Archive for November, 2011
I just read a great post by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, on rethinking book marketing. It sums up why marketing a book today is completely different from decades ago, and offers tips and advice for updating your marketing strategy to reflect today’s market.
First, he bases his ideas on a survey of ebook readers. What he learned from the survey is that people find books now in a very different manner from how they used to. According to the survey results:
- 28 percent of survey respondents said they prefer to read books recommended by fellow online readers in message boards and blogs.
- 27 percent of readers find books by some form of “random discovery.” That could mean that they stumbled upon the book based on a Google search, they saw the cover and it intrigued them, they were impressed by a review of the book, or they were offered a free download.
- 18 percent of respondents search for books by their favorite authors
If you notice, none of these three “heavyweights” in the survey results have much to do with marketing. Most of these readers didn’t find the book because it had a full-page ad in the NY Times or because the author was doing book signings. In short, many of the traditional methods of marketing just don’t work in today’s world of the ebook.
So what does work? Here are some recommendations from Mark himself…
- Target online communities. People are more likely to read a book that was recommended by someone who has similar taste. Luckily, there are groups just perfect for this forming on sites like Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook, etc… Join them. Market your book there.
- Distribute, distribute, distribute. People buy books now from a whole slew of online stores. So don’t just sell your book yourself. Make it available from as many ebook sources as possible. No one will stumble upon it unless it’s there.
- Create a kick-ass book cover. Okay, so Mark didn’t use the phrase “kick-ass,” but I did. Based on his survey, book covers matter. Don’t miss your chance to capture the attention of a possible reader.
- Create your brand. Once you have a fan of your writing, you don’t want to lose them. After all, the survey reveals that people are often looking for new books by their favorite writers. So make sure to find a way to stay in touch with people who have read your books. Friend them. Collect their email addresses. And make sure to notify them when your next book is available.
- Don’t be afraid of “free.” Some readers might not be willing to pay to download your book … but would be more than willing to sample it for free. Just like a chocolate shop that gives you free samples when you walk in, have enough confidence in your writing to let people read your first book for free. And if you only have one title, offer it for free for a short period of time. Once people download it, read it, and love it, they’ll tell their friends … and their friends will be willing to pay for it.
If you’re a writer of children’s books, then listen up! There’s a really interesting article in the Sunday NY Times about the collision course between ebooks and children’s books. In short, when parents want to read a book to (or with) their child, they absolutely refuse to pull out a Kindle or Nook.
This is no great surprise, but a lot of parents really want to deal with actual, old school books instead of electronic versions when it comes to teaching their kids to read. That’s even the case even with parents who themselves are die-hard downloaders of books onto Kindles, iPads, laptops and phones. They just want their kids to experience turning physical pages — like they did as children — and learn about shapes, letters, colors and animals in big, colorful pictures.
It’s also an intimacy thing. There’s nothing like cuddling up with your child and a book; a tablet just isn’t the same.
The numbers only back up the point this article is making. While electronic books now make up about 25% of adult book sales, they barely hit 5% of children’s book sales. In fact, most parents won’t even buy a children’s book unless they can flip through it themselves and see the pictures. That explains why more children’s books are bought at actual bookstores (instead of on Amazon).
Here are quotes from some parents in the article about their preference for actual books:
“It’s intimacy, the intimacy of reading and touching the world. It’s the wonderment of her reaching for a page with me,”
–Leslie Van Every
“I know I’m a Luddite on this, but there’s something very personal about a book and not one of one thousand files on an iPad, something that’s connected and emotional, something I grew up with and that I want them to grow up with. … I feel that learning with books is as important a rite of passage as learning to eat with utensils and being potty-trained.”
– Ari Wallach
“When you read a book, a proper kid’s book, it engages all the senses. It’s teaching them to turn the page properly. You get the smell of paper, the touch.”
“If he [his 5-year-old] is going to pick up the iPad, he’s not going to read, he’s going to want to play a game. So reading concentration goes out the window.”
The lesson for authors in all this? If you write children’s books, don’t jump too far on the e-book bandwagon. Sure, you can offer e-books, but don’t make your book electronic at the expense of print. While ebooks may be all the norm in the future, today’s parents really want their children’s books on paper. And who can blame them?
Talk to people in most fields and their goals are pretty clear. A restaurant owner wants to have a successful restaurant. An accountant wants to make a good living doing what he’s doing. But authors? It’s not so simple.
Based on my experience, authors can have goals that range from wanting to sell their first book to getting their next book published to being a life coach and speaker. Knowing exactly what this goal is is important: it basically dictates anything and everything we do in terms of developing the website.
Here are the most common author goals that I encounter and how we make those work on author websites:
Goal #1: Sell the Book
Many authors I speak to have put a lot of time, money and effort into their first book. They just want to sell enough copies of it to at least make their money back. If that’s your goal, then the website should be primarily book-focused. It should include featured excerpts, tantalizing teasers, etc… There should be “Buy the Book” links anywhere and everywhere. After all, that’s what you want people to do, right?
Goal #2: Get My Book Published
Whether you’re building the website because you’re hoping to get your first book published, or you self-published the first one and are hoping to have a publishing house pick up the next one, your website should clearly speak to agents/publishers about who you are and why they should be interested in your writing. Include your bio and profile on the site. If you’ve done any audio/video interviews, include those too; they show that you present well. Finally, blog regularly and collect email addresses. Agents and publishers will be more inclined to work with you if they know that you’re already marketing yourself.
Goal #3: Spread the Word
I work with many nonfiction authors who have written books about subjects near and dear to their heart: religion, addiction, grief, etc… Many of them wrote the book with the goal of helping humanity. That’s a noble goal, but it’s quite a weighty task. Many of these authors want to use the website in a similar way; as a place where people who have already read the book can learn more, ask questions, interact, etc… If this is your goal, you need to create a “community” website. Have a place for people to submit questions and share their stories. Offer regular tips or words of wisdom to visitors. Include links to other books, websites, and organizations that may be helpful to your readers. The most important thing you can do in this situation is to interact.
Goal #4: Build a Career Around The Book’s Subject Matter
This ties into #3 … I talk with a lot of authors who want to build careers doing speaking engagements, coaching, or consulting around the subject matter of the book. If this is one of your goals, then you need to create an area on the website that speaks specifically about your background, your services, etc… Include clientele, testimonials, and any audio/video that touts your services. Also, keep a calendar of events and/or news where you can announce your newest engagements, clients, etc..
Goal #5: Become a Bestselling Author
Every author wants their book to become a bestseller. But how, exactly, do you do that? If I knew the answer to that, I’d be a bestselling author myself! But I can tell you this: the first step to becoming a bestselling author is building buzz around your book. So think outside the box and don’t be afraid to do something daring. Hold contests on the website with sweet giveaways. Consider giving out hundreds of “free” copies of your book (people who like it will tell their friends!). Contact other websites, groups, bloggers, etc… and see how you can get your book promoted to their audience. Remember, the best written books are not always bestsellers (and vice versa). Selling millions of copies is often as much a result of creative marketing than any great piece of literature.
I came across an article today in my trusty Internet & Marketing Report magazine. On the surface, this piece, with the subtitle “Best ways to improve product page results by year-end,” doesn’t seem to have much to do with authors. It’s really written for people who run e-commerce websites with shopping carts and the like. And yet, I think there’s a lot that authors can learn from it.
Remember, one of the primary goals of an author website is to sell the book (or books). Some of the principles outlined in this article focus on how to sell products, which in the case of authors, is their book. Here are some of the tips that I think authors can benefit from:
- Include multiple calls to action. Don’t be afraid to have “Buy the book” links everywhere. If someone scrolls down to read a book description or review, you don’t want them to have to scroll back up to purchase the book.
- Post prices. Don’t make someone click through to Amazon, B&N or PayPal to find out how much your book costs. Display the information in a way that is easy for people to see.
- Optimize your pages. Put your book title in your URL, your title tag, and your page description. This will increase the likelihood that people who are interested in your book will wind up on your website … instead of, for example, another blog that simply reviewed your book.
- Write killer copy. This is a no-brainer. Make your copy easy for the eye to scan, and have it be chock full of bullets, bolded elements, etc… Grab your potential reader’s attention and don’t let it go!
- Share, share, share. Your site visitors are potential marketers. If they like your site, they may decide to share it with friends and family. So add buttons to “like,” “share,” “tweet,” “follow, ” or”+1″ wherever you can.
See? Maybe more authors should be thinking of their websites as smaller versions of the successful e-commerce sites out there. Move over, Amazon…
Quick … think about your favorite author website. Which image comes to mind? The homepage, of course.
Yes, the homepage of an author website — of any website, really — is the most important area. It’s likely to be the first place that a visitor arrives; within three seconds, that visitor is going to decide whether to stay and click around or leave. That’s right … you have three seconds to grab someone’s attention and potentially turn them into a fan.
If you already have a website, take a look at the homepage. Does it capture people’s attention? Does it encourage them to do anything? If not, you may be losing out.
Here are four common mistakes that are made on author website homepages:
- Too boring: First of all, no website should start with the words “Welcome to my website” (or even worse “web page”). Sometimes I tell authors to write a welcome message on the homepage. That’s often misinterpreted to be something like, “Thanks for coming and I hope you enjoy the book and the website.” Is that tantalizing or enticing? I think not. Instead. an author’s “welcome” message should sound more like, “Are you looking for the best _____ book you’ve ever read? You’ve come to the right place! Click around and you’ll _____, ______ and ____. See, much more interesting, right?
- Not enough variety: In many ways, a homepage is like an “index” of the website. Its purpose should be to offer teasers of all the different features on the site (book excerpts, author blog, etc…). It should not be used in place of one of those pages. Some authors prefer to use the homepage as a page to describe the book. I always counter with, “That’s what an ‘Abut the Book’ page is for. The homepage should be encouraging people to click to the
“About the Book” page (as well as all the others).”
- No call to action: Your homepage should be full of links, links, links. Tell people what they’ll get on a certain page, and offer them easy ways to get there. Don’t just tell people what the book is about, tell them to read reviews, read excerpts, and (of course), buy the book. You want readers to do something on your site, and you need to make it easy for them to do that.
- Too bloggish: I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth stressing again. Don’t confuse an author blog with an author website. A blog should be a portion of an author website, but not the whole thing. Authors who use the homepage as a blog are risking losing visitors for two big reasons: 1) People arriving on the homepage may feel like they’re joining mid-conversation. They’ve missed so much, why jump in now? 2) You’re breaking the three-second rule described above. Remember, you only have three seconds to grab that visitor’s attention. Which do you think is more likely to suck them in: your most recent blog entry or a tantalizing teaser about your book?
Whether you already have an author website, or are considering building one, keep these ideas in mind. And, as always, feel free to contact me for a free consultation!
This is a great read for all authors. Whether you’re planning to blog, having trouble figuring out what to blog about, or hoping to draw more readers to your blog (which covers practically everybody), don’t miss this article by Peter G. James Sinclair on achieving blogging success:
I came across a conversation on LinkedIn today. Just the title of the topic of discussion says it all:
Internet blogging, social networking et al has no effect on sales for 99% of new self published writers well certainly not for this one. Agree?
Sadly enough, most of the people who participated in the conversation do agree. Here are some excerpts of what they had to say:
Most of the time we’re blogging to other people who are trying to sell something to us — books, marketing, web design, etc. Same with Twitter. Has anyone else concluded that that almost no one reads other people’s tweets? I almost never do. I can’t understand 90% of them anyway.
That is true I have almost given up. If you book is not getting shelf space and advetising somewhere it’s not moving.
I quite agree. My first book was with amazon/createspace. Zero-zilch-nothing in the way of promotion / marketing / sales…
I thought maybe I was just being impatient–I just published last week, but it appears my concerns are justified. I do have some ideas that might help my sales, but I’m not encouraged. I’ve chatted on other sites with other authors with same concerns.
Boy, that’s depressing. But here’s my take on things (which will hopefully have you feeling a little more positive).
First of all, becoming a successful author is much like becoming a successful actor. You have to go into it knowing that the likelihood that you’ll be rich and famous is minimal. In fact, you probably won’t even be able to pay your bills on the money you’ll make. Deal with it. If you want more stability than that, go into banking.
That said, if you don’t do the things you need to do to become a successful author, then there’s no chance (none, niet, nil) that you’ll make it as a writer. Even the most talented writer probably won’t be successful unless he or she properly executes the non-writing requirements of being an author: in this case, blogging and social networking.
Thankfully, a few of the authors in this discussion agreed with me. Here are their comments.
It takes time to build a following and to expand your networks. Keep at it and the momentum will build.
If you don’t do any of these things, there’s just no chance you’ll ever get yourself out there. Can’t win if you don’t play.
You’re right, Zihong. You have to play — and play well — to ever have a chance. So keep your head up and give it your best shot. If you don’t, you’ll regret it later.
What a nice surprise! Today, I stumbled across this article:
Sure enough, two of the websites that we built for clients are listed among their favorites:
There’s nothing as satisfying as having your work recognized … especially in the same breath as the website for Nora Roberts!
I’m so lucky to have such a talented team. Keep up the good work, everyone!