Posts Tagged ‘self-promotion’

On the Importance of Reviews for Authors

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You’ve probably seen writers asking their readers to leave reviews of their work at places like Amazon or Goodreads; if you read any self-published stuff, you’ve undoubtedly seen the call-to-action that is almost always at the end of any ebook: “Please take the time to leave a review of this book wherever you bought it.” It might seem annoying, all of this begging for extra attention from the reader, particularly if you’re not one to do reviews. It might even seem crass to ask at all.

But the brutal truth is that reviews are an absolutely necessary part of the business. Writing is a business, and as such, authors have to treat it as one. Reviews are especially important to new writers, who don’t have selling-power connected to their name yet, and thus can easily find themselves languishing in obscurity not because they’ve written a bad book but because few people take a chance on them because their book has few to zero reviews at the vendor. I know that I, for example, am much more likely to turn away from a book if it has zero or only one or two reviews, even if it’s free (and I’m particularly suspicious if all of the reviews are 5 star ones). A book that never gets read never gets reviewed, and so in turn continues to not get read; a vicious circle.

But this circle is even more never-ending. One of the best ways to reach a larger audience that just doesn’t yet know a specific book exists is for author to get a promotional ad with places like Bookbub. Some of you may be familiar with BB, but for those who aren’t, it’s a daily advertising burst, telling its tens of thousands of subscribers about books that are deeply discounted or free. Bookbub gets an author’s book in front of that many people each day, and while I’ve seen some authors who say their ad only got them to the break-even point of sales, I’ve never heard of anyone taking a substantial financial loss on an ad (the ads have to be paid for, and they aren’t cheap by any means). In fact most folks I’ve seen report profits on their ads, which means literally thousands of downloads in a single day. That’s a newer author’s dream-come-true (and even for some of us less-newer authors who are quite obscure). But here’s the deal: while BB will look at practically any book for consideration, they have limited space in their daily emails, and so the number of reviews a title has plays a really big part in whether or not they will seriously consider a given book. A title with only a dozen reviews stands practically no chance when it’s going up against a title with hundreds of reviews, or even fifty. BB’s audience is looking for good books, and BB relies on reviews and average rating at retailers to determine what will appeal to their audience. And competition is fierce (only 20% of submissions get accepted for promotion.). So those who could really benefit from a BB ad aren’t able to get it because of the lack of reviews, because of the lack of exposure. The circle continues.

So authors aren’t just asking you to leave reviews for ego reasons; there’s solid business reasons for asking for those reviews. As much as we’d all like to think that books are all about the art, they are also about the business; they cost not just time to produce, but money as well; cover artists and editors must be paid. And so does the author, regardless of whether they’re traditionally published or they are publishing themselves. Bills must be paid in order for the stories to be produced. The two things reader can do to help authors continue producing quality work is to first buy their work, and then also leave honest feedback (either positive or negative) at the point-of-sale. Even a negative review has its place and usefulness; personally, the first thing I look at on any product I haven’t already committed to buying is to look at the lowest ratings, to determine if there’s an actual problem (like poor editing or quality issues). Sometimes the low ranking are written by idiots who blame a completely unrelated issue on the product itself (“the seller sent me a copy with the cover bent, so one star!”), but sometimes low ratings have actually convinced me to buy a book, because the things that reader was ranting about are thinks I really like.

Help out the literary ecosystem by leaving reviews of the books you read. It can be as simple as a one or two sentence review stating why you liked or didn’t like a book, or it can be a long, detailed gush or rant. Just let folks know what you think. And always be honest. Authors and your fellow readers will thank you for it!

Short Fiction Ahoy!

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Heartsofmencover6x9I’ve spoken elsewhere about my plans to put out a series of stories in the same universe as “The Hearts of Men”, and I spent some time putting together covers from public domain imagery and artwork (as well as some of my own original digital drawings). The plan was to release them all at the same time, but being Ms. Impatient, it bothers me to have an ebook sitting completely done but unpublished. Two more stories are lined up, but are in the rewrite stage, and with work progressing on the final book of The Bone Flower Trilogy and my first historical romance coming out June 1st, I knew it would still be a couple months before I’d have the time to devote to getting them in final draft form. So I said to heck with it and released the ebook version of the series’ inspiration, “The Hearts of Men”. Here’s the blurby goodness:

When Mextli awakens again for the first time in centuries, the moon is missing from the sky and demons are terrorizing a small southwestern town. He doesn’t remember who he is, but the boy Timacoz is convinced he’s the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, returned to save them all from the sorceress who controls the demons and holds the moon hostage.

Mextli agrees to help, but it may be more than he can handle, especially when the voice in his head keeps telling him to kill Timacoz and eat his heart….

If you’ve already read HOM, there might not be any need to rush out to get this, but it does have new artwork, and it’s completely free to download. As much as I would have loved to purchase the rights to reuse the story’s original Realms of Fantasy illustration, I just don’t have that kind of budget for short fiction. I’m doing this on the barest expense, and it will give me a chance to test out Kindle Unlimited with the forthcoming stories; I might have been able to go exclusive with HOM, since the only copies still being sold out there are the paper ones, but I didn’t want to chance crossing the Zon, and besides, I wanted this one to be permafree, and the only way to do that is to go wide (and even then it’s difficult to get them to price-match). So you can get this first one not only at Amazon, but also at Kobo, B&N, Google Play, and Apple.

I can’t say for certain just yet when the second one (completely new!) will be out, but the cover is finished, and the first drafts of both stories had been written several years ago. I just have to go in and do some significant rewriting, to make everything fit neatly together. The plan is to get those two out before the final book in The Bone Flower Trilogy. So stay tuned!

New Covers for Bone Flower

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BFT_ebookcovOne of the many advantages of being an indie author is that you can change strategies midstream, and do it rather easily and painlessly. If something isn’t working, you can reevaluate and make changes, and don’t have to convince a publisher to go along with you.

After much soul-searching and frustration, I’ve decided that things aren’t working with my Bone Flower books. Sales are poor, and even when I ran a .99 promo, I made very few sales, nowhere near enough to even recoup the costs of the promotion itself (and we’re not even talking BookBub size prices. We’re talking $5 at the cheapest, and $45 at the most expensive.). I don’t have a ton of reviews, but enough for me to feel confident that the story is not the issue. That leaves other factors to play around with. Maybe my blurb is all wrong (and yes, I’m toying around with a new blurb, but not seriously yet). Maybe my price-point is wrong (I already lowered both books by $2 in their ebook form, matching the pricing of similar books in my genre. Amazon still thinks I need to drop them another dollar, but I’m not convinced there yet). Or maybe my cover is giving the reader the wrong impression about my book (bingo!)

My editor at Panverse discussed this with me back when sales were struggling and we kept getting puzzling reviews from folks who thought the book was supposed to be young adult. We hadn’t advertised it as young adult; we advertised it as history fantasy and historical romance. I’ve been asked over and over what age group I would recommend the book to, and 99% of the time, it’s the parent of a 12 or 13 year old asking. We both pondered about where they were getting this impression, and eventually we started wondering if it was the cover.

Throne’s cover is absolutely gorgeous. I love it with all my heart, and I love the cover for Queen as well. They are beautiful pieces of art, and people always compliment them, but when I tell them that the book is in the vein of Game of Thrones when it comes to content, they are surprised. “Yeah, I didn’t get that impression at all from the cover.” I sold quite a few books at AnomalyCon a couple weeks ago, but I do wonder how many epic fantasy fans–my target audience–looked at the covers and moved on to the next table because they saw YA fantasy and said, “Not my thing.” And all but one of those sales went to women; the man who bought a copy was a new friend who’d spent all weekend listening to me talk about it on panels we were on together. Statically, men are the core audience when it comes to epic fantasy, and I’m having a really hard time reaching them.

So as much as it pains me to set aside the beautiful covers, I have to think about marketing and genre, otherwise I’m going to continue to languish in sales obscurity. I need covers that shout “Epic fantasy!”, so that I can at least make epic fantasy readers pick up the book and turn it over to read the blurb, or see the cover in search results on Amazon and decide to click it and read the blurb and reviews. And that means new covers. *sniffle*

Bone Flower redo 1After examining quite a few covers on Amazon, I decided the easiest style was an object focus, like GoT or Lord of the Rings. I’m already considerably in the hole on both books, so I needed to do this on the cheap, and those were styles I felt confident I could mimic with my own skills in Gimp. I’ve been working on it for several weeks, toying with different concepts, and abandoning some, but I think I’ve finally nailed down the basic overall look. I might do some more tweaking in the future (going to a textured background rather than a stylized image, for example) but for now I’m testing out the new cover style with Throne, and will run some promos in the near future, to see if there’s any improvement in sales. If the new cover is working, I’ll go through the process of revamping the paperbacks as well.

I’m still in the process of figuring out the covers for both Queen and the final book (which I’m just over 50k into), so I’m holding off on those until I see how things go with Throne over the next month or so as I do promotion.

Business – Promotional Work

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Updated 1/10/2015

Now that I’m a self-pubber, promotion and marketing are 100% in my own hands, and I decided to take the dive into paid promotion. Since getting back the rights for Bone Flower Throne and republishing it myself, sales have been very sluggish; sales weren’t good with my publisher, but I think they were probably even worse since I took over. Of course, I wasn’t doing much promotion other than letting people know that “Hey! The paperback and e-book are back on sale again!” I made a handful of sales, and my sales rank on BFT at Amazon had been pretty atrocious. The book had basically zero visibility and was languishing, not really a good thing with the second book on the verge of coming out.

So I decided to do a temporary price drop on BFT, to hopefully generate some sales and move the book up Amazon’s ranks. I definitely started selling again once I did this, but it was a trickle; maybe two or three sales a day. I just didn’t have enough eyes in my own social network to bring in any significant numbers of readers, so I needed some help. And that’s when I decided I needed to pay to get in front of more sets of eyes.

Bookbub is the big daddy that everyone wants to get into, but quite honestly, I don’t think I have enough reviews yet to get into their listings, and it’s expensive; people do swear that it’s a giant boost for sales, so it ends up paying for itself (and often more), but I’m already quite a few bucks in the red on BFT. At this point, getting a Bookbub would double that. Besides, there’s quite a few low-cost options to try first, so that’s what I’ve done.

I made the decision to go paid by the end of the first day of the promotional pricing, and so picked out a handful of sites that I saw good things about on the KBoards. I was really skeptical about being able to secure slots at such short notice, but it turned out not to be a problem for the most part. As of today, I have secured 5 promos, and I could probably get another before the end of the sales period (though I think I’ll wait until my next promo to do it); only one site I applied to hasn’t gotten back to me yet. The sites I booked with are Bargain Booksy, Fussy Librarian, Ebooklister, Genre Pulse, and Digital Book Spot (also called BKnights). Since I was doing this on such short notice, I had multiple promos running each day, so I can’t make any definitive determinations on which promo was producing sales and which was not, so my conclusions will be based on whether or not I was able to break even on any given promo given my sales numbers.

Wednesday January 7th

The first of two days of paid promos. I had a Bargain Booksy and a listing with the Fussy Librarian for this day, and I needed a total of $49 dollars in sales to break even on these. Both promos had both email and site exposure, and they are segregated lists, which means that email subscribers decide what genres they want to see and receive only those books in their email, so for a cross-genre book such as mine, I had to pick one genre and promo it as that. I chose fantasy, because while the book has heavy romance elements, it’s not technically genre romance thanks to no HEA. It might be interesting to try switching the genre category and see if that makes a difference, for I definitely think that genre has a bearing on how effective the promos are, but more on that later.

Over the course of the day, sales picked up, and at one point I made nearly ten sales in an hour. That really had me hopeful. Sales soon tapered off though, and I ended up with a total of 27 sales–21 at Amazon, 6 at B&N. Not great numbers, and only enough to break even on the Fussy Librarian listing. Given this, I don’t think that the Bargain Booksy is effective. It’s too pricy for the results. Fussy Librarian might be worth a second try.

Some observations:

At the beginning of the day, I checked the sales ranks of all the other books on the promo list, particularly the ones in the two genres my book is. Most were kind of low like my own, into the 100k’s, but when I went back and checked them again at the end of the night, I found the rankings of the books on Bargain Booksy had improved greatly compared to those on Fussy Librarian. In fact, mine and a historical romance seemed to be the only ones that had significant number changes on Fussy Librarian. This would suggest that probably the lion’s share of my sales actually came from Bargain Booksy rather than Fussy Librarian, but even if that’s true, the number of sales I did get from Bargain Booksy doesn’t come anywhere close to recouping my investment in the listing. Fussy Librarian is cheap enough that further testing could be worthwhile whereas Bargain Booksy is a bust with this book, financially-speaking anyway.

The day did wonders for my sales ranking on Amazon though. For the longest time, the only way I knew I’d sold something on Amazon was by seeing that the sales rank had shifted, and even after putting everything under my own kdp account, I spent more time watching the sales rank on book’s listing than checking the sales report on KDP. It seemed that the sales rank always moved in the correct direction very soon after the sale, within the next update cycle, so I was really puzzled–and worried–when my ten-an-hour sales came in and my sales rank was actually getting worse! This was a huge disappointment for me at the time, especially since I wasn’t getting the sales numbers I’d hoped, and it was even looking like I wasn’t going to get the sales rank boost I was hoping to get either. Eventually though, the sales rank dropped, and it dropped dramatically (over 100k drop in one cycle). I went from 135k at the highest all the way down to 15k in the middle of the night; and the rise back up has been pretty slow. I also made the front page of lists in both romance (historical romance/ancient world) and fantasy (myths and legends/Arthurian). On the fantasy list, I was rubbing shoulders with Mists of Avalon and three separate Dark Tower novels–a personal high point for me. It hasn’t really produced sales as far as I can tell, but hopefully the next set of promos will help my ranking climb even higher, and get onto a few more lists with better visibility.

My impression thus far is that genre has a great bearing on how successful promos with a lot of these places are. There’s a lot of romance listed whereas there’s really not a whole lot of fantasy (and when it is fantasy, it tends to be urban fantasy). And checking sales ranks seems to suggest that the romance books do really well. Maybe romance readers are more willing to give things a chance than fantasy readers are (which would reinforce the statistics that say romance fans are veracious readers). I’d be willing to retry Bargain Booksy when I finally publish my historical romance novels.

Thursday January 8th:

I had three promos running this day: Ebooklister, Digital Bookspot (BKnights), and Genre Pulse. I needed to earn a total of $41 to break even, which amounted to 118 sales at $.99. I ended up selling a total of 13 books, and I know that at least one of them wasn’t due to the promos. I had 12 sales at Amazon and one at Kobo (which may also be independent of the promos since none of them featured a Kobo link, though too it could be carry-over from the previous day’s promos which did include Kobo links. There’s just no way to tell.)

Needless to say, this day was highly disappointing and I won’t be using any of these promo sites again for this book. The sales I did get kept me up in the ranks all day though, so that is a bright light. Another positive is that Genre Pulse does something very cool for its authors: they provide a bitly link that tracks the number of clicks your promotion receives, and if you sign up for a bitly account, you can see where the clicks are coming from too. I wish all promotions included this feature, for it would take a lot of mystery out of this. Seeing the number of clicks I got compared to the numbers other authors reported in the Genre Pulse thread at KBoards gave me a lot of confidence that Genre Pulse was not a good fit for my book, but also I’m still getting clicks this morning, so maybe there’s a long-tail worth keeping an eye on.

Now for the negative, and there was a lot on this day.

Ebooklister offers free promo on their website, but you can purchase a relatively cheap paid promo that gets you featured prominently on the website, and gets your book into the newsletter they send out to subscribers. In the end, I feel that I would have gotten just as much out of the free promo as I did out of the paid. Even if all my sales came from Ebooklister, I didn’t come anywhere close to breaking even there.

I bought a one-day app-only promo from Genre Pulse, and initially I was pretty excited, since I was seeing clicks and even getting some sales very shortly afterwards. My gut is that the bulk of my sales yesterday came from Genre Pulse, since I watched the Bitly link quite closely yesterday and often saw sales on my kdp dashboard shortly after an increase in clicks. As of this morning I have a total of 28 clicks, compared to the 200-300 other authors doing the same promo reported at KBoards. I downloaded the app to my Kindle, so I could check it out, check out my ad, and maybe try out a new avenue for finding discount books. The app seems cool enough, but I found it troublesome on a technical level. None of the promo titles would load for me, so even if I wanted to purchase them, I couldn’t because I couldn’t access the links to buy. I tried clearing the data several times and even reinstalled the app, but still wasn’t able to get to the promo titles to load. At one point I did manage to get to the buy link on my own book, but it was such a pain and frustrating exercise that eventually I just gave up on the app. If other users were having these same issues with the app being only intermittently reliable, then it’s little wonder I got only 28 clicks. And given that this was an app-only promo, this issue makes me very grumpy. I never was able to access any of the other promo titles, so any sales those other folks might have gotten from me were lost to frustration. I don’t think I would use the cheaper app-only promotion again for any book thanks to these technical issues.

Finally, we come to Digital Book Spot (BKnights). This promotion cost me more than the other two combined, and at this point, I didn’t get my money’s worth. BKnights does business through Fiverr, so everything they do is $5 a pop, which is super cheap. But they offer a lot of individualized services, to help increase the exposure of your promotion. So while $5 will get you listed on their website for several days, for another $5, you can get a Facebook post, and for another $5 they will tweet about your sale to their followers. I ended up buying 4 services, to increase the exposure. And if they’d actually delivered all of the extra services I bought, I’d have no good reason to complain. But they didn’t deliver my facebook post, or my twitter post; I have no way of telling whether they delivered the newletter listing since I’m not a member, but I’m willing to let that slide. But when I don’t see a facebook post that I paid for, nor a tweet that I paid for, I get miffed. I’m in the process of finding out why those didn’t go out, and possibly trying to get a refund on those two services, since today is the last day of my promotional pricing. My advice: don’t waste your time with the extras. Though I wouldn’t exactly recommend this service in general, not for fantasy or SF anyway. Update: BKnights ran the facebook post and the twitter post on the 9th, a day after the original listing, so that issue is resolved and I’m satisfied. I think I might have gotten a handful of sales from them, though I was doing some minor promoting on FB and twitter, letting folks know that Friday was the last day for the promotional pricing, so I can’t say for sure what produced the 10 sales on Friday–9 at Amazon, 1 at B&N, but so far it’s looking unlikely that I’ll recoup the cost of the promos with BKnights.


So, my first foray into paid promotion seems to be an utter failure; only one promo might be worth revisiting at a later date. And while I improved my sales rank and got on the front page of some lists, that doesn’t seem to have resulted in an increase in sales. Without promos running, my sales have tanked down to zero again, and so far I haven’t seen any increase in book two sales, which was really the purpose of doing promo; though maybe it will take a month or two to start seeing an influence in that arena. I’ll be returning the book back up to regular price tomorrow, so if you want to still get Bone Flower Throne at the sale price, today’s the day to do it.

And now it’s time to put the promo aside and get back to the really important work: delivering the final book in this series for those readers waiting for it.

Book Birthday and a Sale!

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BFQ Cover Mock 50 percentToday The Bone Flower Queen is now available in e-book format at all your favorite online retailers!

Suddenly the ground rumbled and I looked around, my calm forgotten. Was it an earthquake? Behind me, the maguey plant’s thick, fleshy leaves waved as if caught in a great wind, yet none of the plants around it moved, and no wind was blowing. The rumbling focused between me and the maguey plant, as if something large and sinister burrowed towards me….

Having defeated the sorcerer god Smoking Mirror and reclaimed her throne, Quetzalpetlatl and her brother Topiltzin set out to found Quetzalcoatl’s new holy city and end human sacrifice throughout the Toltec world.

But Smoking Mirror hasn’t abandoned his own ambitions for power; with his allies–both mortal and divine–threatening war among the gods, he’s shifted his focus to Quetzalpetlatl and her budding magical powers. Along with her deep, personal connection to his hated enemy Quetzalcoatl, she would be the perfect addition to his ranks, if only he could convince her that she’s working for the wrong side in this conflict.

And he knows the one secret that will tear apart everything she thinks she knows about her beloved god…and herself.

What are readers saying about it?

This is a lovely continuation of the first volume–I really like the focus on Toltec society and the wealth of details, as well as the focus on women’s experiences (there’s a lovely and heartbreaking depiction of motherhood). The final revelation (and I’m not going to spoil) is a game-changer.”

“Every bit as good, if not better, than the first.”

“T.L. Morganfield’s characters were well fleshed out in the first book and become even more so in this one. The tension between the hero & heroine is amazing and you cheer for them through the entire book despite their odd circumstances. Morganfield’s mastery at setting draws you into the story so much so that you forget you’re sitting in the present reading. You feel like you are walking through the Aztec culture.”

BFT_ebookcov“There is real love for the craft here. Real care and respect for the culture being represented…I simply cannot wait for the next (and final, ugh!) book in The Bone Flower trilogy!”

Buy it now! Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple | Google Play

To celebrate the release, I’ve temporarily marked down the e-book of The Bone Flower Throne to $.99. This reduced pricing will last through Friday, then it will returned to it’s newly-reduced cover price of $4.99, so hurry and grab your copy if you don’t already have one! Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple | Google Play