“Chapter titles!?” sez you. What is this, the 18th century? What am I supposed to write? Something like this?
Chapter the first, in which our hero is born, discovers that fire is hot, learns to pull up his own breeches, and slays a smallish dragon.
Hey, those 18th century writers knew their marketing. A reader flipping through a book in the shop could get an idea what kind of things were going to happen in the novel if it had descriptive chapter headers.
But yes, I know chapter titles went out of style in the age of modern minimalism.
Hemingway didn’t need no stinkin’ chapter titles. Neither did Fitzgerald or Faulkner.
However, some of the postmoderns later ventured into chapter title waters. David Foster Wallace used them in Infinite Jest, and John Barth titled his chapters in The End of the Road.
And in the 1990s, Annie Proulx used chapter titles to great effect in her Pulitzer Prize winner The Shipping News. Most of the chapter titles are the names of sailors’ knots, or other naval terms. Each chapter embodies a certain kind of knot, like “Love Knot”, “Strangle Knot” and “A Rolling Hitch.”
These literary authors used the chapter titles to enhance and comment on the content of the chapter. Even though they wrote before the era of e-books, they used the chapter titles in a reader-enticing way.
Chapter Titles are Essential for the “Look Inside” Feature on Your Buy Page
But chapter titles are making a big comeback in the age of the e-book.
Because of the “Look Inside” function on a book’s buy page at most online retailers. This is where you make or break your sale, as Ruth showed us in her great post on How To Lose a Book Sale. Most retailers insist on a Table of Contents in your opening pages. And the average Table of Contents of a novel looks like this:
Is that really what you want taking up the valuable real estate in your “Look Inside”?
Compare that with Rick Riordan’s current #1 Bestseller, The Red Pyramid
A Death at the Needle
An Explosion for Christmas
Imprisoned with my Cat
Kidnapped by a Not-So-Stranger…
Which table of contents is more likely to intrigue a reader?
Chapter Titles Aren’t Just for Children’s Books Anymore.
“Yeah, well,” sez you. “Rick Riordan writes for kids. I write for adults!”
It’s true that chapter titles are much more common in children’s literature, but savvy adult authors are using them too.
Delia Owens used chapter titles as well as titled sections in her runaway bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing. The titles intrigue readers as well as orient them in time and space.
The Crawdads Table of Contents looks like this:
Part 1—THE MARSH
Prologue (Yes, there’s a dreaded prologue. Owens breaks pretty much every rule, and sells millions.)
A Boat and a Boy
The Fishing Season
Just Grass in the Wind…
The chapter titles tell us who the chapter is about, and then show how the story will develop — without offering any spoilers. Owens’ chapter titles also give the reader a sense of place.
It sure is more interesting than a list of numbers isn’t it?
Delia Owens not only hit the NYT bestseller list with a debut novel — an amazing feat in itself — but she stayed there through 2019 and part of 2020. I wonder if her chapter titles had anything to do with her initial sales?
A while ago, a writer friend of mine was talking about her first query letter. She’d let me read it and I thought it was well done. This wasn’t a surprise. She’d spent a lot of time on it, she’d researched, revised, and sent it out to critique partners for their honest opinions. It was at a place where further effort was just spinning her wheels, at least until agents started to weigh in.
But she was frozen in place, terrified to send it out. She admitted that even though she knew the query and the manuscript were both in excellent shape, she couldn’t pull the trigger. “What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like…me?”
“They won’t,” I told her in my usual too-blunt way. “At least, most of them won’t. That’s just the way it works. But they don’t all have to like you. Only one has to like you.”
She laughed and said, “Can you imagine going out on stage in front of a large audience, singing a big emotional ballad that you wrote yourself, and when you’re done the audience is silent except for one person, slow clapping in the back row?”
She had a point.
It occurred to me that as writers, we really are true performers, and not so different than any other artist whose platform is a stage or a gallery wall. My friend couldn’t send out her query because she was suffering from good old-fashioned stage fright.
Based on my research, social anxiety and fear of public speaking/performance affect 22 million Americans and are two of the top-twelve most common phobias (along with fear of spiders, snakes, heights, flying, dogs, storms, needles/injections, germs, and both wide open and small spaces). These phobias are evolutionary and have been key to our survival—keeping us away from poisons or getting too close to a cliff edge and falling to our deaths. But now, with our day-to-day lives being lived in much safer environs, those evolutionary anxieties have less purpose while being no less present. Even when there’s no actual threat to our safety, our bodies often want to flee, or they just freeze up. Not surprisingly, these fears attack self-confidence and cause people to avoid stepping up to the podium even when doing so could lead to long-term success.
Getting back to my friend and her query letter, she’d admit that her stage fright comes from her need to be perfect and her fear that she never will be. Well (here’s me being blunt again), she’s right about that. She never will be perfect. None of us will. Check out this 1-star review for the King James Bible:
“I would have given it 5 stars if not for the 2 typographical errors that I’ve found (so far).”
For some, simply acknowledging that perfection is not attainable may be all it takes to gather the courage needed to put their writing out there for others to see, to judge, to love, or to hate.
A novelist friend told me that social media is pretty much mandatory these days, otherwise I could expect to remain plankton in a sea of fish all swimming toward the same accolades. As a poet, I’m already used to being a small fry, yet as I move into writing journalism and creative nonfiction, I’ve wondered whether I should log back on.
I quit Facebook in 2014 after a manic episode that reared its Medusa-like head online. My wall was a mess of incoherent thoughts, followed by all the email rejections I’d ever received, copied and pasted from my inbox. For the grand finale, I wrote that I would stage a hunger strike to protest the government’s lackluster care for those living with mental illness. Soon after my last post—but not before I typed out the addresses, emails, and phone numbers of my closest friends (should the news media want to reach out to them for comment)—I was hospitalized and newly diagnosed with bipolar I.
As it turns out, extreme social embarrassment is an excellent way to curb a Facebook addiction. A true introvert and a perpetual validation seeker, I knew my pictures were never cute enough, my posts never witty enough, and I spent hours looking at the profiles of women that guys had dumped me for. “She rides an old-school motorcycle,” I’d think. “Makes sense.”
Post-hospitalization, my friends gently reminded me that their personal information was still online. I deleted my account for good.
My pact to stay off social was tested when I started looking for an agent. I scanned interviews and attended panels in which agents said that a strong social media presence was something they looked for in a client. I read manuscript “wish lists” that expressed a keen interest in working with influencers. I noticed that writers in my social circle had, on average, 20,000 Instagram followers, and some had upward of 50,000 Twitter followers.
At the start of 2021, I gave it a try. One agent advised writers to pick a platform and get good at it. I guessed my strong suit would be Twitter. Like an endless Pez dispenser, I can come up with wisecracks all day. With a few quips queued up, I started an account, waited for something spectacular to happen, and pressed delete the next day.
It just didn’t feel right. As a 41-year-old woman, I chafed at the idea of building a “me” brand. I also objected to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for moral and ethical reasons. I didn’t want to support men who had supported the rise of hate groups, conspiracy theorists, and a racist megalomaniac who committed human rights atrocities at the U.S.-Mexico border that this country has yet to properly acknowledge or reckon with. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey put profit before people—demonstrating how easy it is for tech to manipulate government and destabilize democracy.
I do not wish to discount how essential social media is for connecting people amid a global pandemic. Nor do I wish to ignore or dismiss how critical these platforms have been for social justice movements such as the Arab Spring, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and even #PublishingPaidMe, which revealed deep racial disparities in the amount writers are paid and the ways publishing continues to be predominantly white—from literary agencies to the Big Five (or is it the Big Four?) publishers.
By now, publishers expect writers to become their own publicists and marking team—and I imagine that landing a viral tweet must feel incredible. For me, though, as someone who lacks self-discipline, easily gets addicted to things, and still manages to spend time on Twitter (snooping, sleuthing, and lurking) without an account, social media would put a stake in the heart of my career.
Self-promotion isn’t the most famous naughty s-word, but it can still feel like a bad word to today’s authors. I hate self-promotion, you might say. I’m so sick of talking about myself on social media.With more and more options to reach readers directly comes an expectation that authors will do more and more to reach those readers themselves, often without publisher assistance.
So! How do you sell books without a single self-promotional tweet, post, or video?
Simple. In most cases, you actually shouldn’t be promoting yourself. If the goal is to sell books — or at least make people you don’t know personally curious enough about your book(s) to take action — you are not the product. “Buy my book!” doesn’t work if the reader doesn’t know you or know anything about the book in question.
Instead of self-promotion, think of the path to getting your book in front of readers on social media as a railroad track, with two parallel rails: be yourself, and take yourself out of the equation.
Be yourself. There are lots of names for this, and most of them sound like awful corporate-speak: curation! Branding! But let go of the labels. Being yourself on social media doesn’t mean sharing every last little thing. You’re not going to see Instagram posts from me about taking my car to the mechanic last Tuesday or the ancient celery I just found in the back of my produce drawer. But it means posting or talking about the things that interest you, especially where those things overlap with the books you write. If you’re spending some of your time on social media connecting with people who enjoy reading the books you like to read, chances are that when you have a book of your own to talk about, they’ll enjoy hearing about that too.
If you’ve never formatted a book before, you might not know exactly how much work goes into it. It might seem easy and uniform—it just needs to look like a book, right?—but you’d be surprised just how many decisions you’ll need to make if you’re formatting on your own. Among the most important of these will be the font you choose for your book.
Think of it like this: picking a bad font for your book is much like picking a bad cover. Even if you’ve got the best content in the world, a reader is much less likely to buy or read it if it looks cheaply or badly made.
Let’s talk a little about fonts, why they matter, and how to pick the perfect one for your project.
. . . .
What is the easiest font to read in a book?
So, before we talk about exactly which fonts to use, let’s go over some terminology. The first choice you’ll need to make is serif v. sans serif. What does that mean?
Serif fonts are those fonts with little ridges on them. Think Times New Roman or Georgia—the little feet and embellishments on certain letters make the words flow together in a way that isn’t confusing. It keeps the eye moving, basically.
A sans-serif font does exactly the opposite. These fonts don’t have these details on them, making the letters smooth and unconnected. Think Arial or Calibri. The space between letters makes each letter clearer, which can enhance readability.
Generally, books are written in serif fonts because of how they lead the reader’s eye. Because the space between letters helps readability, sans serif fonts are generally reserved for large text editions of books.
While there’s no solid consensus on exactly which font is the best for your book, a few popular choices are: Georgia, Tisa, Merriweather, and Rooney.
. . . .
You don’t want to stick out
When you’re picking a font for a book, you don’t want something that the reader is going to notice. You don’t want it to stick out as a strange choice—in something like a logo, you might want a memorable, notable font, but in a book, you want it to blend in.
Sometimes, on the copyright page of a book, the font will be listed with the other publication info. Check for this the next time you’re reading a physical book and see if you notice any patterns. Do fantasy books tend to stick to a certain font family? Do nonfiction books? Keep that info in mind when you go to pick out a font for yourself, so you’re picking something that will blend in without the reader even realizing it.
You want to stay on-theme
Picking a neutral font, or a font you’ve seen before, shouldn’t be a choice you make at random. While you don’t want your choice to be overt to the reader, you also want it to be intentional.
We rarely think of words and letters as ‘images,’ but they are! And the way you choose to present your words will impact the way a reader thinks about the text, even if only in a very subtle way. You know how some people get flashbacks to college papers when they see Times New Roman? We want to avoid that.
Your blurb (aka Production Description on Amazon) has one — and only one — purpose: to make the reader an offer s/he can’t refuse.
How do I know?
Because over the years, I’ve written hundreds — more likely thousands — of blurbs.
From the slush pile to the editor’s office.
When I started out in publishing at Bantam, my first assignment was to slog through the slush pile.
The second? Write the d*mn blurbs.
Because no one else wanted to.
I was clueless and inexperienced, but I learned right away that the “real editors” (unlike novice moi) didn’t like (hated) writing blurbs.
Not knowing any better or even what to do, and too intimidated to ask for advice, I studied the company’s current releases. I paid special attention to:
1— the front cover tag line
2 — the back cover sell block
3 — the first page (more sell text)
When I finished emulating them as best I could, I was required to take my efforts to my boss, the Managing Editor, a savvy old-timer, for his OK. We met in his office almost every morning when he would go over my attempts and show me in word-by-word detail how my blurbs could be improved.
Which was by a lot.
. . . .
Those blurbs went through draft after draft until the ME was satisfied, and I was unleashed on the next month’s list. And so it went, book after book, month after month, year after year.
I learned to write headlines, how to use reviewers’ quotes to their best advantage, how to write short, appealing sell blocks.
I wrote blurbs for genres ranging from westerns (Louis L’Amour anyone?) to nurse romances, from to scifi to classics, from horror and thrillers, from gothic suspense (remember Victoria Holt?) to mysteries, and big-ticket mmpb reprints of hardcover bestsellers to which Bantam had acquired the rights.
. . . .
After the ME retired, I endured an epically neurotic and insecure EIC who stroked his mustache and agonized over whether compelling or fascinating was preferable.
After lengthy consideration, he would — finally! — make a decision.
The next day, he’d require me to rewrite the d*mn thing again. Under his direction, I’d swap compelling with unforgettable and, after the obligatory period of extended anguish, he’d finger his mustache and bestow his approval.
And back again the day after that, when he would reverse his second opinion and I would have to replace unforgettable with memorable.
He would hem and haw, dither and dawdle, furrow his brow, and pull at his mustache while I wracked my brain for another synonym for whatever adjective was currently causing him such psychic pain.
In the end, only the demands of the printer’s stringent deadlines forced him to eventually make a decision.
One of the main benefits that traditional publishers say they offer authors is marketing and promotion expertise.
PG will note that none of the individuals mentioned in the OP gives any indication that they had any training, experience or background that suited them for writing advertising copy, which is what a blurb is.
Does a literature degree prepare one to write compelling advertising copy? Does a creative writing degree prepare one to write compelling advertising copy?
PG thinks not.
A very long time ago, PG worked for a massive advertising agency with clients spending many millions of dollars for compelling advertising. Fall short in that task and the agency lost the account to another agency that did a better job. If the agency lost an account, people expected to be fired.
PG was not in the creative department, but he worked with people in the creative department because he was responsible for talking with the client about what the client was looking for and making sure the client would be happy with what the agency produced.
During that time, PG worked with copywriters who wrote copy for print ads, billboards, television commercials, etc.
PG thought he was a pretty good writer, but these folks were writing geniuses. They always had limited space (billboards, for one example) limited time (for television and radio commercials), but the most important challenge they had to overcome was limited attention span on the part of people who would be reading what they wrote.
The agency had conducted studies concerning consumer attention spans for advertising materials. PG doesn’t remember specifics, but the bottom line was that an advertisement had only a low-single-digit number of seconds to engage a reader/viewer, etc. Failure meant the consumer’s attention went somewhere else, and the advertisement did no good for the client. If there were many failures, the client went somewhere else and management took a close look at the people involved in the failure to keep the client satisfied.
Everybody involved would have been fired if a brand-new copywriter was assigned to write advertising copy for anything more than the in-house announcement of the Agency Christmas Party without going through a serious learning curve working with a very experienced copywriter. PG doesn’t ever remember the agency hiring anyone to write copy straight out of college. It was more efficient to watch for good copywriters at smaller agencies and pirate the best who were already trained.
One final point: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Sayers, Don DeLillo, Joseph Heller and Helen Gurley Brown each worked as advertising copywriters early in their careers .
What was it like seeing book sales explode during the coronavirus pandemic? Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s president and CEO, couldn’t help quoting Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
“A lot of people had extra time at home and they turned to books,” Karp said. Virtual sales and appearances, meanwhile, “made it easier to reach readers directly.”
Still, it’s been a rocky 18 months for U.S. publishers, whose jobs are defined by predictability: They work on monthslong publishing schedules, orchestrate book tours and promotional plans and calibrate printings based on expectations.
As COVID-19 swept across the world last year, they had to throw many of those plans out the window — canceling tours, delaying books and having their media rollouts drowned out by breaking news. Nevertheless, fueled by online sales and the demand of the quarantined and bored, total unit sales for print books in the generally flat industry rose 8% between 2019 and 2020, according to NPD BookScan.
This fall promises something almost as valuable as a boom year: a return to some semblance of normal.
“This year, we’re not letting the pandemic dictate our decisions,” said Reagan Arthur, publisher and executive vice president of Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House. “The pandemic’s been with us longer than some of these books have, and so we scheduled them having a much better sense of how we would publish them, whatever the current climate was.”
It’s been a strong 2021 for adult fiction, led by Amazon bestsellers such as Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds,” Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library” and Laura Dave’s “The Last Thing He Told Me.” This fall is equally promising, with new titles from crossover literary stars including Richard Powers, Anthony Doerr, Jonathan Franzen, Sandra Cisneros and debut thriller novelist Hillary Rodham Clinton (with Louise Penny).
. . . .
The pandemic fueled some surprising — and perhaps temporary — areas of growth. George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” is among Amazon’s top 20 bestsellers of the year (so far). And last March, just as the state was preparing for its first shutdown, Albert Camus’ “The Plague” was flying off of the shelves of local stores.
. . . .
Tobi Harper, deputy director at Red Hen Press, has noticed an uptick in reader interest in dark fiction. (Dystopia has certainly dominated critical attention.) Last fall, even before the rise of phenom Amanda Gorman, it was poetry. “Any time of extreme political turmoil,” Harper said, “there’s a noticeable jump in poetry sales.”
Sales of Japanese manga skyrocketed 243%, according to NPD BookScan, making it the largest adult fiction category in the U.S. Those sales are expected to decline as people return to offices and schools and reading habits revert to the mean.
. . . .
Whatever normal looks like, it’s clear to publishers that we aren’t there yet.
Last year, after book tours were canceled, authors took to virtual platforms to promote their books, wiping out a major source of revenue for bookstores. Though online sales have buoyed publishing, they tend to help those with established platforms. Bricks-and-mortar shops, which operate through hand sales, recommendations and word of mouth, remain an important avenue for up-and-coming authors.
“An author who has a strong presence or following can certainly sell a lot of books at virtual events,” says Burnham of HarperCollins, “but it’s harder for newer voices to get the kind of sales that you might get from in-person events versus virtual, because there’s so much competition for people’s time in the evenings.”
Going into the fall, many writers are doing hybrid events — while keeping a close eye, day by day, on the surging Delta variant.
. . . .
The country’s varying reactions to the health crisis have posed a major challenge in planning tours and readings.
“Every state responds differently, counties respond differently, and that certainly impacts artists that want to be connecting with the world,” Lewis said.
Harper at Red Hen said they’re not counting on a fully open country this fall.
“We’re trying not to depress our authors by saying things like that quite so intensely, but basically we’re saying, ‘If you want to do an in-person event, let’s talk to the bookstore and see how they’re living,’” Harper said.
As PG has mentioned before, he thinks more than a few authors dislike book tours. Moving from city to city to present your speil at a new bookstore every night might sound fun at first, but, for an introvert, that experience can be pretty stressful. If attendance is light, the experience can be downright depressing.
Certainly, a great many traditionally-published authors want so seem cheerful and upbeat to encourage their publishers to put lots of money and effort behind new releases, but PG wonders if, five or ten years from now, whether one of the many unexpected consequences of Covid is the end of the book tour.
The subscription e-newsletter platform Substack has already made its mark on the media business, but will it do the same for book publishing? Authors including Elle Griffin, John McWhorter, Maggie Stiefvater, and Matt Taibbi use the service to serialize new books or publish short stories exclusive to their newsletter audiences, but to date, the platform is still only dipping its toes into the book business. Still, Substack provides authors—the latest of whom is Anand Giridharadas, an editor-at-large for Time, political analyst for MSNBC, and former New York Times correspondent—with some interesting options upon which to capitalize.
Giridharadas will serialize the first two chapters of his 2014 book, The True American: Murder and Mystery in Texas, in his newsletter, The.Ink, which goes out, he said, to an audience of “tens of thousands” of free subscribers and a smaller list of paid subscribers. The book, PW wrote in its starred review, “follows the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs after 9/11, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot by Stroman but survived.” It is, our reviewer said, “an affecting story of forgiveness and redemption” centered around “the author’s penetrating portraits of the two men.” The book has sold nearly 15,000 copies in all print formats at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.
Over the course of eight days, Giridharadas will publish the first two chapters of the book—each one focusing on one of its two principal characters and broken into four newsletters each—in both text form and audiobook segments, which will also be offered free of charge via Audible. (The first installment was published today.) The excerpts will be sent via newsletter and live in blog form as web pages on The.Ink, hosted by Substack. Giridharadas will also open his paid subscriber Zoom sessions to all for virtual book club discussions beginning on August 31. The arrangement is particularly interesting considering that the book has already been published—and that its publisher, W.W. Norton, greenlit the project without any licensing fees.
. . . .
Giridharadas saw the possibility of a new audience now, but “books only land once, and in this case, I had this ongoing frustration or sense of a missed opportunity.” So he contacted Norton, telling them he wanted “to give this book another shot at the conversation, and to land in the conversation now that these very dark portents of the book have have kind of materialized and become not fringe-y things but central things.”
At first, Giridharadas said, he and his publisher talked about “very conventional things, like, do I write a new foreword? Or do we reissue the book with a new cover?” But Norton didn’t see a reissue as the way to go.
“In this case, we chose not to reissue,” Alexa Pugh, v-p and publishing manager at Norton Trade Paperbacks, wrote in an email to PW. “One of the first (though not only) things we look for in a reissue candidate is the need to refresh the package to appeal to a new readership, often a more modern one if the book was published many years ago. But we agreed that the cover has held up nicely since it original publication in 2014, which lent support to the idea of pursuing a different method to get the book back out there. We also saw other ways that Anand could make the connection to current events outside of adding new material to the book itself in a new edition, such as through the book club he’ll be conducting as part of the newsletter campaign.”
Ultimately, both parties landed on using Giridharadas’s newsletter, which he launched last August, positing that its intimate nature, and the personal connection he has developed with its readers through it, would be their best shot at bringing the book back into the conversation. It was a new arrangement for both parties, and not without its challenges. Giridharadas, for one did not like the idea of licensing the content. But Norton agreed to let him reuse the first two chapters without any financial arrangement. Pugh noted that Audible “was also happy to coordinate with us” to include audio excerpts matching the serialized chapters at no cost.
When advance reading copies (ARCs) of Sally Rooney’s new novel Beautiful World, Where Are You were sent out in May, there was a flurry of social media posts. A lucky selection of editors, writers and influencers flaunted their copies; others bemoaned not having been granted one. Soon listings for proof copies (which are clearly marked “not for resale”) started to appear on trading sites such as eBay and Depop. One copy, listed on eBay by a seller in North Carolina, sold in June for $209.16.Even the canvas tote bag that Rooney’s publicists had been sending out with the ARC copies was fetching prices in the region of $80.
As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, advance copies of popular and classic novels have long been collector’s items: a rare proof copy of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, for example, or classics by authors such as Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck can sell for up to £30,000, while Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads, which will be published in October,sold earlier this month on eBay for £124.
But this high demand for ARCs of books that are yet to be published has only emerged recently, fuelled in part by the rise of book bloggers and influencers.
“Part of the purpose of proofs is to make people get to feel like they’re in an exclusive club,” said Adam Howard, who works for Scribe Publications. “But it happened with the Sally Rooney on a scale we’ve never seen before.”
Posting under hashtags such as #Galleybrag, Instagram influencers show off the advanced copies of novels to which they were granted access. Among these, Rooney’s forthcoming Beautiful World, Where Are You is by far the most prized. Given the social currency that a selfie with an advance copy of the novel can carry, Howard is not surprised that people are prepared to pay large sums to get their hands on it.
“When a book appears on social media months before official release, other bloggers and readers go mad for it,” said Dan Bassett, a Bristol bookseller and blogger who is regularly sent galley copies of forthcoming titles. “This has led to people selling them though market places, with others asking people like myself if I would sell it to them.”
However, the sale of ARCs is a legal grey area. Advance copies are clearly marked as not for sale, and publishers remain their legal owners. This means that technically, a publishing house could recall an ARC at any time – but this is largely unheard of. And since proofs of big releases have only recently become such a hot commodity, publishers have not traditionally had to police ARC sales stringently – and have generally been willing to turn a blind eye to a small number of proofs being sold in charity shops.
It’s not exactly a conspiracy theory, but if PG was hired to do some on-the-cheap promotion for an upcoming traditionally-published book, he might use a few social media accounts to do exactly what’s described in the OP, then have someone contact the Guardian books editor with a hot tip and some screenshots.
If you’re an author, you need a solid marketing strategy to boost the visibility of your brand and grow traffic to your website.
Fortunately, in 2021 there are many advertising ideas you can use for free.
As a self-publisher, you can take advantage of one of many free advertising ideas to promote your business with no money.
If you wrote an ebook, Amazon Kindle Publishing is with no doubt the best place for free advertising.
Make sure you also take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin. The best one depends on your industry and audience.
93% of marketers say that video marketing is an important part of their strategy. That’s because it’s an engaging form of content, with billions of users watching one billion hours every day.
If you don’t want to try new content formats, make sure you create a blog. You can repurpose parts of your ebook content to grow an online audience that will be interested in reading more about a certain topic.
(Large infographic omitted, but it contains a good part of the information in the OP)
Not everybody thinking/looking at/considering self-publishing is in the same place with regard to how much they know about online and other self-created promotional ideas.
The OP talks a great deal about “free” strategies and tools authors can use to promote their work.
PG notes that all “free” publicity/advertising/etc. takes time. If the author does it herself, it requires the author’s time and energy to pursue. Every author has some limits on the amount of time she can spend doing writing, promotion or anything else.
If time is money (or time spent doing one thing is time that isn’t available for doing something else), then time isn’t actually free in economic terms.
On a very simple basis, an author could use the time spent on self-promotion to do more writing instead.
The bottom line is whether a creator’s time is best spent on creating more or selling what has already been created.
Of course, in some cases, an author doesn’t really have a choice because there’s no one who will promote her books other than herself.
The alternative is, of course, to pay someone to do something the author could do. The person being paid might be better at promoting the author’s work than the author is due to a better talent for promotion, more experience doing promotion, etc., etc.
PG’s point is that, if an author has the means to hire someone else to do any of a variety of things, spending some money to hire help may be more effective than learning and spending the time necessary to do the job herself, particularly if the author doesn’t already know something about advertising, promotion, etc.
Just because releasing, promoting and selling the author’s first book involved no one but the author doesn’t mean that, if the first book is generating some money, repeating the same strategy over and over again makes the most economic use of the author’s limited time.
During my career in publishing, several factors have led to self-publishing becoming a viable and profitable path for authors. These include:
The growth of ebook sales, which in some ways replaces the mass-market paperback
The rise of online retail: the majority of books are now sold online regardless of format—and we all know where, at least in the US
The advent of print-on-demand (POD) technology and distribution
This last one has been of tremendous benefit to traditional publishers and authors alike. It means that no one has to take a financial risk on a print run when demand is uncertain. Nor does anyone need to worry about warehousing and inventory management. Rather, the book is printed only when an order is placed, then it’s immediately dispatched to the customer.
As of 2021, most readers cannot tell if the paperback they’re holding in their hands is print-on-demand or from a traditional offset printer. Even hardcover print-on-demand is seeing an increase in sales and acceptance by consumers. Yes, print-on-demand carries carries a higher unit cost (and thus lower profits), and it has some design and production limitations. But for the average self-publishing author, this makes publishing more accessible and affordable than it has ever been. (The same is true for small presses, of course.)
As more and more books get purchased online, it doesn’t matter if your books are available on a physical bookstore shelf or not. You don’t need a bricks-and-mortar presence for your book to be discovered and purchased. All you need is a product page at the major online retailers. Readers won’t know how the book is printed or that it’s only printed when they order it, or they may prefer a digital edition.
Print distribution using POD can be set up quickly by anyone, at no or little cost, using Amazon and Ingram. Amazon KDP is the portal that self-publishing authors use to upload their book for sale in both print and ebook formats. Ingram is the biggest book distributor in the world, and authors can access its distribution network through IngramSpark. Cost is minimal, about $50 for initial setup and $25 per year after that. Ingram sells to anyone and everyone who buys books, including your independent bookstore, libraries, chains; it also has a global distribution network that reaches just about any country you can expect to sell in. Your book is available to be ordered at thousands of retailers once it’s active in Ingram’s system.
So quality distribution is not hard. It can be obtained by anyone by simply signing up and uploading printer-ready book files or ebook files.
So why do people talk about the need for “distribution” so much if distribution is essentially free for all?
Some people conflate book distribution with having a sales and marketing team.
There are two types of distributors in traditional book publishing. One type of distributor actually sells the book into retailers, in significant quantities. Sales reps pitch specific accounts or buyers. They try to secure orders for hundreds or thousands of books prior to the publication date. This makes a lot of sense in a traditional publishing model where there’s a print run and you’re trying to generate as much interest and demand as possible in the lead up to publication, to get as many books on shelves as possible. The print run might even be adjusted based on how much accounts order.
The other type of distributor simply ships books when they’re ordered. They take care of warehousing and fulfillment. They are not selling and marketing books, but they are also taking a smaller cut of sales than the type of sales-responsible distributor discussed above.
Ingram is a bit of a confusing character in all this because it handles both types of distribution. But for the purposes of self-publishing authors, it really only serves the latter role: it makes books available to be ordered. Your book is included in its database of thousands upon thousands of titles. But they’re not actively going out and selling or marketing titles to accounts, any more than Amazon has a sales force that sells your ebook or POD book.
If you’re investing in a print run, then distribution is in fact a major challenge
Imagine spending thousands of dollars to pay an offset printer to ship you 1,000 print copies of your book. The books have arrived at your front door on a pallet. Now what? How will you get these books into retailers’ hands? Where will you store them? Who will ship them? This is a big problem and it used to be that authors relied on Amazon Advantage to solve it. But Amazon Advantage is now closed to new accounts.
It is exceedingly difficult to distribute print books as an author when you do a print run. You really need to be working with a service company of some kind, or a hybrid publisher, or someone who can warehouse the books and fulfill orders for you over the long term, who has a relationship with Ingram, Amazon, and so on. There is no realistic way for a single-title author to work directly with either of those companies unless you’re using their print-on-demand services.
There are a relatively small group of blogs and websites that almost always have information that PG thinks is quite worthwhile. Jane Friedman’s blog is one of that group. She sometimes has guest bloggers from time to time who also usually do a good job as well, but Jane is very consistently quite good.
Are you wondering how to launch a self published book in 2021? If you’re planning to release a new book in the next few months, that question should be at the top of your book promotion list.
Often, authors use one factor to determine the best time to launch a book: the manuscript is finally complete and they’ve sent it off for publication. They’ll launch “whenever it’s ready.”
But timing is important, so you’ll want to take some ownership of that date instead of leaving it up to others.
Understanding Traditional Publisher Timelines
Publishing a book and the associated timelines for launching it used to be pretty simple: new releases came out in Spring, in Summer, or in Fall/Winter. These days, books are slotted into the areas that fit them best, rather than being put into a season to fill the publisher’s book list for that particular time of year.
If you’ve ever worked with a traditional publisher, you probably know that they plan far in advance. Mostly this is due to all of the pre-work that they need to do for a title, especially in terms of possible bookstore consideration.
Typically, publishers select and confirm titles 12 to 18 months ahead of their actual street date.
But traditional publishers also want to meet consumer demands – which is why books appear relatively quickly when they’re focused on hot topics (politics, for example), unexpected events (such as the death of a celebrity), or trends.
Remember the prevalence of books on hygge, succulents, and the Caveman Diet that flooded the shelves a few months (or years) back?
Publishers call books like these “drop in” titles because they “drop into” their list of releases with little or no advance warning.
This background knowledge about publishing is useful if you’re considering how to launch a self published book. If your topic isn’t tied to the news cycle or lifestyle trends, you can easily research your competition from traditional publishers.
Let’s say that you find out that Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, and Martha Beck are all publishing some sort of relationship/dating book in the same month you were planning to target major national media (national magazines and national broadcast media such as major morning shows or NPR) to launch your book.
What should you do? Well, I’d move my book launch to another month because big media is going to focus on big names. Better to give your book a less crowded playing field.
But if you aren’t targeting big media, I would honestly have no problem launching your book in the same month. Why? Because you aren’t competing for the same targets, and you just might benefit from the rising tide effect.
By this, I mean that the interest in the relationship market may surge with all of these hot titles coming out, so why not add yours as a possible choice for consumers?
How Can I Find Out What Books Are Launching and When?
That’s a great question and the easy answer is: read the trades. Publishers Weekly routinely offers advance publication information, and it’s a periodical you can find at many libraries.
Publishers Marketplace is a paid service that is super useful for those considering how to launch a self published book. For $25 a month you can sign up to get access to all sorts of publishing information and release dates. It’s well worth the money, even if you only use it for a month.
As anyone who clicks through to the OP will discover, the unidentified author of the OP is someone who sells marketing assistance to authors.
There is nothing wrong with this way of making money and PG doesn’t recall (not the gold standard, but all PG has to work with) hearing or seeing anything negative about Author Marketing Experts.
However, as with a great many well-written online information pieces, this one provides some ideas, but not a complete solution or all the answers. PG wouldn’t have expected to do so. When he’s doing online research concerning a topic about which he doesn’t know very much about, he looks for a variety of pieces of information, sometimes clipping and saving various pieces into Evernote, Google Keep or a similar app so he builds a mini information repository.
Once he has made himself a bit knowledgeable about the topic, whatever it may be, if PG needs to hire someone to do something for him, he’s in a better position to know what he wants someone to do for a fee and what he thinks he can do for himself, in part because he has learned what some other people/organizations charge for this sort of thing.
Short Opinion Concerning Social Media Marketing
PG didn’t dig deeply enough into the Author Marketing Experts website to see whether or not they provide paid Social Media Marketing advice.
Some social media marketing consultants/services charge a great deal to help a newbie do social media marketing for a book (or anything else).
While PG has neve hired anyone to do this, he has heard some good and some bad stories about the experiences of others who venture into the social media marketing world with the help of others.
One alternative that PG doesn’t recall seeing anywhere that he thinks might be worth a try is to locate and hire one or more college students to help an author build a social media marketing platform and presence and to gain quality followers for the author’s various social media marketing accounts.
He suggests this for three primary reasons:
As a rule, college students are willing to work on something that interests themwithout charging an arm and a leg for doing so. It’s way more fun than working in fast-food or the university bookstore.
A great many college students are social media natives and have been active on a variety of major social media platforms for a long time (relatively speaking). They’re social media natives, the kind that PG sometimes observes in local restaurants sitting in a small group at a table, looking at their screens, thumb-typing madly and making occasional comments to their table-mates. A great many authors are not social media natives.
The experience might be material for a student’s future resumé when it’s time to look for a job. “I created and managed the social media marketing program and platforms for a rising-star author. My strategy gained the author 250,000 new Instagram followers in the first six months and doubled monthly sales of her books during that same period.”
In its second-quarter report today (August 6), Sweden’s Storytel–the international marketplace’s most aggressively expansive service in the audiobook field–has reported streaming sales up 19 percent over Q2 2020 and a deepening subscriber base that jumped 29 percent year-over-year.
An understandable point of pride leads the report from Jonas Tellander and his team in Stockholm, writing to shareholders, “On July 20, 2021, Storytel met yet another important milestone when the service surpassed 1 million paying subscribers in the Nordic region.” Always loyal base of operations to Storytel, the Nordic markets clearly have established themselves now as a secure, responsive foundation for the company’s growth.
That milestone of 1 million Nordic subscribers, the company writes, “indicates an average penetration level of the adult population in the Nordic countries of 5 percent. With an 18-percent subscriber growth and 16-percent revenue growth year-over-year in Q2 2021, the Nordic countries form a solid and profitable base for continuous growth.”
Outside the Nordic concentration, Storytel saw an average 643,300 paying subscribers in its second quarter. It’s interesting to watch the company make pricing adjustments in its 25 markets, some of them quite distinct in their challenges—especially during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, and always watching average revenue per user as a guide.
. . . .
In its home market of Sweden, Storytel raised its price from 169 to 179 kroner (US$19.49 to $20.65). There were also 9-percent price hikes in the Netherlands (both on unlimited and family subscription models) and a 6-percent rise in price in Belgium. Even in hard-hit India—where prices of books and digital media products run far lower than in many other markets of the world–Storytel was able to make an 18-percent price raise on some products.
By contrast, “The price in Spain,” today’s report reads, “has been lowered from €12.99 to €10.99 (US$15.28 to $12.92) to better reflect the reduced purchasing power in the country.”
. . . .
On the broader scale, it’s still expected that we’ll see a rollout this year of the partnership with Spotify announced by Storytel on May 20. “We want everyone to have access to great stories,” Tellander said at the time, “and today Storytel offers more than 500,000 audiobooks on a global basis across 25 markets.
PG noted the average Revenue per User metric that Storytel uses to guide its pricing decisions.
He regards this as a much smarter pricing approach than most of the book business uses. Rather than focusing on sales or revenues for a single book (typical of a lot of traditional publishers), the revenue per user applies a longer time horizon and is focused on overall long-term user satisfaction with the service.
He’s reminded of a conversation he had with a fellow employee at a large financial services firm during PG’s first job out of college. One day, during a casual not-particularly-work-related conversation with a work friend, PG opined that most successful businesses focused on maximizing their profits.
PG’s fellow worker, an economist, corrected him. “When pricing its goods or services, a successful business focuses on optimizing its profits.”
PG’s friend continued to explain that maximizing profit invariably evolved into a short-term mindset – what is the highest price we can get for this product right now – whereas focusing on profit optimization was a much more successful approach because it included factors like “How can we price the product to sell the most units?” and “How can we price the product so customers will purchase it over and over for a period of years?”
From focusing on profit optimization comes measurements like average revenue per user, the lifetime value of a customer, overall customer satisfaction and teaching the customer that it’s worth looking for future products from a business (including an author) because they offer good value at a reasonable price.
From an advertising and promotion standpoint, it often requires the most spending and effort to catch a customer’s attention and persuade hin/her to try out the product. This is one reason why offering a free book, a free first month of service, free candy bar, etc., is used so often.
Prospective customers, at least in most capitalist economies, have a lot of different choices about what they spend their money on. The reader can, of course, choose from a great many different books, but the reader can also choose to watch a streaming movie instead of reading a book (or see the movie instead of reading the book from which the movie originated), go out to lunch or dinner with friends, watch a sporting event, surf the web, etc., etc.
Even voracious readers do other things sometimes. A business can’t take its customers for granted. An author can’t take her readers for granted. Additionally, no author can write fast enough to keep up with the reading speed of her most enthusiastic fans. Unless they’re very strange, they’re certain to read other books by other authors.
Average revenue per user, optimizing sales and profits, attracting a loyal reader base and similar marketing strategies lead to the last metric PG will mention.
The lifetime value of a customer.
Unless you provide a product that a customer will age out of – clothes for teenagers pops into PG’s head – the longer you can keep a customer happy, the more money you will earn from their purchases, assuming you provide more quality products for them to purchase.
As mentioned above, it took time, effort and, quite possibly money, to acquire that customer in the first place. You may have provided the customer something of value – a free or underpriced book (AKA loss-leader) in order to gain them as a reader initially, but when they read that first book, enjoyed it and looked for another book you wrote, the cost of generating the second sale required only a fraction of the effort and money the first sale required.
You never “own” or “capture” a customer or reader. In an economy that offers more books to read than any single person could ever consume in a dozen lifetimes, you still need to please that reader with books that follow your first, second, third, etc., book. But the direct value to you of a customer who purchase 20, 30 or more books you have written is quite substantial. Unless that customer is a hermit, she/he will have told other people about your books and your reader’s recommendations will have sold additional books.
PG probably made his point several paragraphs ago, but it’s amazing how many authors, musicians, etc., end up being one-hit wonders.
You don’t need to walk around with a marching band and a megaphone, but never stop thinking about how you can delight your customers. AKA, never stop selling.
“Ballet was full of dark fairy tales,” Megan Abbott observes in her new novel, The Turnout, noting that “how a dancer prepared her pointe shoes was a ritual as mysterious and private as how she might pleasure herself.” These mysterious and private rituals of young women—these “dark fairy tales”—are at the heart of Abbott’s work. Over the course of ten novels, she’s explored the violence and crime that pervade American girlhood. In Dare Me, competitive cheerleaders become suspects in a murder case. In The Fever, an outbreak of illness is tied to the “enigmatic beauty, erotic and strange” of a small-town high school. While undoubtedly one of our best crime novelists, Abbott has also always struck me as akin to an anthropologist; she not only explores the hidden subcultures of teenage girls but reveals the coded language and shared ethos of their cliques and sects, the way their secrets are not merely secrets but a means of expressing forbidden eroticism, dreams, and rage. In The Turnout, Abbott delves into the rarified world of ballerinas, astutely noting the symbols and signals underlying the romantic image. “There was such a boldness to this girl, a barbarism to her,” she notes. “This pink waif, her tidy bun.”
. . . .
What drew you to write about ballerinas in The Turnout?
When I was seven or eight, I took ballet classes at this strip mall dance studio where two sisters—twins, actually—were the main teachers. They were so beautiful, in that classically ballet way, and seemed to contain mysteries. I was fascinated by them, their bodies, their rigor, their coolness and elegance. And their wordless exchanges with each other. I wondered what they were like out of the studio. Did the coolness ever slip? Did they have grand romances? Were they close? Growing up in suburban Detroit, I was always yearning for a glamour that felt just beyond, and they seemed to embody everything I longed for—mystery, exoticism, self-containment. And they looked like they held secrets. They became the spark.
Did the coolness ever slip?
Never. At least not that I saw. But it also seemed so hard to imagine how I—as one of those pigeon-breasted, awkward little girls—would ever become that. It felt unreachable.
I wish I’d had a glamorous teacher! My ballet teacher was very plain and just incredibly unforgiving. I was knock-kneed and shy, and she gave me such a hard time that I dropped out. Meanwhile, my best friend was confident and stuck with it, but later she struggled with anorexia. The rigor and cruelty of ballet are pretty hidden from the public, who just see the tutus and plies. I can see how that contradiction would also interest you.
Exactly! I was just writing something about that same tension. The idea with ballet, as it is with femininity or womanhood itself, is to hide your work. Keep the fantasy alive.
. . . .
You mentioned being inspired by your own ballet teachers, whom you found secretive and glamorous. The teachers in the novel, Dara and Marie, seem to be antiglamour, a bit wounded and angry.
I guess for me they are glamorous. One of the weirdnesses of writing fiction, for me at least, is how much I love my characters—not despite their messinesses but because of them. And that’s an adult kind of glamour to me. The extremity of their desires, the shame they carry, the intricate blend of rivalry and deep love in their relationship.
And that rivalry and love is complicated by the fact that they’re teaching young girls—they’re mirroring their mother, who taught them when they were young ballerinas. It allows you to explore these cycles of girlhood and adulthood in a very specific way.
I’ve always thought that was one of the most compelling things about teaching—how you can see versions of yourself. See yourself in the students, as they see a possible future self in you. It’s almost like a haunting. It can be dangerous—as in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie—but I suppose it can save someone’s life, too. It’s a tricky mix of mentorly support and identification. In the case of The Turnout, when it’s familial, too, it’s doubly charged, doubly dangerous, a kind of prison for Dara and Marie—especially somehow for Dara, who hews closer to her mother, who nearly merges with her.
. . . .
The young dancers, like Bailey Bloom, seem to be striving for beauty, but the adults seem warped and broken by age and life—they don’t seem to be fighting for beauty anymore.
Oh, gosh, for me they are. I guess I define or evaluate beauty differently. For me, the struggle and battle scars are beautiful, far more so than ethereal grace. And I don’t consider them warped or broken but beautiful survivors. They came out of a harrowing childhood, they saved one another, and they’re still growing and changing. For instance, Marie’s desire for freedom is moving and lovely. And Dara’s efforts to keep things the same forever—well, that’s the threshold she has to cross, but she’s not ready yet. How do you give up all the things—order, solidarity, discipline—that kept you alive and whole?
The novel has some very startling twists. Do you plan these with outlines, or are you surprised by where the story goes?
I planned the big “plotty” ones early on, but there’s one that surprised me, too. Something emerged for me as I wrote, as I figured out the “between” years of Dara, Marie, and their brother Charlie’s early adolescence and the present day. I realized it had to go in the novel or I’d be cheating. Teasing without risking going into the dark center of it. So I just went for it.
The Amazon product page for The Turnout is huge. The initial blurb about the book is standard size, but down farther, after AlsoBoughts and Related Products, there is a large From The Publisher section that must include some paid ads in the form of large graphic designs containing excerpts from reviews. (It’s not clear to PG whether the blurbs are all for the book on this product page or whether they include excerpts from reviews for earlier books by the same author.
The graphic blurbs are followed by Editorial Reviews consisting of a list of “Best Reads” and “Best Of” mentions for either this book or prior books. (PG wonders how many of these various lists included paid listings.)
This section is followed by a fairly generic About the Author section.
But there’s more!
The About the Author section is followed by a very long excerpt from the book. PG has pasted the excerpt below the Amazon links showing covers below. Note that seeing the excerpt required PG to click on a link to see more information at the bottom of the ad as originally displayed on Amazon.
Is it possible for indie authors to use this much space for their books?
If so, is there anything special that needs to be done in order to open up this extra space?
PG just checked on one of Mrs. PG’s KDP listings and there was still a character limit in place that would not permit nearly as much promotional copy as was included in the Amazon product description for The Turnout.
Any insights from anyone who knows anything about getting more space for an indie listing on Amazon would be appreciated by PG and, likely, a lot of other people as well.
Despite all of the money that Ms. Abbot’s publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin, has apparently spent on promoting her latest book, why doesn’t the Look Inside feature for Amazon’s ebook not work?
The release date in the Amazon product listing is August 3 (five days following the date of this blog post), but is there a reason why the Look Inside feature for the Amazon ebook doesn’t work?
Is this an Amazon thing or a Penguin thing?
For Mrs. PG’s books, PG doesn’t remember anything but typical back-end processing lead time between the upload and the ebook appearance, complete with Look Inside capabilities.
As someone with some experience in online marketing and promotion in prior lives, the accepted wisdom for any sort of online appearance or promotion of a new product happens when the product is available for sale.
Online attention spans are short and if you get someone to view a product blurb, you want click-to-buy to be right there so the prospective purchaser doesn’t forget to buy your product at some later time when it’s actually available.
PG thinks that most savvy advertisers and marketers of physical goods would subscribe to the same philosophy. If you want to sell sausages and spend a lot of effort and money to expose the virtues of your latest sausage flavor to a lot of people, you want them to be able to buy it right now while they remember why it might taste good.
But this is not the way of traditional book publishers.
From PG’s review of the current strategy with the latest book by Ms. Abbot, PG suspects a strategy from an earlier era may be in operation.
Penguin is trying to “build awareness and demand” for the book.
With each passing day, this demand will will build because readers will become more and more obsessed about seeing Ms. Abbot’s newest book at the earliest possible moment.
Readers largely identifying as female, will gather in their coffee klatches (kaffeeklatschen) in Scarsdale, New Canaan, Saddle River, Beacon Hill and Winnetka and talk excitedly about the upcoming release, each one secretly planning to buy it at the local bookstore when it opens on August 3 (a Tuesday) and spend all day reading it so they can be the first to tell their friends how wonderful it is. The non-employed MFA’s in these groups will be in the vanguard of this groundswell (centered on extremely expensive ground in those communities) building towards a rapidly.
Early on Tuesday morning chauffeured vehicles will pack the streets near Brookline Booksmith and other similarly-named booksellers. Since these vehicles include only the most serious readers, they’ll go into the shop themselves instead of directing their chauffeur to do so and buy five copies of The Turnout.
Since Brookline Booksmith, Politics and Prose, Rizzoli Bookstore and their compatriots report their sales to The New York Times, The Turnout will rapidly climb the list, immediately catching the attention of people in Omaha, Nashville, Ocala, Hattiesburg, Pueblo and other hotspots in flyover country.
After that, marketing magic will happen as the tastemakers of Saddle River and Hattiesburg inform everyone they know about The Turnout. Who knows, one of the maids will likely pinch a copy to start the ball rolling among the Little People (a significant, but sometimes overlooked demographic).
Suffice to say, there’s a reason why those who create the marketing and promotion plans plans for traditional publishers don’t work in marketing for Coca Cola, Apple, Nike or Starbucks.
At the end of this rant, PG will acknowledge that Penguin managed to create a book page that is more impactful than any PG has seen for an indie author. There sure is a lot more to read and it looks bigger in PG’s browser than any he can recall seeing before.
And PG will cycle back to his most important question posed much earlier in this post – Is it possible for indie authors to do any of the things on Amazon that Penguin did for Ms. Abbot’s latest release?
Feel free to list any other giant book pages you have found on Amazon in the comments to this post.
Following is the excerpt from the product page that PG mentioned above:
They were dancers. Their whole lives, nearly. They were dancers who taught dance and taught it well, as their mother had.
“Every girl wants to be a ballerina . . .“
That’s what their brochure said, their posters, their website, the sentence scrolling across the screen in stately cursive.
The Durant School of Dance, est. 1986 by their mother, a former soloist with the Alberta Ballet, took up the top two floors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. It had become theirs after their parents died on a black-ice night more than a dozen years ago, their car caroming across the highway median. When an enterprising local reporter learned it had been their twentieth wedding anniversary, he wrote a story about them, noting their hands were interlocked even in death.
Had one of them reached out to the other in those final moments, the reporter wondered to readers, or had they been holding hands all along?
All these years later, the story of their parents’ end, passed down like lore, still seemed unbearably romantic to their students-less so to Marie, who, after sobbing violently next to her sister, Dara, through the funeral, insisted, I never saw them hold hands once.
But the Durant family had always been exotic to others, even back when Dara and Marie were little girls floating up and down the front steps of that big old house with the rotting gingerbread trim on Sycamore, the one everyone called the Hansel and Gretel house. Dara and Marie, with their long necks and soft voices. Their matching buns and duckfooted gait, swathed in scratchy winter coats, their pink tights dotting the snow. Even their names set them apart, sounding elegant and continental even though their father was an electrician and a living-room drunk and their mother had grown up eating mayonnaise sandwiches every meal, as she always told her daughters, head shaking with rue.
From kindergarten until fifth and sixth grade, Dara and Marie had attended a spooky old Catholic school on the east side, the one their father had insisted upon. Until the day their mother announced that, going forward, she would be giving them lessons at home, so they wouldn’t be beholden to the school’s primitive views of life.
Their father resisted at first, but then he came to pick them up at the schoolyard one day and saw a boy-the meanest in fifth grade, with a birthmark over his left eye like a fresh burn-trying to pull Marie’s pants down, purple corduroys to Dara’s matching pink. Marie just stood there, staring at him, her fingers touching her forehead as though bewildered, transfixed.
Their father swerved over so fast his Buick came up on the curb, the grass. Everyone saw. He grabbed the little boy by the haunches and shook him until the nuns rushed over. What kind of school, he wanted to know, are you running here?
On the car ride home, Marie announced loudly that she hadn’t minded it at all, what the boy had done.
It made my stomach wiggle, she said much more quietly to Dara in the backseat.
Their father wouldn’t talk to Marie for days. He telephoned the school and thundered at the principal, so loud they heard him from upstairs, in their bunkbed. Marie’s face in the moonlight was shiny with tears. Marie and their father were both mysterious to Dara. Mysterious and alike somehow. Primitive, their mother called them privately.
They never went back.
At home, lessons were different every day. You could never guess. Some mornings, they’d get out the great big globe from their father’s den and Dara and Marie would spin it and their mother would tell them something about the country on which their finger landed. (Singapore is the cleanest country in the world. The punishment for vandalism is caning.) Sometimes, she had to look things up in the mildewed encyclopedia in the den, its covers soft with age. Often, it seemed like she was making things up (In France, there are two kinds of toilets . . .), and they would laugh about it, the three of them, their private jokes.
We are three, their mother used to say. (They were three until they were four, but this was before Charlie came, and all of that.)
But mostly, the day-every day-was about ballet.
Their father was away for work so often, and for so long. To this substation, or to that airfield, doing things with fiber optics-none of them knew, really.
When he was gone, they wore leotards all day and danced for hours and hours, in the practice room, along the second-floor landing, in the backyard thick with weeds. They danced all day, until their feet radiated, tingled, went numb. It didn’t matter.
That was how Dara remembered it now.
House cats. That’s what their mother used to call them, which was funny, if you thought about it, because their mother was the one who kept them home with her. Not one sleepover, nor camping trip, nor a neighbor’s birthday party their entire childhood.
They made their own fun. Once, on Valentine’s Day, they all cut out valentines from faded construction paper and their mother made a lesson for them about love. She talked about all the different kinds of love and how it changed and turned and you couldn’t stop it. Love was always changing on you.
I’m in love, Marie said, like always, talking about the fifth-grade boy with the birthmark who pulled her pants down, who had once hid under her desk and tried to stick a pencil between her legs.
That’s not love, their mother said, stroking Marie’s babyfine hair, brushing the back of her hand against Marie’s forever-pink cheek.
Then she told them their favorite story, the one about a famous ballerina named Marie Taglioni, whose devotees were so passionate they once paid two hundred rubles, a fortune at that time, for a single pair of her discarded pointe shoes. After the purchase, they cooked, garnished, and ate the pointe shoes with a special sauce.
That, their mother told them, is love.
Now, more than two decades later, the Durant School of Dance was theirs.
All day, six days a week for the past more-than-a-dozen years, Dara and Marie taught in the cramped, cozy confines of the same ashen building where their mother had once reigned. Steamy and pungent in the summer and frigid, its windows snow-blurred, in the winter, the studio never changed and was forever slowly falling apart. Often thick with must, overnight rain left weeping pockets in every ceiling corner, dripping on students’ noses.
But it didn’t matter, because the students always came. Over a hundred girls and a few boys, ages three to fifteen, Pre-Ballet I to Advanced IV. And a waitlist for the rest. In the past six years, they’d advanced fourteen girls and three boys to tier-one ballet schools and thirty-six to major competitions.
Every summer, they hired two additional instructors, three on weekends, but during the school year, it was just Dara and Marie. And, of course, Charlie, once their mother’s prize student, her surrogate son, her son of the soul. And now Dara’s husband. Charlie, who couldn’t teach anymore because of his injuries but who ran all the business operations from the back office. Charlie, on whom so many students had passing crushes, a rite of passage, like the first time they took a razor blade to their hardened feet, or the first time they achieved turnout, rotating their legs from their hip sockets, bodies pushed to contortion. Pushed so far, the feeling ecstatic. Her first time, Dara felt split open, laid bare.
The Durant School of Dance was an institution. Children, teens came from three counties to take classes with them. They came with sprightly dreams and limber bodies and hard little muscles and hungry, lean bellies and a desire to enter into the fairy tale that is dance to little girls and a few special little boys. They all wanted to participate in the storied Durant tradition set forth by their mother thirty or more years ago. Encore, ŽchappŽ, ŽchappŽ, watch those knees. Their mother, her voice subdued yet steely, striding across the floor, guiding everything, mastering everything.
But now it was Dara’s and Marie’s voices-Dara’s low and flinty (Shoulders down, lift that leg, higher, higher . . .) and Marie’s light and lilting, Marie calling out Here comes the Mouse King! to all her five-year-olds and bending her feet and hands into claws, the girls screaming with pleasure . . .
Charlie in the back office listening to parents bemoan their child’s lack of discipline, the exorbitant cost of pointe shoes, the holiday schedule, Charlie nodding patiently as mothers spoke in hushed tones about their own long-ago ballet aspirations, of the mad fantasy of tutus and rosin, satin and tulle, floodlights and beaming faces, leaping endlessly into a lover’s waiting arms.
Everything worked, nothing ever changed.
And yet gradually the Durant School of Dance, decades after opening in a former dry goods store with a drooping ceiling, had become a major success.
“I always knew it could be,” Charlie said.
Which one does your daughter have? Dara or Marie?
They look so much alike, but Dara’s dark to Marie’s fair.
They look so much alike, but Dara has the long swan neck and Marie the long colt legs.
Both carry themselves with such poise. They show our daughters grace and bearing.
They bend and twist our squirmy, pigeon-breasted little girls into lithe and lissome dancers. Our girls walk into the Durant School shrill and strident, with the clatter of phones and the slap of flip-flops, and an hour later, they have been transformed into the strong, sweated stillness of an empress, a czarina, a Durant.
Our daughters love them both, especially Marie.
Marie, because she taught the younger ones. Because she would get down on the floor with them, would fix their loose braids and, when they burst into tears, secretly give them strawberry sugar wafers. After class, she might even teach them how to do that dance like their favorite pop singer if they showed her first on their phones. At day’s end, Dara would peek into Marie’s studio, the pastel crush of wafer crumbs, the abandoned hair ribbons and bent bobby pins, and wonder if Marie understood little girls too well.
Dara followed their mother’s model. In her studio, she stood queen-like, her chin jutting like a wolf’s-that’s how Charlie described it-quick to correct, quick to unravel them, the girls with the lazy extension, the girls pirouetting with bent knees.
Someone had to keep up the tradition of rigor, of firm discipline, and it inevitably fell to Dara. Or suited her best. It was hard to tell the difference.
But, for the most part, to all the little girls, their faces upturned, their matching pink tights and scuffed leather slippers-still more to their parents who crowded the lobby, who steamed up the windows, unwrapping their children from fuzzy, puffy coats and nudging them, gently, into the studio-Dara and Marie were the same, but different.
Dara was cool, but Marie was hot.
Dara was dark, but Marie was light.
Dara and Marie, the same but different.
“Every girl wants to be a ballerina . . .”
It was always the photograph that first drew them in. Dark Dara and pale Marie, their heads tilted against each other, matching buns, their feet in relevŽ. The photograph was the first thing you saw when you walked into the studio lobby, or clicked on the website, or picked up the community circular or the sleek lifestyle magazine and saw the glossy ad in the back.
Charlie had taken the photograph and everyone talked about it.
So striking, everyone would say. E-theeeer-real, some would even venture. The littlest girls, padding in in their ballet pinks, would stare up at the photo mounted in the lobby, fingers in their mouths.
Like fairy princesses.
So Charlie took more photos. For the local paper, which featured them regularly, for their marketing materials as the school grew in size. But the photos were always, fundamentally, the same. Dark Dara and pale Marie, poised, close, touching.
Once, a marketing person offered them a free consultation. After observing them in the studio one summer day, sweating in the corner, wilting on the high stool they’d given him, he spoke to Charlie under his breath for a long time. That was how they ended up with the photo of Dara and Marie at the end of a long day, after dancing together in the quiet studio, their bodies loose, their leotards soaked through.
Charlie shot them collapsed upon each other on the floor, their faces pink with pleasure.
“Move closer,” he said from behind the camera. “Closer still.”
Closer still. Back then, it seemed impossible to be any closer. The three of them, so entwined. Charlie was Dara’s husband, but he was also so much more. Dara, Marie, and Charlie, their days spent together at the studio, their nights in their childhood home. Back then.
After the shoot, looking at images on Charlie’s computer, Dara hesitated, imagining what their mother might say of the photos, their bruises and blisters and blackened toenails hidden, their bodies so smooth and perfect and bare. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“They tell a story,” Charlie said.
“They sell a story,” Marie added, snapping her leotard against her damp skin.
Dancers have short lives, of course. What happened to Charlie-his crushing injuries, his four painful surgeries-never left their minds. His body, still as lean and marble-cut as the day their mother brought him home, was a living reminder of how quickly things could turn, how beautiful things could be all broken inside. One had to plan, to make a trajectory. That was what made Dara and Charlie different from Marie, from their parents.
Marie always seemed ready to bolt, but never for long and never far. How far could one get if one still struggled to remember a bank card pin number, and left gas burners lit wherever she went.
So, when Dara and Charlie did marry-at city hall, he in an open-collar shirt and back brace and she in a tissue-thin slip dress that made her shudder on the front steps-he brought with him a small trust fund from his long-deceased father, to be broken open at last like a platinum piggy bank on his twenty-first birthday. The amount was modest, but they used it to pay off the mortgage for the studio building, drooping ceiling and all. They owned it outright. It was theirs.
We’ll do it together, he said.
Of course, he said. We three. We means three.
It was the three of them. Always the three of them. Until it wasnÕt. And that was when everything went wrong. Starting with the fire. Or before.–This text refers to the hardcover edition.
Stacked promos can help you tickle the algos and ride the tsunami.
A great launch strategy well executed can get your book a bestseller badge.
But all these options are pricey—especially a BookBub feature if you can even get one.
And they don’t all necessarily work or don’t work as well as you hoped.
What if your Book is a Dud?
What can you do if the book you’ve worked on had professionally edited, bought a great cover for, hired a pro blurb writer—is a wall flower? The lonely, overlooked guy or girl all primped and ready for the prom, but who just doesn’t get the love?
What if you keep submitting and your book just doesn’t click with BookBub?
What if you can’t afford a BookBub feature even if you could get one?
Or what if your book just isn’t a hot seller in a hot genre?
Do you give up?
Do you weep, wail, gnash your teeth and curse the fates?
Of course you do.
Or, after a bout of weepy, whiny self-indulgence, do you pull yourself together and search for other ways to get where you want to go?
Did You Know that Amazon Wants you to be Successful?
You’re kidding. Right?
No. Definitely not kidding. In fact, you’re wrong.
Of course Amazon wants your book to sell, because the more money you make, the more money they make.
But how do they do that? And how do you get in on the goodies?
Amazon provides every author with access to an exclusive book page whose content you control.
Yes, you probably have a website, but think of your Amazon author page as a website on steroids with two huge advantages.
The first advantage is that every one of your book pages on Amazon contains a clickable link that takes a reader directly to your Amazon author page. The more books, the more clickable links.
That clickable link takes a reader or a prospective buyer one click to find out more about you and all your books. One click ease leads directly to your author page where you can post photographs, videos, and blog posts, where they can view your complete catalog, come-hither covers, yummy blurbs, alluring bio, and reviews, the good, the bad and the not terrible but not-so-hot either.
The second significant advantage to your Amazon author page is that the author page has a big, clickable follow button when readers can sign up to received news about your new releases and pre-orders. Make the most of that follow button by using your email lists and social media to encourage your fans to follow you on Amazon.
The reason is that Amazon will send an announcement to everyone on your “follow” list whenever you have a new release.
Amazon with its powerful marketing muscle and tons of buyer data will send out an alert to each of your followers telling them you have a new book for sale for FREE.
So be sure to claim each new release on your Amazon Author Page and take the time to polish your author page to a high sparkle.
Besides Amazon’s powerful Author Page and clear guidelines, they provide the responsive and helpful Author Central for any issues or glitches you might encounter along the way.
An email or call to Author Central can help:
*Fix and update metadata
*Clean up boo-boos
*Untangle issues with the Series Manager
*Remove scammy reviews because Amazon hates misuse of its review system as much as you do
*Remove early, outdated editions of your ebooks (but not print editions)
This detailed, easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide by Dave Chesson will guide you through the process of setting up your Author Page in Author Central. There are pointers about how to make the most of your Author Page.
Tip: I have found that if your first attempt to resolve a glitch fizzles, giving Author Central a second chance can result in a different outcome—so don’t give up if the issue persists. Just try, try again.
BookBub is On Your Side, Too
BookBub, with 20 million followers, will also put its powerful marketing muscle to work for you and your books. At the BookBub subscriber sign up, readers indicate which genres they prefer and where they purchase their eBooks—at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google.
Like Amazon, BookBub provides several tools for authors to get the word out about themselves and their books, and get their books in front of that large audience of readers. According to BookBub many of their subscribers are reading a couple of books every month. Some are reading a book a week, or even a book a day!
Bottom line: BookBub subscribers are avid readers and are always looking for new books.
FREE Bookbub Features
Along with its powerful, pricey, and hard-to-get Features, BookBub also provides authors with FREE ways to reach prospective readers whether or not you’re able to score a Feature.
Analogous to Amazon’s Author Page, BookBub offers an Author Profile Page with many of the same customizable features. Go to BookBub’s home page to find the Author Profile tab, and follow the instructions to set up your own Profile page. Any author — trad pubbed or self pubbed — can claim a BookBub Author Profile.
BookBub, like Amazon, will send out new book alerts to your followers and will help drive interest to your pre-orders.
BookBub’s own articles will step you through the process of setting up your author profile and offers tips about how to polish your bio with examples, and explanations of exactly what makes an author bio great. Plus a checklist to help keep you on track.
BookBub’s information-packed articles, like Amazon’s guidelines, offer specific help to step you through every part of the user process from setting up your account to the specifics of launching a new book.
BookBub’s savvy book marketing team also goes into the details of their New Releases For Less program, tips on pricing and discounting strategies, and tutorials on how to target readers via BookBub ads. You will find all this — and more!, as the pitchmen say — on the BookBub blog.
PG has become aware of discontent among some indie authors with BookBub. Basically, that BookBub is rejecting books for paid promotions it would have almost certainly accepted a couple of years ago.
PG hasn’t seen any online information he trusts as reliable about what’s changed with BookBub’s acceptance process, but a look at the free assistance mentioned in the OP might be useful.
New tips on Amazon are almost always helpful. Afterall, that’s where most indie authors want those who click on BookBub or other third-party promotional sites to end up anyway. (No insult to other, perfectly reliable online bookstores intended, just an opinion based on how many ebooks and other books the Zon sells.)
Note: PG usually doesn’t include links in his OP excerpts because they can lead who-knows-where. He’s left the links in this one because Anne and Ruth’s blog has been useful and reliable for a long time plus he clicked on the links to the OP and they link to the sites they describe.
When I first moved to California, it was a dream come true: an office right on the beach in Santa Monica in January. At break time, I ran out onto the sand to the water’s edge and stared in awe at the surf, the sun, and the people playing at the edge of the world. My colleagues chuckled and made comments along the lines of, “You must be new.”
I soon learned that the company I had joined, like so many others, was a bit of a way station for many of its employees. “What do you do?” I’d ask, to replies of, “Oh, I’m an actor,” or, “I write for TV,” or, “I do stand-up comedy.” Not a week went by without someone asking me for some time off to rush to an audition. It seemed LAX was overrun with arrivals dreaming the same dream. Nowhere did I see this more than in the restaurant scene, from Geoffrey’s in Malibu to Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica or Eveleigh’s on the Sunset Strip: everyone working the tables was an actor or writer or artist of some form.
Fast-forward to present-day Silicon Valley, land of a different dream. As venture capitalist Mark Suster recently put it, “The culture is driven by the 20-something irreverent founder with huge technical chops who in a David-versus-Goliath mythology takes on the titans of industry and wins.” The airports here disgorge a stream of would-be entrepreneurs who dream of creating the next unicorn, or billion-dollar startup. And, just like in Hollywood, reality hits soon and hits hard, with many making ends meet through side gigs in the euphemistically named gig economy, be it via DoorDash, Instacart, Lyft, Uber, or other such services.
What is a self-respecting aspirational author to do in such a world—one turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic? It takes time—an enormous amount of time—to write. It’s not trivial to be an ersatz taxi or delivery driver and write competently at the same time.
Yet most authors know it doesn’t pay much to write. Not all things beautiful, whether writing a book or painting or raising a child, are rewarded financially. The rewards are in the doing and in what the author or the painter or the parent brings to the world around them. Enter a new option: the paid subscription newsletter, the best-known version being Substack.
Originally designed to address the crisis in journalism, wherein the ad-supported business model evaporated like the morning dew and the incremental value of professionally written content drifted down to near nothing, paid newsletters give journalists a chance to be compensated directly for their hard work. Many of these writers were recently let go from their media houses. Others, with strong personal brands, believe they can be paid better as independents in control of their own work. A grand experiment is underway, with traditional media outlets like the New Yorker and the New York Times decrying the unravelling of the fifth estate. Look closer at what is actually happening and you’ll see something else—something that looks very familiar to the waiters in L.A. and the Uber drivers in Silicon Valley. For many writers on Substack and similar platforms, writing a paid subscription newsletter is the new side gig.
Take my example. Having published one book on strategy, I was looking for a way to write the next one. I had so much material and needed time, lots of time: time that was flexible enough to allow me to juggle the responsibilities of raising little children and of contributing to paying the bills, all under pandemic lockdown. Every little bit helps, and being paid while writing makes my dream of publishing the next book that much more of a reality. Or the example of JJ Ding, author of the ChinAI newsletter, who juggles graduate studies with corralling a community of dedicated English-Mandarin translators to make the world of AI research underway in China better understood outside the country, reducing the fear and mistrust between China and the U.S.
Or there’s the example of Animatou Sow, author of the Crème de la Crème newsletter, who juggles writing books, posting Instagram stories, and hosting podcasts, which all feature her incisive cultural commentary, such as, “Books are the answer to rampant 21st-century charlatanism.”
PG was generally familiar with Substack prior to reading the OP, but is interested to hear from those more knowledgeable about whether writing a paid subscription newsletter on Substack actually generates much money for most people (excluding extreme outliers).
Christine Smallwood’s recent novel The Life of the Mind— a bleak, funny tour of academia’s outer fringe — offers a lament for the state of email. Dorothy, the book’s grad-student heroine, “used to love email, used to have long, meaningful, occasionally thrilling email correspondences that involved the testing of ideas and the exchange of videos and music links.” Emails had been the way Dorothy and her friends “crafted personas, narrated events, made sense of their lives,” Smallwood writes. “That way of life, alas, had ended.” Now the emails they exchange are perfunctory, businesslike, “and if you wanted to know what someone was doing, you could usually find out on social media.” Still, the craving for digital connection persists. “Dorothy had not stopped checking, expecting, or wishing that a good message might be out there, waiting in the ether just for her.”are u coming?Late-night dispatches from a city ready to party.
Would it be a consolation to Dorothy to know that long emails aren’t quite dead? I now get emails that are longer than ever, in fact. They strain against the confines of Gmail, these emails; they demand to be opened in new tabs. The videos and links are still there, and often ideas, too. In no sense, however, are these emails “just for me.” These are emails composed for an audience not of one friend but of many fans. These emails are newsletters.
Personas are still crafted, events exhaustively narrated, just now at industrial scale. The newsletters of today can be professional editorial operations, like Politico’s Playbook (which casts its readers as fellow Beltway insiders) or The Skimm (which casts them as brunch-drunk sorority sisters). They can also be scrappier, more idiosyncratic missives akin to personal blogs. Newsletters can be like newspaper columns, cut loose from institutional authority. They can be like podcasts that you cannot absorb while running errands, like zines without the photocopy static, like Instagram with the lifestyle recommendations rendered as text instead of subtext. Many newsletters partake in the limitlessly available navel-gazing of online media commentary. Newsletter writers describe the process of writing a newsletter; creators who monetize their personalities through their newsletters report on the ways that other creators are monetizing theirs.
Newsletters vary in subject as widely as, for example, books do, and their authors may be cryptocurrency investors or indie musicians. What they share is the direct personal appeal of special delivery. They require the self-confidence involved in making this appeal to dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of strangers. A newsletter reshapes a writer’s relationship to their readers. The first-person informality that has been present since the earliest days of web writing achieves its business apotheosis in the newsletter: from personal essay to personal brand. “Subscribe directly to writers you trust,” urges Substack. In a newsletter, the reader is welcomed as a supporter, an ally — or perhaps even a friend. Addressing an audience of fellow Substack writers last year, Delia Cai (who started the media newsletter Deez Links) explained that “growing your subscriber base is like making friends.” The comparison may sound “cheesy,” she admitted, “but I do think that it speaks to this very personal nature of newsletters. You’re sliding into their inbox every morning or every week, and your subscribers can just hit RESPOND and tell you what they think. It’s worth investing in those relationships because once you become friends with these people, they’re there for you forever.”
The contemporary emailnewsletter is not a novel form; often it amounts to a new delivery system for the same sorts of content — essays, explainers, Q&As, news roundups, advice, and lists — that have long been staples of online media. (Subscribe to enough newsletters and sort them the right way, and it’s possible to re-create something like an RSS-feed reader.) Indeed, ready access to what one already knows and likes tends to be a selling point. But spurred in part by services like Mailchimp and TinyLetter, which made it easy to send mass emails, newsletters gained traction as a business tool for both media organizations and independent writers — a way for publications to reach readers more insistently and a way for writers to circumvent existing publications altogether. Substack, crucially, made it easy to charge subscribers, then attracted further scrutiny by offering a handful of established writers six-figure advances. In late June, Facebook entered the fray with a newsletter service called Bulletin. Consumers of digital media now find themselves in a newsletter deluge.
Early on, circa 2015, there was a while when every first-person writer who might once have written a Tumblr began writing a TinyLetter. At the time, the writer Lyz Lenz observed that newsletters seemed to create a new kind of safe space. A newsletter’s self-selecting audience was part of its appeal, especially for women writers who had experienced harassment elsewhere online. Whatever its perils, “online life is unavoidable, and it can also be a valuable source of support for women who might otherwise be isolated,” Lenz wrote for the Cut. “So where can they seek community? For some, the answer is your inbox.” (I should note, as a former editor at the Cut and a writer, I’ve crossed paths with many of the newsletter writers mentioned here. Start talking with anyone who works in media about newsletters and things get tangly fast.)
This era now feels somewhat distant. The stereotype that Substack often conjures today is of the writer who scorns a safe space — indeed, the perception that the platform had become a home for anti-trans views inspired a fresh round of Substack debate this spring. But what newsletters offer readers is still the sense of access to a social sphere limited by design — a project that can take many forms. The newsletter may be marked by intimacy, or it may hold out the promise of exclusive intelligence on such matters as places to go and things to buy. Its author may be a guru who is also a friend or a dissident purveyor of samizdat. Its audience may be a community of people who imagine themselves holed up in the same bunker or who all get the same inside jokes.
Hunter Harris (a former New York staffer and current contributor) was recruited by Substack, where she now writes a newsletter called Hung Up about pop culture. It is an open-ended category, and in February she devoted one installment to the clothing brand Reformation’s marketing emails. The subject lines on these emails, Harris wrote, “read like one-off missives from that girl you met in line for the bathroom at that concert that one time.” They raise the question “What if, after you and that girl exchanged numbers and swore to get drinks sometime, she just kept texting you?” The results are things like “DO YOU EVEN GO OUT” and “DOING NOTHING IN A HOT TUB,” among other surreal and aggressive overtures. “I have so many ideas about this character,” Harris wrote of the imaginary woman in whose voice the brand speaks. (Still, “as a rule, I hate brand emails, mostly because I hate emails.”) In her own subject lines (“Happy Bennifer to All Who Celebrate”), Harris brings the confident charm of a natural performer to the stage of strangers’ inboxes; she sounds chatty but not unhinged. The most skilled newsletter writers seem conscious of the delicate balance they must strike. “Your friend” is the desired voice of many newsletters — one long-running weekly link roundup is called Links I Would GChat You If We Were Friends— just as it is the desired voice of many brands.
People want an email because they want company, and, like listening to a podcast, subscribing to a newsletter can provide the parasocial pleasure of having a slightly famous imaginary friend. In the reader testimonials Ann Friedman includes with her newsletter, one longtime subscriber attested to “five years of Friday evenings spent reading her links with a glass of wine.” Another wrote that the newsletter “makes me wish we lived in the same town so we could hang out!”
Signing up for a newsletter means subscribing to a person, and it can also mean joining a club. Often the ability to participate in comment threads and discussions is a bonus for readers who pay. Earlier this year, a group of writers with popular tech and culture newsletters expanded upon this premise; they joined together to launch a Discord server called Sidechannel where all their subscribers could meet and chat. (“So it’s just people paying for internet friends?” asked one woman I know when this arrangement was described to her. Yes, and currently Sidechannel has some 5,000 members, several hundred of whom may be active at a given time.)
. . . .
Subscribe to a person and it’s up to that person to decide what you’re going to get. Some writers treat their newsletters as outlets for particular projects. The novelist Brandon Taylor uses his for literary and art criticism, and the novelist Jami Attenberg uses hers to run an annual two-week-long writing challenge (as well as give craft advice year round). Tressie McMillan Cottom — the sociologist, author, and MacArthur genius — maintains a newsletter alongside her academic writing, popular writing, podcasting, and tweeting; in an interview with Ezra Klein, she described the ongoing challenge of deciding what form a given idea should take. “I sit down and I go, Okay, what is the right speed for this? What’s the right genre?When will I know that this argument is done?” McMillan Cottom explained. “I like a complete argument. I like to walk away from something and say I left it all on the court. And sometimes that’s 240 characters, sometimes it’s 20,000 words.” She treats the newsletter as a complement to her work elsewhere — a place for discussions with people who aren’t her students, for personal meditations, for essays untethered from the news. Earlier this year, McMillan Cottom chatted with readers about the podcast Dolly Parton’s America; the podcast came out in 2019, but Parton was a perfect case study for her interests in class, race, status, and beauty, so why not? The newsletter isn’t the centerpiece of McMillan Cottom’s output, which would seem to diminish the pressures of timeliness and volume, as well as the incentive to weigh in at length on every microcontroversy. X OUT OF TEN PEOPLE ARE GOING TO SHOW UP AND READ THAT AND JUST BE LIKE, ‘THIS IS IMPENETRABLE, I’M OUT,’
. . . .
I had, I realized, transformed my inbox into the rest of the internet. The great hope of newsletter writers seems to be some escape from the internet as it exists now — escape into nostalgia for a bygone era of blogs or into a past when liberalism reigned. Escape to the refuge of a safe space or escape from the cancel-culture mob. Escape from an online landscape shaped by the imperatives of big tech. Escape was what I wanted too — I saw this now. I want to read a newsletter that feels like a dispatch from another planet, and I haven’t found it yet.*
While I’ve often revealed at conferences and workshops where my money comes from—complete with pie charts—I’ve never laid out in writing, at this site, what my earnings looks like. It is perhaps an overdue look, since I reach more people through this blog than I do through speaking engagements.
My 3 key categories of earnings
Most of my income arises from three types of work:
Consulting one-on-one with writers
Teaching in-person and online
Paid writing (newsletters, articles, books) and indirect income from free writing (advertising and affiliate income through my website and newsletter)
Since I started full-time freelancing in 2015, these categories have always remained central, although the mix and character of the work shifts.
What my top-line income looked like in 2016
Here’s what was happening in each of these categories.
Online teaching (26%): This includes (1) multi-week workshops I was offering directly, (2) multi-week workshops I was offering by guest instructors (I kept a cut of registration fees), and (3) webinars I taught for other companies, such as Writer’s Digest. While it looks like a healthy percentage of my income, my profit margin was low on courses taught by others.
Query-synopsis editing (24%): In 2016, I started attracting a steady stream of clients who were seeking help with their queries and synopses for submission to agents and editors.
Consulting (17%): I do two types of consulting: book proposal consulting and one-on-one consulting. It’s all done on an hourly, flat-fee basis, trading money for time.
Paid newsletter (12%): In late 2015, I launched a paid email newsletter (The Hot Sheet) with Porter Anderson. This was the first year we had a full year of subscription income, which we split down the middle after expenses. (The profit margin is excellent, about 90 percent.)
Freelance writing (7%): This included varied opportunities, including features for Writer’s Digest magazine. I also initially counted The Great Courses income under this, because it literally required me to write 100,000 words in three months. (I had to write the script for the course, then deliver on camera.)
Affiliate income (6%): I’m an Amazon affiliate and also started affiliate arrangements around 2016 with Teachable and Bluehost. I don’t work for this money; it’s passive income.
Book sales (5%): This is all income from Publishing 101, which I self-published in late 2015.
Conference speaking (3%): Some people think I get paid the big bucks for speaking. I do not. It represents the smallest of my revenue streams in 2016. But speaking (especially in person) is important for visibility and trust. It’s also critical for me to remain in touch with real writers’ everyday concerns, plus I get to hear and learn from other experts in the community.
If I combine these into my three main areas of income:
41% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
30% writing (affiliate income goes in here since it’s powered by my writing and blogging)
29% teaching and speaking
What my top-line income looked like in 2020
You’ll notice one big change here!
Here’s what was happening in each of these categories. And note that 2020 was the first full year that my husband joined the business as a full-time employee.
Online teaching (48%): In fall 2019, I began hosting my own webinars because I now had someone who could help with post-production and customer service. Some webinars I teach myself and others feature guest instructors. This move proved fortunate when the pandemic rolled around. I keep 50 percent of the net for webinars taught by guest instructors. I still continue to teach for a range of organizations and companies, so that’s still included here as well.
Query-synopsis editing (12%): I stopped taking on this work in the middle of 2020 to open up more room in my schedule for writing work. I still offer a query letter master class, though—that income now falls under online teaching.
Consulting (16%): In 2020, I was still accepting one-on-one consulting clients and book proposal clients. In 2021, I now accept only book proposal clients in an ongoing effort to pull back some of my time for writing (or at least make consulting time more profitable).
Paid newsletter (16%): I am now the full owner of The Hot Sheet. While this percentage doesn’t look much increased despite me now taking 100% of the net, it’s not because the subscriber base didn’t grow. Rather, it’s a reflection of how much the other areas of my business have grown—namely online teaching. Also, if this were a profits chart, not a top-line revenue chart, the paid newsletter would represent a bigger proportion of the pie.
Book sales (3%): This is income from Publishing 101, my Great Course, and The Business of Being a Writer.
Conference speaking (3%): This includes some virtual conferences and would’ve been more had it not been for the pandemic. (I’m not complaining, though! I needed to get off the travel wagon for a while.)
Advertising (2%): I recently started accepting advertisers in Electric Speed, my free newsletter.
Affiliate income (1%): Amazon has reduced its affiliate marketing payouts over time, and I’m more often linking to Bookshop—which simply doesn’t bring in as much income. (But one feels better linking to it.) I’ve also stopped actively engaging in or seeking affiliate marketing, not because I’m against it, but frankly I have a lot of other things I’d rather do.
If I combine these into my three main areas of income:
51% teaching and speaking
28% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
22% writing (advertising/affiliate goes here since it’s powered by my writing)
Yes, I realize this adds up to 101%. What can I say? My spreadsheet rounded things up.
PG really likes Jane’s flexibility. She isn’t afraid to modify her work emphasis as market conditions and her personal desires change.
A handful of people stumble on a magic formula that works over and over again so long as they just keep repeating the same effort over and over again.
However, very few businesses are that predictable and unchanging over a long period of time.
Technology changes, what people want and are willing to pay for changes, etc., etc., etc.
For PG, this is one of the great weaknesses of the wash, rinse, repeat mindset of traditional publishing. They really, really want to keep doing things the way they did them before. Paying someone a few thousand dollars to run a social media promotion for a book is regarded as a big creative move (in an age where teens can become social media stars with a new angle and a new attitude and use their fame and followers to build a commercial business from scratch.
If you really don’t want to change, putting a new coat of paint on the old machine won’t fool anybody outside of your closed little world.
I wasn’t surprised to discover that Barnes & Noble had created a BookTok page, encouraging readers to “discover the most popular books on TikTok.” If anything, I was surprised that more book retailers (and publishers and authors, for that matter) hadn’t yet tapped into one of the fastest-growing social media platforms.
I fell down the TikTok rabbit hole during pandemic isolation in May 2020, and for the next seven months I marveled at the creativity, humor, and vulnerability of the platform’s millions of content creators around the globe. But, as both a voracious reader and a creative strategist at a literary public relations firm, what interested me most was the BookTok community: hundreds of thousands of readers who dedicate their TikTok accounts to reviewing, recommending, and laughing and crying over their favorite books.
The more time I spent on TikTok, the more certain I felt about two things. First, the app created an immensely powerful opportunity for authors to connect immediately with a staggering number of highly engaged readers. And second, the tools for “success” on TikTok differ from those of any other social media platform.
A recent New York Times article, “How Crying on TikTok Sells Books,” explores in depth what makes BookTok unique: short-form videos that depict readers’ raw tears, anger, and delight over their favorite reads in one minute or less. One BookTok creator who was interviewed suggested that videos in which she is crying get more views. While this may be true, I’d assert that it’s not her tears that keep users watching. It’s the idea of authenticity behind those tears—viewers getting an unfiltered look at the creator’s emotions and thoughts, heightening their sense of connection to the creator.
Authenticity is TikTok’s greatest appeal, and its most powerful engagement tool. Users on TikTok are bold in sharing their opinions, emotions, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and imperfections. The content on the app feels more unfiltered, more raw, more real than content featured in other places. As a result, viewers aren’t just passively consuming TikTok’s content—they’re connected to it. Contrast this to Instagram, where heavily filtered, edited, and perfectly curated highlights have become commonplace—and, I would argue, increasingly passé.
So what do authenticity and TikTok have to do with authors? Simply put, authors who are able to authentically present themselves on TikTok will find a vast audience of highly engaged readers who are eager to connect with them and their work. Users on TikTok want to support creators—and they will, if given the opportunity to connect with them.
One of the incredible authors I had the privilege of working with and introducing to TikTok, J. Elle, has plenty of great content—but her reaction to unboxing her novel Wings of Ebony is by far her most popular TikTok video, with more than 25,000 views, 6,500 likes, and hundreds of comments (with most saying they’ve just added Wings of Ebony to their TBR or online carts).
Sure, there are tears. But it’s her vulnerability, her authentic love and pride for the story she created, that made her engagement and follower count explode. And for the record, Wings of Ebony was an instant New York Times bestseller.
Instagram can be a great platform for promoting books or an author’s brand — it has more than 1 billion monthly active users, and according to Rival IQ, brands have a 13.5x higher median engagement rate on Instagram than on Facebook, and 27x higher than on Twitter.
That being said, not every author will find a relevant audience there — 71% of Instagram users are younger than 35. So some genre authors might have a harder time building a fanbase on Instagram than, for example, a young adult author. Just because a lot of people use a particular social network doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth your time.
If you do think it’s worth testing the platform out, here are some great examples of authors who’ve been able to successfully build an audience and publish content that connects with their readers. We’ve included a variety of authors, both traditionally and independently published, who write in different genres, and encourage you to scroll through their feeds to see the full breadth of content they post. We hope this will help give you inspiration for what to publish on your own Instagram!
Elise Bryant uses a bright, cheerful aesthetic to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at her author life on Instagram. She also posts stunning pictures of her book with different props and backdrops, including ebookstagrams!
Daniels often reposts images from her readers. These posts include everything from creative interpretations of her books’ characters to stunning displays featuring her books. She always makes sure to tag and credit the creator in the caption.
Christina C. Jones brings readers along for the ride as she writes her books. She uses Instagram to post intriguing quotes from her works-in-progress and clips from her YouTube channel where she describes her writing process.
Selling things online is easier than ever. Standing out to shoppers is getting harder.
Kevin Stecko has spent more than two decades selling nostalgic apparel emblazoned with He-Man, ThunderCats and more online at 80sTees.com. But lately, he said, some customers seem to have a hard time finding him. In Google searches for terms like “He-Man shirts,” he said, his site appears beneath paid ads from competitors.
His novel solution: a paper catalog mailed to thousands of homes.
“The print cost plus the postage costs should actually do as well or better than it does to acquire customers online,” Mr. Stecko said. The catalog costs about $86,000 to produce, though he is waiting for more sales to come in before judging its success.
The tech ecosystem that powers ecommerce has simplified the way aspiring merchants set up shop, from web design and inventory management to email marketing and sales-tax collection. Shopify Inc., a provider of such services, said 1.75 million merchants used its platform last year, more than double the number two years earlier. But the lower entry barriers and rising cost of online advertising are making it harder for existing and new sellers to cut through the crowd and find more customers.
Sellers and consultants say that in addition to marketing tactics like search-optimizing web pages and targeting users on social media, brands must also take the more elaborate steps of developing community among customers or an identity that consumers deem authentic. Other online sellers are testing out distinctly analog ways of reaching new customers, like printed catalogs or bricks-and-mortar shops.
“There are certain things that have gotten easier and that makes other things hard,” said Rick Watson, chief executive of the ecommerce consulting firm RMW Commerce Consulting Inc. Advertisements aren’t as effective as content—like email newsletters or YouTube videos—created by the brands to entertain or inform, he said.
. . . .
“It’s vastly easier for an individual, without taking a bunch of investor dollars, to build a brand, create a product and sell it to customers,” Mr. Young said. “But the bar has become a lot higher to be unique.”
. . . .
New entrants to online selling face steep odds. “From a consumer vantage point, there’s a lot of clutter,” said Michelle Evans, digital retail analyst at the research firm Euromonitor. “You have to sort through who best to buy from and what to buy.”
Owners of online shops that have built up their businesses for years say they have an advantage in affinity from existing customers and proven methods for finding more.
Randy Owen, founder of ThermoWorks Inc., has been selling kitchen thermometers for two decades, and the handheld staple of chefs’ kitchens has garnered approval from publications like America’s Test Kitchen and food personalities like Alton Brown.
Mr. Owen hasn’t sold on Amazon.com Inc. since 2015, citing lack of access to customer data and the fact that Amazon sold similar-looking thermometers at a lower price. Still, sales have since increased to over $75 million a year, including a jump during the pandemic as more people cooked at home, he said.
ThermoWorks has to work constantly to continue ranking high on relevant search terms on Alphabet Inc.’s Google and also monitors product listings on other platforms to ensure they aren’t using his brand’s name.
Since people can’t buy ThermoWorks on Amazon, the retail giant sells search ads for the thermometer maker’s product names. Mr. Owen said ThermoWorks’ legal options there are limited. An Amazon spokesman said the site is designed to show, through search results and ads, products that customers can buy.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“If a particular product is not available, we present them with similar products from our vast selection,” the spokesman said.
While ThermoWorks may lose some sales to shoppers buying other thermometers on Amazon, Mr. Owen said, many eventually find his site. “They’ll find a copycat that lasts them a few months before they come to us,” he said.
. . . .
Mr. Stecko of 80sTees.com said that his acquisition costs have actually risen, due in part to rising digital advertising costs. “The saying in digital marketing is, whoever can spend the most wins,” he said.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
When authors want to advertise their books, three advertising platforms spring to mind for most: Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads.
And while each of these platforms can be amazing in their own right and even more so when used holistically together, without a strong foundation (i.e. a great book that has been edited and proofread, a strong book description, right pricing for your category or genre, a professional-looking book cover that fits in your genre, etc.), no amount of advertising can sell a poor quality book.
Once you have a strong foundation, the truthis that advertising takes time to perfect; it takes testing; it takes patience, persistence, and, ultimately, it takes money.
However, let’s brighten things up.
When you get your ads dialed in, they can truly transform your career.
As an example, my wife is an author of fantasy novels. Before we started advertising her debut series of books, we were lucky if they pulled in $40 per month!
Last month, this same series earned $8,550 in royalties, with $5,200 of profit—and that’s with just one series of three books; the fourth book is due out later this year.
And the advertising platform that did the brunt of the leg work was…
Let’s dive into it. Here’s what you’ll learn.
Why Facebook offers authors an incredible opportunity to position themselves in front of their ideal readers
When to use Facebook ads
Are Facebook ads worth your time and money?
How to create scroll-stopping Facebook ads
My top 5 Facebook ads tips for authors
The Facebook ads opportunity
Facebook’s biggest and most valuable asset is data. As an advertiser on Facebook, you can tap into this data and pinpoint the exact people (readers) you want to reach with your ads.
As an example, if you know your readers:
Live in New York
Aged between 45 and 55
Work as an accountant
Have been a newlywed for 6 months
Enjoy French cuisine
Own a dog and a fish
And do yoga
You could potentially target them! Now, I wouldn’t recommend being this granular with your targeting; this is just an exaggerated example to show you how much Facebook knows about its user base. In fact, I have seen better results by leaving my targeting fairly open. I trust Facebook enough to go out and find the right people to position the books I’m advertising in front of.
So what sort of targeting should you be doing with your Facebook ads?
Targeting is a big topic and what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. However, myself and many other authors have seen the best results by targeting:
Book / series titles
Genres (e.g., romantic fantasy)
As long as your targeting is relevant to the book you’re advertising, it’s worth testing. That’s not to say that every target you test will be a winner, but the more relevant you can be, the higher the chance of your Facebook ads converting into sales and therefore providing you with a positive Return on Ad Spend (ROAS); in other words, profit.
When researching potential targets, I can’t recommend enough that you keep track of all your tests in a spreadsheet. I have built my own Targeting and Tracking spreadsheet which you can use for free; it’s included in my Author Ads Toolkit, which comes with several other valuable resources.
It’s also worth noting that Facebook ads allow you to advertise not just on the Facebook News Feed, although that is where you are likely to see the majority of your traffic coming from, but also on Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Instagram Feed, Facebook Messenger and many more.
. . . .
Before we move on, let’s first take a quick look at what a Facebook ad actually looks like.
This is one of the ads I’ve run for my wife’s series of fantasy novels.
If you’ve spent any length of time scrolling on your Facebook News Feed, I’m sure you recognize the layout and style of this ad. As you can see, Facebook wants their ads to fit in with an organic post (i.e., not an ad) that you might see from one of your Facebook friends.
. . . .
When to use Facebook ads
Facebook ads can be extremely powerful in many scenarios; whether you use them in all these scenarios or just one or two will depend on your ultimate goals and your strategy for building a career as an author.
Here are the 6 scenarios I like to use Facebook ads for:
Promotions (e.g., $0.99 sale for 7 days)
Evergreen sales (e.g., continuously advertising Book 1 of a series)
Cross-series Retargeting (e.g. retarget people who have seen Book 1 of your series in a Facebook ad with Book 1 of another of your series in a similar genre)
Same-series retargeting (e.g. if your books can be read in any order, retarget people who have seen one book from your series in a Facebook ad and show them another book from that same series)
Building your mailing list (e.g., giving people a free copy of one of your books in exchange for their email address)
By no means do you need to use Facebook ads for each of these scenarios! Start slow and then build at a pace that works for you once you begin to see results.
From veteran author and writing coach Dave Farland:
I was at a writing conference last week and noticed that several times I passed groups of writers who were trying to figure out how to “Game the System.”
In case you didn’t know it, every distribution industry tries to set up roadblocks for creators so that they can’t bypass the system. For example, if you were to make a movie and try to go out and distribute it to movie theaters yourself, you’d find that the theaters have contracts with the major distributors that require them to not show your movie. The distributors want to make sure that the huge movies that they’ve invested in advertising are available at all of the usual outlets.
In publishing, we have two different distribution systems. The traditional publishing industry has its editors, and they have contracts with the bookstores and with the book distribution companies that are designed to keep you from selling your books at bookstores—and these contracts are very effective. If you’ve ever tried to start your own publishing company, you’ll see what I mean. Not only will distributors refuse to distribute your books, but I once struggled for days to get some television and radio companies to advertise a book—but they refused to work with anyone who wasn’t already a major publisher.
In traditional publishing, the publisher typically creates a “list” of books that they want to promote. The #1 book on the list gets most of the advertising dollars. This might include things like in-store displays, money for cooperative advertising so that the bookstores will place the book on certain shelves with the covers facing out, promotion on radio or television or in magazines or newspapers, and of course money to send the author out on a book tour.
If you’re not #1 on your publisher’s list, you might not get any of these things. Instead, your book is simply put out there and left to sink or swim on its own merits. Your editor might not even send it out for reviews from critics.
And the publisher will actively stop you from doing too much. For example, let’s say that you don’t like the cover that your publisher gives you—either the picture or the typeface. What can you do? You can complain, and you might get some upgrades, but it is the job of the artistic director to make sure that the #1 book of the season gets the best cover and that each month when new books are shipped out, the monthly books look good, but not as good as the anticipated season hit. The reason for this is that the publisher doesn’t want to confuse the buyers. They don’t want a mediocre book to have a great cover.
So as an author, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to “game the system,” how to promote the book that your publisher won’t. In doing that, you might advertise on social media, send books out to book bloggers, set up your own book signings, create a “book bomb” in order to generate some excitement for your release, and so on.
All of that is fine, so long as you remember that the best advertisement for a book is to write another book. Your fans are always eager to see what you have next in the pipeline.
Indie publishers are often even more eager to game the system. In recent years, Amazon has been working to create a “system” that will reward good books with good reviews and promotion, but Indie authors always seem to be bent on destroying that system. I’ve seen them buy favorable reviews (spending as much as $10,000 on a package), creating sock-puppets so that they can go online and create their own favorable reviews while deriding their competition, and of course trading positive reviews with other authors. As a result of such activities—all of which are immoral and some of them even illegal, Amazon has purchased review sites and now blocks reviews that they believe are fake.
In fact, I’ve known several authors who find that if their book does too well, defies expectations that Amazon has set, then their books are simply delisted—taken off of the bestseller lists, and even taken off of Amazon’s sales site.
To be frank, we need our distributors to create a fair and honest system that rewards great work.
How should we as authors handle this problem? I think that we need to promote ourselves in every way that we can, so long as it is honorable and honest. At the same time, put your emphasis where it belongs: On writing powerful works. If you do that, success will come eventually.
Don’t be a sleazeball and don’t hire sleazeballs to help you with your book sales. Once in awhile a sleazeball scheme might seem to work or actually work . . . for a while.
When the scheme caves, guess who’s reputation is tarnished? It’s the author’s name. An author’s name is her/his brand. If you spent a lot of time building a readership and fans as Jane Writer and Jane Writer gets online or offline negative attention, all of Jane Writer’s books get tarnished.
Why, yes, you could continue with a pen name, but, guess what, nobody ever heard of Jane Author. You’re starting back at ground zero building a readership, getting reviews, etc., etc., etc.
The value of big commercial brands is calculated in billions of dollars.
Apple was #1. Amazon, Google and Microsoft followed right behind. Per Statista, “Apple” is worth over $250 billion.
In past lives, PG worked for a big advertising agency. During this period of time, he learned that the agency’s largest clients invariably had somebody who was, effectively, The Brand Czar.
The Brand Czar was in charge of making certain that the company’s brand was accurately depicted in everything the company did, said, wrote, published or broadcast.
One Brand Czar famously came into the main lobby of her company’s headquarters and saw a large banner on the lobby wall that Human Resources had put up to promote employee appreciation week or something like that.
The Brand Czar noted that the color of the company’s logo was not the right color (brands can include an associated color). The color wasn’t completely wrong, but it was not the the right shade.
The Czar ordered that a custodian immediately bring an extension ladder to the lobby. The Czar kicked off her high-heels, climbed up the ladder in her tailored suit and personally yanked the banner off the wall, nearly dropping it on the receptionist. The custodian was ordered to burn the banner and report back to the Czar in her office after the destruction was complete.
(PG doesn’t know where you burn a banner in a high-rise office building, but he expects that the custodial staff found a way.)
So, you want to be careful with your author brand. You may not have a militant Brand Czar working for you, but being militant about your personal brand is probably not a bad idea.
Authors often say that engaging with readers is one of the most gratifying aspects of their career. And while authors provide readers with entertainment, information, or an escape from reality, readers provide authors with an audience (and revenue), word-of-mouth exposure, or support. Since readers fuel an author’s expression and success, how can a writer thank fans for supporting their work?
A little bit of recognition can go a long way to foster a relationship with fans and maintain a dedicated readership. From sharing fan art to running giveaways to sharing discounts, there are many ways authors can show readers appreciation. To help you brainstorm ideas on how to communicate gratitude, we’ve compiled a list of methods authors use to applaud, reward, and connect with their readers. We hope these examples provide inspiration for your own approach to engaging with readers!
1. Show off fan art
Leigh Bardugo reposted fan art of two of her book’s characters, expressing gratitude for how this wonderful depiction by @sartagos “revived” her spirit during a tough week.
. . . .
2. Run book giveaways
Jillian Dodd frequently runs giveaways for her readers. In this one example, Jillian kept the entry method simple; fans could enter to win an angsty paperback stack by following Jillian on Instagram and BookBub and tagging a friend in the comments of this post.
. . . .
5. Give away fun items and gift cards
Sarah Nicolas chose three lucky winners to receive a gift card to an Etsy shop selling masks and embroidered bookmarks.
Almost every teenager in the United States knows about TikTok—the video-sharing social media platform with hundreds of millions of active users. And with the increasing popularity of the #BookTok hashtag, which readers use to talk about their favorite books, many YA authors are turning to TikTok to promote their work.
I began posting on the platform in August of 2020 and have since amassed nearly 225,000 followers (a number that is still growing by hundreds each day). TikTok makes it incredibly easy to go viral with minimal effort. Just one fifteen-second video can get you tens of thousands of followers; all you need is a decent strategy. Here are some tips that earned my videos millions of views:
1. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage
Many users believe that using popular hashtags (such as #fyp) will be enough for them to go viral. That isn’t entirely true. While there is a slight chance those hashtags will give you thousands of views, it is highly unlikely they will help you reach your target audience. Using hashtags such as #author, #writingabook, or anything relating to your genre will be much more effective. The first video I posted with those hashtags garnered nearly half a million views.
2. Post Consistently
If one of your videos does go viral and you disappear off the platform for the next few weeks, you’ll probably end up losing hundreds of followers. Your goal should be creating bonds with your fans so they’ll feel more inclined to buy your books, and one way to do that is posting at least once a day.
3. Don’t Just Promote
Believe me when I say this—nobody wants to hear you blatantly promote your book 24/7. A promotional post once in a while is fine, but your followers will get bored if everything on your page is just you talking about your book. Keep your content related to writing, but switch it up. One way to do that is by posting writing tips. Those are amazing choices for videos because they give you credibility. Not to mention, if you help someone with their writing, they’ll want to repay you in any way they can—like buying your book. Half of my followers wouldn’t be following me if it wasn’t for my writing tips.
4. Use Trending Sounds
This is probably the #1 factor that will help boost your videos. If you see that a sound has over ten thousand videos under it (most of which are recent), use it. You can even put it over a video of you talking (just lower the sound to zero if you don’t want it to be heard) and it will still boost your views.
Nearly every week an agent at BookEnds receives a request to speak at an event, conference, or group meeting. Almost universally there is an expectation that the agent will do so for free. While this has been the norm for generations, it’s time to put an end to free agent labor.
As publishers are raising starting salaries, the rest of us need to do our part. That means dispelling the myth that conference work is a favor to the agent. It’s not. It’s work. A full weekend of exhausting work, missed family time, and travel costs that are not, let’s be honest, worth the reward.
. . . .
Most conferences offer to pay travel expenses–specifically hotel, flight, and most meals (not all) But as anyone who has ever flown knows, that’s never the extent of true travel expenses. You also need to get to and from the airport, eat meals (or snacks) that aren’t included, and you’re expected to schmooze with conference attendees that can often amount to at least a moderate bar/food/snack bill (depending on how you like to schmooze).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that while conferences say they pay travel expenses, very rarely have all my travel expenses been covered. There’s always something that isn’t factored in (a $200 airport parking bill anyone).
. . . .
In the era of Zoom, many see this as a real boon to their agent networking. Now they can have agents attend without any costs. Those pesky travel expenses are a thing of the past.
They are. That’s true. But time is money people and asking an agent to spend an 8-hour day, or a 16-hour weekend, working in front of Zoom is ridiculous.
. . . .
It’s a myth conference organizers have told themselves for years that conferences benefit agents. A myth that paying travel expenses is beyond generous. Sure, it’s expensive to pay travel expenses, but these agents are driving people to your event. It’s worth the cost, as is paying them for their work.
In my 20 years as an agent, easily over 100 conferences, I can count on one hand the number of clients I’ve found. Most clients come through connections I make after reading or hearing about their work or, truthfully, through Query Manager.
A bookstore employee outed Richard Bachman as Stephen King in 1985 despite all his efforts to hide the fact. The clever person recognized King’s style following its breadcrumbs scattered in Bachman books.
One of the breadcrumbs was the word “mangler.” The characters in King’s and Bachman’s books used it to refer to laundry pressing machines.
This anecdote from King’s life shows that an author brand is every decision that can impact how people perceive you.
And, when it comes to creating your public image, it’s better to have a branding strategy than bet on blind luck.
What Is an Author Brand Strategy?
In 1887, Guy de Maupassant paid for a hot-air balloon with the name of his new story on it to glide over Paris.
At the time, an average person knew about Guy and his personality as much as newspapers wrote about him. Thus, extravagant, grand gestures were great for boosting one’s brand and recognition.
Today, the situation is drastically different. Your reader may know as much about you as you’re willing to communicate. Like a sculptor over wet clay — you have unprecedented control over your brand. Shape it as you will.
Doing it blindly can lead to a bad result though. A shapeless mess that harms more than benefits.
On the contrary, brand strategy can help you avoid such an outcome.
Brand strategy is a set of tools, approaches, and methods that help you achieve desired recognition and convey:
What you stand for;
What are your beliefs and principles? Maybe, you want to spread the word of love and acceptance? Or maybe, you believe in the power of imagination to change the future?
What you promise;
Each story has something to offer. What about yours? Maybe it’s a great imaginative adventure or a chance for introspection?
Let your personality and charisma shine through your branding efforts and win you new followers.
Now that you have an idea of what the branding strategy is, let’s figure out what makes it good.
What makes a good author brand strategy ?
There’s a peculiar quote in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House:
“As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.”
First, the prose is great. Second, is that the reference to a dinosaur in a positively Victorian novel? Yes, yes it is. Dickens knew what the public found fascinating and wasn’t afraid to use it. Consider it his brand.
Most likely, Dickens didn’t have a well-defined brand strategy. His success is the result of hard work, entrepreneurial instinct, and luck.
For us, mere mortals, relying on luck and instinct is not a viable strategy. We should make plans and stick to them.
And the first step of planning an effective branding is researching your target readers. Often, it comes down to answering the proper questions.
Afterward, you should determine how to convince them that you and your writing are what they are looking for.
You probably remember this one from history class: Thomas Paine, in 1776, dashed off a pamphlet called Common Sense, encouraging the American colonists to revolt against British rule, with the pamphlet supposedly proving so popular that, in its first three months of publication alone, it sold more than 100,000 copies. Also, it helped kick off a war.
Paine himself, it turns out, was the primary source of information regarding those astounding sales figures. If we take him at his word, then Common Sense remains the bestselling book in U.S. history. Stephen King can’t unseat it. Dan Brown? Can’t compete. Danielle Steele? GTFO! But what’s all this got to do with you, one more aspiring, ink-stained wretch, vainly attempting to build your author platform today, some 250 years later?
Paine faced the same problem that you and I face. He and his fellow “pamphleteers” couldn’t rely on Buzzfeed and the New York Timesto deliver up an audience. They had to discover it for themselves. Yes, the audience was there, in abundance, but to reach it, they basically had to start a Substack.
I’m not the first to notice the overlap between the pamphleteers of the 18th century and popular present-day mediums. For better or for worse, some 20th-century political operatives not only ran the same play as Paine—bypassing media outlets and instead mailing their messages directly to their would-be audiences—but wrote entire self-aggrandizing books about the strategy. They understood the power of building one’s own means of distribution, one’s own mailing list. In fact, “direct mail” was, arguably, how the right bankrolled the Reagan revolution. It’s how Karl Rove got his start.
Yesterday’s pamphlets and mail packages closely resemble today’s email newsletters. And now, in related news, just about every big tech company is announcing that they’re getting into the newsletter game, too. Both Facebook and Twitter are launching newsletter products, while the CEO of Medium recently declared the platform is pivoting from magazines to focusing on “individual voices,” i.e. newsletter-like offerings. Substack has even started paying six-figure advances to established writers they believe have the power to draw large numbers of paid subscriptions.
. . . .
Even as you and I are witnessing this 2021 crush of both tech companies and individual writers into the newsletter game, it’s crucial to understand that these developments are not new. (Neither are the, uh, sometimes-controversial politics.)
The difference is how newsletters are being reshaped by the internet and related trends in the larger economy, namely:
The continued move of advertising dollars away from traditional media and into Facebook and Google, which allow for much more specific ad-targeting;
How this is pushing heavyweights including the New York Times and Washington Post to rely more and more on subscriptions, rather than advertising, as their primary source of revenue;
The overall rise of the “subscription economy,” in which you and I and everyone else on the planet pay a few bucks each month for access to all manner of media, services, and products, from Amazon Prime to Netflix to diapers—really, we could keep listing things all friggin’ day.
It’s a complex reality, but writers like us will misunderstand it, or attempt to ignore it, at our own risk. You don’t need to grasp the more intricate details, anyway, beyond the fact that Wall Street loves recurring revenue (i.e. subscription-business models, which give a lot of insight into a company’s financial performance), plus the other salient fact: You and I are on our own, here.
In a sense, all writers are “direct to consumer” brands now. Major publishers, from Slate to Simon & Schuster, are relatively risk-averse, reluctant to invest in anything but proven winners. Whereas it’s easier than ever, if also a very crowded scene, to build and reach your own audience through channels such as Instagram, or better yet, your own email newsletter. Picture yourself standing by the side of a choked digital freeway, holding up a little hand-scrawled sign that reads “Drop your email here, and I’ll come to your inbox with tips and updates!!”
Believe me, I don’t love this reality, either. All this self-promotion feels awful, much of the time, but what’s the alternative?
. . . .
The reason an email list beats every other kind of following
I keep focusing on email and email lists, rather than Twitter followers or YouTube subscribers, because email addresses are the marketing gold standard, widely understood to be more valuable than social-media counts. I know this as a nonfiction writer who’s spent the last decade working a day job in email marketing. But look further out, and the questions answer themselves: Why else would all these avaricious titans of industry be piling in? Why would big-name writers be launching newsletters?
It follows that your own email list is most likely more valuable to you than any other kind of following of similar size, no matter whether your newsletter is free or if you offer paid subscriptions, and no matter if your list remains quite limited. Even a small email list is better than no list at all, because it likely represents your most devoted, true fans, and even one of those (your mom) is better than none.
For as long as I’ve dreamed of being an author, I’ve also dreamed about the moment I first get to hold a copy of my book.
The thrill of seeing my name on the cover of an actual book, filled with words that I wrote. The knowledge that a publisher thought those words good enough to be worthy of printing onto paper. Paper that smells like, er, paper, but in that special new book-scented way.
Whenever and however it happened, I just knew it would be magical.
Just a mere 43 years later (I don’t like to rush things), and the moment had finally arrived. My debut novel, Wife Support System, came out as an ebook with Hera Books in July 2020 and the paperback was released on March 11th 2021. A paperback hadn’t been guaranteed when I signed the contract with Hera, so this made its publication even more exciting.
With Covid scuppering all book launch events and parties, posting videos of book reveals has become one of the main ways of promoting books. Having seen other authors do a ta-da moment, I was excited to film and share my own long-awaited magical moment with the world. (When I say ‘the world’, I actually mean my mum and a few other family members who follow me online.)
. . . .
To start with, my suggestion that playing the Star Wars theme tune in the background as I opened the box would add some atmosphere and fun, was immediately dismissed as “cringe”. To be honest, it probably was a bit cheesy, but I grew up in the eighties so being a bit cheesy is a default setting.
Eve was in charge of filming. The top of my head is missing in most of the footage, which was actually an ingenious way of getting around my lockdown roots. Elena was in charge of telling me off for trying to play Star Wars (she used her own initiative in creating this role), resulting in Eve telling Elena off. So loudly that James had to ask us to be quiet as he was on a work Zoom call. Eve then stopped filming before I’d even opened the box of books.
I managed to get the box open on Take Two, but it still wasn’t quite what the professional footage I’ve seen other authors post on social media. None of them had someone in the background telling them to hurry up or comparing them to the Norris Nuts. No sooner had I got the book in my hand then Eve stopped filming, before I had a chance to even say what the book was called, let alone what it was about or where it could be bought.
. . . .
So, my advice to anyone planning to film their own book box opening / cover reveal / launch party is to ensure you do it in what I believe is called a Controlled Environment. In other words, make sure no one else is around to help (aka interfere and mess it up for you).
On the plus side, my book launch video does sum up the plot of my book – mums struggling to juggle work and childcare. I am a genuine example here of how “challenging” it can be. (“Challenging” isn’t my first choice of word, but I’m not sure it’s professional to swear in a blog. Although the video clearly demonstrates that there is very little professionalism going on in my life.) And, of course, there’s no fear of my new ‘published author’ status going to my head. My family are definitely keeping me grounded!
“We Were Liars” came out in 2014, so when the book’s author, E. Lockhart, saw that it was back on the best-seller list last summer, she was delighted. And confused.
“I had no idea what the hell was happening,” she said.
Lockhart’s children filled her in: It was because of TikTok.
An app known for serving up short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials and funny skits, TikTok is not an obvious destination for book buzz. But videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending.
These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, and many of the creators are just as surprised as everyone else.
. . . .
“I want people to feel what I feel,” said Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and now has nearly 200,000 followers. “At school, people don’t really acknowledge books, which is really annoying.”
. . . .
Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like “They Both Die at the End,” “The Cruel Prince,” “A Little Life” and others that have gone viral. There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social-media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.
“These creators are unafraid to be open and emotional about the books that make them cry and sob or scream or become so angry they throw it across the room, and it becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with,” said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.”
The Lee sisters, who live in Brighton, England, started making BookTok videos while bored at home during the pandemic. Many of their posts feel like tiny movie trailers, where pictures flash across the screen to a moody soundtrack.
I’ve heard many authors—myself included—express our frustration and dismay at the expectation that we will not only produce wonderful books, but also carry out what amounts to a second full-time job as our own marketing team. Most of us don’t mind holding events, whether live or virtual, where we get to engage with readers. Nor do we mind interviews, written or recorded, where we can talk about our books and our writing process. But what so many of us do hate is the seemingly bottomless pit of social media engagement.
Facebook, with all those reader and writer groups. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest.
“Likes” and “follows.” Comments and messages and shares.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could do all this for us?
Someone else can—for a price, and with a few caveats. Whether they call themselves virtual assistants, social media consultants, or author assistants, there are people who will manage your social media for you.
. . . .
Unlike publicists, who seek media coverage on your behalf, or direct marketers, whom you pay to advertise your book on their sites, a virtual assistant takes over tasks that you could, if you wanted, do yourself or learn how to do yourself. They may do it more attractively, strategically, or frequently—but they have no special credentials like the high-level media connections of a good publicist or special access to important gatekeepers. What you’re buying, in effect, is time—and the freedom to use that time in other ways.
The questions are: How much is that time worth to you, and are there other benefits, besides freeing up your time, that a virtual assistant can offer?
. . . .
I decided to investigate these questions when I thought about how I wanted to launch my second book, coming in April. My debut (April 2020) had a great launch despite the onset of the pandemic, but I wanted to expand my thinking to consider what I did not do—or didn’t do very well.
The obvious gap, for me, was in the realm of social media. Like many others in my cohort, I didn’t grow up with social media and secretly wished I didn’t have to use it. Being both naïve and overly-aggressive (a bad combination), I made some mistakes the first time around that I still regret. For example, having misunderstood the absolute meaning of “no self-promotion,” I am now banned forever from two of the biggest reader groups on Facebook.
I’ve learned a few things since Queen of the Owls made its way into the world. I now understand that social media is a long game, not a quick grab. It’s about the slow, steady development of connection and engagement. Like all relationships, it takes time and commitment. You have to show up every day, not just on birthdays and anniversaries. And that means a serious investment of energy.
Not everyone wants to do that. After all, there’s no end to what we, as authors, might do to reach out to readers! Another thing I’ve learned is that no one can, or should, do everything. I advise those who ask me: “Just do the stuff that’s fun for you, and outsource—or forget—the rest of it.”
. . . .
Sometimes the answer is clear. If you want to pitch to the book review editor at The New York Times, you need a professional publicist to do so on your behalf—and even then, there’s no guarantee. Many authors I know are unhappy at what they now consider to be a poor “return on investment” after hiring a publicist at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They’re wondering if there isn’t a middle ground between spending that kind of money, which most don’t have, and doing it all yourself.
A virtual assistant—someone who can manage author promotion on social media—can seem like an attractive option. At a cost far below that of a publicist, with a direct appeal to readers that can actually be tracked, social media assistance is a rapidly-growing alternative.
And for those of us, like me, who do have a publicist, a social media assistant can—maybe—take over an important piece of the book promotion that publicists don’t do and that many of us authors don’t do very well.
. . . .
I encountered a number of models—different ways of working, with different price tags and different strengths and drawbacks. I ended up selecting someone who seemed to be the best fit for my needs and style. While she hadn’t worked with authors, specifically, she was creative and flexible, which were two priorities for me. I didn’t want someone with an expensive prix fixe package who required a three-month minimum commitment, as many did. I wanted to be able to explore and ramp up slowly, which this VA allows me to do.
So far, it seems to be working well. I come up with the concepts and she executes them—a division of labor that’s letting me keep to a reasonable budget, since she charges by the hour. On the other hand, there are possibilities I’m electing to forgo, such as analytics, story reels, optimization strategies, and so on—on the premise that no one can do, or cover, everything. For now, I’m simply outsourcing the creative part, which requires skills that would take me too long to learn to do well.
PG will disclose that he consumes very, very little social media because he finds the signal-to-noise ratio to be much worse than when he wanders around parts of the web that he knows well. (He’s logged into Twitter 3-4 times since it first appeared and logs out in less than five minutes.)
That said, not everyone is like PG (thankfully) and some people enjoy checking into various social media platforms on a regular basis. Some of those social media fans buy books, so indie authors will be interested in reaching them with useful (and professional-looking) information.
Therefore, PG is definitely not a qualified social media guru, observer, expert, etc., of any sort.
He is an observer of humanity in general, however.
As he observes humanity, he can easily discern expert thumb-typists using smart phones. He doesn’t think any can beat his speed when he’s using a proper keyboard, but admits that he uses all ten digits while they use two, so a reasonable person would expect differences in speed.
(PG just tried to visualize a thumb-typist hitting 60-80 WPM which PG could easily do after he got warmed up in former days and could not imagine human thumbs moving that fast on teeny digital keyboards. For five minutes or two hours.)
Having worked with a few extremely intelligent college students over the years, if PG were to hypothetically consider using a Social Media Assistant, he might explore the college population. They’re likely to be intelligent and very familiar with the various platforms and the unwritten norms that govern interaction on those platforms.
Working as a Social Media Assistant for a celebrity like PG is much better fodder for a post-graduation résumé (AKA resume) than hustling for tips at a local restaurant, reshelving books in the university library or acting as a telephone operator for the antiquated university phone system at night when no one used it. (Note – The foregoing are a few of the jobs PG held when he was in college during the Pleistocene Epoch. (Sub-Note – PG never put any of those jobs on his résumé.))
PG is interested in comments from the always-intelligent and aware visitors to TPV concerning the social media challenge/opportunity facing authors these days.
One question just popped into PG’s mind (which was not otherwise occupied) – Can you still buy social media followers?
Several years ago, when you for-sure could buy social media followers and PG was in one of his experimental moods wanting to know if social media was useful or not, he gave someone something like $25 and gained over 10,000 followers very quickly. He didn’t notice any improvement in his life, so he didn’t give the person/organization any money after that.
Then he saw a mention of a small, very cheap little program (he doesn’t remember the name of it) that claimed to be able to increase your social media followers by automatically following people who followed you and following people it found online based on a few keywords selected by the purchaser. He gained another 10,000 or so followers very quickly with that program until it stopped working or was banned from social media in general.
Suffice to say, some of PG’s skepticism concerning social media arises from those two experiences. (He wonders if Kim Kardashian got started doing the same thing.)
(Which lead to PG wondering if the reason he never became a social media superstar was that he never though to post a photo of himself wearing a swimming suit.)
Jeff Kinney needs a shovel: a six-foot shovel, to be exact.
The creator of the extraordinarily popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series has been one of the few children’s book authors to host in-person events throughout the pandemic, even if they weren’t his usual raucous affairs. Back in 2019, during what he calls “the old days,” Kinney took his interactive tour to theaters across the United States and to seven countries, selling out huge venues at every stop.
“The travel, the thousands of people,” Kinney recalled, “it just seems so naive now.”
But in early 2020, like all his colleagues in the children’s book universe, Kinney couldn’t go to the corner store, much less a packed theater. And for an author who admits that he needs the payoff of seeing his readers engaged and happy, the thought of not being around kids didn’t sit well.
“Touring gives me closure,” Kinney said last fall. “It’s a lonely business to write and illustrate, and I need that connection.”
Kinney is not the only author who feels that way.
“Oh, I need it,” author-illustrator Jay Cooper said. “Actual interaction with kids is a well of energy. You don’t always realize how empty your well is when you’re writing, but you can sure tell when kids fill it up again.”
Lamar Giles, a young adult author and founding member of We Need Diverse Books, knows that feeling. Giles had packed more than 30 author visits into the first couple of months of 2020 and had a full schedule for the rest of the year, but during the first week of March, he found himself stranded in a Seattle hotel room after his series of school visits in the city was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“My first thought was, how am I going to get home?” he said. “But my second thought was, I am really going to miss seeing these kids.”
But grief gave way to reality: If authors wanted to interact with their readers, they were going to have to get creative.
“It’s difficult to engage on a screen, especially with really young children,” Newbery winner Meg Medina said. “As an author, the last thing I want is to ask teachers and parents, who are already stretched so thin, to take on more work to keep their kids engaged while I am talking into a computer.”
Phil Bildner “has to be a magician” to keep kids engaged when he does his virtual author visits, he said. But Bildner is also a booking agent, so he knows that these virtual events are an absolute necessity, no matter the steepness of the learning curve.
PG has opined previously about what a waste of time he believes that traditional city-to-city book tours are for most, perhaps all, authors.
He’ll let visitors to TPV opine about whether book tours by children’s authors are worth the time and strange hotel rooms that may be less than ideal for writing. Including the recovery time following a book tour.
PG just considered how much Amazon advertising could be purchased for the cost of a book tour. The efficacy of that comparison would, of course, assume that the publisher was willing to hire someone who actually knew how to create, purchase and place online ads effectively. (Note: People who are really good at that sort of thing and who can generate results tend to be in high demand and charge accordingly.)
I want to talk about a new trend I’ve observed in covers, and how it applies to much of the greater world out there. I.e. how the new trend in covers is just a new way that traditional publishing has come up with to screw itself and the entire field of writing over.
They will have these brilliant ideas, and indies need to be aware of them. More importantly, they need to be aware these things are going on in other fields too, and having much the same effect.
If you have been alive a long time, or even if you “just” read books for a long time, you’re probably aware that there are trends in covers, as there are in everything else. In covers, though, particularly in the era of mega-chain bookstores, that “look” not only tended/tends to be more uniform, but it changes completely.
. . . .
In Portugal, for a while, the trend for mystery books was picture of random body part. No, not dismembered, just, you know, so blown up as to be meaningless. Like it might be a picture of some chick’s foot arch blown up till you looked at it wand went “Leg? finger?” against a bold color background and surrounded in a silver frame.
Ages have trends. I’ve disapproved without being particularly affected or interested when Baen decided to try out the new trend on some of their books, the trend at the time being something picked up from literary, which was “part of the image blown up to take up the whole cover of the book. Usually a portion or a woman’s face or eyes.” Tres …. literary and refined looking.
I actually liked the old style Baen book covers, some of which were magnificent (I rather like the original cover for DST) and some of which were appalling, but all of which harked back to the pulp years and carried an implication of “fun”.
. . . .
The newest trend is more …. interesting. I first noticed it with an indie writer, Henry Vogel. His covers look like aged paper covers, down to the creases. And the fact one of his series is called Sword and Planet Adventures, clearly evoking planet stories, it can’t be a coincidence. Note that it didn’t offend me, because I thought “Well, his books are pretty close to those covers in feel and style, so…”
I mean, I know when I went through cover-design-course I was told to make sure that my covers looked like they belong to now and not “they came from Guttenberg!” BUT for a certain type of book, perhaps marketing it as belonging to another era works best?
. . . .
I kept running into more of these covers from other houses. Covers that explicitly try to look like they’re at the latest in the 50s.
Look, as a marketing strategy it’s brilliant. And stupid as heck.
Well, because now people are getting used to looking at Amazon for books that they remember reading/used to read/etc. they will be drawn to covers that are what they remember when they fell in love with a genre.
The problem is this: for most of the mainstream publishing, the contents won’t match the cover.
And yes, I can see them totally preening and going “if we get the rubes to look at our much superior product, they’ll love it.”
Because, you know, in the industry, it’s never about publishing what people want to read. It’s about “educating” the public. Which has taken them from 100K plus printruns for midlist to 10k printruns for high list.
The problem is it’s not a business plan. It’s a virtue signaling plan. By people so provincial they all graduated from the same cluster of colleges and all live in the same cluster of cities. And don’t know anyone different, even though the majority of the public IS different.
It will pay off. Brilliantly. For a very brief time. People will buy the books thinking it’s just like the stuff they loved. And be revolted. And throw it against the wall.
PG put a link to this article at the bottom of a prior post but then realized that it definitely deserved its own post.
From David Gaughran:
Amazon recommendations drive millions of dollars of book purchases every single day, and Also Boughts are central to this system, which can lead to panic when they periodically disappear.
Also Boughts play an important role in Amazon recommendations — that process of pairing books to readers like some literary version of Tinder — but the exact role in Amazon’s recommender system can be misunderstood.
So let’s break it all down today, and show you the exact role Also Boughts play in Amazon recommendations, and why you need to protect yours.
Also Boughts reflect the other purchases your readers are making, and also influence which readers Amazon recommends books to next. As a result, Also Boughts have become the focus of attention among savvy self-publishers in recent years.
You can view them on any book’s product page on Amazon, where you may have noticed a strip of books usually placed underneath the product description, headlined with “Customers who bought this item also bought.” It looks like this:
The Also Bought strip doesn’t update as frequently as some parts of the Kindle Store, but it usually refreshes twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday evenings, which means they are a relatively up-to-date indication of how Amazon’s system views your book.
Meaning that authors watch them very closely.
Amazon’s system is always trying to determine what kind of products each individual customer is most likely to purchase, so it can make more accurate recommendations. One thing which is super important in this process is the connection between products. People who buy printers tend to buy ink, for example, and recommending a printer-buyer some ink to purchase will elicit a lot of clicks.
But it’s not just obvious pairings like leathers and feathers, Amazon’s system is constantly analyzing what everyone purchases and then using that to predict what they will buy next, in its never-ending quest to maximize sales by crunching All The Data.
The net effect when it comes to authors is this: if your book appears in the Also Boughts of a book in your niche which is selling well, this can lead to a considerable spike in sales. Conversely, if something goes wrong with your Also Boughts, it can lead to a measurable dip.
It was understandable that authors would begin worrying when Amazon seemed to remove Also Boughts from book pages, with some speculating that Amazon would stop recommending books organically and only give visibility to those using Amazon Ads.
But that’s not how the recommender system works. And I can show you exactly what I mean.
How Amazon Recommendations Really Work
Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms.
Some Amazon recommendations are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed. And all of this is completely unaffected by Also Boughts disappearing from book pages.
Let me give you an example.
During the research process for my book Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of revealing experiments.
Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? Specifically, have you noticed what happens on-screen afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick and as soon as you complete payment, a confirmation screen appears recommending more books.
Amazon is split-testing things all the time, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard.
(Unless there is an audiobook edition which is Whispersynced, then Amazon will often favor that recommendation instead. It can experiment with other approaches, such as a carousel of books, but this will also be heavily influenced by the Also Boughts of what you just purchased.)
If that #1 Also Bought is also the next book in the series, then Amazon will helpfully flag that it is indeed the next in the series – which can really drive that spillover when you are promoting Book 1, especially if you have also discounted Book 2.
(Assuming your Book 2 is that #1 Also Bought, of course, and that your series metadata is in perfect shape.)
This is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen so much on the other retailers, because they simply don’t have recommender systems quite as sophisticated as the one powering the millions of recommendations Amazon makes every day.
Other retailers do have rudimentary recommendation engines, but Amazon is quite literally years ahead of the competition, and it doesn’t feel like that gap is closing because fundamentally different philosophies are at work.
2. Browse “Related Authors” for your author targets
For many advertisers, choosing author targets is a critical part of creating successful ad campaigns. To help make it easier for advertisers to discover author targets with large audiences on BookBub, we added a tab to the author targeting module of the ad creation form to surface “Related Authors.”
After you select at least one author target for a campaign, we’ll generate a list of other authors who share readers with the author(s) you’ve already selected. Of course, you should always test your targets to determine which will be the most effective for your particular books and campaigns, but we hope this will help you find new audiences to test out!
3. View improved stats for individual author targets
When you’ve added more than one author target to a campaign, you can view the impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and cost-per-click for each target under the “Aggregate Stats” tab. These stats are now visible for each target as soon as your ad starts serving impressions.
We recommend waiting to draw conclusions about an author target’s effectiveness until you have at least a few hundred impressions. The more data you have, the more reliable the results.
Note that many of our readers fall into the targetable ad audiences of multiple authors. If a reader who sees an impression of your ad falls into the audience of more than one of the authors your ad is targeting, we include the stats from that impression under each of those authors. This may help you collect data more efficiently than if you were to target each of those authors’ audiences with separate ad campaigns.
PG notes that BookBub is not the only book promo service used by indie authors (there are quite a few).
However, PG included this excerpt because it highlights what can often be a useful principle for marketing and promoting a book (as well as a great many other things) – Watch what your competitors are doing to sell their books and try to determine if it’s working well or not.
One of the common things that advertising agencies do is to carefully monitor all the advertising and marketing activities undertaken by companies that are competitive with the agency’s clients. For example, Coke’s ad agency watches what Pepsi is doing for advertising and promotion and vice-versa.
Sometimes this practice results in copy-cat advertising, but more often, it may disclose something more subtle: the competitor has discovered a consumer segment (let’s use single women over 40 who have a reasonable amount of disposable income as an example) that responds positively to a certain type of message and has created advertisements that carry that message and is placing them in online locations that attract such visitors (or magazines focused on such readers or television programs with a high percentage of such viewers).
BookBub’s suggestion is the same. Very few readers only read books by a single author. One of the reasons that genres exist and are cultivated by publishers and bookstores is that the best way to sell more books to those types of readers.
We’ll take an example: Mystery and Crime Fiction (which are actually two genres, but are often lumped together):
Some basic sub-genres would be:
Detective Novels (Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Sue Grafton are some well-known examples)
Cozy Mysteries (Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Daly and sometimes, Dame Agatha again)
Police Procedural (Ed McBain, P. D. James, and Bartholomew Gill)
Caper Stories (W. R. Burnett, John Boland, Peter O’Donnell, and (sometimes) Michael Crichton)
So, if you write detective novels, you might want to see if you can successfully promote your book by targeting readers who like Sue Grafton’s books. In a crude way, you might use an advertising headline that reads, “If you like Sue Grafton books, you’ll really love mine!”
However, as an indie author who has complete control over your advertising and needs no one’s approval to spend some of your hard-earned royalties to generate more royalties, you can be much more sophisticated and cost effective. You can use the techniques described in the OP and also learn more about Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts.
Here on Writers In The Storm we’ve talked about putting the promise of your genre on the cover and how vital it is for selling your novel. As I’ve said before, a good cover is a contract with the reader that this story fits in the genre they’re looking for.
But what if you’ve written a cross-genre story?
Here’s the short answer: it’s almost impossible to do both at once. You have to lean one way or another, or you’ll miss both sides.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve written a sci-fi/romance novel. Think carefully about the main story elements. Is the romance really front and center? Or is it more interstellar shenanigans with strong romantic elements?
My latest series, Raegan Reid, is a blend of urban fantasy and sci-fi. When I look at it objectively I see that it’s heavier on the urban fantasy elements. If I put a typical urban fantasy cover, a badass female protagonist standing in a sinister city landscape, and then tried to insert a futuristic element into the background, I would end up with a confused cover and no one would buy my book. It would leave both urban fantasy and science fiction readers scratching their heads, and their main thought would be: “I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for me.”
You do not want that reaction for your book.
Steps to a successful cross-genre cover.
1. Take a step back and analyze the major story elements in your novel.
What genre do they belong to?
Which reader is it going to appeal to more?
Typically, you’ll find you’ve got more elements of one genre than the other.
For instance, I did not lean into the science elements hard enough in my story to market it to science fiction readers. If your cover incorrectly promises your genre, you’ll end up with angry readers, bad reviews, and a mental cross beside your name when it’s seen on future books.
As a side note, some genres are more accepting of experimentation, while other genres are more purist. If you’ve read within the genres you’re publishing in—as you should have—you’ll know which is which.
2. If your story is truly evenly balanced and you can tip either way, consider which genre has the biggest audience. You are seeking the largest pool of potential readers, because a bigger pool means more potential customers.
For instance, if your sci-romance is equal parts science fiction and romance, I’d lean romance. Biggest. Genre. Ever.
If you’re still not sure, take a look at the covers from your comp authors, and see which genre they’ve chosen to highlight. If they’ve been selling well…it’s a smart move to mimic their approach.
I spend a good portion of each day answering questions. There are the mom questions…”what did you pack me for snack?” There are the wife questions … “do I have 10 minutes to finish up this deck before dinner?” While the dog can’t speak, his eyes, tail wags, and door scratches are just loaded with questions. And since almost everything is about food, my answers don’t require much thought or even complete sentences. But then I’ll get a client question, which might go something like this: “My publisher got me something called a BookBub deal that’s running early next week in the historical fiction category, and my first question is, what’s BookBub? My second question is what else is it that I should be doing to support that deal? My third question is what will you be doing to support that deal?
These questions require greater thought, a review of the calendar, a discussion with my team, and a strategic plan. Sometimes still a client is having trouble understanding it all and then we make arrangements for a call where I lead him or her to various websites and social media platforms to get a clearer picture.
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1. [Insert Author Name] is on [Insert National Morning Show like Good Morning America] talking about the same thing my book is about. Why didn’t they choose me and can you go back to them?
We don’t usually get feedback about why a producer went with one author over another, but the reasons can be many including: that particular author may have an already established relationship with the network/show and is called on to be their expert on that topic whenever it is in the news; the author may be more well-known and have a larger following on social media, which is definitely a factor when producers are considering guests; that author may have an affiliation with an organization that can help amplify the segment that others do not; and that author may have clips to past TV interviews that show they would be engaging and have experience on TV. Those are just some possible reasons and publicists rarely, if ever, get feedback as to why a specific author was not booked. The producers do not have the time or bandwidth to report back with that level of feedback. I don’t expect they will be covering this topic again so soon, but I will continue to follow up as is appropriate to be sure you are on their radar as an expert for future bookings around the topic.—Kathleen Carter is a book publicist and founder of Kathleen Carter Communications, a literary p.r. agency.
2. Why did [Insert Bookstagrammer or Book Blogger Name] post that negative review? Can you get them to take it down?
Although it doesn’t happen very often, a blogger will sometimes post a negative or lukewarm review of a book. In my experience, this happens if a character or situation depicted in the novel makes the reader connect negatively on a personal level. More and more we see movies and television shows proactively post trigger warnings, and unfortunately, this has not yet been adopted by the book industry. The reader may have also selected a book to read that wasn’t the right fit after seeing others review it, and then find that they could not connect with the novel.Due to the strong relationships that I have built with the blogger community, typically an open and honest discussion will happen if a reader is not enjoying the book. Sometimes all it requires is a follow up on how negative critiques of a book can change ratings on review sites and what books will work better in the future to feature on social media. As a facilitator of virtual book tours, these situations help me in understanding the types of books that a certain blogger may or may not enjoy in the future and bring me closer to my community of bloggers.—Suzanne Leopold, founder of Suzy Approved Book Tours.
3. I have a really friendly relationship on Instagram with this [Insert Book Media Professional or Book Influencer] but they didn’t include me in their monthly round-up or event—did I do something wrong?
Book influencers must diversify their lists based on genre, publisher, time of the year, etc. They simply cannot include every book or author. That doesn’t mean they won’t promote your book elsewhere or that they won’t promote your next book.—Andrea Peskind Katz, founder of Great Thoughts blog and the Great Thoughts’ Great Readers Book Salon on Facebook.
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5. My book is not selling—the PR nor advertising is leading to sales, what can you do to fix this?
The job of advertising and PR is to interest someone in a book. Then the book itself must clinch the sale when the potential reader goes to the retailer. Most readers need to read the book’s full description, still be interested enough to read the book’s excerpt, and then usually check other readers’ opinions in the form of reader reviews —both the good and the bad ones. (Many readers say the bad ones are even more important.) And then lastly a potential reader will check out the price. That alone can kill sales if the author is not already a favorite. I’m a writer too and I think a copy of my book should be worth more than a latte — but readers have endless choices of books on sale for $2.99 or less and sometimes a high priced book is what is throwing off sales.So other than price, if the ads and PR were done correctly, the problem is on the retailer’s page. There are so many things on that page that can turn off a reader and kill a sale. Is the book’s description doing its job? Positioning the book correctly? Is the synopsis compelling enough? Is the book’s excerpt strong enough? The first five pages of a book are its most important.Also are there enough reader reviews on the page? Generally, you need at least 20. If you don’t have those, you need to get them — which can often be accomplished by a $119 eBook giveaway at Goodreads. A few weeks after one of those, more reviews do appear. I think the hardest thing to accept is not every book finds its audience even when you do everything right because it is not about a book being good or bad — but about the book being appealing that clinches a sale.
When you do everything right and the book still doesn’t sell (and it has happened to me with my own novels) the best advice I can give is to write the next book.
PG will drop in one bit of information that some visitors to TPV may not understand.
Advertising and Public Relations are two different things.
Advertising is where you pay to put up an advertisement somewhere – online, print, video, etc. Within limits, the person or entity has complete control over the content and appearance of the advertising. Typically, advertising will look different than whatever content the advertising platform produces itself (if it does that sort of thing). An advertisement in The New York Times will likely have some features that make it look different than NYT news content.
A reputable advertising vehicle may decline to run your ad if you claim your book has been #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for 50 weeks in a row if that’s not a true statement, but most will allow quite a bit of latitude in your description of your book.
Public Relations (sometimes called Publicity) is focused on gaining favorable comments in a variety of media vehicles that don’t qualify as paid advertising in that vehicle. Persuading the New York Times editors to have the Times book review editor accept a copy of your book and write a review of it is typically a public relations or publicity project.
While that sounds free, most of the books the Times includes in its book reviews are pitched to the editors by public relations professionals who have developed a good relationship with the Times editorial staff over a period of time by bringing worthwhile books and information about authors to the Times staff. If Publicist A has a track record of identifying and suggesting books that are going to be big sellers that will be interesting to Times readers, when Publicist A calls or emails an editor, the editor will pay attention to what the Publicist says.
While an advertising agency or advertising professional doesn’t want to get on the NYT list of deplorables, the NYT will accept quite a few different types of advertisements from a wide range of advertisers so long as somebody’s willing to pay the rather large bill the Times will charge to publish the advertisement.
On the PR side of things, there’s a lot more persuasion that goes on and the results are less certain. The NYT may accept a book for review, then write a negative review about the book or defer publication of the review until after the book’s initial introduction push is done or review the book along with several other competing books in its genre in a single article. Typically, the Publicist gets paid regardless of the outcome of her/his efforts with respect to a certain book.
While PG has used the NYT as an example, the same general distinction between advertising and publicity applies to most other large and mid-sized media organizations.
Down on the smaller end of things, some bloggers or websites will write a review for a price or if an advertisement is purchased, likely to appear at the same time or near the same time the review appears. In some cases, a platform will publish an advertisement that looks like a written review.
An indie author can, of course, do both advertising and public relations and a great many have already learned how.
PG would be interested to hear anything that authors would like to share about their experience with advertising and public relations efforts for their books. You can send him info through the Contact PG button at the top of the blog.
If you’re an Olympic runner, it’s great to beat your personal best time. But your own time means nothing unless you compare it with the other runners in the race.
In the same way, you need to know the average performance metrics of similar companies to gauge the success of your email strategy.
Every week you open your dashboard with anticipation to see if your email campaign is performing well. Among the most important metrics that you look at first are your open, bounce, click and unsubscribe rates. These email marketing statistics help you determine if your newsletters are breaking through and resonating with your subscribers.
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2020 benchmarks across all industries
Average open rate: 25.35%
Average click rate: 3.82%
Average unsubscribe rate: 0.39%
Average bounce rate: 0.83%
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The campaign metrics of MailerLite customers by industry
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Here’s a little terminology MailerLite provides that may be helpful
The open rate shows the percentage of the total subscribers that opened the email campaign.
The email click rate shows you the percentage of people who clicked on a link somewhere in your email. These clicks show how relevant your content is.
The unsubscribe rate is the percentage of people who click the unsubscribe link in your email. Though it means fewer recipients, you can make the best of it using unsubscribe surveys to improve your email content.
Bounced emails are addresses that could not be delivered successfully to recipients of email marketing campaigns. For various reasons, the recipient’s server will return the newsletter to the sender, hence the term “bounce“, and it can negatively impact email deliverability.
A bounced email is an email that couldn’t be delivered to the recipient.
A soft bounce is a temporary issue, where the email reaches the recipient’s email server but bounces back undelivered. Soft bounces could be caused by several reasons, such as a full mailbox, an offline email server, or a message file that’s too large.
A hard bounce is an email that couldn’t be delivered for permanent reasons, such as the address doesn’t exist or the server has blocked you. The email is returned to the sender and is completely undeliverable. When this occurs, your email marketing tool will no longer send emails to those email addresses. A high volume of hard bounces is problematic for email deliverability.
There is a great deal of additional information at MailerLite and thanks to Harald for the tip.
PG notes that email is an important marketing tool for a great many indie authors.
If anyone can provide links to other email marketing resources that may be helpful for indies, feel free to include information and/or links in the comments.
A note that if you include a large number of links in a single comment, your comment may be held for review or otherwise intercepted because lots of links in a comment is one of the trademarks of comment spammers.
If you have concerns about a comment with links being blocked, you can email PG directly via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.
How well does your book thumbnail cover work? You might think that your cover image is fantastic. In a full-size view, it may well be.
But when it comes to book covers, the truism that people need to see something seven or eight times before they react is probably correct.
Readers looking for a new book to buy first have to notice, and then click, your thumbnail size cover to get to your buy page.
How does your tiny book cover image stack up for attracting attention-grabbing?
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Book thumbnail images are used on every book-related site you possibly think of, even on social media.
So it is vital that you consider your small image book cover size when you are making decisions about a new book cover. You need to pay attention to how your fonts and color choices look.
. . . .
Even the featured image of your book cover on your sales pages of Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers are reduced to default thumbnails.
On Amazon, your book cover is reduced to approximately 500 x 333 pixels in the top left of your book sales page. To put this in perspective, an extremely low-resolution ebook cover is around 1280 x 720 pixels.
The best way to start analyzing how well your book cover works is to open your cover file in an image editor. Then reduce the size to create a thumbnail.
Thumbnails can be very small. Start with setting your dimensions to 90 pixels wide x 144 pixels tall.
Then view the actual size. You will see your cover in an approximation of an online thumbnail. You can experiment with additional image sizes.
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It is also important to remember that on top of reducing the dimensions, all sites reduce the image quality or resolution.
It is usually, at most, 72 dpi to make sure the file size is as small as possible.
If you can also change the resolution in your image editor, it will give you a better estimation of how good, or not, it will look online.
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Quoting Amazon’s recommendations regarding Kindle book cover size, the ideal size of ebook cover art is a height/width ratio of 1.6:1.
This means that for every 1,000 pixels in width, the image should be 1,600 pixels in height.
A cover 1280 pixels wide is generally the minimum size you should use. You can use jpg, gif, bmp, or png file types.
However, the full size of your custom image upload will never be seen online.
Your original uploaded image file will be reduced to a range of additional custom thumbnail image sizes.
Each one to suit different reading devices, on-screen applications, search engines, and different website use.
Amazon automatically generates a lot of different custom thumbnail sizes on its site.
. . . .
Here are a few examples to help you understand the necessity of covers that work in small dimensions.
On the Top Charts page, covers are quite small to give the chart number significance.
New releases are shown in the most common thumbnail medium view size, which is 107px x 160 px.
Recommendations are a little smaller at 90 px x 135 px.
Series books are usually a maximum of 135 px high.
In the You Viewed pane at the bottom of each book page, books that were viewed by people are squeezed into a 50 px x 50 px box.
Since so many blogs, including many that regular visitors to TPV have, use WordPress, PG thought the following might be helpful.
90 Billion Malicious WordPress Login Attempts
Over the course of 2020, Wordfence blocked more than 90 billion malicious login attempts from over 57 million unique IP addresses, at a rate of 2,800 attacks per second targeting WordPress.
Malicious login attempts were by far the most common attack vector targeting WordPress sites. These attempts included credential stuffing attacks using lists of stolen credentials, dictionary attacks, and traditional brute-force attacks.
Key Takeaway: Use Multi-Factor Authentication to Protect WordPress
While the vast majority of malicious login attempts targeting WordPress are destined to be unsuccessful, it only takes a single successful login to compromise a WordPress site. The brute-force mitigation provided by Wordfence is very effective, and using multi-factor authentication adds another layer of protection to WordPress logins.
Multi-factor authentication can completely prevent attackers from gaining access to a site via automated login attempts. This holds true even in unfortunate cases where user accounts on a WordPress site are reusing credentials that have been exposed in a data breach and haven’t yet been updated.
Wordfence blocked 4.3 billion attempts to exploit vulnerabilities from over 9.7 million unique IP addresses in 2020. Here were the five most common attacks over the course of the year:
Directory Traversal attacks, including relative and absolute paths, made up 43% of all vulnerability exploit attempts, at 1.8 billion attacks. While the majority of these were attempts to gain access to sensitive data contained in site wp-config.php files, many were also attempts at local file inclusion (LFI).
SQL Injection was the second most commonly attacked category of vulnerabilities at 21% of all attempts with 909.4 million attacks.
Malicious file uploads intended to achieve Remote Code Execution(RCE) were the third most commonly attacked category of vulnerabilities at 11% of all attempts with 454.8 million attacks.
Cross-Site Scripting(XSS) was the fourth most commonly attacked category of vulnerabilities at 8% of all attempts with 330 million attacks.
Authentication Bypass vulnerabilities were the fifth most commonly attacked category of flaws at 3% of all attempts with 140.8 million attacks.
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Malware From Nulled Plugins and Themes Is the Most Widespread Threat to WordPress Security
The Wordfence scanner detected more than 70 million malicious files on 1.2 million WordPress sites in the past year. The vast majority of these sites were cleaned by the end of the year. Only 132,000 sites infected at the beginning of 2020 were still infected by the end of the year, many of them likely abandoned.
The WP-VCD malware was the single most common malware threat to WordPress, counting for 154,928 or 13% of all infected sites in 2020. Overall, the Wordfence scanner found malware originating from a nulled plugin or theme on 206,000 sites, accounting for over 17% of all infected sites. Other obfuscated PHP backdoors made up the remainder of the top 5 most widely detected threats.
PG says that you’ll spend far more money (or time) either trying to get your site back online or hiring someone to do it for you than any money you pay for malware protection. Also, while your site is down, nobody is able to learn more about you and your books.
Whenever PG reads the standard warnings about removing unused themes and plugins, he always double-checks TPV for any of those. It takes about 15 seconds.
One additional suggestion he’ll make is to update your theme promptly if you see the creator of the theme has an upgrade available. Sometimes updates are released, at least in part, to toughen up the protection of the site or to remove a potential vulnerability in a theme or plugin.
PG has used Wordfence for several years and has had no problems with anybody getting through. Typically, TPV is hit hundreds of thousands of times per month with malware attacks and none has ever gotten through.
There are other very competent malware protection software/service add-ons. Here’s a link to one of many articles you can find online reviewing various security products.
If you don’t use WordPress, it’s easy to find malware protection for other blogging software/platforms.
With shelves upon shelves of books around, you felt positively overwhelmed and full of anticipation. Hundreds of stories waited for you to take a peek behind their covers. And then, you stumbled upon a book that grabbed your attention. Your eyes were glued to its shiny surface. The colors, the art, the beautiful font — they were impossible to ignore. Without even opening the book, you already wanted to experience the world hidden inside.
That’s the cover every book deserves; it should evoke emotion, whatever the readers’ age.
. . . .
How Do People Decide which Book to Buy?
A few years ago, aspiring writer Gigi Griffis decided to conduct a little survey to figure out how avid readers pick new books. Here are her results:
85% said that they buy books of the authors they already loved
A friend’s recommendation was the second most popular reason (77%)
47% and 48% respectively cited book sales and gorgeous cover art
These numbers confirm what we’ve already suspected: people stick with the familiar and they let their eyes guide them. Fortunately, a professional book cover can help us create that sense of familiarity while also attracting readers.
. . . .
Know Your Target Audience
Most of the time, readers already know what kind of a book they want. More specifically, they know the emotion they want to experience:
I want to be scared
I want to be thrilled
I want to explore strange and captivating worlds
I want to feel in love
For a cover to “hit” the target audience in just the right way, it’s primary purpose should communicate: This book has the feeling/vibe you’re looking for!
The first way we can accomplish this is through color.
People have strong, well-defined associations with color and temperature, smell, and emotions. A color can be warm, cool, wet, or dry. It can signal danger or imply coziness. An effective book cover should use associations like these to achieve the desired emotional result.
. . . .
Chip Kidd—a well-known and delightfully eccentric book cover designer—has said that his job in designing a cover is to ask: “What does the story look like?”
The imagery of your cover should answer this question while also communicating the book’s genre (which helps achieve that sense of familiarity). So don’t hesitate to follow the established canons of the genre. If the idea is common, masterful execution and a unique take can still make the visuals fresh
WRITING A BOOK is a lonely pursuit, one that can take years of solitary work. Selling a book is another story. Authors give talks in cramped storefronts, schmooze at luncheons, and learn to casually discuss their belabored creative project as commercial content. The publicity circuit can be dispiriting, sleazy, and exhausting. It can also be exhilarating, liberating, and fun—a chance for people who spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts to feel like someone’s heard them. This year, releasing a book into the world became another task largely undertaken solo, at home, staring at a screen. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the publishing industry to reimagine its process for convincing people to buy its latest offerings. Even the industry’s fanciest nights, like the National Book Awards gala, took place as digital events, with participants glammed up and sitting at home.
I was lucky enough to have a few in-person events before quarantine. One of the events was recorded for Book TV, on C-SPAN, and because it was one of the very last in-person bookstore events that happened anywhere, it ended up playing repeatedly in March and April at odd hours. The first month of quarantine, I wasn’t sleeping so great, so I would be awake at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I had signed up for email alerts to tell me when it aired and I’d get the emails sometimes just before I’d go to bed. I was staying with my parents, and my dad wakes up really early. The first time it aired, we were both up, and I was able to watch my event with my dad.
It could be a lot worse. The kind of person who wants to hole up in a room and write 80,000 words is not necessarily the kind of person who loves to be the center of attention. So there are some aspects of the virtual events that are less nerve-wracking than doing them in person. But the drawback is that these bookstores aren’t getting the same sales. And you don’t have the conversations you used to have; you’re not meeting in a restaurant and getting to catch up with old friends who show up to the reading. I miss those things. When you log out of a Zoom and you’re just alone in a room. It’s really bewildering.
Just staring at the screen feels exhausting. There are only so many ways to make virtual events different. But one of my upcoming events will be different—it’s a Second Life Book Club, hosted by Bernhard Drax. He creates avatars for authors on request. I asked for a cyborg avatar. I’m excited because it is a creative approach that isn’t trying to replicate the offline experience of a book event.
At first I was really nervous about Zoom. What if the connection cut out? Would I be presentable on camera? I got to do an event with the writer C. Pam Zhang, who wrote an incredible debut this year. Her book was picked for the Goop book club—the first pick!—and she invited me to be on a panel. I was really excited, and since it was for Goop, my wife Michelle and I wanted to present our home in a nice-looking way, with me in front of a built-in bookshelf that Michelle had made. But the connection wasn’t good enough, so I had to move to the bedroom. Only afterward did we realize that the dresser behind me was covered in a layer of dust visible on camera. We had moved some books off of it, so there was a negative outline of dust around where the books had been. This only made it more noticeable. So much for a good impression on Goop!
That was probably the worst mishap I had until the National Book Award. [Ed note: Yu won the National Book Award!] It was a mishap of my brain. I really didn’t expect to win, so I prepared absolutely nothing. When they announced my name, I started freaking out. My son was next to me and he started freaking out. My daughter was upstairs, she started freaking out. Michelle and I just looked at each other, freaking out. So I give my remarks, which are totally off the cuff—and I forget to thank my family. When I realized afterward, my stomach dropped. My book is about people who are underappreciated and I forgot to thank the people who’d supported me all those years and were literally in the background when I won. And my parents were watching in their home. I’ll never forgive myself for that.
Going to an awards ceremony in our living room was really fun, though, because afterwards I changed back into shorts and we had pizza.
Perhaps PG’s blown out with too much holiday consumption, but the promotional efforts of the publishers in the OP seemed to be very underwhelming.
Why screw around with traditional publishers if they can’t figure out an effective way to promote your book? PG’s not a publishing marketer, but he could think of ten ways to do a better job than was done for these authors.
OTOH, author appearances via Zoom certainly don’t cost the publisher any sort of meaningful money.
A Prince by any other name would still be a Prince. (I hope.)
Meghan by any other name would still be a princess
Lord or Lady. Peasant or serf.
Professor or student.
Beginner or expert.
Titles orient us to where we are and what we should expect next.
Doesn’t just apply to people, either. Also applies to books, because time-pressed readers/editors/agents take only a few seconds to make their buy decision, and authors have the same few seconds to make their sale.
If you’re aiming for a traditional publishing deal including relevant comp titles in your query letter is a must, because comp titles help define the expectations and positioning of your book. If you’re self-pubbing, well-chosen comp titles are a guide for the readers you hope to reach. In both instances, comp titles provide a target in a crowded marketplace, and will affect your cover, blurb, sales pitch and marketing plan.
Agents and publishers ask for comp titles because they need a quick shorthand way to establish the basis for sales expectations and marketing. The agent/editor/potential reader needs a reference point, and, if your book will appeal to readers who enjoy legal thrillers, steamy romance or epic fantasy, you’re providing a valuable selling tool by providing appropriate comp titles that give a solid clue about which market you’re aiming at.
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According to John Medina of the University of Washington, the human brain requires meaning before details. When listeners don’t understand the basic concept right at the beginning, they have a hard time processing the rest of the information.
Bottom line for writers: The title and the cover—image plus title—have to work as a unit to explain the hook or basic concept first. Wrong image and/or misfit title confuse the would-be buyer and you lose the sale. On-target image plus genre-relevant title and the reader/agent/editor will look closer.
I can safely say that every time I’ve been asked to speak to aspiring writers, afterward, I’ve had not one, but several come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you did what you said you did. I was told never to do that. I was told never to break that rule.” This does not surprise me, but it saddens me. When I started writing, I too had a set of rules for writing romance (my genre) that I was under the impression were unbreakable. And I wrote within the confines of those rules.
It was only when publishing house after publishing house, agent after agent had rejected my submissions, and I’d decided that no one was ever going to read my books, that I threw the rules out the window. I then simply wrote what I wanted to write, wrote how the stories came to me, was true to them and my characters.
Then I published myself … And I’ve sold more than two and a half million books.
What are the rules I broke? First, I didn’t write what I thought people wanted to read. I didn’t research what might be popular — what might sell — and write that. I wrote stories that felt personal to me, that I enjoyed completely from writing to reading. The first book that I did this with was Rock Chick, and with it and the Rock Chick series, I broke all the rules:
I wrote in first person, and at that time, romance novels in first person were available, but not customary.
I wrote my heroine’s thoughts in a stream of consciousness. I had paragraphs — many of them — that were just one word. I put myself, and what would eventually be my readers, in the mind of my heroine, Indy. Not describing what she was thinking, but thinking what she was thinking as she was thinking it. It’s important to note that not everyone could get into that, and that’s understandable, even expected. It’s also important to note that the ones who did, really did.
I ran an indie press for seven years and published thirteen books, including three New York Times bestsellers, three Hoffer Book Award Winners, and a book that was optioned for a film. We averaged 6,000 copies sold of each title—including two titles that sold more than 20,000 copies each.
To put those numbers in perspective, I think a Big Five publisher would consider 5,000 copies sold to be “respectable,” and most small publishers would consider that to be a “home run.”
We achieved success without traditional distribution and on a shoestring budget. And one of the keys to our success was using newsletters and websites that promote books.
There are dozens of book promotion newsletters (more than 100 by some counts), and I used many of them as a publisher. In this blog post, I’ll tell you why authors should include book promotion newsletters in their marketing plans, and why I launched my own such newsletter, LitNuts, despite the crowded playing field.
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You are probably familiar with some book promotion newsletters. Some of the more prominent ones are BookBub, Bargain Booksy and eReader News Today. And for every prominent newsletter, there are many other smaller ones like Book Basset, the Choosy BookWorm and the Frugal eReader.
Most of these newsletters follow a similar business model in that they are free to subscribers, and authors and publishers pay to have their books featured in the newsletter. The cost to have a book featured in one of these newsletters ranges from as low as $10 (even less in some cases) to several hundreds or even thousands of dollars (in the case of BookBub).
The newsletters are great for readers. In addition to being free, the newsletters mostly focus on bargains, and everybody loves a bargain.
The only problems from the reader’s perspective are (1) the focus on bargains means a limited universe—not every great book is $2.99 or less, and (2) uneven quality because the only requirement for most newsletters is payment—they are not looking at quality, which means there’s a more-than-middling possibility that the 99-cent self-published “bargain” ebook you just downloaded isn’t worth the time you spent to download it, let alone read it.
There are additional problems from the perspective of the author, including convoluted promotion “packages,” tiered pricing structures, and a maze of sometimes complicated order forms.
. . . .
Another thing that can be complicated from the author’s perspective is coordinating promotions. A lot of times, an author will plan (or “stack”) promotions with multiple newsletters in support of a sale—for example, putting the ebook edition of your book on sale for $2.99 (or even free) for a few days or a week. You can set up the promotions yourself with each newsletter, but be prepared to spend lots of hours at the computer filling out online order forms.
There are some economical services that will handle submission to multiple book promotion newsletters and websites if you are giving away free copies of an ebook:
Taranko1 on Fiverr: Will submit free ebooks to multiple promotion services for as little as $5.
Author Marketing Club: No charge, but they don’t submit for you. Instead, they have consolidated the links, to take you directly to the order forms of multiple promotion services. You still have to submit the books yourself, but having all of the order forms in one place will save you time.
Unless you are selling incredibly well, it’s doubtful that over the Christmas period, say from around December 10th through January 5th, you will garner many sales or reviews on Amazon. If you are looking to launch a new title, you may do better to wait for the holidays to be over. This is because at Christmas time, Amazon users are looking to buy gifts that are already wished for, such as perfume and games, and Amazon will be pushing Best Selling books from traditional authors, i.e. authors you can’t really compete with as an independent author, and you could see a very flat release if you attempt it.
2. Editorial Reviews – A Good Time To Buy
Instead of falling on your face with Amazon, you may do better to build up your professional reviews and giveaways during the break. Many services, such as ours, are open all year round, and have reviewers available to review your book despite the holidays. These reviews are great for your author profiles on Amazon and Goodreads, and you will start the new year with a bang.
Practically speaking, a book cover is just a tool to bind and protect the pages of a book. But every writer – and every consumer – knows that a book cover is so much more. Your cover is a visual ambassador for your book: it’s a marketing tool, a billboard for your brand, and sometimes even a small piece of art available to the reading public.
Having a great book cover is an essential for a successful author, so here are ten key book cover design tips that will ensure you’re getting the most out of yours.
10 Design Tips for a “Buy Now” Book Cover
1. Don’t use too many typefaces. Limit yourself to two. Some book covers may require a third typeface; others can shine with just one. Too many fonts cheapen your overall look and make you seem less professional.
2. Don’t overload your cover with ideas. A book cover is a visual elevator pitch—you’ve got literally milliseconds to convince a potential reader. And if you can’t boil your book down to one central concept, you’re in trouble. As a writer, you know about main ideas and supporting details. The front cover gets your main idea. A few supporting details go on the back in your book blurb.
3. Don’t skimp on an illustrator. Seek out a talented professional if your book requires a custom image – and be prepared to pay them for their services. Custom illustration isn’t cheap, but nothing kills a cover like a bad illustration.
Let’s face it. Facebook is just one part of your marketing strategy. You have so many other things to do, not to mention a life you want to enjoy. And you have only 24 hours in the day.
That means it’s time to look at automating some of your Facebook marketing efforts. One of the first, easiest things you can do right now is start using a Facebook auto poster to automatically publish your posts. You’ll spend less time on the platform and more time doing other tasks.
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[A] Facebook auto poster is a tool that publishes your Facebook posts at a scheduled time you’ve established previously.
There are many Facebook auto posters out there. You can choose one that satisfies your needs.
But no matter which tool you opt for, make sure it covers 3 essential features:
Options to publish now or schedule for posting in the future.
Automatically publish scheduled posts on multiple Facebook pages, groups, and profiles you’ve created at the same time or at staggered intervals.
Allow to publish all types of content: Text, links, images, videos.
Besides these features, you may also want to consider a clean and intuitive interface, detailed reporting and dashboards, or the ability to manage multiple Facebook accounts from one place.
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1. Simplify your workflow and save time
If you ever search for time management tips, you may know this quote: “Work smarter, not harder.”
It may be a bit cliché, but imagine this situation: You’re doing Facebook marketing, and have to post a lot on this platform. Are you pleased with continually copying and pasting the same post into different groups?
The answer is a loud No.
By scheduling your posts ahead of time, you’ll save yourself a significant amount of time to do other things. Your work process becomes simpler because a Facebook auto poster takes on the tedious tasks for you.
2. Reach multiple time zones and post at the best time
The best time to post on Facebook is between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
Note that this can be different depending on geographic locations (9 a.m in the United States is 11 p.m in Australia, don’t you know?).
That means you need an auto poster to ensure your posts will be published at the time with the highest engagement rates. You don’t have to log in to your account at 3 a.m; you can set it up once and let it run, only tweaking once in a while as necessary.
3. Maintain consistent scheduling across all platforms
Consistency is the key to building and growing your followers on Facebook.
Because if you consistently show up in your audience’s feed, you are more likely engage them with your brand. By doing that, your organic reach can increase, and your posts may get shown to potential new followers.
Whether it’s a slow news week or the biggest holiday season of the year, posting consistently benefits your business.
Social media marketing is never done: It is a continuous process that requires constant attention and effort.
There are also no set rules as to what should be done to achieve certain results.
There are things you can certainly do wrong though, even if you think you are an experienced social media manager.
Here are five mistakes even experienced social media managers do (I certainly did all of those!) and how to fix them.
1. Not Scheduling Social Media Updates
I know, for some social media managers reading this, scheduling is an integral part of their workflow.
How can someone achieve a consistent social media presence without creating a well-balanced schedule of social media updates?
The truth is lots of brand-owned social media profiles don’t really have a consistent schedule. Many social media managers fail to create a schedule regularly. (Yikes.)
Scheduling is not that easy to manage if you’re always in a rush or don’t have a strategy.
I’ve been there many times … You schedule creative social media updates weeks ahead and then overlook the day when your schedule has been exhausted. Time flies and a few weeks or even a month may pass before you realize you should have filled your schedule up with fresh updates.
To overcome this struggle, I’ve been using these two tricks:
Create a social content schedule for the following year
I tend to use a slower period for scheduling. This is when I sit down and schedule 1-2 updates a month for as far a year ahead. Usually, these are weekend updates or posts timed for a holiday or a seasonal trend (back-to-school, Black Friday, etc.) This way, I make sure I will not miss any.
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Set up a routine
Always schedule monthly updates on a specific day.
For example, always on the last Friday of the previous month or always on the 28th of each month. Doing so will help you to keep yourself accountable.
I also create a recurring calendar reminder to never miss the day.
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2. Cross-Posting the Same Updates Everywhere
As social media managers, we always have to manage more than one channel. At the bare minimum, your active social media profiles to manage to include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
It is always tempting to create the same update and cross-post it everywhere.
Doing so will, unfortunately, create a few missed opportunities by making your updates less appealing (and hence easier to miss).
There are platforms that support mostly vertical images, and there are platforms that prefer square images. There are channels that tend to respond better to animated GIFs and / or micro-videos, and there are platforms that hardly support them.
I could go on …
Creating an original, well-crafted (visual) update for each of your channels is not only more effective but also very doable. For example, there are image creation solutions that allow you to resize your images with one click of a mouse (such as Snappa) and there are tools that let you create animated GIFs in minutes (like Bannersnack):
PG fails to check any boxes as either a social media pretend-expert or a more than a mini-social media user.
In the earliest existence of TPV, PG had a couple of WordPress plug-ins that automatically spit out a short blurb with hash tags on a couple of TPV social media accounts that PG seldom monitored. PG seems to recall that each of the plugins wanted some money to keep doing what they had been doing at no charge and he hadn’t seen any real benefit from the social media world, so he uninstalled them.
One of the fundamental principles of any sort of advertising or promotion activity is to know your audience, which includes knowing what the audience watches, listens to, clicks on, etc., etc.
While TPV is anything but a finely-crafted piece of self-promotion for whatever he’s selling these days, PG thinks he has a pretty good feel for the people who stop buy to check out what’s going on around here. He watches comments and, on occasion, traffic stats for the site and it’s doing what he thinks he wants it to do, at least today.
If PG woke up one morning and decided he wanted to be a social media star, he would probably ask a neighbor who teaches social media marketing at a local university to identify his smartest student, then hire that student on a part-time basis to help set up PG’s social media empire, launch it, then watch what the student did with social media on PG’s behalf for a few months to learn the ropes.
During PG’s online wanderings, he has read a zillion articles about how to be successful in social media, but he senses that he’s not feeling the rhythms necessary to really do it well.
If he were purely pragmatic, PG might conclude that he’s doing fine without social media and focus on the things he knows how to do and knows will work for him, but he has a soft spot for new gadgets (he can see several by just glancing at the far reaches of his large, wrap-around desk), so he still monitors bright objects like social media.