaign?

My third takeaway is Facebook is where I will put almost all of my social media efforts in the future. If I run a Headtalker campaign again, I will focus on attracting those whose reach is based on Facebook and not other forms of social media such as Twitter.

Kboards.com was valuable and is the other area I will invest time and effort in future campaigns. I have not used any of the ebook promotional sites that send out blasts to readers so I cannot comment on how I would incorporate them into a campaign.

My last takeaway is the need for careful planning. I want to succeed as an author. Succeed financially! Promotional campaigns are just as important as writing a good book and having a great cover, etc, etc. 

I left too many things to chance and had to scramble to finish strong. I plan to write a prequel for my series, the first of which is the book I ran in this campaign, The Predator and The Prey. I will submit the prequel for an Amazon Kindle Scout campaign and compare the data from the second campaign to this one. Hopefully I will produce far superior results.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review of Headtalker as a Promotional Tool

In an earlier post I described in a fair amount of detail how to use the Social Media aggregating site Headtalker as a promotional tool. I had used it to promote my campaign for my novel The Predator and The Prey in its Amazon Kindle Scout campaign.

My campaign on Headtalker had 51 supporters which provided an impressive Social Media reach of 1,087,260 social media accounts whose owners promised to mention my Kindle Scout campaign and provide a link to the novel's campaign page.

Kindle Scout provides analytics for where the nominations come from. Out of my 1,087,260 individuals, my Kindle Scout campaign received seven total nominations. 

Not a good return for the time I spent learning how to use the site and recruiting supporters.

I did learn something valuable from the experience which has not turned me off completely from ever using Headtalker again.

The overwhelming majority of the Social Media accounts my campaign received were Twitter accounts. Puzzled by the poor results, (.0000064 per Social Media account) seven visits out of the million plus reach, made me do a little research about the effectiveness of Social Media for promoting a specific item like a book or a promotional campaign.

What I learned fit the results of my Headtalker campaign. Facebook is the king of Social Media when it comes to selling or promoting an item, i.e. getting people to click on a link to visit something you want them to visit.

The absolute worse form of Social Media for producing the desired marketing behavior? Twitter. Tumbler and Linkedin aren't much better. Needless to say, the bulk of my million plus Social Media accounts for the program were Twitter accounts.

Checking the various Social Media accounts that did produce clicks and nominations, the head of the list was, sure enough, Facebook. The Facebook accounts that generated the traffic included my own Facebook author page, seven Facebook pages from the Headtalker campaign, Facebook groups for authors and those of Friends and Family who shared my link.

I won't rule out using Headtalker again in the future. But if I do, I will focus heavily on recruiting Supporters whose Social Media reach is based on Facebook.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Headtalker as a FREE Promotional Tool for Authors

In my ongoing efforts to find affordable, namely FREE, methods of promoting my books and novel, I discovered Headtalker. The closest description I can find of what Headtalker is would be a crowdsourcing site.

It allows you to send a message to an enormous number of at one time. This can lead to a huge spike in whatever behavior you are trying to encourage. If you are trying to promote a book, we all know Amazon rewards steady sales, but a big spike can help you climb in the rankings long enough to really generate some notice for your book.

To make use of Headtalker you have to set up a campaign on their website. You schedule a date in the future and create the message you want to promote your campaign. The next step is to invite people to join your campaign.

Anyone who wants to join then picks the social media outlets they want to send your message to. They can pick one or more of their social media accounts to support your message.

On the selected date at the appointed time, the message goes out to all of their followers.

The potential to reach thousands via social media outlets is considerable, making it worth your time to check out Headtalker.

Headtalker provides metrics for each campaign, allowing you to evaluate your campaign. Metrics include:
  • Message Analytics
  • Headtalker Updates
  • Supporter Dashboard 
Possible social media sites include:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumbler
I have started my own campaign in an effort to generate support for my Amazon Kindle Scout campaign for my novel The Predator and The Prey.

While I would greatly appreciate your support with either of my campaigns, click here to check out what a campaign looks like on Headtalker.

Please Note: It takes a minimum of twenty-five people to commit for your campaign to be launched on the launch date. Having said that, if one person commits to using four platforms (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest) that counts as four of the required twenty-five commitments.
To learn more about the FREE and paid for support, along with anything else you might want to know that I didn't answer visit the FAQ page which answers more questions than most FAQ pages.
I found several writing groups on the site as well that have been good sources of information. The site is worth browsing for a little bit just to see what others are doing to promote their books, music or films.

When my campaign on Headtalker is finished, I will offer my opinion on how I think it went and what I learned in a future post. I am optimistic about the potential for this site. In less than twenty-four hours I have received a commitment from seven supporters.

Since I'm asking for support, please consider participating in one or both of these campaigns.

Click here to nominate my novel for its Amazon Kindle Scout campaign.

Click here to support my Headtalker campaign.

This seems to be a site with great potential to expand your social reach to promote your book or other campaign using social media.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Plan Your Marketing Approach In Advance - Narrow Your Audience First

Indie and self-publishing authors often take two approaches to marketing their books, neither of which are very successful. Many authors are more than happy to upload their files to CreateSpace and Amazon KDP and let Amazon do it's magic. I've been guilty of that myself.

Others don't like the idea of marketing their books. It seems somehow, beneath an author. 

If you want to make money with your writing, you must accept the fact self-publishing is a business and treat it as such.

If you don't like the idea that self-publishing, or being an indie author, is a business, then you need to stop and ask yourself do you want your books to be read or readers to find and fall in love with your stories?

Besides, marketing for authors is not the same as large corporations. In fact, I have learned the hard way, it shouldn't be.

Large corporations engage in massive campaigns designed to create brand awareness. They have time and money individual authors will never have. Can you really answer the question of which commercial convinced you to buy that pair of running shoes? Or what made you decided to be a Mac instead of a PC?

On the other hand, I bet you can point to a specific add or promotion that led you to a small or medium sized business that solved the exact problem you needed solving or pointed out a book to you that was exactly what you wanted to read.

Amazon, yes, the giant Amazon, engages in both types of marketing and do it extremely well. In fact, they are so good at pointing out books we want to read to us that as authors it is tempting to leave all the work to Amazon.

Let me point out why neither approach, doing nothing at all or leaving it all to Amazon, is not a good idea. Both approaches fail for some of the same reasons.

First, ask yourself, how does Amazon know what I want to read?

It collects data and it's algorithm's figure out what you're interested in over time. The more data Amazon can collect, the better it can predict what you will be interested in considering buying.

If you do nothing to promote your book, nobody will ever discover it. If nobody discovers it, how can Amazon collect any data about your book?

What's more, you want the right people to discover your book. If Amazon gets the wrong data, it will suggest the book to the wrong readers. Nobody will buy your book and Amazon will move on, letting your book fall in sales ranking, never to be suggested again.

Chris Fox, in his outstanding book The Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books, points out the need to drive early sales and reviews for your book to a targeted niche of customers. This way, Amazon can hone in like a laser on the right niche of readers!

Using the broad marketing approach like major corporations is like simply scattering seed everywhere. Some of the seed will fall on fertile soil. The rest won't. When it comes time for the harvest, the farmer won't have enough to live on for the year.

Zeroing in on your ideal reader and doing everything you can to drive early sales and draw reviews from those very readers gives Amazon the right data to target the largest possible audience of ideal readers for your book.

Having said that, how does an author identify the ideal reader?

For my non-fiction books, it was easy. I knew exactly who my reader was, what problems needed to be solved, what the source of their pain was and the jargon they spoke. I still missed the mark at times and in doing so, missed readers and sales.

Fiction is even more difficult, at least in my mind.

To get the process started, you have to research who your intended reader is. I had a good idea for my non-fiction books. I had at best a fuzzy idea for my novel.

Knowing I had to zero in on my target audience before I launched my novel prompted me to try to find ways to identify my ideal reader.

The Predator and The Prey is a mix of SciFi and Hardboiled Crime Noir. 

When I started the novel, I had no idea if there would be an audience for a cross genre story like mine. I counted on the fact the cult TV show Firefly, a Space Western, found an audience, even if too small and too late. If the millions of Browncoats out there found Firefly, there has to be some readers who love The Maltese Falcon AND Star Wars.

But how was I supposed to identify the actual reader who would want to read my story?

CreateSpace requires the selection of a BISAC, an industry standard category to fit your book into. The closest BISAC category The Predator and The Prey falls into is Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Hard-Boiled.

It's certainly written in the style of books that fall into that category and my protagonist, Inspector Thomas Sullivan is as cool and ruthless as Sam Spade or Lt. Harry Callahan of Dirty Harry fame. The problem is, I don't know if readers who enjoy that type of book will want to read a crime noir story with a science fiction twist to it.

The BISAC categories for Science Fiction and Fantasy don't include an option for Mystery & Detective/Hard-boiled. This led to a series of e-mails back and forth with CreateSpace who finally provided me with good advice on how to get The Predator and The Prey listed under Science Fiction and Fantasy as well. The one catch, I have to wait until the book has been published and listed on Amazon.

Why is that an issue? Remember the targeting of early sales to specific readers? The need to garner those all important positive Amazon Reader reviews as early and frequently as possible? That missing category will delay readers who may love my book from finding it, providing Amazon with the data it needs to find other readers in the same niche.

More frustration.

I moved on to Amazon keywords. Here was where I found a way to zero in, regardless of Category to the ideal reader for my book! CreateSpace will allow you up to five keywords and Amazon KDP seven. The only problem was I didn't know what keywords to pick. Here is what CreateSpace had to say about keywords:

Not much help. Here's what Amazon KDP says about keywords:

Still no closer to having an exact idea of how to narrow my search for the best keywords.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a great blog post by Dave Chesson, the Kindlepreneur! This led to a software program named KDP Rocket. I reviewed this in an earlier blog post on The Self-Publisher's Notebook.

KDP Rocket sells for $67 and was money well spent in my opinion. Keep in mind, I've wasted a lot of money on a wide range of gimmicks and scams, so I hope I'm not leading you astray if you decide to purchase this product (I am not an affiliate for this product).
The learning curve is not terribly steep. In a short period of time you can start researching keyword results based on data from Amazon. After several hours of doing this, I had a long list of over 100 keywords with data about each keyword.

I shortened the list to ten and finally narrowed it down to seven by testing all ten. By typing in the targeted keyword I was able to generate Amazon search results for each. Using the Check the Competition feature I researched each of the first titles that Amazon pulled up.

I was delighted to discover there is a market for SciFi Crime Noir Thrillers!

This entire approach took some time on my part. Hopefully, by sharing the process I went through I will save you hours of thinking and surfing the net to arrive at the same point I did.

Armed with my two Categories (well, one category and the knowledge of how to get CreateSpace to get Amazon to add another category) and lists of keywords, I am that much closer in my marketing plan to being able to target those niche readers for my book when it goes on sale.

Despite the fact the files for both versions of the book, POD and ebook, have been finished, checked, double checked and are ready to upload, I am glad I have waited to publish until I had a better handle on the marketing for the book.

If you found this post helpful, please take a moment to nominate by novel, The Predator and The Prey, on Amazon Kindle Scout. If the book gets enough nominations, the "Scout Team" might consider purchasing the Kindle/ebook rights!

The process will take less than a minute. Just click here to nominate my book! You'll need to use your Amazon account.

I described this process in an earlier blog post.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Please Nominate The Predator and The Prey for Kindle Scout!

With a few simple, easy clicks you can nominate The Predator and The Prey for publication by Amazon's Kindle Scout!

The "nomination campaign" runs from December 26th to January 24th. I would appreciate it a great deal if you would take a few moments to click on any of the links in this post to visit the preview page for The Predator and The Prey on the Amazon Kindle Scout site.

The Amazon Kindle Scout program gives readers a chance to nominate books they would like to see published. Each title has a 30 day run in the program, giving readers a chance to review each title and nominate three books they think are worthy of being published by Amazon Kindle.

At the end of the 30 day period, if a book has enough nominations, the Amazon Scout Team will decide if the book is worthy of being published by Amazon Kindle.

If a book is selected, the author receives a $1500 advance and 50% royalties on each Kindle unit sold. At the end of five years, rights revert back to the author. The author retains paperback rights.

If the book is not accepted, I can still publish it myself on KDP.

This is a great opportunity and I hope The Predator and The Prey makes the cut and is selected by the Scout Team for publication via Amazon Publishing. The smaller royalty is more than worth it to me. Amazon will be the entity promoting the book during its initial 90 days.

Because The Predator and The Prey is the first in a series, good initial sales should help the launch of the second book in the series, currently with a working title of Last Train to Nowhere

What's in it for readers? Free BOOKS! If one of the books you nominated is selected for publication by Amazon Kindle Publishing, you will receive a FREE copy.

For the readers of this blog who have not heard of the Scout program before, you can read all the details here.

Be sure to read ALL of the details in the author agreement as I did not list the bulk of them in this post.

So, for a final time, I would appreciate it a great deal if you would take just a moment to go to the Amazon Kindle Scout page for The Predator and The Prey and nominate my book!

Also, if you really feel like helping, please post the link to the nominating page to your social media accounts and tell your friends.

If my book is fortunate enough to be selected for consideration by the Scout Team, I will know within 15 days of the end of the 30 day nomination period if it will be published or not.