How I Discover New Books– Hint, Not in a Bookstore

It’s been said that the reason an author should stick to traditional publishing is book discoverability and distribution by way of a publisher’s marketing budget and sales staff.

bookstore-482970_1280I was fortunate to get a three-book deal with a mid-size Christian publisher who did get behind my book generously with marketing dollars. They even landed me in Sam’s Club with my first two books in hundreds of stores nationwide.

Just, why, didn’t I hit the bestseller lists? I think the books are good. Proof and Poison got starred reviews from Library Journal. Both were nominated (though never won) for awards. Lots of favorable reviews.

In fact, I might even say that landing in Sam’s Club hurt me a little. Why? The issue with Sam’s club is it’s a BIG order. It’s a risk for the publisher. If you’re not a well-known name who can move those novels many are going to get returned and your royalty report is going to look like a defaulted home loan and the bank is knocking on your door.

I began to analyze how I discover books, and does it match with the way a traditional publisher markets novels?

Sure, your best chance of getting into a bookstore is partnering with a traditional publisher but how often are you going to bookstores anymore? I used to go weekly, when they were close. There aren’t any close ones anymore. The one at the mall I would stop in while shopping for other things . . . gone . . . both of them. The closest bookstore is a 15-20 minute drive. And as NYT’s bestselling author Jamie McGuire blogs here– even she wasn’t seeing her novels in bookstores during release week.

Here is a list of how I now discover books.

1. Goodreads Reviews. Goodreads is the place for people who LOVE books and where book lovers leave reviews. I find I have more Goodreads reviews than Amazon reviews. I have close to 2,500 friends on Goodreads. Every day, I get an e-mail of their reviews. I’ve come to know whose reading tastes are similar to mine. A good review of a book will cause me to look further on Amazon. Plus, since I’m friends with so many, I get exposed to a wide variety of books outside my general reading genre (suspense) that I probably wouldn’t have heard about– even browsing bookstore aisles.

2. Amazon Lists. Amazon lists are fun to browse. Of course, there is always the 100 top paid and free Kindle lists but I also look at genre specific top 100 lists. I also pay attention to novels getting a crazy number of reviews and try and read those to see what is catching the reader’s eye. So, from my first two examples, I don’t think any author can say that reviews don’t matter . . . they do.

3. Advertising Lists. There are a couple of advertising lists that I belong to– BookBub and Inspired Reads. On these sites, you can narrow down the types of e-mails you receive to genres you like. Every day you’ll get an e-mail about books that are on sale. Bookbub lists are the primary way I’m buying books. If I see an interesting book cover then I click the buy link for Amazon and check out reviews. Based on the number of reviews, I make a decision about whether or not to buy the novel. BookBub has a very good reputation among authors that though pricey– is generally a good investment of your marketing dollars. I think the same is true with Inspired Reads for their reach/price ratio.

4. Word of Mouth. I’m like every other human being. If a good friend says, “You must read this book.” it will climb up to the top of my TBR list. The more people that say it– the more likely I am to read it. One author I’d almost given up on until a good friend said, “Just read this one. If you don’t like it, I give you permission to never read this author again.” Reading that novel changed my opinion of the author and their work.

What I find is that I’m rarely in a bookstore anymore but I’m discovering a lot more books because these things are available to me every day.

For my fall release, this is how I’m spending my marketing money. I’ll likely not be arranging bookstore book signings, but that’s a topic for another time.

How are you discovering books? Does that determine your marketing plan?

Why the Ninja? And Other Great Questions Your Writers’ Group Will Ask

NinjaWriters are a strange breed. We pretty much live inside our own heads, which isn’t a problem as far as we’re concerned. In fact, inside our heads is a pretty great place to be. Kind of like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, where anything is possible, including eating a three course dinner in the form of chewing gum, or turning into a blueberry as punishment for being greedy (a little something we writers like to call poetic justice).

There is a downside, of course, which is that non-writers don’t always get our compulsive need to take ten minutes to compose a grammatically correct text while they’re standing in front of a wall of cereal boxes waiting to hear which one we’d like them to buy, or our propensity for bolting upright in bed at 3 a.m. and shouting “Yes! That’s how she did it!”
Which is why we writers need to seek out other writers–to convince ourselves that we’re not really crazy. Or, if we are, that there just may be a way to convert all that crazy into an actual career (yes, Dad, you can still call it a career if you don’t have regular hours, a place of work, or any viable income, per se).

A writers’ group is a fabulous place to find that support and encouragement. Connecting with people who have a mutual passion for wordsmithing and a mutual penchant for consuming copious cups of coffee daily–which is critical to maintaining both sanity and an ever-increasing word count.

One of the keys to an effective group is trust. Putting yourself out there as you share your work requires tremendous vulnerability, something we self-preserving writers aren’t that keen on. Remembering that other members only want to encourage you to make your work as good as it possibly can be is the secret to surviving (even embracing) the process.

Another key is honesty. Feedback such as “that’s the most amazing writing I have ever read; don’t change a single thing” is all well and good. Very well and very good, in fact. Only it’s not all that helpful. Something like, “I really enjoyed the dialogue between the butcher and the housewife over the meat counter at the grocery store, but I didn’t get why the Ninja darted out of the back room and grabbed a rump roast before back-flipping his way down the International Foods aisle” is much more useful. Now you can go back and read that scene over, realize that the Ninja, while really, really cool, is in fact unnecessary to the plot, and take him out.

Painful as it may be at times, a willingness to receive constructive criticism and honest feedback from people you trust (and who are always willing to make allowances for the fact that you live life on the outer fringes of reality, especially since they usually share the same postal code) inevitably leads to stronger, tighter, more excellent writing.

And there’s nothing crazy about that.

Are you part of a writer’s group? Have you found it helpful?

I’m a Glutton for Information!

French bulldogSelling books and signing them is a happy experience for any author, but if I had to name my favorite part of the writing process that leads to publication, it would be doing the research that goes into my books.

I love doing research. In high school and college, I was the student who jumped for joy when the instructor assigned a research paper. I couldn’t wait to dig through the library for books, or hunt down obscure magazine articles. These days, research is even more expansive (unending, even!) thanks to the internet, but I love it, along with the hands-on research I encounter in the course of writing manuscripts. I’m just a glutton for information, I guess.

In celebration of that nerdy writerly trait, here are a few of my favorite research moments.

  1. I got a personal, private tour of a donut shop. Need I say more?
  2. I spent hours in the dark one night with some good friends checking nets for owls to band. We never got one, but I did get to wear a really cool headlamp while we strung up nets in the woods and told funny stories to pass the time.
  3. I took a firearms safety course and learned how to shoot a gun. I put 19 of 20 shots into the center of the target, so you can call me Eagle Eye from now on!
  4. I puckered up for a kiss from a French bulldog at a Pet Expo and posed with rabbits running an obstacle course. (Yup, that’s me and the bulldog above.)
  5. I spent a week in January at one of the world’s premier birdwatching areas in southern Texas. It was sub-zero and snowing back home in Minnesota at the time, which taught me the critical importance of timing when it comes to planning research trips.
  6. I took my husband on a very special summer date night to watch 300+ Chimney Swifts go to roost in an old chimney stack at dusk. It was a breathtaking aerial display and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event as the populations of these birds dramatically decline.
  7. I met a World War II veteran who worked as an ordnance officer, which led to learning about camouflaging British air bases to hide them from Nazi bombing raids.
  8. I got to sit in the mixing booth of Prince’s Paisley Park Studio while interviewing a pre-eminent Christian composer as he completed mixing his musical tracks for a new CD.

Do you count your research as one of the best parts of your writing pursuit? What is your favorite research moment?

Creative Marketing Ideas

The WordServe Water Cooler would like to welcome guest blogger Charise Olson sharing some of her unique marketing ideas for her novel.

Welcome, Charise!

LC_TheRoaringRedwoods_compressedOne Saturday over two decades ago, I straggled into a church clutching my Diet Coke because it was way too early to do such a thing on a Saturday and I didn’t drink coffee yet. I was there for a marketing workshop. The audience members were all folks like me— working in social services and non profits, needing to promote our services.

Marketing isn’t what I went to school for and I saw it as something that had to be done, rather than a true essential part of my real work.

Sound familiar?

But that workshop all those years ago, gave me a great foundation to further serve my clients and now, as a writer, my readers.

The presenters talked about creativity and making natural connections—more than worrying about strategy or manipulation. They talked about using your passion for your cause as a launching point for your campaign. Here are two key points and some specific applications to our books:

Focus on Adding Value: Try to think about what you can offer, as opposed to what you hope to receive.

Application:

1.  I approached a local historical museum and suggested we cosponsor a book event for The Roaring Redwoods (my historical fiction set in the area). This appealed to them because it was no cost/work for them and offered something different on their calendar. This appealed to me because my event would get out to their extensive mailing list.

2. I belong to a Facebook group celebrating the time period of my project (1920s). These are all people who love my time period. Instead of posting links (“buy my book!”), I have posted pictures from my research to share. For Christmas, at my fictional Riverwood Lodge, I invited group members to suggest menu items. My project got “out there,” but in a way that was engaging and fun for the whole group. Bonus: one of the group members provided invaluable help with a plot line involving race cars.

3. Newspapers now have fewer reporters, shorter deadlines, and a need for more content. However, many are cutting their book columns. When I contact a paper, I have an article ready for print. I write the article as a feature, not an ad. Find the unique angle (local author, clever research, entrepreneur spirit) and help make their job easier.

Go to Where Your Target Audience Goes: The example from the workshop was for a group finding it impossible to reach people about good nutrition. The suggestion was to go to Farmer’s Markets and Food Banks to find people already seeking food and then share the nutritional project info.

Application:

1. Any time I see readers, I spend time trying to find a way I could market my writing in that venue. I noticed that a local coffee shop chain displays art work by local artists on a rotating basis. I asked how artists are selected, and the process was easy. I suggested that I and other local authors use our covers as an exhibit. It was then suggested we could have a reception or related event at the shop, too. Um, okay, if you insist . . .

2. My book’s setting is near a high tourist area, and what do we do on vacation? Read. So, in seeking those reading vacationers, I am placing business cards and, where possible, copies for sale at gift shops and hotel lobbies.

While these ideas may not work precisely for you and your books, I hope they illustrate how we can use our creativity and powers of observation to find new and interesting opportunities to share our work with readers. All in a way that might not feel like quite so much work for us.

What have you learned about marketing that made it easier? What unique/creative efforts have you tried? Anything you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t yet?

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Olsen-Image-56Charise Olson writes California fiction. It’s a lot like Southern Fiction, but without all the humidity. Her historical fiction is published under the pen name Leo Colson. The Roaring Redwoods* is now available in episodes. A collection of the first five episodes will be released March 2015. It is set in 1920s California with an ensemble of characters. Love, Honor, Money…and the laws we break to keep all three.

Olson’s contemporary fiction (under her own name) will release in Spring 2015. More info and her blog Prayers and Cocktails can be found at chariseolson.com

*The Roaring Redwoods is written for the general market and does contain strong language and adult situations.

Let’s Get Serious About Serials

The WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger Becky Doughty.

Welcome, Becky!

When I finally decided to “get serious” about my writing, I quickly discovered I had to have a platform. As so many new authors learn, platforms are hard to build, especially with fiction.

I created a website and started a blog. I found a small circle of authors who opened their ranks and let me squeeze in. We traded guest posts and gained a few more followers from each other. I blogged about my family, about my writing. I blogged about my past sins—you know, the good stuff, like witchcraft and broken marriages. That should have brought them flocking, right? I blogged about gardening and chickens and making bread and home schooling and prayer and whether or not one should blog….

EC-Collection-Cover1I created a Facebook Author page and set up my blog to automatically post there. I linked everything to Twitter, too, and created Pinterest pages with images of what my characters might look and dress like, where they might live and work.

But because I had no books published at that point, I was essentially inviting people to my fancy new restaurant and handing them menus of what they could expect to order on some ambiguous day in the future…. Then I wondered why they didn’t come back every time I announced a new dish being added to the menu.

I needed a way for my visitors to actually “sample” my wares. A serial novel.

For one year, around the 10th of each month, I blogged a 10,000 word episode of my serial novel, Elderberry Croft. Readers could “taste” my fiction for free, with a promise of more to come every time they visited.

Well, Elderberry Croft has turned out to be more than just a sampler platter on my website. It has remained one of my bestselling series and books (it now comes in a complete collection and there’s a holiday sequel, Elderberry Days) since I began publishing the episodes. It’s been my most productive method to building an eager and faithful readership.

Six Suggestions for Serious Serialists:

  1. A serial novel is not simply a novel broken up into parts. That often frustrates readers. A serial novel should be written like television episodes, each episode essentially a short story with a beginning and an end, but linked to the other episodes by a foundational storyline told over the duration of the serial, one that culminates in the final episode.
  2. Your serial novel should be the same genre in which you primarily write. It’s an excellent way to gain readers, but if you usually write historical romance and your serial novel is a dystopian sci-fi thriller, you’re going to have some disgruntled readers who come looking for more Katniss and only find Sir Liam Drake and the White Rose of Kilarney County.
  3. Write ahead. I did not always do this. Translate: There were many months I lost sleep and suffered great anguish over how I was going to pull it off.
  4. Create memorable characters and storylines, especially the main characters whose stories link the episodes. If your readers don’t care about the foundational story, one “off” episode will send them running.
  5. Post a few “extras” in between episodes to keep readers happy. In Elderberry Croft, Willow Goodhope has a thing for elderberries (imagine that!). I posted elderberry recipes and home remedies, elderberry body care products, crafts, and elderberry lore.
  6. Listen to your readers’ comments. I’m of the mindset that authors should steer clear of reviews. Reviews typically tell us more about the reader than they do about the author’s work. However, in the case of serial novels, this is a perfect opportunity to get to know what your readers like, what they want to read about, and then adjust your story accordingly!

This is a great way to publish a book. When you’ve written the final episode, gather them all up and release them in one complete collection. Voila! You have a full-length novel!

And don’t forget to take a break from “serious” now and then, and simply enjoy the journey!

What are your thoughts on serial novels? Have you ever tried to write one?

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becky-doughty-author1 Becky Doughty is the author of the best-selling Elderberry Croft series, the controversial Waters Fall, and the voice behind BraveHeart Audiobooks. Raised on the mission field among the indigenous tribes of West Papua, Indonesia, Becky’s ministry is through the written word. Her heart is for people living on the edge–that fine line where grace becomes truly amazing. Married to her champion of more than 25 years, they have three children, two of whom are starting families of their own, and they all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California. You can connect with Becky via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Marketing a New Novel

Thanks to the WordServe Water Cooler for the opportunity to post about marketing efforts. I’ll touch on group marketing. My caveat to the readers: how you promote is highly personal. I was a psychologist for 25 years and many business professional principles apply to writing, e.g., you must do excellent work to continue to get referrals, or purchases in this case.

fruitcake-challenge-cover-jpgThis post is tailored to budget conscious, hybrid, and newer authors with a few releases already out. One of the advantages of having recently Indie published my novella, The Fruitcake Challenge, was that I got to see what seemed to work for me and what didn’t.

I recently posted on ACFW’s blog about cross promotional marketing and why that’s a good idea. Cross promoting should be built into your own marketing efforts. For instance, in a group publishing effort, include links to the other authors’ books in the series.

I’ve also posted about marketing for three different types of ventures including group.

Set up blog tours: Why I believe this is important (and I’d direct you to read the recent RWA RWR article about promotion.)

  1. You want to create a buzz.
  2. Readers will see if their favorite bloggers are picking up your book to read.
  3. Keeps your name in front of potential readers.
  4. May help you get on the Hot New Releases list for Amazon, which can be important.

    Blog tours also let your reading audience ENGAGE with you, which can be important. So suit up, show up, promote, and respond to commenters! If you have your own blogs  (I’m blessed to have two group blogs OvercomingwithGod.com and www.ColonialQuills.org) don’t overschedule yourself when your book launches. One to two blog visits a week works for me, for three to four months and tapering off after that. Giveaways usually help drive traffic so be prepared to give away a copy at each blog stop.

Set up a promo group: This has been the most beneficial thing I’ve been blessed with. But you have to have engaged with enough wonderful readers, reviewers, and influencers that they’d want to participate. Writing is often a lonely life. The benefits of these groups go WELL beyond any promotional efforts. These people believe in your writing and want to help you continue to do God’s work. How wonderful and humbling is that? I’ve been a member of such groups in the past for different authors and I’m grateful to now have my own bunch of pals supporting my writing efforts. Cautionary note for groups: Be fair to your fellow participants and be sure to bring in your own reader/reviewers to the group promotional page. Also, if you use Facebook, be sure to set controls so only you can approve new members.

Facebook Parties: These are a lot of FUN and help you engage with readers. You may not get you an immediate bunch of sales, but could. Don’t do this unless you can get into the spirit of things!

Radio interviews: I’m not keen on this. I can’t ever be sure, with my arthritis, how I’ll be feeling at a particular time. But if you’re able to get some spots, radio allows readers to hear your voice and your personality.

Book Signings: Another thing I dread for same reason as radio. Multi-author events do better. I do two a year—one near Christmas and another in the summer.  Paired with an event at your book’s location, this can be a blast! Last summer, I was able to do a signing at Tahquamenon Lumber Museum’s Lumberjack Festival. My “Snowed In” story in Guidepost Books, A Cup of Christmas Cheer (2013), was set in my great-grandparents log cabin, located at the museum!

Set up a private Facebook Page for the group authors. This way things that your influencers don’t really need to be bothered with are posted there.

Newsletters: These can be highly effective and reach your own primary readers to inform them of your new releases. I think a multi-author newsletter release could be amazing. Coordinating it might be a nightmare, though!

Ads: Spirit Filled Kindle is very affordable and good to use for early promotion. Book Bub is the one most hybrid authors like to use because they have an excellent rate of return, in general, but you have to do a sale in order to get the lowest price possible for their promotion. Ereader News Today is another great place for advertising with a good return on investment and with multiple options for ads.

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Carrie pro headshot B&W pm Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D. served as a psychologist for twenty-five years. She is the author of the forthcoming publications Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter (White Rose, 2015) and The Lumberjack Ball (April, 2015). Carrie was the 2014 Family Fiction winner for short story in the Historical Genre. The Quilting Contest is now published in an anthology. The Fruitcake Challenge and Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance were Amazon bestselling novels. Carrie also authored the short story “Snowed In” (Guidepost Books, 2013) in A Cup of Christmas Cheer. God’s Provision in Tough Times (Lighthouse of the Carolinas, July 2013) was a Selah award finalist. Carrie gives back to the writing community by serving as blog administrator for www.OvercomingWithGod.com and www.ColonialQuills.com. You can connect with Carrie via her website at www.carriefancettpagels.com.

 

All. Those. Books.

Princess in a Bubble: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands

Princess in a Bubble: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands

Recently I totted up that, of the eighty or so college students I’ve taught this year (only about a half of whom were creative-writing-emphasis English majors), a good dozen have written novels. That’s a fifteen percent. They’ve completed novels, they tell me. A couple of them have written more than one.

I haven’t read any of these novels, so I can’t say if they’re any good. Judging from the student-novelists’ writing in other contexts, they’re probably not much worse than a lot of what gets published these days, but they’re probably not masterpieces.

Whether their novels are good or not, though, it seems important that there’s all this fiction-writing going on these days beside and beneath and perhaps instead of all the assignments and tests and papers and other writing that comprise a college education. I certainly wasn’t completing novels—not even short stories—back when I was their age, and I can’t think of a single classmate who was. I’ve been speculating what all these budding—nay, blossoming—young writers might mean for the state of literature in our time and for the writing community at large.

One thing that occurs to me right off is that young people these days must feel more invited and encouraged and empowered to write and publish novels than I ever was. That’s perhaps to be expected of the self-esteem building curriculum promoted in the generations between mine and theirs. I once had my seventh grade teacher’s Little Brown Handbook thrown across the room at me for chewing gum. They, on the other hand, were told they could do pretty much anything they wanted. Consequently, not a few of them went ahead and did that—which is sort of exciting, when you think about it.

Students these days are also very motivated to write. By what? one wonders. One incentive would surely be the myriad publishing opportunities available to writers these days. Several of my students have published their work online and two have paid to have their work published by what we used to call a vanity presses. Publishing has become something anyone can do, at any stage of life, often with little or no investment of resources beyond the time it took stole from a few games of online poker.

Due_sportelli_di_libreria_con_scaffali_di_libri_di_musicaAnother motivation could be the greater variety of subgenres popular with kids nowadays. When I was young, girls read Nancy Drew as tweens, then progressed directly to the classics (Austen, the Brontës, for me Defoe and Dickens); boys who read mostly read adventure or sci-fi then stopped; and everyone liked the odd fantasy stand out like J. R. R. Tolkien. Nowadays, bookstores and libraries have separate young adult sections with whole shelves of mystery/thrillers, even more shelves of fantasies, plus equally popular subgenres we never heard of in my day: apocalyptic, dystopian, historical fiction, alternative historical fiction, cyberpunk, steampunk, contemporary, Christian contemporary, romance, LGBT romance, Amish teen romance. . . The world of fiction these days is like a map of the brain: so much stuff going on, so much new vocabulary you need to even talk about it.

Then there are the novel-writing success stories: J. K. Rowling and her napkin, Christopher Paolini writing Eragon at fifteen, the almost immediate transformation of their and other books popular with young people into big screen movies. It looks so easy nowadays, writing a book. A flick of the pen and you’re there.

I guess the thing that fascinates me most about the novelists among my students is not their license and motivation to write or even the astounding investment of time involved but the enthusiasm they must bring to the fiction-writing enterprise: to prefer it over other more age-appropriate entertainments—such as, for me at their age, hanging out with friends, cooking, reading, learning aikido, making ceramic pots, scavenging my natural and suburban surroundings for sea urchins and kumquats, sewing.

(For them, playing video games, watching YouTube, poking their cellphones? Maybe it’s that. The screen-squinching narrowness of their entertainment alternatives. Writing has become their life before they’ve even had lives, I’m supposing. Although I’d have to read their books to know for sure.)

From everything I’ve heard in the news lately, reading’s on the wane, but writing sure isn’t. Either that or the students at Christian universities like mine are way different—more creative and prolific, harder working, more hip to the possibilities out there—than their secular peers. I’m guessing they’re not all that different, though. I’m guessing my anecdotal fifteen percent of kids these days—perhaps more!—are writing books in lieu of reading them (or maybe in addition to reading them, since somebody’s got to be reading all those cyberEpiscopalian dystopian romances) and will soon be filling the shelves and movie marquees with their opuses.

It’s becoming my new writerly nightmare. Used to, bookstores scared me. All. Those. Books! All that competition for readers. Now it’s them. My students. Our kids. Our kids’ kids.

This isn’t a very encouraging post, I fear, for fellow writers—especially those of a certain age—so let me just close with a little remediation in the self-esteem training some of us missed out on: Don’t. Give. Up. If they can do it, we can too!