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?

Five Possible Reasons Why I Didn’t Endorse Your Novel

This title could also be used for a few other things. Why I didn’t influence for your novel. Why I didn’t review your novel. I’m going to go from the most important reason to the least.

Writing1I think it’s helpful to give actual reasons for this. When I first started in publishing, I felt sad and perhaps a little rejected when someone didn’t review my work or fulfill a promise they made. Now that I have 1 1/2 feet in the publishing industry (I’m one of those authors still working a “real” job on the side) I have a lot more insight into why people may opt out of my request.

#1: Time. This is definitely the number one influencer on whether or not I do any of the things listed above. It’s a reality for most authors that they are working a “real” job to support their family. It is an expectation of publishers that you build a platform, build a social media presence, and market your novel. That’s a learning curve for most so our “extra time” is spent working on learning, doing and perfecting these things. Reading for fun and helping other author’s promote their work falls to the bottom of the time consumption list. In reality, if an author did take the time to do any of these things for you, they gave up something else to do it. Be grateful . . . always.

#2: I didn’t like it. Reading is art and art is subjective. I’ve read novels by people I really liked but I didn’t love their work. If I’m good friends with them, I’ll probably provide an explanation. We as writers need to learn to emotionally separate what we put on the page from a personal attack against our person. Just because I didn’t like your book doesn’t mean I don’t like you. Also, this doesn’t hold true for all the author’s work. A good friend of mine chose not to endorse the first book of my trilogy. She kindly reviewed the subsequent books and gave glowing endorsements. If I don’t say anything to you, it’s likely because I think you can’t take criticism in a healthy way and I don’t want to deal with the fall out.

#3: The book went against my platform. This is different than #2. There are some books I’ve liked, but I couldn’t support because of the platform I’ve built– which is medical accuracy in fiction. My blog, Redwood’s Medical Edge, deals with how to write medically accurate novels. If your book has something entirely medically inaccurate, even if I love the story, I can’t endorse it. It would make me look foolish. It would be like a pro-life person endorsing a pro-choice book. In this instance, it doesn’t mean I won’t review it or even influence for it but I’ll generally comment on the medical details falling short in those cases.

#4: You sent me the book without asking. This drops you to the bottom of the list pretty quickly. If I get a book in the mail and didn’t accept a request to review it, I’ll likely not get to it. Often, it’s not something I would read anyway and I’m very picky about what I read because my “fun” reading time has been drastically cut short.

#5: The first five pages didn’t engage me.  There are plenty of books I start that are good in the beginning but leave me feeling ambivalent in the end but I do end up finishing them. However, if you don’t grab me in the first five pages, I don’t have time to get through the rest. I was recently asked to review a book that was published by a smaller press and the novel was edited (because the author credits two editors in the front of the novel) but the novel was difficult to read. Meandering, no conflict, no idea where the story was headed.

If you’re a published author (indie or traditional)– what are some reasons you’ve chosen not to read, review, influence or endorse a book?

Failure Analysis

frame-541745_1280Whenever the New Year rolls around everyone gets caught up in the newness of a potentially fresh start. Many are busy fashioning resolutions or, the new trend, picking a word to focus on for the rest of the year. Commit. Encourage! Lose weight. Oh wait, that’s two words.

It’s known that New Year’s resolutions don’t last very long at all. People who go to the gym know this in spades. Come January, you have to stand in line until someone gives up a piece of cardio equipment. However, in just a few weeks, it will be like crickets chirping again and those aerobic instructors would be happy if crickets did show up to their classes so they’d have someone to teach.

I think in current American society, examining failure is passe. First of all, no one is a failure! Every child gets a trophy. Every child is equally good at everything. Authors are happy to post negative reviews on their Facebook page, not to say, “This person had something valid to say about my novel and I’m going to learn from it,” but rather as proof of how idiotic the reviewer was. Other authors gripe and complain when their book covers get nominated for “Worst Cover” awards. I don’t know. I’ve seen some of those covers and those just might be valid nominations.

Is this really learning? What is the value in learning from our mistakes?

I think we need to get back to not dismissing failure out of hand. My own reasons for failure are, if I’m honest, rarely external. They’re internal. I am the reason I failed.

Let me give one example everyone can attest to: weight loss. I’m not at my goal weight. I haven’t been for years. Why is that? I actually go to the gym regularly. Typically, three days a week. I don’t eat out often. Why am I not a size 4? Or, even a single digit size?

How many times have you heard these excuses? I’m too busy. It’s hormones. Gym memberships are too expensive. I’m big boned! It’s my thyroid. It’s genetic. Everyone in my family is overweight.

What are the real reasons? I’m lazy. I don’t want to cut refined sugar out of my diet. Soda is my one  bad habit (and therefore I should keep it). It’s been a long day–I deserve (insert sugary, decadent treat here).

The reason we’re falling short on all our good intentions is largely because we haven’t accepted the reasons we’ve failed at them in the past.

Why isn’t your book published? These days, there is no reason why you can’t get your words out there with indie publishing. You literally cannot have an excuse.

So what’s holding you back?

What I encourage you to do at the beginning of this year is look at that big dream you’ve been holding onto with everything in you and do an honest analysis of why you haven’t achieved it yet. I challenge you to first list five things that pertain to yourself.

So, if you’re brave, in the comments section share your unachieved dream and give a short failure analysis. How will you change these items to get closer to your dream by the end of 2015?

I think that will be better than picking a new resolution.

Christmas Need List

I was out shopping and feeling a little overwhelmed by the financial pressure of the holiday season. Organizations begging for donation money. My shopping list for friends and family and my own Christmas want list.

Christ's Birth In A StableDo you ever get that way? I deserve this because: (list reason here.) It’s not at all financially responsible or Christ-like but I was in one of those moods as well.

Perhaps you’ve had a year like our family has where you’re hemorrhaging money around every corner. Two children in braces. Hubby needing dental work. Crowns (the dental ones) are expensive! The house needed painting. Before we knew other things were going to break, we built a roof over our deck which we’d put off for years. Then cars broke down. The garage door broke. The dog broke– well, got sick and that mysterious hum vibrating our house whenever someone took a shower meant the water heater was on its last leg.

It just seemed like everywhere we turned– we were signing big checks for things that weren’t vacations at Disney.

I’m in my car, thinking through all these things when my own children came to mind. This is probably the first year they’ve been anxious and uber-excited about buying gifts for other people. Their allowance couldn’t stay in their pockets long enough. It was fun to see them pick just the right things for people of our family. Though, they did soon figure out that those “good prices” generally meant “small quantity” but I digress.

This has been a year where I’ve seen my two children grow in their giving spirit. Over the summer, my girls and several neighborhood children were putting up lemonade stands almost every weekend. They collectively earned close to $90.00 and decided to donate it to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. It was definitely one of those proud mommy moments.

Look at these children I’ve raised. How generous they are with their money!

Then, a little bit of the Grinch seeped into my heart when analyzing the reason for their generosity.

Of course they can be that generous with their money because they know their father and I will take care of all their needs. 

And then one sentence spoke into my mind breaking the silence of my car.

Do I not do the same for you? 

I’m not one to hear God’s voice all the time. These moments are truly rare for me but I felt a conviction deep in my soul. Of course, God does provide for our every need but how often do we recklessly apply that principle, like my children, to our every day lives? How quick are we to completely drain our bank accounts to a worthwhile charity and be completely at peace with it because we know that God will provide for us?

I know I don’t but it got me thinking about ways that I could begin to stretch myself to do these things.

Christmas is really about getting every need fulfilled. There was an unrepairable distance between God and ourselves until Jesus came along.

What is it you need for Christmas? Is it unconditional love? Friendship? Grace? Mercy? Forgiveness?

That’s what was sleeping in the manger.

My hope for you this Christmas is that you, too, can have a moment where the Christmas spirit speaks to you in a way like this.

This year, the Water Cooler will be taking a blog break until January 2nd to give our authors and volunteers focused time with God and their families.

Speaking for all of here at the WordServe Water Cooler– we hope and pray you have a wonderful, blessed Christmas!

ACFW 2014 Wrap-Up

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.Fall brings not only great weather (autumn is my favorite season!) but also several big-name writers conferences. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) gather every September to celebrate great inspirational fiction (in the culmination of the Carol Awards) but also to inspire and teach the craft of fiction writing.

Here are a few of the things I took away . . .

1. Indie is IN! It used to be the scourge of writing to even breathe that you might publish your own book either through a vanity press (paying a company to process your book) or indie publishing (or self-publishing) where you become your own publisher and own all aspects of book production while fronting the costs yourself. This can take several forms. Established authors indie publishing their backlist once rights revert back to them. Traditional authors using indie publishing to supplement their income. I even heard one indie author say her traditional publishing contracts offer her a “bonus” but she mostly depends on her indie books to meet living expenses. Then there are those going solely indie because they enjoy the process, the control, and/or may be using it to catch the eye of a traditional publisher if they can hit a certain number of sales. The only cautionary note was, if you have a traditional contract, to ensure that your publisher is okay with the content of the indie book and that release dates don’t compete.

2. Effective marketing campaigns may not be realized until later. Last year, my third novel Peril was a newborn. To ACFW, I brought full-size Hershey bars with a sticker attached to each one that had photos of all my books together and a link to my newsletter. I definitely got some additional newsletter subscribers but this year, several people commented to me about those chocolate bars. I think a good marketing campaign is something memorable that lasts long after the item is gone. Trust me, bookmarks get lost in a sea of other bookmarks and postcards. Take the time and maybe spend a little extra money for something unique. Honestly, this year, there weren’t a lot of interesting giveaways.

3. Networking is important. Even if you’re not pitching, you need a network of other writing peeps to help keep you sane. They understand that it’s normal to talk out loud while arguing with a character. They’ll help you in the writing valleys and celebrate those writing highs. Always go into a conversation open to the possibilities of new friendships. Sit with people you’ve never met before. Introduce yourself to those of the other gender (men might feel a little lost in a sea of mostly women they don’t know!). Make face-to-face contact with an editor who rejected you and say a sincere thanks for any feedback they offered.

4. Professionalism is key. Everything you put out there speaks about you as a writing professional. It’s probably not too far-fetched to say that you’re in one long job interview. The way you dress. The way you treat others waiting for appointments. Are you on time for your appointment? If you yell at an appointment coordinator over some perceived slight, it’s not going to come back to you in a positive way. When you submit your work for a paid critique, format it correctly with no typos. Always be helpful to someone else first; this reaps large rewards in the end.

What have you learned recently from a writers conference?

Six Things Writers Need to Know About Email Marketing

Email Mouse ConceptNot long ago I was procrastinating my writing duties perusing Facebook and a fellow author (whom I know and love and who therefore will remain anonymous) was spouting off about how much she hates to get emails without her permission. “This is illegal!” she cried (as much as you can cry out on Facebook, the land of the overused exclamation point.) Many people commented their mutual disgust.

I, however, did not. You see, I’ve had a lot of personal experience with this lately and I thought I’d share what I learned with you.

Recently, I started working for a faith-based website. We wanted a large email campaign to build awareness. We hired a company to help us achieve this goal. For our target list, we researched public information. We didn’t use a computer software program or other nefarious means to gather info, but when we started to send e-mails through this company, we got the red light. The question became: How did you collect email addresses? We disclosed that it was through public information on the web.

This company wanted a permission-based email list in order to allow us to use their services. This could be achieved either through a personal phone call or the interested party filling out a web-based contact form. This is how subscription-based email systems like Mail Chimp work. You fill out a contact form and the author then has permission to e-mail you.

Everyone stays out of trouble.

The company I work for soon became familiar with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

In short, you can email someone without their permission but that email needs to meet VERY specific requirements. Using an e-mail service like Mail Chimp accomplishes this and is likely why authors prefer it. However, you might need to email someone without “express consent” in order to see if they want to further know about your product.

E-mail services look at bounce rates. A bounce rate greater than the industry standard of 5% indicates the sender may be using substandard means to gather email addresses. Some of these means include using a computer program, guessing what the email address might be, and (according to this company) researching public sources.

But say you’ve had a reader contact you and you want to see if they’ll sign up for your newsletter. They haven’t given you “express consent” to email them (or advertise to them) but you think they might be interested in some of your product because they sent you a nice letter. You could send them an email asking them to sign up for your newsletter. In order to be in compliance with the law, that email would need to meet these requirements. I’ll be paraphrasing somewhat.

1. You must clearly identify who is sending the e-mail.
2. Use forthright subject lines. “Request to sign up for my newsletter!”
3. If the message is an ad, it must be clearly stated.
4. There must be a physical address in the body of the e-mail for you or the business. As an author, I wouldn’t suggest using your personal address. Get a PO box.
5. Tell recipients how they can opt out and then honor their requests within 10 business days. “If you’d like to stop getting these e-mails– please reply with STOP.”
6. If you’re using a company, they need to be following these rules as well.

So, technically, you can “cold email” someone, but you’ll need to hit these points. If you don’t, it can result in hefty fines. If you choose to not use a subscription based email service to build your newsletter list (which I do recommend), then read up on this law and (because I’m not a lawyer) consult a lawyer if you have additional questions.

What service do you use to email people? Have you ever heard of the CAN-SPAM Act?

Is God Talking to Me?

DogAs Christian authors, we often view our books as a way to get God’s Word out in a non-threatening manner. Novels are easier to hand to someone than a Bible and generally an easier way to start a conversation.

However, two recent events are causing me to change my view on that a little. Recently, my minister said that when he’s working on a sermon series, the subject matter is usually something he’s struggling with—something God is trying to teach him.

I had the good fortune to hear Ted Dekker speak during his Outlaw Tour down in Colorado Springs. A big theme of his talk was that his struggles as a Christian come out in his books. His questions about faith. Those uneasy issues that we all contemplate. Is God real? Is He who He says He is? Is there really a Heaven? Is my belief in Christ truly enough?

Perhaps we as authors are actually working through our own issues and the collateral benefit is that we’re frequently able to help other people.

But surely my writing isn’t just about me. It can’t be because my spiritual life is all figured out . . .

I began to think through the books I’d written and the ones I was planning on writing. There were some consistent themes. Truly believing in God’s sacrificial love. Letting God take control. Being submissive to His will for our lives.

If I look honestly at these themes, they are what I struggle with the most. A God . . . people . . . the Lord of the Universe dying one of the most painful deaths ever . . . for me. My heart usually reconciles this easily but my intellectual side waivers occasionally. This is what I believe?

And sometimes with a big gulp . . . I whisper yes.

I’m a control freak by nature. It lends to the job I do every day. As an ER nurse it is expected of me to bring control to chaos. I am stubborn and independent—which is the nature of two out of three of my heroines. They’d rather fix it themselves than reach out for help and yet, when circumstances become insurmountable, they must reach out to survive.

Isn’t this how it is with us? Maybe it is just me and all of you are very good at relinquishing control. If so, please let me in on your tips.

As we write these stories, maybe what we need to do first is read our stories with ourselves in mind and hear what God is trying to say to that person we see in the mirror.

This post first appeared at the ACFW blog. Hope you’ll check it out.