Marketing guru Ramit Sethi recently said that if you send people a link for something free they may find interesting, most of the time they won't click on it. This may not be true of your family and closest friends; then again, it may apply to them as well.
Why not, when it's free? For example an article, a report, a YouTube video.
People already have so many demands for their attention that it's easier not to click on yet another link, or to leave it for later (= never).
Sethi says these days you have to "sell free." You have to show people that it's something that will benefit them, just as you do when you're charging. In marketing terms that means there had better be a very good prospect that putting in the effort to sell free will result in income at some point down the line.
HOW THIS WORKS WITH EBOOKS
When there were not so many ebooks around, free worked well. If you had several books available, offering one free in hopes readers would like it and would pay for your other ebooks was an effective strategy.
It does still work for some people, but I think it's on the way out. I subscribe to two sites that send out daily emails listing free or highly-discounted ebooks. I very seldom download any of them. I already have enough to read and these books are by unknown authors. They may well be better writers than some of the well-known authors but I don't have time to download and sample these books.
WHAT COMES AFTER FREE?
If I had sure-thing answer I'd be selling it instead of giving it away for free :). However, my guess is that a new author will have to work even harder to develop a platform--to get known by potential readers first, and then offer them the chance to buy his or her books for a reasonable fee.
I believe that in this as in a lot of other things it will pay to be a contrarian. When everybody else is on Facebook and Twitter, those are not the places to be if you want to stand out. If others are still flooding the marketplace with free ebooks, you don't want yours to be considered part of that group.
What are some places most people consider untrendy? Here are a few:
* Newspapers (yes, they're dying but they aren't dead yet). In this category I include feature stories, display ads, and classfied ads.
* Magazines - same as for newspapers
* Local television
Having a website will still be important, but not the typical site that has just the cover of your book, your bio, and maybe a blog about how you came to write the book. This may sound harsh, but nobody cares--that is, nobody who doesn't already have some kind of connection with you.
In future posts I'll go more deeply into some ways that I'm starting to build a platform in Young Adult fiction, which is a new format and genre for me. I'm sure this will include things that don't work as well as things that do. I hope that will yield some information that will be useful to you as well.
In the meantime you may also find it helpful to get a copy of my book, Do Something Different, published by Virgin Books; it contains 100 case studies of people who came up with creative, mostly very low cost, effective marketing strategies. It's not free.
The publisher warned her that boys might be reluctant to read a novel written by a woman, thinking it was intended for girl readers, and advised her to use her initials.
Did it help? We will never know, but we can be pretty certain it didn't hurt.
That got me thinking about pen names. I'm just about to submit my first YA novel to agents and/or publishers and thinking about doing so under a pen name, instead of Jurgen Wolff, for a couple of reasons.
NAMES AND PERCEPTION
Multiple studies show that someone's name influences how they are perceived by others. Dictionary.com references one such study conducted in the US:
"Participants of the study were asked to guess the success of students with various names on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most successful.
The highest scoring names turned out to be Katherine, scoring a 7.42, and Samuel, scoring a 7.20. With a score of 5.74,
Amber ranked lowest among female names while Travis ranked overall lowest with a score of 5.55.
As John Waggoner, a researcher from Bloomberg University, points out: “Katherine goes to the private school, statistically; Lauren goes to a public university, and Briana goes to community college. Sierra and Dakota, they don’t go to college.”
In the UK, Richard Wiseman conducted a study, asking 6000 people about their perceptions of names. The most successful sounding ones were Elizabeth and James, the most attractive ones Ryan and Sophie.
Writers often take this into account when deciding on names for their characters, especially for their protagonist and, if applicable, their villain. They don't usually think of it in terms of their own names.
Research suggests that people decide alarmingly quickly whether or not to pick up a book (or in the case of online listings, whether to click the thumbnail image). They base this on the title of the book, the image on the cover, and the author's name.
I wasn't able to find any studies specifically on the extent to which the name of an author who is not famous impacts sales.
This kind of test has certainly been done on possible titles for a book. Timothy Ferriss tried out several names for his first book. He put ads online that described the book in exactly the same way, varying only the title. The clear winner was The Four Hour Work Week. Since the book wasn't actually available yet, the people who responded where told they'd be notified when it was.
It would be interesting to do the same thing, but varying only the name of the author...If I give that a try, I'll report the results here.
The factor that seems most obvious to me is that it helps if the author's name is congruent with the genre of the book. I'm guessing if one thriller cover featured an exciting image and the author name Mortimer Feeney and another version was exactly the same except that the author's name was Jack Chase, the latter would outsell the former (apologies to any Mortimer Feeneys reading this).
There may also be cultural factors. My first name, Jurgen, is German, and although the recent World Cup win seems to have created a blip of goodwill toward Germans, overall I think there's some negativity associated with German names in the UK, if only subconsciously.
One additional factor based on your surname is that in book stores novels usually are shelved alphabeticalliy by the last name of the author. If your surname starts with W, your books tend to end up on the bottom shelves, where it's less likely to catch the eyes of browsers.
ON THE OTHER HAND...
Of course there are lots of exceptions--authors who have unusual, unpopular, or foreign-sounding names whose books became best-sellers. In fact, it can help to have a somewhat unusual name because it will be more memorable.
IF YOU USE A PEN NAME
Based on a bit of quick research I've done, it seems that the etiquette of submitting material to agents and publishers suggests using your real name in your query letters unless you've already had something published under the pen name.
In a way this is too bad because probably agents and publishers are just as much influenced by names as anybody else. Some sources do say that it's OK to add your pen name on the title page of your manuscript, like this:
written by Mortimer Feeney
(writing as Jack Chase)
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately it's a very personal decision--some authors feel that it's a betrayal to thei family name to use a different one--but compromising paid off for J K--I mean, for Joanne.
Previously I've run across the rejection letter for The Diary of Anne Frank that said, "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling that would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level" and the one that said John Le Carre had no future, but this one was new to me (courtesy of The Daily Telegraph website):
"First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?
"While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?"
--Publisher Peter J Bentley, rejecting Moby Dick.
Anybody who has had dealings with Hollywood producers will find these comments have a familiar ring.
Hmm, how might it have ended up if Melville had taken Bentley's advice...
MOBY-DORIS; or, The Voluptuous Maiden
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering voluptuous maiden; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.” "
I guess some of it could stay the same: "“Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me..."
No, just as well he didn't listen.
R. J. Palacio, author of WONDER (which I thought was very good, overall) has now issued a short (88 page) ebook called The Julian Chapter, for £1.49/$2.51. It gives the viewpoint of the bully in the book.
The publisher says, "Thought-provoking, infuriating, surprising, heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is a must-read for the thousands of readers who loved WONDER."
I'm not saying Palacio did it for mercenary reasons only but it is a clever way to generate some extra revenue from people who are already fans.
This could start a trend!
The best way to win writing contests is to write better than everybody else, but there are a few additional tips I can offer.
First, look for contests with narrow qualifying criteria. These can be geographic--for example, in the U.S. there are quite a few contests open only to the residents of individual states. Sometimes there are age limits as well. Here's an example:
The Next Chapter Award
will support an emerging Scottish writer aged over 40 who is yet to publish a full-length work. The selected writer will be offered nine months of mentoring to be arranged by Scottish Book Trust, four weeks on retreat at Moniack Mhor and a £1000 bursary. Applications close 16 May.
The Rhys Davies Short Story Competition
features a brand new Under 21 Prize, and an increased total prize fund of £5000 now on offer. Both competitions are open to all writers born in or currently living in Wales. Entries close 16 May.
By way of contrast, here's one with almost no limits :
The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest is open to writers from around the world and is known to award top prizes to virtual unknowns and never-been-published writers.There's a first prize of $1500 for stories under 6000 words. The deadline for entries is May 15.
This may well be worth entering, but as they take entries from around the world and there are no age or other restrictions, most likely you'd be up against a large number of competitors.
2. Ask how many entries they usually have. Not many contests list this in their promotional material but some of them will tell you if you ask.
3. Take the entry fee into account. A high fee limits the number of entries especially if the money prize is low. Normally that's a good reason to avoid entering, but if there is another benefit (e.g. a residency, meetings with agents, etc.) and you feel you have a strong entry it may be worth going for it.
4. Read and follow the rules carefully. This sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many people don't adhere to the required word count, for example.
5. Consider contests which require entries on a particular theme or mentioning a location, etc., like this:
Tell It Strange Essay & Story Contest
is for entries up to 1000 words written in response to one of three selected Annie Proulx quotes. First prize is US$1000, publication in The Writer magazine and a creative writing workshop in New York City or online by Gotham Writers Workshop. Entries close 31 May.
For more generic contests, people will dig up something they've already written. Responding to a more specific topic or style usually means sitting down and writing something new, and fewer people will put in that effort.
Amazon doesn't release sales figures in the kind of detail that would be required to have a definite answer to the question of how many copies you have to sell daily in order to be in their top 5, but Pubiisher's Weekly took a shot at doing the math.
Their educated guess is about 300 per day. That would vary depending on time of year--in the run-up to Christmas, for instance, you'd have to sell quite a few more because that's the most competitive period.
This is for the "all print books" category. For a while online marketers were offering to sell you a plan to be an Amazon best-seller in a category, like Reference, or a sub-category, like Cookbooks, or Asian Cookbooks. If you go far down enough the line of subtopics, it doesn't take many sales t be number one for a day or part of a day. However, I think just about everybody has caught on that getting all your friends to order your book on one day so that your book is a best-seller in that sometimes very narrow niche for an hour or two isn't all that impressive.
At the moment, the marketing hustlers are offering to tell you how to make a fortune from ebooks. Needless to say, it's wise to regard their hype as highly suspect. Some of them have huge marketing lists in place that they can use to sell many copies of one of their own publications, but that doesn't mean you're going to be able to do it.
The other big hype right now is about webinars. The gurus are offering to teach you how to hold online webinars in order to sell your book or other information product.
Again, they are masters at this themselves and have huge mailing lists and affiliates who push their products, but without that online marketing infrastructure in place, you're not likely to match their results.
Also, often they show you their impressive gross income from selling a particular information product but neglect to mention how much of that gross income went to affiliates (who usually get 50%), how much they spent on building their huge lists, and how many refunds they had to give out. By the time you subtract all those, the numbers may not be so impressive.
A recent study shows that when people read something by a (made-up, not famous) writer who has a middle initial or two or three of them, they rate the author as being more intellectual than when it is represented as having been written by the same name minus the middle initials.
Here is part of the study's abstract:
Middle name initials often appear in formal contexts, especially when people refer to intellectual achievements.
On the basis of this common link, the display of middle initials increases positive evaluations of people's intellectual capacities and achievements.
We document this effect in seven studies: Middle initials in authors' names increased the evaluation of their writing performance (Study 1), and middle initials increased perceptions of status (Studies 2 and 4).
Moreover, the middle initials effect was specific to intellectual performance (Studies 3 and 6), and it was mediated by perceived status (Studies 5–7). Besides supporting our hypotheses, the results of these studies yield important implication for everyday life. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Authors with two middle initials are rated even more highly, and those with three middle initials even more.
If you are writing a work of fiction and want your reader to assume that a character is intelligent, give him or her a middle initial or two or three.
If you are writing a work of non-fiction it might be worth using your middle initial(s) if you have any, or inventing some if you don't.
That's my advice - yours truly, Jurgen S. O. B. Wolff--wait, I think we might have to be careful which middle initials we choose...How about J. K. Wolff? Actually, I'm thinking of using a pen name on a children's book I'm writing, but I'm inclined to change my last name to one that starts with a letter in the middle of the alphabet. When your last name begins with W, your books tend to end up on the harder-to-see bottom shelf.
I was impressed by a blog post at Lifehack.org called 13 Reasons Why You Will Not be Successful.
I understand that it was phrased that way to capture attention but I prefer to turn them around to the positive and to relate them specifically to writing or other creative endeavors.
1. YOU ACCEPT RESPONSIBLITY
I don't think I'm a whiner but when I pay attention to what I say I do hear myself complaining more than I want to. Recently an online venture went wrong. It's easy and not entirely incorrect to blame it on my partner on that project, but it's not the most productive thing to do. There's a great saying I forgot:
"Don't expect. Inspect."
In other words, don't assume that others will do what they are supposed to do or even what they have said they will do.
In this instance when I ask myself what I could have done that would have prevented the problem, I can't honestly say 'nothing.' I could have confirmed and checked and insisted, and I didn't.
Looking at this in the context of writing, if we are not successful it's easy to blame the economy, agents or publishers, the poor taste of readers, and on and on. But ultimately it's up to us to find a way to write that gets people excited, without giving up our integrity. If we can't do that we are lacking an essential skill and we have to take responsibility for acquiring it...or finding something else to do with our creative drive.
When I take a hard look at various aspects of my life I can find a number of things for which I haven't accepted full responsibility...how about you?
ps: Maybe "You are willing to take a hard look at your life," should actually be the first reason that you will succeed.
Often there's no way to know whether you're heading for a fall or for a bonanza.
The thing is, that doubt usually comes when you've already invested a lot of time and effort in the project and you might as well keep going and see how it all comes out.
That's hard to do when you've had a lot of rejection. I've had this experience with a novel I wrote a few years ago. It was rejected by several publishers for being too controversial and I decided to put it aside for a while. That while has stretched out to much longer than I planned, probably because my inner critic (whom I fired but who sometimes shows up for work anyway) whispers in my ear that sending it out again would just result in more rejection.
These inner critics do their work so sneakily that we don't even notice it. Now that I've noticed it I'm going to put that manuscript out into the marketplace again and hope that it'll be Florence Scovel Shinn, and not my inner critic, whose quote applies.
Are most successes something totally different...or something a bit better than what existed already?
Marketing guru Michael Masterson says his experience shows that the real successes tend to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. As a mentor in the publishing industry he was directly involved in the development of at least 50 publications. He says, "In the beginning, I made an effort to create something new - something the market didn't have. In every case, I failed."
Instead he suggests a new application of the 80/20 principle:"Give them 80 percent of what they are already buying and only 20 percent of something new. The 20 percent matters. But the 80 percent keeps you in business."
If you already have a winning product or service, what's the 20% you can change or add to make it more exciting to clients or customers and stay ahead of the competition? If you don't, what's out there now that you can improve by 20% to come up with a winner?
For writers, what would make your novel or screenplay 20% different in a good way?
The same applies to marketing what you've written--how can you use existing marketing channels like Twitter and Facebook and Youtube in a somewhat different way?
(For inspiration for marketing your work in a creative and inexpensive way, see the 100 case studies of innovative marketing in my book, Do Something Different, published by Virgin Books. The examples come from people with all kinds of products and services, your task is to adapt them to what you are offering. The result is that yours will stand out.)
Whether you self-publish your book or get published traditionally, one of the hardest challenges you will face is getting your work to the attention of potential customers. The "selfies' phenomenon--people taking their own pictures and posting them everywhere online--has been much in the news lately. Here's a way you can take advantage of it.
WHAT’S THE IDEA?
People’s desire to take selfies isn’t going away any time soon. Invite your followers to take a picture of themselves with your book and email it to you.
Award prizes for most unusual facial expression, most unusual location, best selfie with pet and book. The more categories you come up with, the more winners. The more winners the better!
Make the prizes downloadable so it doesn’t cost you anything to send them. For instance, each person could get a pdf of a certificate of their win, plus wallpaper for their computer, a mini-poster for them to print out, or an exclusive short-short story featuring some of the characters in your book (maybe a couple of the minor characters).
Of course cash always motivates people, so consider also having money awards for the top three. It doesn’t have to be a lot—£10, £25 and £50 or $25, $50 and $75 would be sufficient to drive entries.
WHY IT WORKS
The thing people find most interesting is…themselves. This contest capitalizes on that.
WHERE TO PUBLICIZE IT:
Publicize your contests on your web site and blog, social media, your YouTube channel and via free press releases. Also send information to websites that cater to amateur photographers.
Get a local coffee shop to let you put all the winners on a wall for a few days and get your local newspaper to write about it.
For inspiration on how else to market your book cheaply and creatively, get a copy of my book, Do Something Different, published by Virgin Books and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.
Will little mistakes in your book turn people off? Is proofreading really that important?
I hesitated to write this post because I know there are typos in my blog posts. I do proofread them but I post just about every day, sometimes under time pressure, and things slip through. For that reason, when I read blogs I cut them some slack regarding typos and little errors.
This came to mind earlier today when I was reading the “look inside” preview of a book about research into psychic phenomena. It said that many famous people followed this research, including "Rod Sterling".
The late Rod Serling happens to be one of my heroes. I grew up loving the Twilight Zone series and later read a number of his plays. When I was a teen-ager I wrote him a letter and he was kind enough to reply. I guess that’s why seeing his name misspelled bothered me. More importantly, though, it provoked this question:
“If the author got that wrong, what else did she get wrong?”
That’s the question you don’t want your readers to ask. It undermines their confidence in you and it may even make them put the book aside (or not buy it if they spot the error while browsing).
Here are some tips for proofreading a manuscript:
* Get at least one other person to proofread it
* Use a ruler or piece of paper and move it down one line at a time. That stops your eyes from moving ahead too far. Even better: in a piece of paper or light cardboard cut a horizontal slot the length of your lines, so anything above and below the line you are looking at is covered.
* Read backward. That makes you isolate each word and you’ll notice misspellings much more easily.
PS: I bought the book anyway…but I’ll be on the lookout for any other mistakes.
-----For friendly help with writing your book, get a copy of Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and avaialable from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.
If you’re interested in getting free and discounted ebooks, you can sign up for a daily email offering those, at http://www.bookbub.com.
I signed up a month or so ago. A lot of the books are not in a genre I like, but I’ve downloaded three free ones so far.
There’s no catch—some authors feel that giving away their ebook is a good strategy because if you like the writing you’ll see what else they’ve written and pay for their other books.
A lot of book trailers are boring: The author looking slightly uncomfortable describing his or her book in superlatives, or else telling what inspired them, or trying to give a summary of the plot without giving too much away. I doubt that they prompt many sales and some I've seen probably dissuade anyone from buying the book.
Below is a book trailer that's fun to watch. Will it prompt you to buy the book? Well, I haven't but if I spot it in a bookshop or think of it the next time I'm roaming around Amazon, I might.
Yes, the author has the benefit of professional actors, and what looks like professional camerawork and editing, and I'm not suggesting that everybody could match these. The point is that it's fun as well as revealing something about the nature of the book. I think that kind of relevant fun is possible to do without professional actors.
Having said that, if you happen to live in a city I'm confident there are a lot of professional, semi-professional, and skilled amateur actors there who would be happy to be in a well-written book trailer in exchange for nothing more than a credit, a pizza lunch, and an autographed copy of your book.
There are also quite a few camera operators around who do corporate work and would love to have a chance to do something more creative, especially a project that wouldn't take long to shoot.
For directing and editing you may be able to find talented students at a local college or university. Many are eager to take on a real-world project.
Here's a fun example--it reminds me of a mini-version of a early-to-mid-period Woody Allen film; it's promoting the book, One More Thing by B. J. Novak: