Now, that is a hopeful title. More honest would have been, How do I keep my e-book from wallowing in obscurity? -- because that's what my e-book is doing. In this diary, I'm going to discuss promotion: what I have done so far, what I plan to do, and what other folks are recommending. If you have successfully promoted your book (e-book or paper), I hope you'll comment on what has worked for you.
This is Part Three in my mini-series on e-book publishing. Part One dealt with honing your craft, networking, and finding an audience. Part Two dealt with choosing an e-book market, formatting and its attendant nightmares, and options for cover design.
If you've ever wondered how to promote your literary work, fiction or non-fiction, follow me below the quenelle.
Step 1: Get Oprah to choose your book for her Book Club. Yeah, ha-ha. But in fact, this is what we're all hoping for -- an Oprah Moment writ small. I know Oprah's never going to hear about (let alone read) my book, but would I be tickled if science fiction author John Scalzi mentioned me on his blog, Whatever? Sure. But Scalzi probably has no recollection of me. We interacted briefly back in '05 or '06, but I've done nothing since to nurture that relationship. (See NETWORKING in Part One of this series.) I'm a little more hopeful that Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books might remember me well enough to review my novel, but once again, I would have had a much better shot at being noticed if I had kept up a presence as a commenter on her blog.
I mention Whatever and Smart Bitches because these two bloggers have a large and passionate following. Ideally, you would be looking for several such places during your networking growth phase. If you've done a slipshod job of it like me, then you're scrambling to find such places to be noticed. What should you do?
Step 2: Play to your strengths. In my own crappy defense, I didn't realize I had written a YA science fiction until well after I had finished it. Yes, this was just cluelessness on my part, but now I'm stuck trying to find my audience. And for that, I've been hitting Goodreads.
Goodreads is seemingly a no-brainer. Their Alexa rank is 149 U.S., but of course that much traffic is diffused throughout the site. (By comparison, Whatever's Alexa U.S. rank is 22,402, but all of that traffic consists of fans and friends who respect what Jon Scalzi has to say.) Regardless of your genre, you should still be able to find groups with thousands of members. Getting their attention is another matter, but the usual rules apply: be respectful, comment intelligently, and keep the self-advertisement to a minimum -- and only do so in the correct locations.
What about my other strengths? In its prime, my blog got one or two hundred hits a day. I used to have a medical site that did even better than that. But now my daily blog traffic is in the single digits, and I folded the medical site because I didn't feel like I could give it the attention it deserved. That left Facebook and Twitter. As networking sites, I'd classify these as "remains to be seen."
And then there's Daily Kos. I've lurked here since 2005, and published the occasional food photo-diary or rambling memoir (about my grandfather, which I really wish had had more readers). But I've been absent way more than I've been present. I knew that if I wanted to slip in a plug for my novel, the "value added" would have to compensate for the "shameless plugging." Hence this series on e-publishing.
3. Take advantage of free promotions. In the KDP Select program, authors sign a ninety-day exclusivity contract with Kindle/Amazon. In those ninety days, they're allowed to host five promotional days, during which their book is free.
If you publish through Smashwords, the process is slightly different. You generate a coupon code that allows folks to buy your e-book for free. Can you do the same thing for Nook's Pubit (Nook Press)? I think so; in their FAQ, they call this "gifting your own e-book." It's not clear to me whether you can do this free of charge.
You need these promotional tools to get your books into the hands of readers, including reviewers. Simple math -- you'll move at least ten times more copies of a free book than you would otherwise (my ratio was about 60:1), and few if any reviewers will pay to review your e-book. Who do you think you are, E.L. James? So us noobs depend on these free offers to get the word out.
So . . . you have figured out how to offer your book for free. Where do you send offer it, aside from the venues already mentioned?
4. Google is your friend. It all begins with an assessment of your work. Here's the thought process: I know that my novel* has a fifteen-year-old protagonist living in a dystopian near-future, so I can call my story "dystopian YA SF" (yup, just like Hunger Games -- with which my novel has almost nothing in common). It'll appeal to a YA audience simply because the main character is a teenaged girl, but there's such a heavy dose of political satire, it should appeal to the Daily Kos crowd, too. Two of the main characters are gay, so perhaps I can target that audience.
I then use Google to find book bloggers and online review sites interested in my genre. (I won't list them here, since your work is likely not a dystopian YA SF with gay characters, but you get the idea.) I run my search, visit those sites, and look for a "review policy" or similar tab. Most of the time, this is fairly obvious. The depressing thing is that many of these sites exclude self-published e-book authors -- I imagine they're swamped with them -- but I'll send polite, hopeful emails anyway. Who knows, maybe they'll like my blurb.
You want to be noticed. You want people talking about your work. As much as I'd like to think I'll sell to people doing keyword searches on Amazon, I know I'm competing with works like Dormitory Slut and I'm Here to Fix Your Plumbing. (How was I to know 'gay' would turn out to be a misleading keyword?) The truth is, the only way folks are going to hear about my book is through word of mouth.
I can see this turning into a full time job. A quick search yielded 46 Top Websites to Promote Your Book for FREE, and my heart sank. Goodreads is number one, but that means I might have to work through forty-five more.
What about advertising? I haven't written much about advertising because I've heard it's a waste, and I know precisely how little attention I give to the dozens of ads I see every day. However, Rachel Thompson's The Top 7 Tips To Advertise Your Book! makes a reasonable argument for at least considering Google AdWords. She has a number of other worthwhile promotional tips, too.
Well, that's all I've learned thus far. It's still early days for me; I e-published my book last Sunday, and in my usual backasswards fashion, I've been learning about promotion ever since.
*Sorry -- yesterday was the last Free Day. But I hope you'll visit the Amazon page and look inside. If you're a typical Kossack and you stick with it through Chapter Three, I know you'll be hooked.
5:19 PM PT: Something I forgot to mention:
I have a friend who makes a tidy sum every month writing spanking erotica. She and her other erotica-writing buddies have teamed up to form a promotional group. When one author publishes, she lets the others know, and they buy her book all on the same day. This greatly boosts your rank at Amazon, thus increasing the likelihood folks might find you through browsing. I suspect the effect may only last for a day or two. On the other hand, with fast-reading literature like erotica, a day or two might be sufficient to engender some serious word of mouth.