About jandunlap

"Archangels Book I: Heaven's Gate" is Jan's new Christian suspense novel that melds cutting-edge science with faith. She is also the author of "Saved by Gracie," her best-selling humorous spiritual memoir and the Birder Murder Mystery series that follows the adventures of ace birder/high school counselor Bob White, who has a bad habit of finding bodies when he birds. When she's not playing with fictional devices, Jan is a birdwatcher, a featured speaker, and the proud mother of five children. She welcomes visitors at jandunlap.com.

How to kick the insanity habit

insanityOne of my favorite definitions is the one for insanity that goes “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I’ve felt that was an accurate description of many of my book marketing efforts in the past twelve years; sending off press releases to local newspapers and rarely getting even a little paragraph tucked somewhere in the back pages comes to mind. I’m sure every author can add to that list of marketing insanity.

Out of frustration and (I’d like to think) the wisdom that comes from experience and age, I decided at the beginning of this new year that I was going to stop the insanity. In particular, I decided I was going to radically rethink my social media strategy and try something new.

My new idea?

Stop trying to sell books by posting about them, and instead, just have fun interacting with others in the online universe.

“WHAT??” you may say. (I expect that may be exactly what my agent is thinking this moment if he’s reading this post. Bear with me, Greg, while I explain. Either that, or dose yourself with good chocolate.)

You see, I’ve concluded that online selling doesn’t happen on social networks. I’ve accepted that the social media gurus who insist that social media is SOCIAL, not sales, actually know what they’re talking about. I know I don’t go book shopping when I’m chatting online with others. Honestly, do you? I’m online to be entertained, to be inspired, to share fun or sweet posts with my friends. And so that’s become my goal: I aim to have fun online.

And the weirdest thing has begun to happen: my followers are growing on all my networks. Granted, it just may be the cumulative effect of years of posting, but I have a gut feeling that it’s because I’m having fun. And people need fun these days. So instead of promoting my books, I post beautiful photos of my husband’s orchids, I share inspirational quotes/photos that move me, I craft witty replies designed to make people laugh, I repost/retweet links to articles I found really cool or helpful. For the first time in my social media marketing strategy, I’m just being me, Jan, not The Author Jan. And I’m really enjoying it.

So this is what I’ve learned from my switch in strategy: I can stop the marketing insanity because the most important thing I can share isn’t my books. It’s myself. And that’s ultimately what God calls me to do: share myself with others.

Of course, if my new followers’ curiosity gets piqued, and they check out my profile (which seems to happen a lot more often now), they’ll see I’m an author, and maybe they’ll end up on Amazon or my website to learn more, or even buy a book or two. I won’t complain.

Goodbye insanity. Hello friends. Let’s have fun!

How to make Amazon work for you

grand-central-stationAre you using your Amazon Author Page to increase your visibility and grow your audience?

You DO have a page, right?

If not, then drop everything else this very minute, and set up your free Author Page by visiting https://authorcentral.amazon.com. Seriously, you need to do this. It’s easy. It’s good publicity. And did I mention it’s FREE?

Basically, your Author Page is like a personal Grand Central Station that showcases your work and acts as a hub for your writing, providing links for fans to follow. Here’s a short list of some of the key benefits you’ll get from your Author Page:

  1. You can link to your blog here, making it readily available to a browsing reader who may have never heard about you or your blog before. In fact, you can enter multiple blog feeds for even more exposure; I link to my website blog and my Goodreads blog, for example.
  2. You can post videos in the Author Updates section. I’ve used it for a place to run book trailers and interviews. There’s no limit on how long you keep material on the page, so that means you get forever use from the marketing pieces you’ve created.
  3. You can list every book you’ve written, and all your book covers will show up on your page, along with links to each book’s buying page on amazon.com. It’s like having your own little store.
  4. Readers can ‘follow’ you right on the page and they’ll get notice whenever you post a blog or update or add a book. In addition, Amazon offers a variety of marketing options for authors if you’ve got a small budget; one example is here at http://indie.kindlenationdaily.com/?page_id=5460
  5. You can list your events schedule to maximize exposure.

Like every social media site, your Author Page also has a spot for your bio and photos. This is a prime place to list your other social media contact information for your website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. In fact, be sure to update this bio (and your book listings) on a regular basis, since Amazon won’t automatically add your new books to your page as they are published.  You are the curator for this little store, so be sure your material is current. In fact, after checking on my own Amazon Author page just now, I realized my newest release Heart and Soul (Archangels #2) wasn’t included. You can be sure that from now on, I’m doing a monthly check-in to see what needs to be updated or revised!

A final cool feature of your Author Page is that you can click on the Sales Info tab to get a feel for how your book is selling. My favorite BookScan data on the page is the Sales by Geography item; by studying that map, I can tell where my books have sold and it gives me ideas for localized sale pushes or event planning.

Are you using your Amazon Author Page for smart marketing?

Why you should write backstory you won’t use

cross-out-wordsA few years ago, I got the oddest suggestion I’d ever heard from an editor: write a few scenes between my novel’s characters that I wasn’t going to include in my final manuscript.

Say what?

I should deliberately spend time crafting scenes I was NOT going to use? How was that going to improve my book, writing scenes I wasn’t going to include in the final version?

Being the people-pleaser/non-confrontational  soul that I am, I didn’t question the editor’s wisdom, even though I thought it was nuts and a clear waste of time.  She was the editor, after all. She had to know what she was doing. So I sighed a great sigh of resignation and set to work writing scenes I wasn’t going to use in my book.

And lo! Before I even finished writing the first ‘unnecessary’ scene, I understood the point of the exercise: by creating more interactions between my characters, I was getting deeper into their heads and personalities. I was basically giving them a more complete personal history and backstory that would more accurately inform and motivate their actions on the pages of my novel. In other words, I was giving them life beyond the book, which would, in turn, make them very real within the book.

Crazy, huh?

Let me give you an example.

“This late-night conversation between Rafe and his mother doesn’t sound natural,” the editor said about a scene in my book. “Try writing another conversation between them that focuses on a different aspect of their relationship. Something from their past.”

So I did. I wrote a scene from Rafe’s high school football years, some 20 years prior to my book’s time frame. As I wrote, I imagined what this man might have been like before he matured, and how his relationship with his mother evolved. He was a headstrong teen then, and while he dutifully respected his mother, he couldn’t appreciate her wisdom at the time; that insight alone helped me revise the dialogue my editor had questioned in my book. It also changed the way I described the interaction between those two characters, and it influenced how I then changed Rafe’s interactions with his female colleague to better reflect his attitude towards women as learned from his mother.

Writing that little piece of personal history for Rafe was like shading in another part of a portrait or adding important information to a personality profile; because I knew his backstory better, I was then able to strengthen another scene in which he confronts a female assassin with conflicted respect, rather than brute force. My ‘unnecessary’ scene that I knew I wasn’t going to use actually helped me produce a more realistic hero.

What can I say? If ‘crazy’ works, I’ll take it. Especially when it improves my writing.

How about you? Have you found some crazy ways to improve what you write?

How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

Kick-start your career with anthologies

Smiling Group of ProfessionalsIf you’re new to the authoring game, here’s a way to find more readers who might be interested in your work: contribute to an anthology.

While it may not produce any income for you, the non-financial rewards are well worth your involvement. Consider the following reasons to contribute an essay, short story, or excerpt the next time you have the opportunity to participate in a project that uses the work of multiple authors:

  1. Your work load is significantly less demanding. It’s (generally) a lot easier to produce a short piece when someone else gives you the parameters for writing than when you have to do all the creative work of coming up with an idea and choosing the treatment or genre, let alone actually write the piece.
  2. You control your time commitment. Minimally, you write a piece to submit and you’re done. You don’t have to do the editing or manage the publication process, hound the other contributors to get their pieces done, or design and implement the marketing plan. If you want to help with marketing, you can decide how much of your time you want to offer; it’s not your baby alone as when you’re the sole author.
  3. Your work will be exposed to new readers when fans of the other contributors read your piece. One of the smartest things I did as a fledgling author of a cozy mystery series was to contribute a short story to a mystery anthology edited by a friend of mine. It immediately granted me access to new readers in my target audience, and thanks to my friend’s reputation, it also gave me credentials as a good writer. Either of those results alone would have been worth my contribution; combined, they were a win-win proposition that gave me a big boost as a new author.
  4. Chances are good that the other authors will be doing some marketing of their own for the anthology, which means you get more publicity than you alone could produce. Again, it’s more exposure for you in readers’ circles beyond your own fans.
  5. You have an excellent opportunity to network with other authors when your work appears with theirs in the anthology. At the launch party for my friend’s anthology, I met more than a dozen authors working in my genre in my metro area. Many of them were local icons. A few of them were nationally known authors. Some were newcomers, like me. It was a genuine pleasure to meet them all and hear their stories of career development or marketing snafus. I was honored and humbled to be included in their ranks, and that experience reminded me that as a newbie, I had much to learn and a long way to go in my own writing journey. Moral support like that is essential for a new author, and the opportunity to learn from those who are also on the road is priceless.

Have you considered contributing to an anthology?

How I boosted my book to 30x more people

ebookI finally bit the bullet. I boosted a post on Facebook.

For years, I’ve seen that annoying little message you get on your author page about paying to boost your posts. Because I’m cheap (and still suspicious of social media’s REAL intent, i.e. who needs to know what I buy, who I connect with, and what I like? Creepy…), I refused to give it a try. If my books can’t make it on their own merits, so be it – I’ll be content with small audiences, extremely limited financial reward, and the personal gratification that I haven’t caved to crass commercialism.

And then last month after I started getting consistent raves about my new thriller “Heaven’s Gate,” I thought, “What the heck. It’s only $20.”

Actually, it ended up being $60, since I decided if I was going to experiment, I wanted to see what a week of boosted posts could do rather than one day, which is what $20 will buy. Knowing that most buyers need to be exposed to a product seven times before they buy (do you know the Rule of Seven?), I figured one day of boosting was throwing away cash, but seven days might just convert into some sales. I can now tell you, without reservation, that $60 worth of boosting on Facebook can go a long way in giving your book exposure and building your audience, and now I can’t wait to give my other books the same treatment.

Here are the numbers from my week-long experiment:

  1. Organic reach peaked at 305 on Day 7, while paid reach was 9045. That’s 30x more people reached than my normal posting! Not only that, but thanks to my OCD tendencies, I checked one last time on Day 10 (remember I only paid for 7 days of boosting) and was happy to see a new total of 9432. The post was still being shared after my paid boosting! Score!
  2. I monitored my book’s print and ebook rankings on my amazon Author Central page (you do have one of these, right?) for the boosting’s duration. By Day 6, my ebook ranking had reached 924 in the Paranormal category after starting on Day 1 at 3366; the biggest jump was from Day 1 to Day 2, which tells me that first burst of posting made an impact that powered the rest of the week. Recalling the Rule of Seven and the impact of repeated impressions, though, I looked again on Day 18, only to find my ebook ranking better than ever at 831!
  3. As for print, my book moved from its initial 76,331 ranking to 8535 on Day 5. Clearly, somebody was paying attention.

Even knowing that rankings are a superficial measure (rankings don’t equal sale units), I decided that post boosting may not be such a bad idea for marketing after all. While the actual sales numbers are still in question, I know for a fact that more people have seen my book’s cover thanks to post boosting than would have otherwise. And that’s one step closer to buying my book.

Have you tried Facebook post boosting? What was your experience?