Tag Archives: business side of writing

Lengthening Shelf Life Part 1

Brian Feinblum, a book promoter and marketer, asked in the June 2017 issue of The Writer, “What can – or should – you do to market books that are aging in the eyes of bookstores, the media, and readers?”

Lately, I’ve been fretting about my struggle to promote and market Perceval’s Secret which I published as an e-book in March 2014. The novel’s fourth anniversary as a published book fast approaches.  I’d love to give it a boost to get it into the reading public’s consciousness to encourage them to buy and read it.

Feinblum, in his The Writer article “Shelf Life: How to promote an older book,” writes about how a book’s “window of newness” has been shrinking over the years. If it doesn’t make a big splash in the first three months it’s on the market, selling it after that could be a struggle. But fiction usually does not lose its relevance, accuracy or current status for a long time, while nonfiction could become dated faster depending on the subject matter. Fiction should be easier to promote after the magic three-month period, right?

Promotional Options for “Older” Books

It’s important to know what the possibilities for promotion for an older book are just like for a new book launch. Feinblum describes them as follows:

  • Let the book die and hope for a miracle that someone finds it, reads it, and sparks a word-of-mouth campaign that will boost sales. I call this the “wishful thinking” option. However, if a writer has constraints on time, it could be just as viable as fitting in promotional activities in a busy life.
  • Create and execute a social media strategy. This option demands the writer be on more than one social media platform, and that there is daily participation on those platforms to talk about the book. I’m assuming that a writer’s blog falls into this slot, along with online book bloggers who review books.
  • Target promotional efforts using traditional media, like print, radio, TV. Interviews on radio programs that cover books, book review sections of major newspapers and magazines, or doing interviews on morning news programs be they local or national are some of the possibilities here. Some of these activities could be done in conjunction with a book tour or locally. Having a publicist could be extremely helpful for this category; otherwise, the writer will be doing all the press releases, making the calls and connections, and setting up the engagements.
  • Travel for the book, i.e. do a speaking tour, paid or unpaid. Book tours require careful planning, utilizing connections in book stores and libraries, and getting the word out about a writer’s visit via press release. It’s helpful if the writer can also help with promoting locally his or her appearance in the bookstore’s location by doing interviews or helping with advertising the event.
  • Advertise the book. Print advertising, for example, in publications that the novel’s target audience reads. I continue to consider running ads in Playbill for Perceval’s Secret. This option has a huge drawback: it can be quite expensive not only for buying the media space, but also for producing the ads. Writers can also utilize social media for advertising, working with the platform to create the ads. When I launched Perceval’s Secret, I did a postcard mailing to the musicians of eleven major American orchestras, and would consider another one.
  • Cross-promote with other authors. This is especially helpful if you know a writer who is fairly well known and has a readership, and who writes in the same genre and related genre as you. The better known writer can spark initial interest and give the lesser known writer a bit of a boost. I’ve heard of this most commonly done for book tours when two or more authors hit the road to do readings and book signings together.
  • Have a giveaway. Everyone loves free stuff. Do a free giveaway for a couple weeks and promote that giveaway at GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, as well as on your blog. Keep it a specific time period to generate urgency. If you have a hard copy version of your book, you can do a giveaway on GoodReads (this site is working on setting up procedures for e-book giveaways but don’t yet offer that option). If you have the money, BookBub also offers effective promotion possibilities.

Before deciding which promotional options will work for your book, it’s important to think about the factors listed below, and this is where I am at the moment with Perceval’s Secret. I’ve looked at all my options and have done some cost estimates – for example, to advertise on Facebook or promote the series’ Facebook page, to do a BookBub promotion – then made a list of where I can heighten my presence to talk about the novel, for example, creating a series of short videos to post at my Amazon author page, on BookBub, at GoodReads, and at my page on Publishers Marketplace. These videos, as I envision them, would be a mix of reading a short excerpt from Perceval’s Secret and just talking about my experience writing the book or why I think someone should read it.

The Factors to Think About

  • What are your needs and desires for promoting the book?
  • How much time and what resources (money) do you have available?
  • How strong is your belief that your book is worth more promotion?
  • Would your time be better served by letting promotion go of this book and focus on writing new books?
  • Have you figured out why your book didn’t sell as well as hoped during launch or why it failed to generate more reviews?

Answers to these questions could steer you in one of two directions. The first is simply to proceed with the new promotional efforts.  The second could be to revise and repackage the book and do a re-launch. This second direction offers the opportunity to make improvements if you decide they are needed or to add promotional items like testimonials from readers, quotes from reviews, or getting blurbs or a writer to actually write an introduction. I know that I want to eventually issue a paperback of Perceval’s Secret once I’ve paid off completely the debt I incurred for the e-book. This might serve as my repackage of the novel with a specific paperback launch. But for now, I’m concerned about promoting the e-book edition.

Next week in Part 2, how my strategy does or doesn’t fit with what Feinblum wrote in his article in the June 2017 The Writer.

Have you ever been faced with promoting an older book? What did you do?  

Ready? Set? Go!

Success, or a Reassessment of What It Means

CCY_PercevalsSecretCvr_FNL-960x1280.131107In May 2014 when I was deep into marketing and promoting Perceval’s Secret, I wrote about success in a blog post entitled “What does ‘commercial success’ mean to you?” It’s been almost 2 years since I self-published that novel.  Has it been a success?  What about commercial success?  Am I happy with where it is today? Do I still agree with what I wrote before?

Sales: The novel has not sold on Kobo International. I am thinking of taking it off that website, except it is an international website. Have the international Amazon sites been selling my novel? Not really.  Only in English language countries.  There have been minimal sales at Amazon US and B&N.com.  Overall sales have been disappointing. Commercial success? No. I knew that it would be a major challenge.  It’s my first novel.  I’m not a household name. It takes a professional publicity campaign to get the kind of attention a first novelist needs to be a commercial success.  I didn’t have the money to buy that kind of publicity.

Marketing/Promotion: I used AuthorBuzz for some promotion during the Summer 2014. While this campaign obtained some attention in the form of “clicks,” it didn’t translate into sales. I managed to secure book reviews in publications of groups of which I’m a member, and there were positive reviews at Amazon and at a couple blogs.  I did a major mailing myself to 11 national American orchestras.  I also created a public Facebook page. I promoted the book on Twitter.  I continue to promote the book on Facebook, Twitter, and handing out postcards of the novel when the opportunity arises.

upside down catI had planned to do a major promotion push the first 6 six months of 2015, but major illness derailed that plan.  As a result, I lost precious momentum.  If I wasn’t working on promotion, there was none.  This is an issue for writers who self-publish, unless they have the money to hire a publicist or marketer. I continue to seek out free promotion opportunities, especially online. If I’m honest with myself, I’d conclude that I’m not happy with the level of sales, with the marketing and promotion.  I am also in considerable debt still because of production, publishing and promotion costs I incurred in 2014.

I now view success in two ways: commercial and personal.  Commercial success is about sales.  While Perceval’s Secret has not sold as well as I needed for it to sell, it did sell, and it did garner reviews at Amazon, all either “good” or “excellent.”  What I need to do is build on this.

In terms of personal success, I’ve done better.  First of all, I completed my first novel, worked with a professional editor and finished a publishable manuscript.  Second, I worked with service providers to have a front cover for my e-book, to convert the manuscript into the two e-book formats, and then to secure ISBNs and copyright registration. Third, I published my novel as an e-book, selling it at Amazon, B&N.com, and Kobo International.  I completed a marketing and promotion campaign during the summer of 2014. Now when people ask me if I’m published, I can say yes, and yes, the novel has sold. I continue to write fiction as well as promote my first novel. That is success.

Of course, I’ve also published nonfiction for the last two years, and I’ve been writing here since September 2007.  I’ve been a published writer long before I published the novel.  I consider that an important achievement even if other people don’t see it as I do because I’m not making money hand over fist. I think it’s important for writers to understand the difference between commercial success and personal success.  I also believe that writers need to proceed with their eyes wide open, knowing that commercial success depends on elements they cannot control, only work hard to influence.

My writing desk

My writing desk

My goals for the Perceval series?  I’d like to publish Perceval’s Secret as a paperback.  I will do the revision/rewriting work necessary for Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel. I want to publish the second novel also, after putting it through a rigorous editing by a professional editor.  And finally, I want to finish the last three novels in the Perceval series and publish them also. I’ve learned a lot from publishing Perceval’s Secret, but the weak commercial success is not stopping me from continuing to write.

What’s in a Writer’s Name?

handwritingA person takes on an alternate name for reasons both legal and illegal.  I’m talking about the alias or for writer’s pen name, also known by its French nom de plume.  Criminals adopt aliases, of course, to elude capture.  Spies acquire covers or legends that include one or more alternate identities.  They are hiding their true identity and nationality to protect themselves and their mission.  Celebrities adopt an alias or change their names outright because their given name is too plain or is already in use by another celebrity.  Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe.  Celebrities change their names to stand out from the crowd.

A writer adopted a pen name in the past to hide true identity.  Women writers took male names in order to achieve publication of their work.  Upper class writers or royalty took on pen names to hide their class.  Sometimes a writer whose day job was totally different from the arts, say a nuclear physicist, would write fiction under a pen name to hide from his employer and co-workers what he was doing on his own time.  While all those reasons may still exist, the most common reason in the 21st century involves marketing and sales.

A writer I know published a successful mystery series under his real name.  His family name began with “Z” and his books were then shelved in stores at the back of the fiction or mystery section.  He learned that book shoppers tend to begin their browsing at the beginning of the alphabet; therefore, when he decided to launch a series of historical novels, he listened to his publisher’s marketing staff and he adopted a pen name whose family name began with “A.”  They believed he’d sell more books if shelved at the front of the fiction section.  I have not heard from him if it made a difference in the sales figures for his novels, but I know he’s doing all right.

Let’s be clear: a pen name is not a legal name change.  It is an alias.  The writer I know does book signings as his alias, which usually cracks me up.  I’ve known him for years and know that outside of books, he still exists and does business under his legal name beginning with “Z.”  But when he’s signing books written under his pen name, he signs his pen name.

Years ago, I decided that I would write fiction under my legal name, and write nonfiction under a pen name.  The pen name I chose back then was unusual and I felt uncomfortable with it.  I phased it out of use — fortunately, I hadn’t been using it long.  For several years I wrote everything under my legal name.  Then, in the last 2-3 years, I’ve decided to write nonfiction as well as fiction books.  I want to keep them separate, both for readers and for my record-keeping.  How to choose this pen name?

As I did with the first one, I decided to simply translate my family name.  Yager is an Americanized spelling of Jaeger, the German noun for hunter.  Obviously, my German ancestors were hunters.  So, the last name of my pen name is Hunter.  The first name was more of a challenge.  I actually went to the Social Security Administration’s website section about names to do my research.  There, I could type in the year and up came a list of the most popular baby names for that year.  I chose 3-4 different years and picked names from each that I narrowed down to three.  These three names I put to a vote on Facebook.  The winning name became the first name of my pen name: Gina.  Under Gina Hunter, I started a commentary blog that now also covers subjects relevant to patients in support of the nonfiction book I’m working on under the pen name.

I like this pen name.  It suits me and the writing I’ll be doing under it.  For whatever reason you decide to use a pen name, I suggest choosing that name with care, and for long term use.  Your alias may turn out to be just as successful as you!

Taking Care of Business

This month, I have descended into a project I’d put off for at least four years (if not longer): filing.  Yes, writers need to keep all sorts of files which requires a certain level of organization.  Filing occupies the business side of the writer’s life, along with marketing, sales, office equipment and supplies, taxes, etc.  All these things must have files also.  Over the years, I’ve added files for computer, work calendar, planning, and editor (for my writing), publishers, agents, and online networking. 

The files overflowed my two, two-drawer file cabinets long ago and I put them in storage boxes and in storage.  The plan was to clean out my cabinets each year, store those files I needed to keep and throw the others away.  Nice plan, but I failed miserably at following it.  I kept everything.  Files filled with interesting articles to spark ideas for stories, files filled with articles about writers, musicians, different countries that interested me, files of writing reference articles, and so on.  It occurred to me late last year that all those files in my storage unit were not being used in any way, and I could probably throw out a lot of them.

Thus began this filing project.  I’ve hauled one storage file box after another up four flights of stairs, acquiring sore muscles along the way, and went through each box.  I have filled nine garbage bags with outdated and unwanted articles, writing, references, etc.  I finished the last two boxes this morning.  Now I have stacks of files in my kitchen. 

I’ve catalogued them, and the next step is to organize them into stacks according to the categories I’ve established.  Then I’ll fill the storage file boxes back up with the organized files and take them back down to my storage unit.  But this time, I’ll type up a list of the files by storage box number so I’ll know exactly what I have in each box.  After each file, I’ll note a discard date also.  Some files will need to be kept longer than others.  But I’m determined to not allow myself to be in the same position with files that I was in before this project. 

Writers need to save anything involved with money — expenditures related to taxes such as home office equipment, royalty statements, contracts, etc.  For each story, novel, essay or screenplay, they also need to save enough of their drafts and work on them to prove authorship (if it ever becomes necessary).  Keeping a detailed work calendar as well as a written strategic plan prove that a writer is working rather than pursuing a hobby.  I found the files I kept while I was a freelance copywriter and was quite impressed with how organized and thorough I was with keeping track of contracts, invoices, payments, and projects. 

Next week, I plan to finish this filing project (and reclaim my kitchen for more food-related matters) by returning the file boxes to storage and organizing my five file storage boxes full of the files for the Perceval series of novels.  I cleaned out my file cabinets before I began the storage boxes, so they’re in good shape.  I just need to find a place for my job search files (which, I swear, propagate when my back is turned). 

Getting organized clears the mind for more creative projects such as actual writing….