We would like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Anna Castle today to talk with us about her book marketing. Anna, when partnering up with other authors for cross promotions, what is the outcome of this and is this something you recommend doing on an ongoing basis?
I haven’t done this, apart from a series of Christmas blog posts. That was fun, but I don’t think it had any effect on my sales. Still, it’s well to remember that publicity means getting your name out there, while marketing consists of specific efforts to boost sales. Or that’s how I’ve learned these lessons.
What are some ways that were successful in marketing your book?
The best results I’ve had in terms of sales & downloads have come from using newsletter ad services to promote a discount. I’m not big enough for BookBub, but I’ve had good results from FussyLibrarian and Booksends. This month I’m trying BookAdrenaline, which is strictly mysteries and thrillers and only $8! These services have large numbers of subscribers — usually in the tens of thousands — who sign up because they want selected bargains. These are often voracious readers, like I used to be before I started reading more history than fiction. The idea with these ads is that those eager readers will like your discounted book and buy your other ones.
You have to book these promotions a month or more out. (That’s true of everything in this business.) I will book my ad first to set the dates for my promotion. Two of my series are in Kindle Select, where it’s easy to do 2-3 days free or reduced to $0.99. It’s slightly more effort to go around to all the distributors to change the price on my Bacon books, which are available everywhere, but not so terrible. Now that book one is permafree, my best strategy according to my gurus is to promote that a few times a year.
What were failures in marketing your book?
I am not very failure oriented :-). I write about Francis Bacon after all, who was famously unsinkable. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and figure out what can be learned. To me, anything that moves me one step closer to a new reader is a success.
I’ve had zero response to some efforts, like my Facebook ad to get newsletter subscribers in July. Nobody’s paying attention in July! That’s $50 out the window. But I learned about the doldrums of summer, so I don’t count it as a failure.
Do you keep to a budget for paid promotions and what sites do you use?
Oh, indeed, I do! I published my first two books in 2014 and did hardly anything. But in 2015 year I spent money like a drunken sailor, to very little effect. Now I have two years of sales data to guide me and I am very strictly remaining within limits. I will not spend more than I make in 2017, considering a likely increase as I add two more books. I don’t make much, so I don’t spend more than $150 a month.
Having a budget makes things easier on all counts. $150 is a lot. I can do a Goodreads giveaway (about $45 for 5 books mailed in the US), an ad with Fussy or similar ($50-$75), and even a Facebook ad (flexible, I usually spend $50.) Those things can easily be scheduled in an afternoon or two, after my writing time is done, marking the dates & expenses in my publicity spreadsheet.
What do you feel is a current waste of money in marketing your book?
Waste is an awfully big word…. I wouldn’t buy another $400+ ad from review services like Kirkus again, although the great review I got for my first book gave me my best quote, which I’ve used absolutely everywhere, and boosted my credibility. That’s far from a waste! But being named one of their Best Indie Books of 2014 had zero effect on my sales. And it’s a lot of money, so I won’t do it again.
Likewise, I wouldn’t do another blog tour. I spent $450 on one in 2014 and sold zero books as a result. However, once again, I got great reviews from all the blog hosts which gave me a boost for my first book. I use some of those reviews on my “Praise for Anna Castle’s books” pages at the front of my print editions.
So I guess the moral of that story is that it’s worth splashing out for your first book, if you’re confident that it’s a very good book. You don’t need to repeat that splash for every other book.
Authors need to keep new ideas fresh when prompting their books to draw readers in. How do you feel about the idea of writing short stories to interest readers further with your stories?
I am a great evangelist for short stories for indie authors!!! I love short stories, both the reading and the writing. And you are spot on: short fiction is a fantastic way for writers to revitalize their imaginations and their craft. Writing outside your usual genre, writing faster than usual, writing something simpler, plot wise, and focusing on a single emotional turning point… I have found this all extremely stimulating.
But wait — this is supposed to be about marketing. Well, short stories can be sold to magazines, online and off, putting your work in front of whole new audiences. It’s like advertising for which they pay you. (Be very, very wary of those contracts! Read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s book on Contracts carefully before signing anything and don’t be afraid to ask for revisions.)
Once you get your rights back, that story can be mined in multiple ways. Someone might want to put it in an anthology — another new audience. Write enough of them, and you can produce your own anthology and add it to your catalog. You can sell them online for $0.99 each. Make simple covers yourself and proofread and format as you would any novel. You can print up neat little books with 3 stories in them and sell them for $5 at events. You can offer them as freebies to your newsletter subscribers. You can record your own audio editions, if you have access to a low-budget studio. (They’re everywhere in Austin.) There’s no end to the uses of short fiction!
How much time weekly do you commit to marketing your brand?
Let’s can call it three hours to be sure we haven’t missed things like writing this piece. Most days I do nothing, but my sales numbers aren’t exciting enough to look at very often. And now that I’ve got my little suite of marketing tools (newsletter ad services, Goodreads giveaways, Facebook ads) there really isn’t that much to do.
Are you open to new ideas and stepping outside the box of your usually promoting?
If I didn’t love learning, I wouldn’t write historical fiction! This spring I’m going to learn how to use Amazon ads. I belong to the Indie Author Society here in Austin and to a couple of great groups online, like the Alliance of Independent Authors to help me keep an ear to the wind.
If you wish you had a local group, start one! Use Meetup. All you have to do is state your purpose (indie authors sharing tips and tricks), find a place to meet, and go hang out there on the appointed day. Trust me: if you build it, they will come.
What would you recommend a debut author’s first steps be in promoting?
The best thing you do is write more books. Everyone says it, nobody likes it, but it’s true.
Apart from that, if you have savings to burn and you’re pretty sure you’ll get great reviews, pony up for Kirkus or Romantic Times. Their reviews are beautifully written and thus highly useable.
Get active on Facebook and/or Twitter, like it or not, partly so you can put your cover in front of many eyes every now and then, but mainly to present yourself to hundreds of potential readers as a sane and decent person who knows how to turn a phrase. And to find friends and mentors.
The conventional wisdom is that running discounts, including free, doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have anything else to sell.
I know you want to get busy and promote, but there isn’t much point in it until you have a nice little catalog to sell. Slow build is the best build. I see a permanent jump in sales every time I bring out a new book. For example, last year I was selling 5-10 books a week. Now I’m selling twice that many, after bringing out my seventh book. (Don’t blanch — I write slightly point-headed books about Francis Bacon! If your genre is more popular, you’ll do much better.)
Squeeze in a little marketing now and then as your budget permits and you can’t stop yourself, but don’t let it take time away from writing that next book.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of promoting books?
Writing more books. You write because you love it, presumably. The good news is that the best thing you can do to build your career is keep doing it. Persistence really does pay, eventually.
Anna Castle writes two historical series: Francis Bacon mysteries and the Professor & Mrs. Moriarty mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees — BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and PhD Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning.
Author Website .