When I first decided that I wanted to write a novel I have to admit I was a bit naïve going into the process. I was fumbling my way through and asking questions to authors that I knew on a regular basis.
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As soon as I hit my word target I realized there was a lot more work to go just to get it to a point where I could consider publishing it. This is when I took to Fiverr and other freelance sites to find experts that can assist me with the post-writing work of creating a book.
The results were a mixed bag, but on the whole I highly recommend at a minimum getting ideas from sellers on Fiverr if you are writing a book.
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1. Finding an editor
I created a job on multiple sites (mainly focused though on Fiverr and Upwork) to try and find an editor that could take my rough draft and help me get it closer and closer to a finished product. I received a lot of responses from both sites and I quickly realized I needed to be asking more questions to help weed out all of the people responding to my gig.
I asked questions like: How many YA books have you edited? How many books have focused on fan fiction or Norse myths? I would recommend that you think about these things prior to listing your jobs so you can more efficiently get through what will be quite a large volume of people submitting bids or applying to your job.
I ended up paying $350 for the first round of edits on a 53,000-word novel (as an aside, the novel finished around 61,000 words). I got incredibly lucky or did a decent job of vetting the editors because the person I found was amazing, efficient, and literally made all the difference in the world to my book.
Most of the online services would have cost triple the amount of money and would not have turned the book around in three working days. This was an incredible value and I am extremely happy with the choice I made to list this job.
2. Creating a Book Cover
My next gig that I listed was to have a graphic designer help me create a proper book cover for my eBook. I decided to focus on just an eBook release so I only needed a front cover. The volume of responses that I got from this job was a bit overwhelming and there was a very wide range of prices.
I tried a couple of sellers for this and provided them with the information they requested to take a crack at the book cover. The results of this job varied wildly from really terrible designs to ones that were okay but unusable. I ended up creating my own book cover using Canva and some ideas that I picked up from the various Fiverr designs that came my way.
I ended up spending around $150 for these services in total and ultimately didn’t use the results other than to influence the final book cover design. In the grand scheme of things this is a small price to pay to get some creative ideas and I do think that you can get usable book covers this way although I think I would encourage paying on the higher end of the bids as this was definitely an area where I got what I paid for with each design.
3. Copy for my Amazon listing
As soon as I got through a few rounds of edits (each round cost me the same as I used the same seller). I was ready to publish my book. In order to do that you have to do things like prepare the copy for the Amazon listing which is almost an art in itself.
Ultimately, I ended up using the same seller that did the editing for my book to help write (really edit) the copy that would go up in all of the online bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.).
This was a modest cost of $50 and it made a huge difference in what I released. They expertly guided me through how to entice people to read the book by making it less of a short summary and more of a comparison piece to other similar books and shows that the reader might also like. I would not have thought of doing that without their assistance, but it makes complete sense.
p until my early 20s, I had never heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act. I remember taking classes on Mississippi history during my childhood in Oxford, then Texas government, and later the story of the Alamo during my teenage years in Austin. Our history textbooks were heavy and thick, always a pain to take home. Still, for all their pages, they never discussed that period of history when an entire group of people was barred because of the threat they posed to white labor and racial purity. It wasn’t until I took an intro to Asian American studies course in my senior year of college that I was introduced to that significant moment of American history: in 1882, President Chester A. Aurthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act (then known as the Chinese Restriction Act), which banned Chinese laborers from entering the country for ten years.
In my debut novel, Four Treasures of the Sky, Daiyu, the 13-year-old narrator, is kidnapped from her home in Zhifu, China and smuggled across the Atlantic Ocean, where she is sold to a brothel in San Francisco. From there, Daiyu journeys to Idaho, hoping to find her way back home. It is not just the physical journey that stands in her way, however—Daiyu is in America at the height of anti-Chinese sentiment, arriving just on the heels of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. It is this pervasive hatred, this revulsion of the “moon-eyed heathen,” that poses the greatest threat to her return—not the wilderness nor the cold of winter.
The Chinese Exclusion Act is not a singular moment of anti-Chinese action in our history. Years before, for example, came the Page Act, which indirectly banned Chinese women from entering, thus contributing to the lopsided demographics of Chinese immigrants for years to come. Decades before that was People v. Hall, which ruled that the Chinese—following precedence from Section 394 of the Act Concerning Civil Cases—were not allowed to testify against white citizens in court, claiming they were “a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior.” When examining the legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act, we must also consider what came before as well as what came after, and the ugly culmination of violence and legislative escalation that leads us to where we are today.
PG would have been happy to embed an Amazon ad that would allow visitors to examine the first several pages of the author’s new book, but, as PG mentioned earlier, the geniuses at Flatiron Books, the publisher of the book, didn’t have Look Insideworking so PG could embed the ebook ad and have it work.
I have a confession to make: until I started doing research for this article, I had no idea that Book of the Month is almost 100 years old. That tells me two things: for one, it seems that I live under a rock; for another, it speaks to the level of success of Book of the Month’s rebranding strategy. Now, does this mean that it is all-around successful for everyone, authors included? That’s an altogether different question.
WHAT IS BOOK OF THE MONTH?
The short answer: Book of the Month (BOTM) is a subscription service that lets you choose from seven (as of March 2022) books, then it sends you a hardcover copy of the one you picked. If you like more than one of the choices, you can opt to buy add-ons for an extra fee.
The long answer: throughout its history, Book of the Month has been a book club, a subscription service, and a cultural phenomenon. It launched in 1926, the brainchild of Harry Scherman, Max Sackheim, and Robert Haas. Based in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, Book of the Month Club identified a market for a mail order book distribution service. It became an incredible success in a relatively short time: its initial 4,000 subscriber list expanded to 60,058 by 1927. This was by and large due to its two main tenets:
On one hand, it tapped into the middle-class American wish to, as Caitlin Gannon puts it, “stay current.” By offering them a new book vetted by a panel of editorial experts, the company managed to make them feel that subscribing was the key to accomplishing that goal. The panel in question was composed of Dorothy Canfield, Henry Canby, William Allen White, Heywood Broun, and Christopher Norley; and over the next few decades, they became synonymous with Book of the Month Club.
On the other hand, buying books in 1926 was not half as simple as it is today. Bookstores were set in urban areas, making it hard for a lot of people to make the trip. The convenience of offering these books straight to their doorstep was a major factor to Book of the Month Club’s success.
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DOES BOOK OF THE MONTH HAVE AN EFFECT ON BOOK SALES?
In the past, it absolutely did. Book of the Month Club’s first selection was The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway’s first novel. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger were also selections in 1936 and 1951, respectively. In 1978, Nelson DeMille’s debut novel By the Rivers of Babylon was another Book of the Month Club pick, at the beginning of what became a wildly successful career.
But what about Book of the Month’s current iteration? Does it make any difference to sales? Well, that can be a little hard to identify.
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In order to find the answer, I reached out to authors, editors, and agents. I was particularly interested to hear from bestselling author Amor Towles’s agent, Dorian Karchmar at WME, as two of his three published novels have been Book of the Month picks. As it turns out, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem. As Karchmar told me,
“Amor’s novels are so beloved, the growth of his fanbase so organic, word-of-mouth-based, and deeply supported by booksellers (independent booksellers, most especially), librarians, and other recommenders, that I wouldn’t try to make the case that Book of the Month Club played a signal role in the success of A Gentleman in Moscow or The Lincoln Highway.”
She did make a case for Book of the Month making a real difference in other cases: “I have absolutely seen the impact of a BOTM selection when it comes to authors and novels that are on the brink of breaking out to the next level, and have benefitted significantly from BOTM’s curation and skilled deployment of Instagram.”
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Even when exact sales numbers aren’t available, partly because of the reasons mentioned above and partly because others told me it was company policy not to reveal figures, there are factors to consider: social media engagement is a considerable one. Kylie Lee Baker, whose debut novel The Keeper of Night was a selection last November, told me that she doesn’t have actual book sales numbers because she hasn’t received her first royalty statement yet. But she “definitely saw a significant increase of people tagging me on Instagram with BOTM copies in November.” The site also features over 6,000 reviews of her book, indicating that, not only was her novel chosen by a great number of subscribers, but it generated enough interest for those subscribers to log back in and take the trouble to leave a review.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest … Where do you start? How do you find the time? What do you post? Do you have to be on all of them?
Before you scroll through or dismiss this entirely, I’m going to ask you to take a moment to breathe.
Most of the advice that we see online is geared toward people who are trying to build a business and already use social media regularly. But what if you don’t spend time on social media? Maybe you have an account but it’s dormant, and all you want to do is sell some books and meet some other writers. Let’s start the very beginning.
We writers come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are working on building a portfolio and pitching articles. Others are building a following that could become a readership for a book we will be publishing. And still others want to approach influencer status and may be willing to spend more time on social media than the average writer.
Before diving in, consider your goals
Do you want to sell more books? Hint: Take your pick, any social media platform will do.
Do you want to grow your email list? Hint: Take your pick, any social media platform will do.
Are you promoting your blog or articles you’ve written? Hint: Facebook and Pinterest might be your best bet.
Do you write poetry (micro work) that you want to publish directly to a platform? Hint: Twitter and Instagram might be your best bet.
Are you trying to connect with people and share more personal information? Hint: Instagram and Facebook might be your best bet.
Let’s break down the platforms.
Best if you want a little bit of everything; writing, photography and/or video
Full disclosure, this one is my favourite because in addition to writing, I also love photography. I like taking pictures and matching them to my text. Even though I know that a lot of people won’t take the time to read what I write, there are enough that do. To date I’ve made a substantial number of contacts this way. As Instagram competes with other sites, more features are being added. You can create short videos (aka Reels) and longer live videos. As a bonus, since it is under the same umbrella as Facebook, you can choose to automatically crosspost on Facebook. This is where a lot of people start to have heart palpitations since it sounds complicated, but it really is as easy as sliding a toggle.
Best if you want to focus on one liners and short text
If you have time, prefer to stick to text, and if you can think fast (the average lifespan of a tweet is 18 minutes), then Twitter might be the platform for you. This is where agents and editors like to hang out, so there’s a good chance that you’ll hear about the latest trends or what they are specifically looking for. I have also found that quite a few magazine editors post their wishlists on there, and some will even answer your questions. If you are trying to get a reporter’s attention, this is a great platform for that. This comes in handy if you are trying to be featured in an article.
As an author, your community consists of your readers, your fans, people who support your work. In addition to selling more of your work, or having a successful launch, your community can be a great place to share ideas, engage and connect with fans, and give people with shared interests a space to belong.
You can build your community, whether you’re an author or some other sort of content creator. I’m a podcaster, and one of my favorite parts of podcasting is interacting with our listeners and our community.
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There are a lot of places where you can build your community and give them a central place to hang out and reach you. One interesting one is Substack, or some sort of newsletter service. Substack has an interesting case study about Caroline Chambers, a writer whose cookbook proposal was rejected, but she turned the proposal into “a thriving reader-support Substack.” As of the time of writing, she had over 11,500 free subscribers and 3,000 paid subscribers, and she started earning money for her work within a year of moving to Substack.
The gist is she posts once per week, easy to follow recipes that people can use when they don’t feel like cooking. She shares her newsletter on social media often, and runs regular promotions. Her call-to-action (CTA) is “Subscribe for $35/year, the price of a cookbook.”
You can choose to make your community free or paid. Sometimes when you have to pay, the community is called membership. The Membership Guide has a lot of resources, mostly related to how journalists can create membership programs. With membership, the idea is your readers are your equals, and you deliver content they value. For membership programs to work, make sure you listen and experiment and offer flexibility.
Go as low as you can go for 2 or 3 days (fewer days creates urgency) and submit the book to sites that are dedicated to promoting Kindle deals.
#4 Run BookBub Ads
Because BookBub ads are so visual, this will work especially well with a new cover. When using book marketing strategies like this, be smart about running your ads to target those who are most likely to resonate with your book, regardless of its pub date.
“Luminous, sui generis, and above all brave. This newsletter is a work of startling originality.” – The New York Review of Newsletters
“Counter Craft is like the bastard child of William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, and Jane Austen all mixed together.” – Steven King (no relation)
“A tour-de-force triumph equal parts haunted and haunting.” – The New Substacker
Blurbs. Few parts of the publishing process cause more anxiety for writers. As a blurb requester, it’s stressful and a bit pathetic to beg for praise from writers you may have never met. As a potential blurber, the number of requests can be overwhelming and blurbing is always time consuming. Hell writers have been complaining about blurbs since the dawn of, well, blurbs. In the 1930s George Orwell said:
Question any thinking person as to why he ‘never reads novels’, and you will usually find that, at bottom, it is because of the disgusting tripe that is written by the blurb-reviewers…Novels are being shot at you at the rate of fifteen a day, and every one of them an unforgettable masterpiece which you imperil your soul by missing.
While blurbs might suck, it doesn’t follow that blurbs are unimportant or don’t work. About every month I see a writer—sometimes an emerging writer, sometimes a well-published and acclaimed one—ask, “Do blurbs ACTUALLY work?” Typically this is followed by a sentiment like “I’ve never picked up a book in a bookstore and bought a book based on a blurb.” (Note: I wrote a draft of this newsletter, including the above paragraph, a few weeks ago before today’s twitter blurb discourse. This newsletter is not subtweeting anyone specific.)
Do Readers Actually Buy Books Based on Blurbs?
Yes, sometimes. I myself have bought books thanks to blurbs now and then. Recently, I was browsing a translated literature table and saw The Houseguest by Amparo Dávila. I’d never heard of the author, but the book had blurbs from Carmen Maria Machado and Julio Cortázar so I thought, hell, let’s give this author a try! I’m glad I did.
Whenever blurb discourse heats up, plenty of readers say blurbs are a factor. So yes, they can sell books.
At the same time, yes, it is perhaps true that blurbs are rarely the deciding factor. Most likely a potential reader has heard word of mouth recommendations, read reviews, or simply seen the cover all over the place before they even pick up the book to see the blurbs. But that’s actually the point. Most of the work that blurbs do happens long before a customer sees the book on the table.
The blurbs might be what put the book on the table in the first place.
How Blurbs Sell Books
The thing one always has to remember about publishing is that the sheer number of books published each year is enormous. Even ignoring the countless self-published books, there is an avalanche of traditionally published books each month. It’s unending. Because of this, everyone—readers, reviewers, booksellers, etc.—has to find ways to winnow the number down to something manageable. There is simply no possible way a human could read every book published to “decide for themselves” what’s worth reading or promoting or placing on the bookstore shelf. It’s just impossible.
Take for example the “most anticipated” lists that appear in every magazine every year. How are those books picked? It’s not because the list writer has read 100,000 forthcoming 2022 books and picked the best. It’s not that they’ve read 10,000 or even 1,000. They’re reading a tiny fraction of what’s forthcoming and sometimes include books they can’t possible have read because they aren’t in galleys yet.
Blurbs help winnow down the flood. They are only one of many winnowing factors, but they are one of them. To use publishing speak, blurbs especially help with “positioning” a book. Is a debut novel literary horror fiction? A commercial thriller? Meditative autofiction aimed at millennial readers? Blurbs help signal where a book fits in the marketplace and the reader’s shelf. Maybe they aren’t an objective measure of quality, but they’re actually a pretty good measure of a book’s milieu.
Link to the rest at CounterCraft and thanks to Elaine for the tip.
When Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez of Strick&Williams were invited to design Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, Strick was already intimately familiar with the work. As the designer of The Paris Review, the magazine that serialized Cusk’s first book in the series, Strick had already acquainted herself with the roving narrative, which traces the journey of a woman enroute to Greece and the strangers she meets along the way. As three books, hatched one after the other like eggs, it only made sense to design Outline, Transit, and Kudos as a trio, with a “spare but evocative” vibe, as Strick put it, which bridges together each part of the whole.
While designing one cover or jacket requires the designer to conjure a single visual solution, crafting a cohesive look for such a project creates an added challenge. Each cover must encapsulate the story within while simultaneously maintaining some coherent iconography that can run through every title—not unlike a magazine design. And that design challenge and opportunity is magnified to the extreme when all of an author’s books take on a clearly defined aesthetic, which Cusk’s eventually did with work by Farrar, Straus & Giroux creative director and designer Rodrigo Corral.
Such comprehensive cover design initiatives tap into the same power as branded objects. It might seem dismal to compare an author to a brand. The writer—the literary purveyor, if you will—is indispensable, and each book they produce is a unique object. To group them together in a branded package like bottles on a drug store shelf can seem reductive, dystopian even, at its face. But this is essentially what publishers do when they commission several books by one author to be designed in a similar fashion. It’s a way for the publisher to associate a particular writer with a visual identity. And ultimately, despite any venal ambitions on behalf of publishers, the designs they require can be demanding and gratifying artistic projects for book designers.
Corral’s covers are the ones Cusk is perhaps now most well-known for. They’re white, modern—brutalist almost—with one slightly oversaturated, often metaphorical photo in the center of each. Amid the swirl of illustrated covers as of late, it seems unique to find photos on the covers of novels. While it sometimes risks narrative misinterpretation, as in Peter Hujar’s enigmatic photo on the cover of A Little Life, for Cusk’s books, it works, perhaps because her writing tends to take on broad philosophical questions. “So much of the [Outline trilogy] takes place in transit and on planes,” Corral explains. “The reading experience is quite similar to eavesdropping. You cannot stop listening or reading.” Fittingly, the image on the third installment of the Outline series is the contemplative view one experiences when peering out an airplane window.
Several years ago in a campaign wrap-up call for an author’s first self-published book (she had a few books with big houses in previous years), she commented to me that she was disappointed by the lack of blogger reviews I had gotten for her novel. Fair enough – most of the bloggers that had covered her in the past either hadn’t responded to my outreach, expressed that they had too much on their plate, or were nowhere to be found. When a book is self-published, publicists often receive a different response from media and influencers, so the quiet didn’t weigh on me heavily. When I told my client we had secured and paid for a BookBub deal that lead to more than 27k downloads and dozens of favorable Amazon reviews in just a week’s period of time, creating a halo-effect for her previous works and introducing thousands of new readers to her work, she said nothing except to ask what was BookBub was. (It was in our proposal and letter of agreement.) Some months later, I heard she had gotten an offer from one of Amazon’s publishing imprints for that very same book. Bravo!
Let’s break this apart.
-We were at a turning point in the blogging world. The reason for my poor showing on the blogger front was perhaps less about me doing the work and more about the fact that bloggers weren’t doing so much blogging anymore. Hello #bookstagram
-BookBub was founded in 2012. Think about when you first started using this influential platform. For any author that has gotten a BookBub deal – how thrilled were you?
-Amazon started its publishing arm in 2009 and launched several imprints in its first two years. And that was over a decade ago. I love the idea of more authors having a shot at living their dreams, but what does it mean for PR?
This morning I was listening to David Bowie’s song CHANGES. I love Bowie–the oddity, the wandering, the uniqueness, the fact that he was always ahead of the time, THE CHANGES.
Here in book world, you may have noticed some of the changes–popular books out of stock, less attendance at Zoom events, publishers not wanting authors to do virtual bookstore events, delayed shipments, authors creating their own platforms on social media, lots of Instagram Live programming, less reviews, not much differentiation of books in media coverage.
M.J. Rose, Founder of Authorbuzz; Co-founder Blue Box Press; Bestselling novelist (current book out is The Fashion Orphans with Randy Susan Meyers)
We are finding with so many more books being released than ever before, one of the most important new developments is that the book’s Amazon page is more important than it ever has been.
There’s a limited amount of information any marketing can impart. Ads interest people in the book but what sells the book is the book description and reader reviews and excerpt on the Amazon page.
So what is key? The book description needs to help the reader know quickly if the book is for them or not. Not adjectives about how good the writing is or how profound (insert any other word) but rather what kind of book this is.
You need to tell the reader – hey if you love this author and that author – this book is for you – to give them examples – to explain. Then the description needs to be no more than 3 -4 tight and powerful paragraphs.
Here is an example of one that works so well:
In the vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab’s genre-defying tour de force.
A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
PG suspects that the traditional public relations business has become very difficult after the Covid shutdowns.
PR is like advertising, although you’re hiring a PR agency to get you free (if you don’t think about the fees you pay to the agency) publicity for your book, product, services, etc.
Typically, the PR agency has good contacts in all areas of the traditional media and uses those contacts to pitch stories to, for example, The New York Times.
However, not all is well with traditional media these days. Here’s a graph showing paid circulation of the Sunday NYT (typically the largest circulation edition) over time:
You will note that fewer and fewer people have been reading the New York Times each year for the past seven years. And the graph shows how many people are receiving the Times, not whether they are actually reading some, all or none of the paper.
PG suspects that PR agencies have online experts, but he also suspects that an Instagram genius can make more money on an independent basis than she/he could as the employee of a PR agency.
This is speculation on PG’s part. He’s happy to hear opinions from others with more actual knowledge.
There comes a time in every great bull market where the dreams of investors collide with changing facts on the ground. In the subprime boom it was the moment when mortgage default rates started to rise in 2006; in the dotcom bubble of 2000-01 it was when the dinosaurs of the telecoms sector confessed that technological disruption would destroy their profits, not increase them. There was a glimmer of a similar moment when Meta (the parent company of Facebook) reported poor results on February 2nd, sending its share price down by 26% the next day and wiping out well over $200bn of market value. That prompted a further sell-off in technology stocks.
Along with low interest rates, a driver of America’s epic bull run of the past decade has been the view that big tech firms are natural monopolies that can increase profits for decades to come with little serious threat from competition. This belief explains why the five largest tech firms now comprise over 20% of the S&P 500 index. Now it faces a big test.
Since listing in 2012 Meta has exemplified big tech’s prowess and pitfalls. For a glimpse of the caricature, consider the American government’s antitrust case against it first launched in 2020. It describes an invincible company in a world where technology is perpetually frozen in the 2010s: “this unmatched position has provided Facebook with staggering profits,” America’s Federal Trade Commission wrote in its lawsuit.
Examine the firm’s fourth-quarter results, though, and its position seems rather vulnerable and its profits somewhat less staggering. It comes across as a business with decelerating growth, a stale core product and a cost-control problem. The number of users of all of Meta’s products, which include Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is barely growing. Those of the core social network fell slightly in the fourth quarter compared with the third. Net income dropped by 8% year on year and the firm suggested that revenue would grow by just 3-11% in the first quarter of 2022, the slowest rate since it went public and far below the average rate of 29% over the past three years—and below the growth rate necessary to justify its valuation.
Meta’s troubles reflect two kinds of competition. The first is within social media, where TikTok has become a formidable competitor. More than 1bn people use the Chinese-owned app each month (compared with Meta’s 3.6bn), a less toxic brand that is popular among young people and superior technology. Despite attempts by Donald Trump to ban it on national-security grounds while he was president, TikTok has shown geopolitical and commercial staying power. Just as the boss of Time Warner, a media behemoth, once dismissed Netflix as “the Albanian army”—an inconsequential irritant—Silicon Valley and America’s trustbusters have never taken TikTok entirely seriously. Big mistake.
The second kind of competition hurting Facebook is the intensifying contest between tech platforms as they diversify into new services and vie to control access to the customer. In Facebook’s case the problem is Apple’s new privacy rules, which allow users to opt out of ad-tracking, in turn rendering Facebook’s proposition less valuable for advertisers.
So are Meta’s problems a one-off or a sign of deeper ructions within the tech industry? Strong results from Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft in the past two weeks may lead some to conclude there is little to worry about. Apple’s pre-eminence in handsets in America and Alphabet’s command of search remain unquestionable. Yet there are grounds for doubt.
The competition between the big platforms is already intensifying. The share of the five big firms’ sales in markets that overlap has risen from 20% to 40% since 2015.
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Even in e-commerce, where Amazon remains pre-eminent, serious challengers such as the supermarket giants (Walmart and Target) or rival online platforms (Shopify) are making their presence felt. In any case, Amazon’s thin margins and vast investment levels suggest that consumers may be getting a better deal than investors. Although a strong showing from the cloud division divulged on February 3rd may buoy the e-empire’s market value by more than half as much as Meta lost, the cloud business is unlikely to stay as lucrative for ever. Alphabet, Microsoft and Oracle are already trying to compete away some of Amazon’s lofty cloud margins.
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The second change involves how investors and governments think about big tech, and indeed the stockmarket. The narrative of the 2010s—of a series of natural monopolies with an almost effortless dominance over the economy and investment portfolios—no longer neatly reflects reality. Technology shifts and an investment surge are altering the products that tech firms sell and may lead to a different alignment of winners and losers. And, as in previous booms, from emerging markets to mortgages, high returns have attracted a vast flood of capital, which in turn may lead to overall profitability being competed down. Given the enormous weight of the technology industry in today’s stockmarkets, this matters a great deal. And the mayhem at Meta shows it is no longer just an abstract idea.
PG recently signed up for Walmart’s Free Delivery service. So far, he’s been able to get some ordinary household items delivered that are substantially less-expensive than the same/similar items offered on Amazon for PG’s Prime Account.
PG stumbled on something he hadn’t seen before on KDP, A+Content capabilities.
Basically, this appears to be a new tool to allow you to perk up your indie book descriptions with breakthrough formatting such as Bold, images, images with text overlays and stuff your fourth-grade relative has been doing in html since three months after she/he was born.
However, instead of using sophisticated html creation programs, you have to use a clunky-looking set of tools that the bosses at KDP have ordered their underlings to create.
In addition, the Zon has special content guidelines that appear to be different than the usual KDP book description content guidelines.
Before you create A+ Content, review the A+ Content Guidelines. Amazon has specific terms and policies regarding types of content that may not be allowed, so review these carefully. Violating these guidelines may lead to a rejection by our system, which can require updates.
Just because KDP has a marketplace where you’re promoting your books now doesn’t mean that it will support A+ Content.
A+ Content must be created and published in each marketplace where you would like it displayed. From kdp.amazon.com, you can publish A+ Content in these marketplaces:
From kdp.amazon.co.jp you can publish A+ Content in Amazon.co.jp
The languages that A+ Content can be published in vary by marketplace.
And, finally, the book description police have upped their game as well.
All content in compliance with our A+ Content Guidelines will appear on your detail page within eight business days. If your content requires changes, we’ll send you an email with further instructions.
For PG, this feels like going back to Web Design 1.0 again. You can check out Content Examples of A+ Content to see what the A+ people think is cool online merchandising.
PG has speculated before that Amazon’s KDP tech and management people live in a world of their own that is apart from the mothership tech and design group. For Amazon’s other product lines, there are lots and lots of ways of presenting information, formatting marketing messages, putting up images, etc., etc.
You can even create your own branded store – here’s a link to one for Cuero, a leather-goods company PG hadn’t heard of before stumbling on it when he was looking for an example of a visually-interesting store on Zon.
For some reason books and authors seem to get the brown shoe set of marketing design tools. For example, if you look at JK Rowling’s author page, you’ll see that it looks pretty much like Rosie Graveltruck’s author page. Aside from her family, Rosie has not made any sales on Amazon. JK has been a money machine for both her publisher and the Zon. Cuero is way cooler than JK is.
PG just used a free app he found online while creating this post – PIXLR – to create an Author Page graphic that is far more eye-catching than Amazon can manage for JK.
Your book title, along with the cover, is a key marketing tool: it must prompt potential readers to pick up the book in a bookstore or click on it online because they want to know more.
General nonfiction often makes its purpose explicit in the title or subtitle, but memoirs and novels are more ethereal; they explore themes, characters and situations, and their titles can go in a thousand directions. This richness of choice can sometimes stump a writer.
. . . .
Don’t get overly invested in your working title
Heather Young, author of literary murder mysteries, loved her initial titles, but her publisher asked her to change them—a very common experience.
“I pitched my first novel with the title White Earth, but the marketing department said it sounded like an alien invasion novel,” explained Young. “My agent recommended that I go through the book and find a phrase that leaped out at me. I found ‘once we were light’ and I pitched it, but they said it sounded like a weight loss book. Finally, the publisher suggested The Lost Girl. My contribution was, ‘Let’s make it plural,’ so the title The Lost Girls came by committee, between me, my publisher and the marketers.”
. . . .
Respect your contract with the reader
You may have a great title, but if it doesn’t fit the tone of your book, it’s not going to work. Jeannine Ouellette, author of The Part That Burns, faced this dilemma. Her book is a memoir in fragments. When it came time to choose the title, she hesitated between the title of two of the fragments, Four Dogs, Maybe Five and The Part That Burns.
“Both captured something essential to the book,” explained Ouellette. “Four Dogs, Maybe Five pointed to the way trauma destabilizes memory. It was also playful, but what concerned me is that it established a false contract with the reader. I wouldn’t want a dog lover to think this is a happy story about dogs because it’s not, so I wasn’t completely comfortable with this title, even though it had more light.”
The Part That Burns also contained some of the essential meaning of the book. “In this fragment the narrator is integrating the memories of her stepfather’s abuse, her sexuality, motherhood, and the power of giving birth; she understands that she can only live a full life by accepting the fullness of who she is and that includes the trauma of what happened to her. That’s what the title represented for me, and it didn’t have the disadvantage of being misleading. It’s a little intense, but I felt that was okay for this book.”
When I sold my 15th novel, The Enlightenment Project, and my publicist asked for a list of people I could ask for blurbs, I faltered. I explained that my husband had been quite ill, and that I had been out of the loop for a while—that anyone I asked would likely say, “Lynn who?”
My publicist persisted. “Tell me who you know.” I mentioned that Wendell Berry, the great poet and writer, had been my teacher and my mentor. “Perfect,” she said. “Ask him.”
So I did. I sent a typed letter, reminding Wendell rather shyly who I was. I addressed him as Dr. Berry, and apologized for the audacity of my request. Three days later I received a response—handwritten on a sheet of yellow legal pad, in pencil. Wendell has been known to write on a feed sack, but I believe such surfaces are reserved for poetry.
I sat at my desk, dog at my feet, and read the letter, my hand shaking, just a little, as a slow smile of joy spread across my face. Wendell began by telling me that what I called audacity, he remembered as “your good sense and a vivid spiritedness, that I saw in you when you were a student and remember very well. But I quit writing blurbs a long time ago, just because I didn’t have the time to make honest work of it. I am not sorry I quit, but I’m sorry to say no to you.”
He said that he hoped I was all right, and to please stop calling him Dr. Berry, as he was my old friend, Wendell. He sent me a signed copy of his book of essays, Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer, and I read it right there at my desk, happy just to hear his voice in his work, remembering when I had stormed the University of Kentucky, a 16-year-old freshman, seeking out every writing class offered.
As a former acquisitions editor at a publishing company, I well remember the ritual wherein executives gathered in a conference room armed with their tabbed notebooks. Once a month, department leaders—including those in editorial, marketing, and sales—and key sales representatives arrived for the pub board meeting. As a new editor, I had my spot on the schedule to present several books from my authors. Authors, retailers, librarians, and others in the publishing business never see or attend these sessions. I could feel the tension and intensity in the room. Each person knew the high stakes built into these meetings. Every book involves cost and risk to the publisher, and the pub board is where individuals are held accountable for their choices.
To get on the pub board agenda, a book passes through a number of checkpoints. An agent or the author pitched the book to the editor (me), and if I believed the proposal had merit for our house, I presented the book to our editorial team. They had to agree with my assessment before it was added to the agenda. Finally, editors prepared specific P&L documents for the pub board, to highlight our reasons for the book to be acquired before we made our in-person presentation to the department heads.
For decades, before attending pub board, I had been writing books for various traditional publishers. Until I joined a publishing house, I had never witnessed how they made the acquisition decisions. My experience was eye-opening and at times brutal. Occasionally, when I began to present a book and author, the COO would pipe up: “Terry, we could sell two of these books. One to me and one to someone else.” His statement was a deal killer for that book. We were looking for bestsellers. My presentation for that book was finished.
As I presented books at pub board meetings, there were many instances when writers missed an opportunity to get the attention of the board because of poorly written book proposals. While there isn’t an industry standard proposal, each should include an overview, author background, potential buyers, author marketing plans, competing books, and possible endorsers. Some agents have proposal templates for authors to submit and refine before going to publishers.
Often author pitches I saw were missing key elements in the competition section or were filled with untrue statements like, “My book is unique and has no competition.” With thousands of new books entering the market every day, the competition within publishing is fierce. There are no unique books—every book competes. Writers need to complete this section and detail their competitive titles. Imagine their books in bookstores. Which titles are beside them? These competitive titles need to be included.
Every author should treat a proposal as the book’s business plan. Authors should take their time in developing a proposal to ensure they make all of the points they want to make. A solid proposal typically runs 30–50 pages and can be the difference between getting a contract or losing a deal.
In 2004, I was a frustrated editor who wanted to get better submissions from authors. After reading many submissions, I wrote Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success, and my book has since helped countless writers find a literary agent and a book deal. The publishing world has changed a great deal over the past 17 years. For example, one of my “secrets” was to always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). At that time, publishers received and processed piles of paper submissions. If the author didn’t include the return postage, they did not get their submissions returned.
Today, submissions are received electronically, but even these require care to avoid sending viruses and malware. In my attempt to get rid of typographical errors in submissions, another secret was never to trust a spellchecker. Instead, one should read one’s work aloud before submitting, since the ear is less forgiving than the eye.
Digging a little deeper into the ratings, PG discovered that the Pocket Therapist book had:
96 global five-star ratings
3 four-star ratings
4 three-star ratings
1 two-star ratings
1 one-star rating
These ratings averaged 4.8, which PG thought was a little high for a non-fiction book that had not sold very well. The only critical review asked, “Why is the print so small?”
PG checked the latest Amazon Charts data for the Top 20 Most Read and Most Sold Nonfiction Books for the week of November 14. He discovered that 11 of the top 20 had average star ratings below 4.8. Only Barack Obama’s autobiography, A Promised Land, had an average star rating above 4.8.
A young woman holds up a book and smiles. “This is day one of me reading ‘The Song of Achilles’,” she says. The video jumps forward. “And this”, she moans, her face stained with tears, “is me finishing it.” Another clip, entitled “Books that will make you SOB”, offers written notes on how assorted stories got readers to cry, such as “I can’t think about it without bawling” and “ended up crying sm [so much] i had to change my shirt”. This is BookTok, as the literary wing of the app TikTok is known. Imagine the emotional pitch of a Victorian melodrama, add music, and you have the general idea.
BookTok is passionate. It is also profitable—at least for publishers. Bloomsbury, a publishing house based in Britain, recently reported record sales and a 220% rise in profits, which Nigel Newton, its boss, put down partly to the “absolute phenomenon” of BookTok. On Amazon, BookTok is so influential that it has leapt into the titles of books themselves. The novel “It Ends With Us”, for instance, is now listed as “It Ends With Us: TikTok made me buy it!” Evidently TikTok did a good job: the romance is riding high in the top 100 in both Britain and America.
The medium is not quite as gushy as it might seem. Much of the overdone emotion is ironic, and some of the videos are very funny—particularly those with the hashtag #writtenbymen, which poke fun at the male gaze. Nonetheless, many would make mainstream book reviewers tut. But why should the young women who are BookTok’s stars care what fogeyish literary types think of them? Until fairly recently, their perspective was marginalised in both fiction and criticism. White men dominated both—even though most novel-readers are female.
. . . .
BookTok has helped upend that hierarchy. Selene Velez (pictured), a 19-year-old American student, is behind @moongirlreads_ (an account with 185,000 followers). She focuses on authors who aren’t typically “taken as seriously” as others. “I’m a woman of colour,” she says. “I try to promote authors of colour.”
At the same time, BookTok pushes back against publishing amnesia. Books are imagined to confer immortality on authors—to be a “monument more lasting than bronze”, as the Roman poet Horace wrote—but the lifespan of most is startlingly short. Dig out a list of bestsellers from 20 years ago: not only are today’s readers unlikely to buy them, most won’t have heard of them. Many of the books will have joined the legions of what W.H. Auden called the “undeservedly forgotten”.
Below, I share how I created and formatted my book cover, with extra attention to detail on the nitty-gritty of formatting the book cover for a paperback versus an ebook.
1: Find an Artist
Why you should commission artwork for your book cover
Isn’t that expensive? Yes, it’s an investment: an investment to make sure your other investment — hours, months, and years spent brainstorming, researching, workshopping, editing, and writing your book — doesn’t go to waste.
One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional publishing is that you don’t have control over anything except what goes within the covers of the book (and sometimes barely that).
Naturally, then, one of the biggest advantages of self-publishing is complete control. Why not tailor a cover to your story?
Finding an artist
In my case, I scoured #PortfolioDay on Twitter, not just to scope out potential artists but, more importantly, to scope out different styles and get a sense of what I wanted. What would best convey the feel and theme of the book?
My story is a speculative Asian ghost story with culture and history at its core. I didn’t want straight-up anime but I knew I wanted an art style close to it. I saved images of wispy, hazy brushstrokes because I knew I wanted something ethereal to represent the magical elements of my story. I saved cartoon styles that were distinctly Korean — again, not quite anime, but close to it.
I then took screenshots of traditional Korean fan dance and drum dance, important elements of the story, to figure out how I wanted my main characters to be posing.
Towards the end of my research process, I cold-emailed two artists. One of them got back to me quicker.
For six months now, I’ve been contemplating the sentence, “IP is the new frontlist.” I wrote about the implications of that twice in the past two months, first as part of the fear-based decisionmaking blogs, and then in the previous post called “Untapped.”
First a few terms for those of you who don’t know. IP is intellectual property—which is what you create when you write a book. (If you don’t understand this, pick up the Copyright Handbook from Nolo Press, and read the damn thing.)
. . . .
Frontlist is a traditional publishing term for the new books being promoted to the bookstores. (Trad pub was and is all about bookstores.) Frontlist is the place that traditional publishing puts all of its advertising dollars, in fact, all of its efforts and expenditures.
The backlist is everything they published before. Some of the backlist is still in print. Most is not. Rarely does the backlist get revived.
This is the way the entire entertainment industry used to run. It took a long time for the movie/TV industry to figure out that people wanted to see old movies, for example. Turner Classic Movies was a revelation when it started in the 1980s. It could generate ad revenue, because people liked watching the channel. It took a while for the movie companies to put old movies on video, and even longer for them to see value in old TV shows on video.
Then Netflix came along with its gigantic appetite for content, and back in the days when they mailed you the DVDs on a subscription model, they discovered that people liked to binge old TV shows.
It took a couple of decades for the movie/TV industry to put all of that together. They weren’t sure how to handle it at first, which is why we saw so many old shows getting revived and revamped.
In the entertainment industry, we were all raised to think new is better, so of course, we had to make new TV shows out of old ones, and new movies out of old ones. Slowly, the realization came that new isn’t always better. You don’t improve on greatness.
So when the pandemic hit as the industry was trying to deal with streaming, they were primed to look at ways to change the industry. Prime time—the TV word for frontlist—wasn’t that prime anymore. People watched it at their own pace and in their own time.
That’s happening with books, but traditional publishers still don’t see it. Read the previous two blogs that I linked to above to see what I mean.
The problem is that most indie writers follow the traditional publishing model on everything. Indies put all their hopes and dreams and money into the newest book of theirs. They ignore their backlist. They think the only thing that has value is the book they’re releasing right now.
It’s not a surprise that indies think this way. After all, we were all raised in the same entertainment environment. For the past 150 years, books have been produce—something that spoils as it ages and needs to be tossed out. All entertainment has been based on the attitude that the latest is the greatest.
That attitude has seeped into our subconscious whether we like it or not.
But if you look at your own behavior, you’ll find that you’re not consuming the latest things all the time. You might stream a new show, but you’ll also stream a new-to-you show, based on recommendations from friends.
If you have a big To-Be-Read pile, like I do, you’ll read the latest novel followed by a novel that’s been on your shelf since 2015. None of us consume only newly published/newly released things. Let’s exclude returning to old favorites (which is a blog topic all its own). Most of us consume new-to-us things all the time.
So…step back from that for a moment and think about it.
If new-to-you is the model, then most indie writers are going about promotion all wrong.
Instead of always focusing on the real new product, writers need to focus on the project that makes the most sense to promote.
What do I mean by that? Well, it depends. So you’re going to release a new book in your series. You can market that book to the people who’ve already bought the series and to your newsletter of regular readers.
Or you can revamp and spruce up the series for the new release…and do a new-to-you promotion that will bring the first book in the series to the attention of people who have never read the series.
. . . .
But there are other ways to do a new-to-you promotion. You can pay attention to what’s happening in the culture and promote around that.
Imagine, for example, that suddenly books about Hawaii are in demand—and you just happened to publish a standalone Hawaii book five years ago. Time to put some promotion behind that, to catch the Hawaii wave, so to speak.
But what if you have nothing that’s au courant? What if you have a lot of books and some faithful readers and that’s it?
Well, then, time to set up a schedule to revisit your old titles. Rather than constantly improving the new, think about doing new covers and new promotion on your older works.
Set up a schedule—this series gets new covers and a refreshed interior in 2022, that one gets its revival in 2023, and so on.
Make sure all of your books are available to readers on all platforms. Take advantage of group marketing efforts like bundles—or create bundles of your own—so that readers can get introduced to all that you do.
What do I mean about bundles of your own? Say you wrote five standalone books about pets. Do a pet bundle—buy four and get one free—and sell it on your website for a short time only. Or put all of the books together in a pet bundle and make it available as a gigantic ebook, for a discounted price. (Cheaper than you could buy the books as a standalone.)
Gone are the days when authors relied on publishers for handling the entire process. With an increase in self-publishing, it’s crucial to implement the right social media tactics for effective promotion. In this choice, every aspect of the book including writing, editing, packaging, marketing, etc. is handled by the writer himself.
No author should underestimate the immense power of engaging with targeted readers through different social platforms. Social media ensures that there is no boundary to marketing and you can let people know about your book all over the world. Engaging with the right people helps you create a loyal fan base in the long run.
. . . .
Your readers are likely to have questions if you are just about to get your new book out in the market. Even with your old books, they might have some interesting takes. Organizing these sessions will help you improve your relationship with your target audience. You can also collaborate with fellow authors to organize these sessions together. This is an exciting way to connect with people who are looking forward to knowing more about your journey. Use platforms like Facebook or Instagram Live, Google Hangouts, etc. for organizing these sessions.
Remember that these sessions act as a medium to engage with your audience. The discussion doesn’t necessarily have to be about writing or reading. You can encourage users to ask varied questions outside this niche as well.
. . . .
Writing a book is a process that demands consistent effort. Sharing this entire journey with your readers will help you build a strong connection. People are often caught up in the myth that writing is easy for authors who are already successful. You can show them how you deal with your phases of writer’s block before you come up with something exciting.
. . . .
Chris Fox, best-selling author of books like Write to Market, 5000 Words Per Hour, and more, took up a 21-day writing challenge. He uploaded his entire journey of 21 days on YouTube. In the end, he published his book on Kindle and the people who viewed his journey were curious to know what came out of it.
. . . .
People love being asked about their opinion on a specific area. While posting consistently on social media, make sure you are motivating them to share their opinions. When are short of content ideas, post a snippet of your book along with an open-ended question in the caption. To encourage users to participate in the conversation, tell them about your view after asking the question.
PG notes that, if an author doesn’t feel comfortable doing this sort of thing or doesn’t like the idea of climbing the learning curve on various social media platforms, he/she can hire someone to help do the job.
A Google search for “Social Media Agency” disclosed a lot of organizations anxious to do the job.
Another option might be to advertise in the student newspaper of a local college or university.
When Allison Trowbridge was writing her book, Twenty Two, she found herself incredibly frustrated by the process. As she started talking to other authors, she found she wasn’t alone in that sentiment. This experience is what sparked the seeds of an idea – why was there no social media platform for authors to market their books and forge deeper connections with readers? That’s exactly what Trowbridge hopes to achieve with her soon-to-be-launched platform, Copper.
. . . .
Amy Shoenthal: How did you come up with the idea to create a social media platform for authors?
Allison Trowbridge: I wanted to build the tool I needed and wish had existed when I was early in my book journey. I wrote my book while getting my MBA at Oxford, which by the way, I don’t recommend doing. That was a crazy season of life. I found myself very frustrated with the clunky process of bringing a book to market.
A lot of the real frustration came from this sense of shameless self promotion that an author is expected to do. We’re writers, and then we’re expected to know how to create visual or video content and how to reach an audience. The platforms that exist really serve readers but not authors.
That’s why you see authors really struggling to dance on TikTok or do Instagram reels. It requires a very different skill set.
Every author I talked to, whether a first-timer or multi best seller, had expressed a similar frustration. I shared this with a professor of mine, who pointed out that no one had yet disrupted this industry. That there might be an opportunity here. She really guided me in the right direction.
When you look at every social platform that exists today, they have taken off by targeting an underserved creator group and making them stars. So you have photographers on Instagram, dancers on TikTok, gamers on Twitch, crafters on Etsy and musicians on SoundCloud. No one has ever made authors the stars.
Shoenthal: So how exactly does Copper work? How does it address this issue for frustrated authors?
Trowbridge: I like to call it the LinkedIn of the book world. It’s a two sided marketplace between authors and readers where they can go to connect with one another. Only authors can be verified so it’s very clear who is who. The user experience helps authors have meaningful conversations with existing readers while allowing them to reach new readers using the discoverability piece.
Copper is like a readers’ recommendation engine where you can share lists of book recommendations. Every author and every reader has their bookshelf on their profile.
I was with a best selling author recently and she was giving me all her recommendations. I was literally writing them down on a scrap of paper at a restaurant and realized this should be easier.
Books right now exist as independent products. We want to create a social experience around it. It uses the credibility of authors and readers to drive recommendations of different books. Readers can comment on the book and have discussions while they’re in the middle of reading it or once they’re done. So, if there’s a spoiler, we have a little ‘S’ icon that shows a little spoiler alert section, and then it blurs out. We want people to jump in and be able to discuss at any point while they’re reading without giving anything away.
. . . .
This process gives the author insight into how people are reacting to their books as they’re reading them. It’s just wild to me that there’s no place right now where readers can have discussions about the book, and then the author can see in real time what people are reacting to.
Shoenthal: It’s like a real time book club, which is a very ‘how does this not exist yet’ product. How did you come up with the name?
Trowbridge: I always associated copper with social movements. Abe Lincoln on the face of the penny goes back to the anti-slavery movement. Second, so much technology has been taking our full attention when it should be more like infrastructure around our lives. It should help us be more human, the way copper plumbing or copper wiring just helps us live our lives and connect with one another. It’s old timey but also new. It carries electricity. It has healing properties. These are all the things a book can do. Last, I also learned that the most iconic brand names have a “ca” sound in them.
Perhaps PG is missing something subtle about what’s really going on with the site described in the OP, but he found the following mystifying:
PG notes that his search of the OP did not disclose a single mention of Amazon.
The author of the OP is described as follows:
Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.
Amazon has maximally disrupted the books business from one end to the other and is still doing so. Amazon sells the majority of books purchased in the United States.
Book sales make up a little less than 10% of Amazon’s total revenue of $280 billion and growing. So that’s roughly $28 billon per year in book sales for the Zon.
Per the Association of American Publishers Statshot for 2020, all of US book publishing totaled about $26 billion. But this number includes textbook publishing for schools plus other specialty-publishing areas where, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t compete.
Per Statshot, trade book sales for 2020 totalled $16.67 billion. Unless PG’s math is wrong total US trade book sales are 59% of Amazon’s total annual book sales.
Per a January, 2019, Wall Street Journal article, “Amazon commands some 72% of adult new book sales online, and 49% of all new book sales by units, according to book-industry research firm Codex Group LLC.”
Again, with publishing statistics, it’s sometimes hard to find apples-to-apples comparisons for “total publishing revenues” in this or that country.
That said, to talk about connecting authors to readers as described in the OP without mentioning Amazon is still truly bizarre. The OP doesn’t mention that self-published authors on Amazon can monitor their sales on close to a real-time basis, can see the opinions of some readers in their comments on the book’s Amazon web page both in star ratings and written reviews.
“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.
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“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.”
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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.