Today marked the kickoff of Read an E-Book Week 2014. This is my second year participating in the promotion via Smashwords, and it’s been something that I’ve been looking forward to being a part of again.
So what exactly is it? In short, it’s a movement to encourage those who may never have picked up a Kindle, Nook, iPad or iPhone to do just that and see how convenient it is to read on these devices. As more and more people are opting to employ this method for at least some of their reading, I think it will become less and less about awareness. It’s also an opportunity for authors to promote their electronic works as part of a collaborative effort. Many Smashwords authors are offering their books at free or reduced pricing, myself included.
Last year, I was admittedly green when it came to the whole concept. My first book had just gone live on Smashwords when this promotion hit, and wasn’t yet available at all the other retailers. But I still jumped in head first and signed up, eager to get as many eyes on my work as possible. In doing so, I offered my brand new book for free. After all, it was all that I had. I received more downloads during that week than I bargained for and began to feel pretty good about myself. Once the excitement had died down and my book went back to full price, I returned to relative obscurity, just like many people with only one book out do.
If you’ve visited here long enough, you also know that during that period of time, the first book in my series was pirated. It’s something that can happen to any e-book, anywhere, but I think it happened in my case because I gave it away for free. I don’t employ DRM on my books when I upload them, though some retailers like Sony (which will soon be a moot point) add it after the fact. Even if I did, it’s plenty easy for tech-savvy individuals to remove DRM and do with your file what they wish. After a little hand-wringing, I decided that I’d chalk it up to experience and consider it an extension of this free promotion.
So this year I’m back again, but with two books in my catalogue. After the piracy thing, I’ve decided to not offer any book other than my first for free. It’s already out there for illegal consumption; there’s no real harm in offering up the sanctioned free version. As far as book two, I’m offering that for 50% off. We’ll see if attaching a cost to it will keep it off those torrent sites. I’ve found the sample on a couple of them, but considering that the download link takes you to my Smashwords page to get the first 20% of the book, I’m not concerned. You can get the first 20% of it for free anywhere.
I’m really excited to see how this year’s results will compare to last year’s. So far I’ve seen a trickle of downloads for the first book and absolutely nothing for the second. I’m still learning this marketing thing as I go, but my tactic for the near future is to promote my first book heavily (or as heavily as someone like me is willing to) and let it drive sales to the second. And when the third comes out later this year, hopefully I can start picking up some traction and an honest to goodness fan base.
I think we’re past those days when free books led to massive exposure and increased sales activity for weeks to come, but every little bit helps.
So consider heading over to my Smashwords author page and checking out my books. While you’re there, take a look at the other books being offered for free or at reduced prices. You just may find a new favorite author!
Those of you who have visited my blog previously probably know that I’m a big supporter of having your work available through as many outlets as possible. You also know that I distribute my books through Smashwords in addition to uploading directly to Amazon. I’ve touched on my experiences with preorders here before, but recently there was a post on this very subject on the Smashwords blog, along with a call to action for any authors who had used their preorder option to blog about it.
The following is a slideshow prepared by Mark Coker of Smashwords which sums up why self-publishers should be using this service:
Though this slideshow does an excellent job of explaining why all indie authors should include preorders as a component of their marketing strategy, I wanted to touch on a couple of points that I personally noticed were benefits.
First off, preorders allow for you to have a set date on which your book will go live on retailers’ virtual shelves. As exciting as it was to publish my first book at the beginning of 2013, I didn’t have the option of doing a preorder then. So my book came out at Smashwords one day, Amazon another, B & N yet another and iTunes even later. Planning a release day event would have been mind-boggling at that rate. Fortunately, when my second book was ready to be published, I opted for the preorder feature and knew when my new release would go live. As you can imagine, it helps marketing immensely when you can quote a specific date instead of a general idea. Plus, you have the links available for each retailer well in advance of the big day and you’re not scrambling at the last minute to get them out to tour companies or posted on your website.
Something else that I haven’t seen mentioned is that once the book is uploaded to Smashwords as a preorder, you as the author have access to download the whole thing. This allowed me to do my final proofing on my Kindle. Mind you, everyone else can see the sample portion (in my case, the first 20%), so you want to make certain that your work is well-edited prior to uploading. This was invaluable to me because I noticed some quirky things that looked perfectly fine in my Word document, but didn’t translate over to the Kindle version well. I used the highlight feature on the Kindle to mark the sections that I wanted to revise, then went back once I was completely done reading and fixed them.
My first experience with the preorder feature was decidedly positive. I’d like to report that simply because I took advantage of this option that my book sales skyrocketed, but that’s not the case. Part of this reason stems from the fact that I don’t yet have a sizable backlist from which to gain momentum. Conventional wisdom says that most authors need three to five books under their belt before they really start to get traction. After all, who would anticipate a release from a brand new author except for a select few friends and family? I’m currently standing on the threshold of that three to five book window, and my fingers are crossed that it holds true for me as well.
As an aside, I also took away some food for thought from Mark’s slideshow. I chose a Tuesday as release day for my second book since the majority of others do that as well. If you think about it, books, DVDs and music are commonly released on Tuesdays. It just seemed natural. But he makes an interesting point for indies to release on other days of the week, when consumers will be less bombarded with shiny new objects and it might be easier to get noticed. I might just have to try that with my upcoming book.
There’s no one trick to mastering the art of book marketing, but having as many tools in your arsenal as possible definitely helps. That’s why every book that I publish from this point forward will utilize the preorder option.
Questions? Comments? Any experiences of your own with preorders either as a publisher or as a reader?
I’d say that 99% of my reading nowadays is done on my Kindle – or on the Kindle app downloaded to my iPhone. For a device that I initially questioned how much I would use, that’s a pretty staggering rate. Gone are the days when I would hit the library to check out the latest “it” book that I was hesitant about buying. No more rushing to the store in a mad dash to pick up the next book in a series because I absolutely, positively, had to know right now what happened next.
Anticipation has been reduced to nothing, unless you count the few seconds it takes to download your newest purchase to your gadget once you hit the “One Click” button. The only time I really have to wait for something involves those excruciating months between preordering something and waiting for it to go live. And I’d have exactly the same issue with a physical copy, so that’s beside the point.
I’ve been lucky to continue along my happy reading journey by pointing, clicking and settling right in to the first chapter for a little over two years. Until recently.
In my other life, I talk on the phone to people across the country at a fairly regular interval. During the course of normal business conversation, you sort of get a feel for those individuals that you can share some non-business related topics with. I’ve chatted about hockey, kids, weather and of course books. In one such conversation, a book was recommended to me and I decided to check it out. I looked up the author, read the blurb on Goodreads, scanned the reviews and it seemed intriguing enough to purchase. Naturally, I whipped out the trusty old Kindle, searched for it and found absolutely nothing.
That’s right. Nothing. It’s available for purchase on Amazon in paperback, but not in ebook format. I would have thrown my Kindle across the room, but it had done nothing wrong.
Thinking I must be crazy, I took to the internet. There I found a PDF copy which would have eased my craving right away, but I’m not about to go there. Unless the PDF comes directly from the author’s website – or a reputable retailer is offering a copy – and I know he or she intended for me to read it for free, I won’t do it.
A copy was available at my local library, so I resigned myself to the fact of waiting until the weekend when we could make our pilgrimage there. While I was impatiently waiting, I mentioned it to my husband. He told me to just go ahead and buy it. I think his words were something like: “Go ahead and support another author. It’s cool.” So we left the library copy at the library and trudged over to Barnes and Noble.
I had already done my due diligence by that time, so I knew it was only available at one of our city’s two locations. Of course, it wasn’t at the one closest to my house. A trip clear across town was in order, the prize this very elusive book. I parked a mile away from the mall entrance in nasty February Indiana weather, the end of my journey in sight.
Only it wasn’t. I couldn’t for the life of me find the book in the store. By this time, I had a hungry husband, two impatient children and a throng of people surrounding me with no employee in sight. Rather than go on an expedition of futility to locate it in some weird section myself, or wait who knows how long for someone who could help to wander by, we just went home.
Home, where I pulled up the Barnes and Noble website and ordered the darn thing there. Home, where I realized that there is an ebook version, but only for the Nook. (Who does that anyway? If you’re only going to have it be available on one ebook platform, why would you pick the Nook? Why not Kindle or iBooks, because I have access to both of those? But I digress.)
I got a message today that my order has been shipped. With any luck, I should be holding it in my hands by the end of the week. Certainly not as easy as pointing and clicking. And after all of this struggle to get it here, I hope it’s as good as I want it to be.
Let’s face it. Romance novels have long had a stigma as being trashy. The kind of books that are your dirty little secret. Before the rise of the Kindle and iPad made it simple to mask what exactly it was that you were reading, some resorted to creative tactics to hide their guilty pleasure.
But think about it. This genre as a whole is responsible for a massive amount of sales, so there’s plenty of people reading it. Their dollars are talking, even if the people spending them aren’t admitting to devouring the latest and greatest installment. And more and more people are signing in to Goodreads or Amazon and discussing and reviewing. Does this mean that more people are reading in general? Maybe so – it’s never been more convenient to read than it is right now.
A common theme among people who have been pulled back into the realm of the reading world is that one of two series in particular reawakened their love of romance in general. Mind you, these are also two of the most widely condemned and ridiculed by others.
Yes, I’m talking about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Full disclosure here; I’ve read both series in their entirety. Okay, I even read the Twilight Saga twice. We’ll say that loosely, because I skimmed the parts in New Moon related to the Indian ancestry on my second time through because I really didn’t care. Same with all the sex in Fifty Shades. After the first 300 times, it just wasn’t that cool.
So what is it about these books that is so polarizing? It seems that you either love them or hate them. And a lot of times, the hatred comes prefaced by “I would never, ever, read that”. So what exactly are people who haven’t read them basing their negative opinions on?
I get that they are not literary masterpieces, but they really aren’t that bad. Does Twilight take a lot of liberties with vampire lore? Heavens, yes. My main beef is not with the sparkliness, but the fact that their vampires never sleep. That bothers me on a lot of levels and I’m not even sure why. Is Fifty Shades repetitive? Goodness, yes. But what book or TV show that’s beloved by many couldn’t be the subject of a drinking game at times?
Bottom line is that I enjoyed them. Overall, I’m not upset that I spent money for the opportunity to read them. They weren’t my favorite books ever, but I didn’t hate them. And I won’t criticize anyone who chooses to fawn over them. Because what they did is to open the door for more potential readers to eventually find my work. I’m not about to slam that door in a new reader’s face by publicly declaring that a series that they loved is crap.
And many authors do. While authors are certainly entitled to their own opinions, sometimes it’s best not to broadcast them. You never know who is listening.
Repeat after me: not everyone wants to read Shakespeare all the time. Not everyone is a book snob.
It’s easy to pick on the popular thing, to compare and contrast against it simply because of its visibility. And I understand where an obscure author (and aren’t we all compared to Stephenie Meyer and EL James?) might feel slighted that a reader chooses to spend their dollars on a big-name author instead of a self-pubbed one. Our work might be on par with – and sometimes superior to – the current “it” book, but that’s the game that we all play.
There are many best-selling books I have no interest whatsoever in reading. Hunger Games and Harry Potter come to mind. I’m not about to judge those who do like them, and I certainly won’t declare my hatred of them. It’s not a good business practice in my opinion. Neither is ripping one of them apart in order to build myself up.
Life isn’t always fair. Some authors will get their big break, while others just as deserving won’t. So what can we do to help push the odds in our favor? Write quality work. Write things that make us proud, even if no one reads them. Keep writing. Keep connecting. Play nice with others.
And remember that hatred caused by jealousy isn’t a way to win over fans, either.
I really need to stop looking on Google Plus for more things to do. Or maybe not, since this particular fleeting thought turned out to be the subject of my blog post today. Whatever the case, I came across a link from a big-name women’s magazine that was looking for individuals to tell “Their Story”. The winner would get $5,000 cash, a chance to meet with a literary agent and possible future publication of the article.
Color me intrigued. I’ll admit, the literary agent part was the least of my concerns, but the cash and the thought of seeing a piece I wrote featured in a major publication was pretty tempting. All I’d have to do is write a narrative ranging from 2,500 to 3,500 words about myself and email it away. Easy enough, right?
Except down at the bottom of the entry form, buried in the fine print was the catch: All entries become the property of (insert name of magazine’s publisher here). Cue slamming on the brakes and the end of that idea.
I’ve touched on a little of my personal backstory here. What with the parental estrangement and growing up with a hoarder, I probably have a tale that someone, somewhere would want to hear. I’ve even tossed around the idea of writing a memoir. What holds me back? Oh, the fact that it seems very self-indulgent and I question who would even care enough to read about me.
But the thought is there, just the same. Like so many ideas, it may or may not see the light of day. If I ever get to the point of being what I consider a success with my fiction, I may seriously consider it. In any case, it’s already got a working title and an opening line that kicks ass, if I do say so myself.
And I’m not willing to give up ownership of those for a crack at $5,000.
Chances are I wouldn’t win anyway. This is just reality – I’m not getting down on myself. I can’t imagine how many people would enter this contest; the odds are stacked against me by sheer volume alone. Why would I relinquish my top-shelf vision for a crapshoot?
“Sure,” you might say, “there will be plenty of entries. They won’t read and/or remember them all. If you don’t win, you’re free to use your stuff over again and give it a go.” Except technically you’re not, and with my luck they would catch me.
So suffice it to say that the working title and the killer opener are tucked safely away in my bag of tricks. And the contest is a no-go. Because if I was going to sandbag and not use my best stuff, what’s the point in entering?
This is what I love about self-publishing. I own everything. My website, my ideas, my characters. I’m more than happy to guest post or have my work syndicated so that it reaches different audiences, but I never give up control. I never give it away, so to speak.
And if I’ve made it a point not to let others claim my fiction or my blog rants, why in the world would I allow someone else to own the rights to my life story?
People like to put things in categories. It makes sense, but sometimes things just don’t fit into a neat and tidy description. This is part of the beauty of being a self-published author: we don’t have to precisely commit to one category or another. If hard-pressed to describe what I write, I’d start off by saying it’s a hybrid of contemporary romance and chick lit. Some have even stretched it further by claiming new adult. But to me, it just is.
A byproduct of categorization is finding who your target audience is. You know, the people that will be most interested in reading whatever it is that you’ve written. These are the individuals that you strive to seek out and connect with. If done correctly, some of these folks will become your fans and start helping you market via word of mouth.
Based on the description that I’ve given my own work, suffice it to say that my target audience would be women. If we narrowed it down, I’d go further and specify ages 18 and up. I hesitate to put a maximum age out there because I’ve heard back from readers who are in their 50s and 60s. Saying my books would appeal to ages 18 to 118 just sounds cheesy and board game like, so we’ll leave it open-ended. And don’t even get me started on economic factors. All kinds of women like to read romance type novels – from stay at home moms to corporate executives. So we’ll just go with women. Makes sense, right?
So naturally, because I’m unconventional and a bit of a risk-taker, I contacted a guy who blogs and asked him to review my book.
Insert the eye roll if you want. And the WTF were you thinking?
Now, this isn’t the first guy that’s read my book - there’s another gentleman who has read it and posted his review on Goodreads. But his review came courtesy of a blog tour and I’m pretty sure it was a book club rating where he just happened to be its voice. And I personally didn’t ask him to do it.
I’ll admit that I thought long and hard about contacting this particular blogger just because of his gender. I came across his posting on Google Plus about how he just started a book review blog and was looking for submissions. As such, his queue was fairly empty. Intrigued, I investigated a little bit more, fully expecting him to limit his reading to the “typical” guy stuff. You know, things that aren’t romance and/or chick lit. But no, he stated that he would read just about anything. The things that he wouldn’t read didn’t apply to my books, so technically, I was golden.
I didn’t submit right away. I thought it over for a couple of days, debating on what I should do. Did “I’ll read almost anything” really mean almost anything? Finally, I decided to take the plunge. I figured that the worst that could happen would be that he’d tell me no or not respond at all. And if you’ve queried any bloggers before, that’s a common answer anyway.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained – at least that’s how the saying goes.
So obviously, he said yes or this whole post would be about absolutely nothing. I sent over the coupon code for the book and crossed my fingers - the same way I do anytime I know that someone is reviewing my work. And believe me – I have specific coupon codes that I hand out when I’ve contacted someone myself to review as opposed to a blogger getting it from my review tour. So I know when a review is coming, and have a good idea of where it’s coming from. I’m anal; I know.
The book was downloaded and he contacted me shortly thereafter to tell me that he was getting ready to read it. The nervousness set in. Was I making a huge mistake? Would I get flamed because I didn’t write a mystery, a fantasy, or sci-fi? That same night, he emailed me back and had only good things to say based on his progress. Silly me, I was certain he had emailed the wrong author. He couldn’t be talking about my book, could he?
So what did I end up with? Quite honestly, I received the most thoughtful, thorough review that I have ever gotten. I literally smiled all the way through while reading it. I even laughed, because some parts were damn funny. Even when he was taking me to task about certain plot developments (which I’ve discussed here somewhat before), he did it in a way that was witty. And it was quite apparent that he’d read the entire book, not just skimmed it.
So lesson learned. Sometimes it’s worth it to think outside the box.
And yes, I’ve already sent him over the coupon code for Book Two. I can’t wait to hear his thoughts on that one.
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of aliciareneekline.com.
I’ve come a long way from my unique visitor count of 67 in January, 2013. Granted, I was only up and running for about 6 days and had all of one or two posts, but that averages about 11 people a day stopping by. Thanks, family and friends for being supportive, or nosy, or both!
Though my blog’s traffic has increased exponentially during this past year, I’m not anywhere close to world domination. I did get on the radar of some spammers from China who really like a couple of my posts and want to sell anyone, anywhere, knock-off designer clothes.
So allow me to be a little self-indulgent and/or sentimental and recap what I’ve learned in the past twelve months. Here it is, in list format:
1. I learned how to protect my blog from spammers. This came from trial and error and researching quite a bit on Google. Gone are the days of clicking through my comments and spamming a hundred of them at a time. I’m now having the last laugh. Hah!
2. I learned that while I have problems naming characters, I don’t have problems naming blog posts. So what if they are tiny inside jokes to me sometimes and not very SEO friendly? Isn’t the point of this to have fun? A couple of favorites: “Write in My Backyard” and “In All Series-ousness”.
3. As much as I try, I can’t predict which blog posts will be the most shared, tweeted and/or discussed. Usually, it’s the exact opposite of what I’m thinking. To date, my most tweeted post is “Eggs in One Basket” which I wrote during the period of time in which Kobo pulled all self-pubbed books from their British and Canadian affiliates’ websites. I hesitated to even write said post because their actions didn’t affect my bottom line personally. Yes, my books were pulled (and subsequently returned to each site), but I have yet to see a single sale from Kobo. It made me feel like sort of an impostor – like I had no right to have an opinion on the subject – but it resonated with a lot of people.
4. I’ve made some really cool online friends. The self-pubbed community is extremely helpful and supportive. I’ve had some wonderful conversations and gotten some great advice from people that I never would have met otherwise.
5. I’ve discovered some new authors that I enjoy reading. Because of blogging and Twitter, I’ve learned about books that probably wouldn’t have caught my attention before. No, I’m not talking about the people that spam “Buy my book!”. I’m talking about those who I became comfortable with by reading their own blogs and connecting with them online. After becoming a fan of their blog or following them on Twitter and getting a feel for who they were, I made the leap to search out their books and read them.
6. I’ve become someone who reviews. Quite simply, you don’t realize how important of a gift a book review is until you are on the other side of the coin. I never thought that my opinion mattered until I became an author. Then I woke up and decided that every little bit helps as far as algorithms are concerned. And a little review karma never hurt anyone.
7. I’m way more outgoing now than I was a year ago. I’m still not the type to shove what I do in your face, but at least I’ll talk to you now. When I first joined Twitter, I was too scared to jump into conversations because I didn’t want to butt in. Then I realized that Twitter is pretty much a giant public conversation. Sometimes my two cents still gets met with crickets, but other times it doesn’t.
8. I’ve learned to face my fears. There was a time not so long ago when I was afraid to hit the publish button, afraid of what people would think. When my blog posts weren’t all sunshine and rainbows, I worried that I’d alienate others. I was too hung up on gaining approval from nameless, faceless people that I allowed my voice to be silenced. Now that I’ve decided not to self-censor, I’m much happier and my writing is likely better for it.
9. I proved to myself that I could do this. Most of us stand in the way of our own dreams, the whispers of self-doubt keeping us from acting upon what it really is that we want in life. Somewhere along the line, I grew a pair and just went for it. Even then, I kept it quiet, afraid of failure. After all, what if I couldn’t figure this stuff out? But you know what? I learned by doing, and I’m still learning each day.
10. I became a published author. It matters not how I got there. Traditionally published, self-published, it makes no difference. The end result is the same – my two books are available online right next (figuratively) to bestsellers that everyone’s heard of. And although if you look at Twitter it seems like authors are a dime a dozen, how many people can honestly say that?
Note that I didn’t technically write two books in the span of 2013; I published two. Book one was completed in 2012 (on New Year’s Eve, so it still counts). I have kind of an upset stomach thinking about how I have positioned myself for disappointment by setting the bar too high. Even though it’s only January, I’m not certain that I can repeat that feat by more or less writing two full length novels and getting them out to market in a 12 month time frame.
But, then again, a year ago I never thought I’d be where I am today.