Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting on the Right Marketing Track

When it comes to my writing, there are a few things I’m not good at.  One of those is being able to summarize my story in one or two lines, something usually known as a tagline. The other thing I’m just plain awful at is marketing my work.

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different things, most of which came to me courtesy of some bestselling marketing books I forked out good money for. Not only did I fork out good money for these books, but I made sure they were specific to the subject of how to market for writers. Early in my career, my budget was very limited so I tended to stick to the lower cost ideas offered in these books.

While I would have loved to take out full page ads in the New York Times or even a quarter page in a writer’s magazine, that was beyond my reach. Instead, I sent mass emails to friends and family begging them to buy my book and spread the word. I tried sending post cards, printed from my home computer of course, to people I thought had an interest in romance novels. I gave out cards to my coworkers announcing the release of the book which included links for purchase. I started a website. I reviewed books by other romance authors and made sure to indicate in the review that I was the author of the book Letters from Linc. I participated in a couple of blog interviews. I sent my books to interested reviewers. I entered them for consideration into contests. Once, I even managed to secure a table at a local charity event where I gave away gift bags with all homemade items that included; a post card, a business card, a window cling and a bumper sticker.

Despite my best low budget efforts, my books didn’t fly off the shelves. Now, all these years later, I’ve got a little more money a few new ideas. Most of these ideas come courtesy of social media. I pay attention to how other authors market their books and draw inspiration from those who are good writers that are selling well.

One of the newer things I’ve seen is the use of eye-catching pictures featuring lines from the novel over the top of them. Typically, the picture also includes the title of the book, name of the author and a link to buy. The nature of the picture depends on the genre of the book. For example, a romance author might use a picture of a couple kissing to promote her book.

Having seen this for some time now, I’ve found myself wondering how well this really works. I know it works to some degree since I’m often introduced to new books by these homespun ads. I will say there have been a couple of times where I’ve purchased books featured on these ads and wished I hadn’t.

Despite being sometimes disappointed with the books I’ve found this way, I still wanted to give it a try for myself. My plan was to do one unique ad a week and post it on all of my social media sites. Since I started this two weeks ago, I suppose it’s too early to say whether or not it’s working and to what extent. So far, the impact has been minimal. I haven’t seen a huge spike in sales that I can correlate to this strategy. The fact that I can say there’s been even the slightest increase shows I’m on the right track and as long as it’s even marginally helpful, I plan to continue using it. Like the little engine that could, I’m just going to keep chugging away!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Characters Count

I’ve never been one of those writers who completed an outline of her story before starting to work on it. I did a character outline once but only because I was asked to do so by an interested literary agent. As a standard practice, I don’t map anything out. I sit down and write.

For the most part, this practice hasn’t let me down. I did run into an issue in one of my paranormal young adult books in which I introduced a character as the girlfriend of my male lead. I went on to show the twin brother of the male lead meeting his brother’s girlfriend for the first time at a party. It didn’t take long for alert readers to catch a glaring mistake in this. Earlier in the story, I had shown how these characters should have already met.

I doubt an outline of my story or the characters could have saved this oversight, but it reminded me of something I once read in Jack M. Bickham’s book The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And how to Avoid Them).  In his book, Bickham pointed out the importance of making certain that facts are correct, even in a fiction novel. He cited an instance in which an author had written a Western novel and his hero used a gun that wasn’t made until two years after the date in which the story was set.  Several readers caught this mistake and pointed it out in their reviews.

At the moment, I’m currently working on my third in a four-book contemporary romance series. Last weekend, I was able to devote quite a bit of time to that story. When I finished work on Sunday night, I saved everything, shut down my computer and headed off to the shower. As I washed my hair, something in the story was nagging me. Did the family relationships of the characters match up to what I had in the first book? Since the first book is already out, readers know the answer so I needed to make sure I had it right.

As soon as I was out of the shower, I pulled out a pen and a piece of paper and my copy of This Time. I began to write the names of the characters and how each of them was related to one another. What I ended up with was not only a family tree but the realization that I just saved myself from making a huge error in my third novel. I almost took a brother and sister and turned them into ex-husband and ex-wife. I know what you’re going to say; how could I have missed that? Seeing as how this pair plays small roles in the series, they’re a bit harder to remember than my main players.

Whatever the reason for the slip, the responsibility to prevent that from happening rests on me. As a professional writer, it’s my duty to make sure I’m giving readers the best possible product which means its error free. In this case, the error wasn’t with the punctuation, grammar or spelling and not something my spell check would have caught.

Needless to say, a valuable lesson has been learned. I need to make sure I’m doing a better job of accounting for my characters and their role in my stories. They count so I need to count them. From now on, especially in the case of a multi-book series, I will be making character outlines or at the very least a family tree.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Have to Wait How Long?

How much time should an author allow between books when releasing a series of novels?

With the recent release of my contemporary romance novel, This Time, the first in a four book series, this question has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  This Time was released on May 24th of this year and while it might sound premature to be considering this question, I’m actually starting to get the feeling I should have already released the second book in the series.

As I do with most things, I took a cerebral approach to answering this question. In other words, I took to the internet to see if there was anything that could help me. While I did find a few articles on the subject, none were what I would term as helpful.  The opinions on the subject of when to release seems as varied as peoples’ tastes in books.

One person recommends waiting at least a year in between each book in order to build excitement, gain new readers and, of course, have time to polish the book.  This is something J.K. Rowling did for her wildly successful Harry Potter series and while it worked well for her, I have some reservations about following that same path.  A year seems like an awfully long time to make readers wait, something I can attest to from the personal experience of being an impatient reader.

In his article, 15 Steps to Sell your E-book Series, Noah Lukeman, of the Lukeman Literary Agency recommends that writers allow only a four week release time in between books. This will keep readers from losing interest in your books. Lukeman does acknowledge this can be a difficult timeline for writers to adhere to. No kidding! From a practical standpoint alone, I don’t know that I could have a book ready to publish every four weeks. Once a book is written it has to be edited and formatted and sent for cover design. These aren’t things I do on my own which means I’m on someone else’s timetable.

From a reader’s perspective, I personally don’t mind waiting for a book when I’m really enjoying the series. However, I will admit that I do get a bit frustrated when the author publishes the first few books in rapid succession and then makes readers wait months on end for the subsequent book which is often the last in the series. Being a writer, I can tell you that it probably isn’t the author’s intent to generate excitement by making readers wait for that last book. Instead, it’s safer to say one of two things has happened. The writer has either lost her inspiration for the series and that last book isn’t finished or the writer isn’t able to make time to write because life is getting in the way. Whatever the reason, as a reader nothing irks me more than being excited for a series and then having to wait forever to get that closure I need from the last book.

How much time should an author allow when releasing books in a series? I wish I could tell you. I guess I could tell you what I think, but it would only be my opinion.  So, what do you think? Is there a reasonable amount of time that we could call an average that wouldn’t make you ask: I have to wait how long?