Case Study: 10 Steps to Promote a Novel, Part 1

I’m breaking this post into two parts, because just the first five steps clock in at over 1700 words!

Last week, I was grateful to be able to use Linda Cassidy Lewis as a case study on how to profile a Right Reader.  Since she’s a glutton for punishment, she’s graciously allowing me to use her again… this time to illustrate what I’d suggest be her next 10 steps for promoting her self-published novel, The Brevity of Roses.

The background: promo to date.

Linda “indie” or self-published her women’s fiction/commercial lit fic novel The Brevity of Roses in April 2011.  In that time, she’s done three interviews and one guest post, and has approached seven review sites.  The book has been featured as a giveaway on Tony Eldridge’s Sunday Kindle Book Giveaway, and she’s done a Goodreads giveaway, as well.

She’s got social media covered.

She’s an excellent example of social media coverage:  she’s got her blog, which she updates frequently.  She’s on Twitter, with about 1300 followers; she’s got a relatively new Facebook fan page, she’s on LinkedIn, she’s active on Goodreads.  But she still hasn’t quite reached a sales goal that she’s comfortable with.  She’s looking to improve her results.

The sticky wicket of Lit Fic.

(Try saying that ten times, fast!)

I was initially a little stumped coming up with my “next 10” promotional steps plan… and then I realized it was because I’d become spoiled by genre book bloggers.  Genre bloggers are a bit more open minded about self-pub; not all of them, but enough that there’s wiggle room, and there are also a lot of reader blogs just starting out.  Not so much with literary or mainstream women’s fiction, I discovered.

Goals:  tailored and frugal.

Linda’s got a great link on her blog called the Frugal Self-Publisher, which tells you a little about her mindset.  She’s looking for the most bang for her proverbial buck.  But then, aren’t we all?

The First Five Recommended Next Steps

1.  Define goals.
This seems bone-head obvious, but with the clients I’ve been working with on publicity, I notice when I ask “what are your goals?” their answer is usually:  “I’d like to sell a lot.”

On the Kindle Boards, they have specific threads where you can post your sales numbers — sharing information as well as cheering/commiserating results.

This could be a good place to gauge what a realistic goal is if you’re self-published and have access to sales numbers.  (For traditionally published authors who are dealing with publisher’s voodoo numbers, this is more difficult to use as a yardstick — might be better to target “I’d like to have 20 stops on my blog tour” or “I want 30 reviews on Amazon” or whatever.)

With this magic number in mind, you’ll find yourself more focused and more motivated — and more likely to track results.  (See #11.)

2.  Join tribes.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  everyone writes alone, no one succeeds that way.

I know that Linda has an engaged tribe of her own, with frequent blog commenters — always a good sign in a blog.  I would suggest that she pick two forums to visit regularly, commenting daily if possible… not necessarily about her book, but about things that contribute to the tribe.

Some suggestions:  Writer Unboxed’s Facebook group, and Nathan Bransford’s forum, or especially the aforementioned Kindle Boards.  Or she could comment regularly on a blog, like Women’s Fiction Writers or, again, Writer Unboxed.  (Have I mentioned my great love for W.U.?)

The point of this?  Becoming recognized by people who will help her get the word out.  Ordinarily, I agree with Kristen Lamb: writing about writing isn’t necessarily going to get the job done when it comes to courting readers.

But this is women’s fiction bordering on lit fic.  Let’s just say it’s harder to find the reader tribe — they’re nomadic, their groups are fluid, they don’t necessarily identify with any particular set of fiction favorites.  (While us genre peeps fly our freak flag proudly, baby!  We own our turf!

Writers are still readers — more importantly, they’re going to help her get the word out as well as help her sell some books.  She’s going to be establishing herself as an expert… which is going to help her break into some of the harder-to-crack sites that will really help her get the word out.

3.  Go for cover quotes.

There are three main reasons readers won’t buy your book:  they don’t know about it; they’re not sure about you; and they’re afraid they won’t like it.

If you get a good cover quote from a known author (or even a lesser-known author in some cases) you’re handling the second point. Known authors are like friends to readers: when they say “hey, she’s okay” the author is in essence vouching for you.

Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on the quote-giver, because if it’s a book that they really feel isn’t very good, or just don’t connect with,  they’re put in the awkward position of saying, “um, sorry” or making excuses. Or they’ll go ahead with a “meh” cover quote… and then they’re going to lose trust from their readers, who bought the book as a result and feel burned.

I’d suggest Linda approach other authors she trusts, who are aware of her.  Teachers, perhaps; other bloggers.  Ask nicely for a quote; give plenty of leeway for them to back out with no pressure or problems. And ask for more people than needed, because odds are harsh and people are going to back out.

Linda might join the RWA-WF… a special chapter of Women’s Fiction writers in the Romance Writers of America.  For one thing, it’s a wonderful community, and a great tribe to join.  Secondly, there are a slew of authors there. As Linda becomes more comfortable in the community, she might get offers to “blurb” her book, or at least be in a better position to ask.

 

4.  Reviews, reviews, reviews.

Reviews, on a book blog or review journal, cover the first two points — readers can hear about your book, and technically, someone else they trust (or else they wouldn’t be reading the review) is telling them what you’re all about.  Not necessarily as good as friend’s word of mouth, but I’d say on equal footing as an author blurb (unless you get somebody like J.K. Rowling.)

As a self-published author, Linda’s in a tough spot. It’s the Wild West out there in Publishingland.  Some reviewers still look askance at self-pubs; others have simply closed their doors due to the sheer volume of self-publishing out there.

Here are five places to start with (and I’d recommend submitting to as many as budget will allow):

 

5.  Re-vamp the book page.

Your book page is a sales page.

There is only one thing you want people to do:  buy the book.

Here’s where those “reader objections” thing come in.  If they’ve gotten to your book page, then they’re at least primed.  You’ve probably gradually gotten them there, through stuff you’ve posted on your blog, which they got to from one of your comments on another blog or on your social media or whatever.

Point is, they’re on the brink, and you need to show them they’re in good hands… and give them all the information they need to decide on whether they’ll buy your book or not.

In Linda’s case:

  • I’d lose the sidebar that has a repeat of her Amazon widget, her social media links, her “recent comments” and her blog roll.  Keep the focus purely on the book.  (From a design standpoint, the two book covers next to each other is a little distracting.)
  • Personally, I’d recommend losing the quote from Emily Dickinson, lovely though it is.  (And it is lovely, I’m not just saying that.)
  • I’d cut the paragraph: “The Brevity of Roses is a contemporary tale of love, loss, and redemption told through the voices of one man and two women. The story is set in the fictional California towns of Coelho and Bahia de Sueños.”  It shows us about the story, but people don’t say “I’m looking for a  story told from the voices of one man and two women.”  They love the story arc itself; in literary fiction, they might prefer the voice.  Either way, this paragraph doesn’t work towards convincing a reader.
  • I’d bump up the back cover copy… bring it up, front and center.  Maybe even open with a block quote sentence from the novel, that captures the feel or theme, instead of the Emily Dickinson quote.
  • I wouldn’t refer to the links to the excerpt, or reader reviews, etc.  I wouldn’t include the character who’s who at all, simply because it doesn’t seem fitting — whereas if she were writing an epic world-building fantasy saga or historical family drama, then that would make sense, but not for a women’s fiction necessarily.  (Unless she’s building a series…but even then, not until other books are available.)
  • Instead of reader reviews, I would only include either the author “blurb” cover quotes, or review quotes from book bloggers or review sites.  Instead of linking to them, I’d have them as emphasized block quotes, right there on the page.
  • I would include buy links on the page itself; just because the widget’s removed doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there.  Definitely include an affiliate-sale link to Amazon; also Smashwords, and anywhere else available.
  • I would include the excerpt on the page.  Don’t make them click to it: provide it, right there.  That’s the hook — that should be what sells them.
  • Ask for the buy.  Don’t just say: “Available for sale.”  Say:  “Buy now.”  (That doesn’t mean you’re going to add “SUNDAY!  SUNDAY! SUNDAY!” or anything crass… but it turns out people need some sort of direction.  That’s where the call to action comes in.)

 

Okay, that’s it for today.

Next week:  Part 2 — the next 5 steps.

If you found this helpful, or just want to  wallop one of your friends with a 1700 word read, please re-tweet! 🙂

 

 

 

 

22 Replies to “Case Study: 10 Steps to Promote a Novel, Part 1”

  1. I am not against writers blogging about writing. I am against writers creating a writing blog. We have to become a brand to do this thing long-term. This isn’t about selling the first book. It is about selling the first book and the next ten or twenty.

    As the paradigm changes it is highly likely that blogging authors will have a distinct advantage. Thus if we create a blog under our NAME–which is our BRAND since our NAME is how people buy our books–then we can talk about things other than writing. Sure blogging about nothing but writing might be great for the first year, but what about three years or five years? I am trying to get writers to lose the tunnel-vision.

    Also, writers like to read about things other than writing. We are all friends with other writers, but if all writers have writing blogs, how many blogs about plot can we endure for the long-haul?

    With e-publishing, there is an EXPLOSION of new authors….so they should all blog about writing too? Writers have been using words to bring depth and meaning to all of life’s experiences. We have been doing this for thousands of years. Yet, we get on social media and the only topic that interests us is writing? So we can ALL have the exact same audience? To me it seems clear that we are headed for a serious inbreeding issue here. We are all in our own little group selling books to each other when, with just a minor shift in our approch to blogging, we could tap into the MILLIONS of other people on FB and Twitter looking to be entertained.

    Thanks for the shout out and a good debate is always fun. But, the methods I teach work. I have a writing team in the UK that used my approach and they went from selling 4 books a week to selling almost 100,000 books in 4 months. They just signed a 6 figure four book deal with Harper Collins. These guys branded their names. Yes, they blog about things writing, but they didn’t create a writing blog.

    Thanks for the great article :D.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Kristen!

      I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to mis-represent your post, and hopefully people will click through (it’s a worthwhile article, guys.) I was trying to agree with you, but obviously did not put it clearly enough!

      I totally agree that authors shouldn’t simply blog about writing: losing the “tunnel-vision” is exactly right. Thanks for clarifying.

      Perhaps I should also clarify that Linda’s blog was pretty much a writing blog when I did the case study.

      Cathy

    2. Kristen,

      It was nice to see your comment here. I’m currently reading your book, We are not Alone and learning quite a bit.

      I understand what you mean about coming out of our tunnel vision and I’m working on that perspective because I admit to rarely blogging.

      Thank you, Cathy for this post.

      ~ Aithne

  2. Just finished reading this fabulous post and my head is swimming with the excitement that comes from falling headlong into a treasure trove of clear-cut, fine-tuned, and promising suggestions. It’s been a year now since my debut novel was released and I’m only now starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I’m getting a foothold on what needs doing, what is best passed by, and what needs further investigation. Much appreciation, Cathy, for this road map highlighting a most promising route.

    1. Promo can be overwhelming, especially since it seems like there are a million possible routes that you can follow these days. Twitter! Tumblr! Facebook! Google Plus! Not to mention the usual press release, reviews, promo items… on top of your website and blog! But I think that a clear strategy, with clear goals, helps you at least have a “north” to keep you on track. I appreciate you stopping by to comment! (Nice to see fellow WU’ers here!)

  3. Awesome post, as usual, Cathy! And I found many new links to go to, including the women’s fiction writers blog, which I knew nothing about, even though I’m a member of the RWA WF group. And in addition to awesome sites like this one, I love to see writers blogging about other things. I was starting to feel all alone blogging on my “Flip Flops & Fabs” blog about a variety of topics so I also created a “writing blog” on my web site, and now I’m thinking I need to rethink the writing blog part. Great stuff!

    1. Thanks, Kathy!

      I think that many writers decide to blog about writing as a default — it’s something they know, something they’re obsessed with. The problem being most readers aren’t necessarily as into it as we are! The argument usually goes, “but hey, writers are readers too!” which is true… but it sort of shuts out readers who don’t write, who feel bored or mystified and wander elsewhere. I think that joining a writing community is crucial, though – and I think that commenting on blogs or guest posting in writing communities, plus teaching, can be a valuable promotional resource, especially for literary fiction, where your prose quality is more of a selling point (and something you can showcase to people who will appreciate it on writing sites!)

      I’m going to have to check out your writing blog. I always liked Flip Flops & Fabs! 😀

  4. Helfpul advice, Kathy. With my publicist’s hat on, I’d add that joining tribes should NOT be limited to joining writer’s communities. Writers are just a tiny portion of any given book’s target audience. Instead, how about following blogs and joining communities related to one of the book’s central themes. For example, if The Brevity of Roses has to do with running, (I’m just making that up based on the cover), Linda should get active in online running communities and build a Twitter follower of runners.

    1. I have to respectfully disagree on this one. Well, I agree that joining tribes shouldn’t be limited to joining writer’s communities, but should expand to at least communities that emphasize reading and books, even if it isn’t the main focus. For example, “Mom blogs” with a book club element; personal improvement blogs; things that overlap somewhat. But I’ve found that just because people are interestedin running doesn’t mean that they’re interested in reading fiction about running. At least, that’s been my experience. I also think that if you’re joining a tribe, you’re in for the long haul. If you genuinely enjoy running, or tennis, or whatever, and that’s a consistent theme throughout your work, then yeah, I’d say go ahead and join those tribes because you would anyway. It’s something you enjoy. But if you’re just joining because you’ve got the theme in one book, I think it’s a dilution of effort.

      There’s a great quote attributed to Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks supposedly said “because that’s where the money is.” I think if you want to sell books, you’ve got to go where the readers are — not just where other tribes who might also read are. I know that flies in the face of a lot of conventional promo advice, but that’s my stance.

      I do appreciate your stopping by, Sharon, and I’m glad you’re sharing your knowledge. Even if I disagree, I hope people are reading your comment as well, and taking the advice to heart and going on what their gut agrees with. Finally, congratulations on Veronica’s Nap going paperback! Really, fantastic job! 🙂

  5. One of the things I love about this series, Cathy, is your willingness to be so specific. It’s all so timely, and will be a great help to me, as I contemplate stepping into the world of actually having a website, promoting a book, and *gulp* perhaps even blogging.

    Kristen’s link, her comments, and your response, are of great interest to me. One of the biggest causes of my reluctance to blog has been the issue of ‘who the hell would I be talking to, and why?’ For some reason I always presumed the subject matter would/should be writing–perhaps because the only blogs I’ve ever been moved to read with any regularity were writing blogs. And there are already so many good writing blogs out there. I suppose I’d better seek out blogs my Right Reader might be following, and figure out what I could say that would gain their interest. Huh. Lots to consider.

    Again, great job! And kudos to Linda for being the willing guinea pig. Can’t wait for part 2!

  6. I want to thank you publicly for taking on my “case”, Cathy. So much to digest in this post, and I’m looking forward to the next 5 steps.

    I’m revamping my book page today, per your suggestions. And I’ll be checking all the links you’ve provided.

    I do comment at Writer Unboxed, but not consistently. I had never heard of RWA-WF either.

    As for the writer’s blogging about writing thing, I’m still in a quandary about that. My blog has always been focused on my life as a writer. It’s not a teaching blog, so very few posts are in the advice or how-to vein, but I do talk about the ups and downs of my experience. However, at times, my posts have had no real connection to writing. For instance, I’ve blogged about shopping at Trader Joes, growing roses, Christmas traditions, and even posted a recipe once.

    To be honest, I’m hard pressed to name an author’s blog that isn’t about the writing life. Though perhaps I’m only looking at debut or soon-to-be-published author’s blogs.

    I’ve visited a few “big name” author’s websites that do not have a blog section. They usually have a home page “greeting” and then pages for their books, appearance schedule, about the author, and contact. It’s usually not very personal.

    I’d like to know how many potential readers seek out an author’s blog. And if they come to an author’s blog after they read the book, what are they looking for?

    Obviously, these are questions I should have sought answers to before publishing, but better late than never.

    1. A few things…

      I think a lot of new writers blog about the writing experience. (Hell, I did, and still do sometimes!) I think that if you’re writing about your books in particular, that’s better than the advice/how to, you’ve already pretty much dodged that bullet. (I was going off of your Frugal Self-Publisher vein and some posts I’d read.) And yes, most of them are about the writing life, but not about how to be a writer.

      You can write about whatever you want, obviously. Chuck Wendig (whose blog, Terribleminds.com, is one I absolutely LOVE) was named one of the top 10 writing blogs by writer’s digest, and I think it helps his sales — but that’s his niche. On the other hand, if you look at Author Jill Shalvis’ blog, she mixes in a lot about her life. I love Erica Orloff’s very vulnerable, very personal blog, and its themes of acceptance, loss, and forgiveness. Jennifer Weiner’s blog can be hilarious.

      In a nutshell — I think that people will follow your blog for the same reason they follow anyone else’s blog: the content speaks to them, and they wind up liking you. As an author, that’s a good tool to have, if a tough one, since blogging can drain your actual writing if you’re not careful. I don’t think potential reads seek out author blogs — I think they’re just looking for YOU. A blog gives them something new to talk about, and a reason to visit again between books. Also, a solid blog, with well crafted headlines that have the chance of “going viral” (god, I hate that term sometimes) is also a good promo hook.

      I gotta write a book on this stuff: it’s an obsession! 😉

      1. Well, of course you have to write a book about this stuff! 🙂

        I’ve been blogging for close to three years, and the Frugal Publisher stuff was just added in the last two months. It’s there, but I hardly ever mention it. So many things I wish I’d known before I started blogging. *sigh*

        1. That explains it — I’ve known about you for about that long, so as far as I knew, it had always been there. D’oh!

          I think you’re an amazing blogger and writer. It’s a tough business, but I think it’s worth it. 🙂

  7. Cathy, Interesting article with lots of ideas. I’ve added your site to my favorites so I can come back and read more and also added you to my blogroll. Thanks for sharing. Barb Meyers

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