How important are book reviews?

As an independent author, I often hear about how important book reviews are. But is this the real make-it-or-break-it item for authors?

Years ago before the Internet, many readers bought their books from brick-and-mortar book stores. They would find a book with an interesting cover, read the back blurb, and if it sounded intriguing, they would buy it. Unless the story was already a best-seller, reviews were probably not even considered but a friend’s recommendation might have been. When deciding between two books, readers are probably far more likely to pick the one recommended by a friend.

But nowadays we have the Internet and a mass of independently published books. Whether right or wrong, some readers have a poor perception of those books. Perhaps they think because they were not traditionally published, they are not as good. Of course, that is not true. There are many reasons people decide to self-publish.

This is where reviews can come in handy. A good, well-written review can do wonders for your sales. But so can word of mouth recommendations. In 2011, Smashwords creator Mark Coker did a survey asking readers to select the biggest deciding factor in choosing a book to read.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they selected books based on recommendations from readers on forums, message boards and blogs. This implies that it isn’t so much reviews on a book-buying website but the reviews of peers elsewhere that influence the purchase of a book.

This makes sense as the trustworthiness of online book reviews have been called into question. Some authors pay for top reviews (though paying for a review is not always bad) or the reviews obviously sound like a friend or family member posted them. Sometimes online reviews on places like Amazon are thoroughly unhelpful to other readers as all you get is an “I liked it.” quote.

That is the problem with reviews found at online book retailers. They can be written by anyone, including someone who doesn’t read or like your genre or someone who has a beef about something totally unrelated to your book. But when these point-of-sale reviews are detailed and positive, they can reap rewards in the additional sales.

Whether the reviews are on a blog/forum or at the point of sale, these reviews are a form of social proof that readers liked your book. How much other readers value these reviews depends on their trust of that reviewer. Perhaps they will believe a fellow reader on a forum or book-viewing website more than someone on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It is hard to predict.

And while I believe reviews do matter and help sell books, you need to remember that book reviews are only one small piece of the book marketing puzzle.

Not sure how to get book reviews? I’ll address that next week.

Choices for Authors: Marketing vs. Writing

You can’t write a book and expect it to be an instant best-seller. (Or if you do, you will most likely be disappointed.) It takes time and effort before most authors make consistent sells. And the only way to do that is to market yourself and your books.

How much marketing you need or what marketing strategies work best is so dependent on each individual author that there is no right or wrong answer. There simply is no one-size-fits-all plan for marketing.

The stories about authors who succeeded without any marketing are rare. Most books, even the really good ones, will become lost in the jumble of the millions of other available titles unless something is done to make them stand out, to make them become discoverable to their target audience. Remember that even successful authors like Stephen King and John Grisham do marketing (or pay a marketing firm to do it for them).

Now many new authors ask about marketing and the best advice I can give them is to simply keep writing. By having multiple books, you increase your credence as an author. With each published book, you broaden your appeal and add credibility to your name. There are many readers who scoop up every title an author has written previously if they like your book. I know one author that said it took until her eighth book before she had established enough of a following to really take off and need less marketing.

Of course, the best tip for any author is to write a good book. Good word of mouth is the best advertising.

But I think one of the biggest problems that I and many other authors fail to do is establish a marketing plan. Many authors don’t even figure out who their target audience is. You need to find who will be interested in your book and then target that market.

But no matter how you market your book, remember – marketing takes time. Not just the time to do it but the time to see results. Your ad this week may not cause a spike in sales, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work. People have to see something – a new author, a new book – multiple times before they take the time to investigate to see if they want to know more or perhaps even buy the book.

You have to keep working at marketing to be successful. Remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. You need to be in it for the long haul. You have to be a relentless self-promoter. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the time for that. But anything you do whether it is something daily or just something once a week will help.

Keys to marketing as an author

You’ve written your book or maybe you are on your second or third or perhaps your book isn’t even out yet, but your mind has turned to marketing. How the heck do you get your book noticed in the sea of other books out there?

There really is no sure-fire method for marketing. What works for one author may or may not work for you. But there are two main keys to marketing.

YOU are the BRAND.

The first thing you need to realize is that you are marketing yourself and not your book. Your marketing efforts are building recognition of your brand, which is YOU.

By working on name recognition, your marketing efforts will eventually lead to sales. The key word is “eventually.”

It works the same way as a company running TV commercials. The viewer of the commercial is not often in the position to buy that product right at that moment, but the company wants the viewer to remember their name so when they are at the store, they will see and buy their product.

You need to apply this principle to your marketing. You want people to recognize your name so that when they see your book, they want to buy it (or at least be interested enough to click the button and read the book description.)

That takes me to my second key to marketing….

Marketing takes TIME

So you began marketing – a Twitter campaign, a guest post, a contest or even an ad on a website – and then there is no spike in sales. That does not mean that your promotion failed. You should not expect instant results.

People typically have to see a name (or book title) many times before they take the time and effort to learn more. So you need to look at this from a long-haul marketing plan.

This means you need to be advertising at all times – not just when a new book is released. You may choose to do something once a week or once a month, but you need to consistently work to get your name out there.

And of course the best bet would not be to pick an activity at random but to look for something that will reach your target market. Go where your readers are. This might mean connecting with readers on Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat but remember that social media may not sell books but can build the relationships that help you sell books.

The main thing to remember is that it will take you months to see results of your marketing efforts. Patience is the key here. Remember marketing is more of a long-distance marathon than a sprint. And of course don’t forget who you are marketing – yourself!

 

Exploring other marketing avenues – Etsy, Pinterest and YouTube

Self-published are always looking for effective ways to market their books. There are a multitude of sites that cater to readers or authors or both. But there are other options that authors may have not considered.

Here are a few of the more off-the-beaten path options for marketing or selling your book.

Etsy

Etsy is a world-wide, Internet marketplace for people to sell and buy unique goods. It is a place where people can sell vintage items or crafts or jewelry that they made. (I sell customized birthday invitation on my Etsy store – Another World Cards.) But it also can be a place to promote and sell your book – even if you only sell e-books.

Not a lot has been written about Etsy as a community and platform for authors. I ran across the suggestion of using Etsy on another blog, so I thought I would check it out.

A quick search brought up some books for sale – some were vintage or used books, but some were new. Quite of a few of new books were craft or how-to books. But there were some fiction novels – some that are print-on-demand and others that are instant download of e-books. (Limited to 20MB and it must be a PDF file.) And at 20 cents for a 4-month-long listing, Etsy is an inexpensive way to reach another market.

etsyEtsy is not just about selling merchandise. It is also a place to connect with others. Etsy has its own community There are teams to join that are full of people with common interests. A quick search brought up a handful of teams for author promoting authors. You don’t have to be a seller on Etsy to take part in the teams or forums.

In the forum section, you can ask questions about selling on Etsy, including how best to sell your novel. And best of all, if you can’t find your answer there, help is only an email away.

YouTube

I am sure all of you have seen a video on YouTube. Everything from crazy cat antics to scenes from your favorite movie or TV show to music videos appears on this site.

Anyone can set up a free account to upload video files for either public or private viewing. (I have often uploaded my kids’ yearly birthday videos on the site and then just shared the link with family and friends. No one but those with the actual link can see the videos.)

Once a video for public distribution has been posted on YouTube, others can share the link, which makes it a great platform for viral campaigns.

I posted a book trailer on YouTube for my first book, Summoned. Now I know some authors love book trailers, and others don’t see their benefit. A well-done book trailer can tantalize readers with details about your book and entice them to buy it. But it all depends on how many people view the trailer. YouTube’s algorithms allow users to stumble across your book when they search for similar books or authors of the same genre.

youtubeYou can also post your own videos as a video blog (also known as vlogging). Here you can post like you do on a regular blog, but instead it is a video of you answering questions or giving fans updates. If you keep your videos interesting and engaging, you will gain subscribers to your YouTube channel.

Though this may be a good marketing strategy, I have enough trouble keeping up with this blog that I am not considering vlogging any time soon.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a social media platform designed as a digital bulletin board where users can collect posts and website pages in one centralized place. Pinterest users create profiles, find and follow their friends and have the ability to tag these friends when “pinning” something that interests them. They can also “re-pin” their friends’ “pins.”

You can create multiple Pinterest “boards” or just have one. And you can make your boards private or public. Items that you or others have “pinned” appear in a visual feed. And no the site doesn’t just have recipes and craft projects. It boasts so much more. Basically, any website or blog can be “pinned” on the site. Once on the site, it will show up in other user’s searches.

pininterestSince Pinterest is a visual page, it makes sense to pin your book cover. You can also fill up a board with quotes from your book or even your book trailer. You can even pin contests and giveaways or offer Advance Reading Copies.

Beyond promoting your book, you can put together an “inspiration board” letting others know what inspired you to write. You might even consider creating a board of books that resonate with yours. Pin books of the same genre or feature a character similar to yours. The more links you create build connections that can result in more people finding you and your books.

So if you are a self-published author and haven’t taken the time to check out Etsy, YouTube or Pinterest as a method of promoting or selling your book, I encourage you to do so and find out if any of these venues will work for you.

 

Revisiting the all-important book blurb

CIMG0524The book blurb is one of the most important promotional tools you will write for your novel. This short piece of prose can entice someone to buy your novel – or pass it up. Because it is so important, you should spend a lot of time perfecting your novel’s blurb.

Now I have written on this subject before. But two things made me decide to revisit this all-important topic. First, I just wrote the book blurb for my latest book, The Heir to Alexandria, which comes out later this month.

Second, I read a lot of book blurbs through the authors I feature on this blog every Friday. I lot of them are not doing their job of enticing me to buy their book. They are chocked full of unnecessary information and often are too long.

Remember a blurb is short – 150 to 200 words. Think of it as a movie trailer. It needs to hint at the story but not give everything away.

In your blurb, you want to focus on the main characters and what is at stake. The key is not to reveal too much of your plot – and its resolution. You want to leave the reader wanting more.

Questions to consider so you don’t reveal too much of the plot.

Does the reader really need to know that? (And be harsh when answering this.)

Could what I wrote be a spoiler?

Am I revealing how the conflict was resolved?

Use Action and Emotive Words

When writing, pick words that show action and evoke emotions.

Here are some powerful adjectives often found in book blurbs: devastating, heart-wrenching, harrowing, passionate, terrifying, joyful, entrancing, searing, unforgettable, enchanting, chilling, heartbreaking, heart-rending, pulsating, bewitching, captivating, shocking, endearing, and spell-binding.

But make sure if you use these terms that they are accurate. Don’t tote your novel as fast-paced, action adventure when it isn’t.

End with conflict

Always leave the reader wanting more. The last line should have them dying to know what happens. You can end with a question or hint at future danger. But most of all, do not hint at how things will work out. You want them to read the book for find that out!

The book blurb can be a struggle for many authors. It will take many hours and many drafts. You will pour over word choice as well as what plot tidbits to include. But know that this time is well spent as a well-written, enticing book blurb can make the difference between someone passing your book or clicking “add to basket.”

Authors: Just stop the unsolicited advertising emails

You open your email and see 12 new messages. Scanning the subject lines, you note quite a few are unsolicited emails.

Highlight. Delete.

That is my solution.

It is incredibly easy to get on everyone’s email list as so many companies ask for your email address today. And by giving it to them, they seem to think you are giving them permission to email you tons of advertisements.

But there is another group that also seems to find no problem in sending unsolicited emails – or in the case of Twitter sending direct messages (DM) that are nothing but a pitch to buy their book. Yes, that group is authors.

I really can’t speak for others but sending me an email or DM about your book is NOT going to make me buy it. In fact, I often delete these messages without a second thought. (I received one from someone on Goodreads even as I wrote this blog. Delete – well, delete after saving a copy to be included with this post.)

emailIf I signed up for your emails or newsletters, this is fine. But just because I hosted you on MY site, doesn’t mean I want to hear about every new achievement. I host many authors whose books do not interest me at all.

Now I am all for promoting with e-mail – as long as the messages are wanted. Before you put someone on your email list, you need to ask their permission. You shouldn’t just take everyone in your contact list and start emailing them. This is a good way to turn off potential readers.

If on your website, you ask for emails to add people to a newsletter list that is perfectly okay. They chose to receive that newsletter. Just ensure that there is a way for them to be removed from your list if they should decide to stop receiving your notices. (The Can-Spam Act actually sets rules for commercial emails and requires recipients have a way to opt out of emails.)

There also is nothing wrong with including your books or blog links in your e-mail signature line – you can even have testimonials, a line from the book or the title of your latest blog in the signature line. Of course just remember that some SPAM filters will weed out emails with too many links in them.

I also get plenty of DMs when I follow someone on Twitter. Most are just a “Thanks for the Follow” message but often there is a sales pitch added to it. “If you like fantasy, check out my book.” Let me tell you it doesn’t work. I simply delete the DM without a second thought. I know others who will unfollow you if you send out this type of message.

DMs shouldn’t be used as a sales pitch. They are for private conversations and relationship building – not for marketing. Sending a DM as a marketing pitch is the same thing as those SPAM emails and will certainly get you ignored or unfollowed by many people.

I don’t have any statistics to back up my opinion that unsolicited emails and DMs don’t generate sales. But I know that no SPAM message is every appreciated or even read by me so if you are sending them out, please make sure I am not on your list.

 

 

Finding your book’s target market

The key to marketing your book is to market it to the reader who might actually be interested in reading your story. It does no good to spend all your time and marketing effort to try to sell your book to EVERYONE.

First off, EVERYONE doesn’t buy books. And then the ones that do have their own interests and tastes. There usually is no use trying to sell a techno-thriller to someone who enjoys romances or a historical novel to someone who reads futuristic sci-fi adventures. No book will appeal to EVERYONE.

The key question to ask yourself is “Who is going to buy my book when they are bombarded with all those other books?”

If you can answer that question, you will know where to spend your marketing efforts. Now when you wrote your book, you may not have been writing to a specific audience. I know I wasn’t when I wrote Summoned.  I was writing a book that I would like to read. Maybe that makes me or people like me my target market.

Take some time to figure out what makes your book unique. Is there something special about your character? Do they love cats or surfing? Identifying what makes your character special can provide a powerful “hook” that resonates with a prospective book buyer. Also look at where your book takes place. You might be able to build a promotion based on that location.

target marketWhen looking at your book, the more relevant your book is to a specific audience, the more connected you will be with them. Think of this as an inverted triangle. At the top is the broad topic (such as the genre), and as you get to the tip of the triangle, you get more specific to who is interested in that genre would read your book. You may be able to narrow your target audience down by age, gender, income level or even their viewpoints on religion or politics.

Basically, you have two target audiences: the General Target Audience (people who would be interested in your fiction as a whole) and your Specific Target Audience for each book (people who would be interested in that particular book).

Here are some tips to finding your target market.

1.) Genre  – This is the easiest one, but don’t be too general. You need to look at the subcategories of the genre. You can’t simply say your novel is a romance and be done with it. It is important to know the sub genre as not every reader reads every sub genre of romance.

2.) Setting – If your story takes place in a real, recognizable place, the regional color you add can get the book into local book stores and gift shops.

3.) Theme – Think about who might resonate with the life lesson your novel teaches. If you are writing about single motherhood, you might find mom-bloggers with similar interests to be your ally.

4.) Problem – If you are dealing with a real problem – autism, cancer, alcoholism, you might connect with readers facing those same issues.

5.) Character – Your protagonist might represent your target market. Are they a surfer, a college student or a cat lover? Your character may belong to a professional, social or ethnic group that will appeal to your reader.

6.) You, the Author – If you bring a certain knowledge to your book (say as an attorney or doctor writing a legal or medical thriller), you might look at your own affiliations for marketing ideas.

Finding the right target audience for your book can be the difference between excited readers and sales versus a bunch of disappointment and wasted effort trying to sell your book to people who don’t want to buy it and never will. If you know your target market, you can speak directly to the people who already want your book. This saves you time, energy and money on advertising. When you speak to your target market, you don’t have to really “sell” your book. You only have to let them know your book exists, and they will be ready to buy it.

For more tips and advice check out this website.