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Fun With HTML On Amazon

March 31st, 2014 No comments

I recently discovered that Amazon allows authors to use a small set of html tags to spiff up their product descriptions on the site. (Here is a whole list of the tags Amazon supports) It’s pretty amazing what a few h2 tags and some bolding can accomplish. I spent some time this weekend gleefully giving all of my book descriptions a little makeover. Check out the difference with my book, Falling!

(Sorry, the images are a little skewed by the frame of the website, but if you click on the images, they’ll expand so you can see them more clearly)

ORIGINAL

 

AFTER HTML MAKEOVER

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The Why Behind My Marketing Goals

January 6th, 2014 No comments

Goals. Some people hate them. I love them. Me and goals are BFFs. My goals guide me throughout the year. They cheer me on when I pay attention and haunt me when I start ignoring them. When I achieve a goal, they throw me a party…an imaginary party that I make up in my head…but that’s beside the point.

The point is that goals are important to me. At the end of each year, I take a full day to reflect and determine my goals for the next year. As you can imagine, this is a pretty exciting day for me. I get to lovingly craft my goals and make them all sorts of promises about how I will lavish care on them, call them every day and rush over with chicken soup if they should get sick. This day is also a little scary. Some of the goals I make are big and scary. They loom over me like huge mountains, the kind you need sherpas and very hardy goats for. One of my big goals this year is to buy my first house. This may not seem like such a big goal, but if you look up real estate prices in Southern California, you’ll begin to understand why I might need to hook some ice picks on my belt before I start on this goal.

I like to break goals down by categories. Writing is always a goal category, so are Finances, Health & Wellness, Personal Growth, etc… Once I create yearly goals, I break them down into quarterly goals and monthly goals to make them more manageable.

It’s easy to get fixated on a goal, whether it’s to complete one new novel by the end of the year, make a certain amount of money, or listen to one audio book a month (all goals of mine, by the way). This year, I did something a little different. Before I wrote my goals in each category, I took some time to ask myself Why is this important? I guess I just wanted to see in black and white why I was willing to work so hard.

One of my goal categories this year is Writing Marketing. I slacked on marketing my writing last year like it was nobody’s business, so I knew I had to enshrine some specific goals this year. I know many, many writers who fear or dislike marketing just like I do, so I want to share my little thought bubble on the topic. This is why behind my marketing goals:

One of my dreams is  to live off the proceeds of my writing. That won’t happen by itself no matter how good my writing is. Being a commercially successful author is about writing great and entertaining stories and also convincing people to read and talk about your work. It’s about creating excitement, which requires focus and action. Marketing is very challenging for me. In many ways, I am still uncertain and shy about promoting my writing. A deep, dark part of me worries that my writing isn’t good enough, that I’m embarrassing myself. Marketing also feels selfish and bad, so it’s easy to put it aside and to do other things instead (like write more). But I have to recognize that marketing is part of the self-publishing process and it’s a key component to commercial success. With that in mind, in 2014 I want to focus on creating a long-term and consistent marketing plan, as well as educating myself about marketing techniques. In the past, I haven’t consistently given time to marketing, and I haven’t kept up marketing campaigns. 2014 is the year to go all in. It will take work, time and belief  my writing. I can do this. I will do this.

I wish you the best of luck with your goals for 2014. If you don’t have any yet, start writing!

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Categories: Marketing, Self-Publishing, Writing Tags:

Does Facebook Advertising Work For Authors?

October 15th, 2012 No comments

 The Epic Journey of $250 and a Grumpy Vampire

 

Nathaniel is not exactly a tech-savvy vampire. He still fervently listens to his gramophone, staunchly insists that the nineteenth amendment is just a trend, and believes the computer is a portal of damned souls.

Nathaniel

Despite his severe anachronistic nature, I’ve decided to launch Nathaniel to the Internet masses in a big way. And by “big way”, I mean a very small and limited-budget sort of way.

Background

At the beginning of this month, I launched the third short story in my The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles series, which stars Nathaniel, his long-suffering housekeeper Deidre, and a host of other amusing characters dead and otherwise.

The series is – in my oh-so-humble opinion – pretty damn good (And Funny!), and I’d like more people to give it try. Not such an easy task as many fellow writers know all too well.

So how to make Nathaniel stand out?

I’ve made sure that he’s always in his best cape for each story, has got his suspenders in place, and that his cravat appropriately fluffed. I’ve even priced each of his stories at just $0.99 so the barrier to entry is as low as Amazon and Barnes & Noble will allow.

As the approach of Halloween grows nigh, I’ve realized the time has come to do something so big, so bold, and so brash with my short story series that even the dead will crack open an eye and take notice.

Unfortunately, my writing marketing budget isn’t exactly ready for big, bold, and brash, so what I’m going to do instead is drag Nathaniel’s coffin over to Facebook and see if anyone will say hello.

I’m writing this blog post publicly detailing my mini-marketing campaign, because I don’t think I’m the only one in this little boat called “Hey, Check Out My Writing. No, Seriously, It’s Good”.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

The Power of Free

The first big step I’m taking in this marketing campaign is to price the first short story in the series, Employment Interview With A Vampire, for FREE.

What’s better than FREE?  (Answer: lots of money, but FREE is still pretty awesome)

Employment Interview With A Vampire offers big laughs, not one iota of fright, and a very tragic lesson for Mormons that not every huge, creepy, spider web-infested house is ready to embrace The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . I know that readers are bombarded with choices and that they all already have a big list of favorite authors that they’re loyal to, but I’m hoping FREE is a big enough enticement to get some of them to give Nathaniel a chance to strut his cape and suspenders.

Unfortunately, FREE isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t allow authors to price their works for free unless they sign up for special programs that allows them to price their works for free for a very limited time in exchange for exclusively placing the work with Amazon or Barnes & Noble of a specific length of time (90 days for Amazon).

Since I don’t think it’s a good deal to get five days of FREE in exchange for publishing exclusively on Amazon for 90 days, I’m trying FREE a different way. Specifically, I went to an online publisher which lets its authors price their works however they want, including FREE.

Thanks Smashwords.

So now Employment Interview With A Vampire is FREE, but I still need to find a way to tell readers about it.

Nathaniel Takes On Facebook

In Nathaniel’s time, a dollar could go a pretty freaking long way. Not so much today. Can’t exactly buy a billboard or a national television campaign with a few nickels. Luckily for us non-wealthy persons (aka all writers everywhere), the Internet came along, and advertising became relatively cheap again.

 

In my case, I’m going to bet $250 on Facebook that I can get Nathaniel and Deidre some publicity. This isn’t chump change for me, so it’ll be interesting to see if I can accomplish two important goals:

  • Increase the following on my Facebook page (which currently stands at a paltry 54)
  • Convince people to visit Smashwords or my website to give my FREE Nathaniel story a try

Facebook gives advertisers a pretty big bang for their buck. Facebook users gleefully tell Facebook every single thing about themselves, including their hobbies, favorite movies, where all their tattoos are, etc…, and then Facebook gleefully takes all that information and hands it right over to advertisers who are pretty dang gleeful about it themselves. All of this data lets advertisers focus their campaigns to an extreme level so that they can advertise to those who have already self-selected themselves as the most likely customers.

For my campaign, I’ve developed three different Facebook ads that I’m going to show to two very specific audiences: readers who like humor, and readers who like vampires.

One of the coolest things about Facebook advertising is that I can get immediate feedback on the campaign every time I log into my account. That means that I can tell what’s working and what’s not and make changes in response to what’s actually happening on the ground.

The Campaign

Employment Interview With A Vampire is already FREE on Smashwords and on my website. The Facebook campaign launched on 10/14 and will run through Oct. 31st. I’m committed to recording the results on this blog so that other authors can learn from my experiment. Sometimes I feel like marketing for authors is one big crapshoot, especially for those of us on a tight budget. It helps when we share our experiences, even those that fail spectacularly.

 

If you want to know how it all turns out, come back to this blog for a visit in early November, and I’ll post everything, even if I don’t get a single download for my free short story or a single new Facebook “Like”. Also, feel free to share this and my follow-up post with your writing community and contacts so we can all learn from each other.

Let me know if you have any questions/suggestions about the Facebook campaign, and I’ll try to answer the best that I can. It’s been a bit of a struggle to try and figure out how to do everything. I think I’m starting to understand why Nathaniel is such a big fan of his gramophone and telegraph.

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Public Relations – The Worst Job A Shy Person Can Ever Have And Why I’m Glad I Did it

April 29th, 2012 No comments

Okay, public relations probably isn’t the worst job an overly shy person can have – but it’s pretty damn close.

Public relations is all about trying to persuade strangers in the media to take interest in your client’s product and write about it. This usually involves hassling them by all means necessary – email, phone, in person – repeatedly until they give in or invest in a restraining order. Public relations also involves high concentrations of flirting and schmoozing, which are both effectively Kryptonite to shy people.

People + Social Setting = Shy Person Kryptonite

So what the hell was I doing in Los Angeles as a public relations coordinator?

That Cliff’s Notes are that I wanted to get to California, public relations fit my college degree, and I somehow convinced myself that doing something that I would likely be terrible at was a great way to overcome my shyness.

The company I worked for specialized in promoting video games. My vast video game resume included playing Mario Brothers and King Kong on my Nintendo when I was seven. Luckily, the company’s hiring policy was “take the first person who walks through the door and is breathing.” After demonstrating my impressive breathing skills, I was golden.

 

Over the next couple of months, it became more and more apparent that public relations was the exact opposite of everything that I was good at. For instance, I am great at not talking to people and not going to parties and not impressing crowds with my wit and candor.

The worst part was the phone.

Da dun...

It would always happen the same way. Our client would make some sort of announcement, maybe new screenshots or a game trailer. We’d send out an email to our vast list of media sources asking them to write about it. 99.9% of all these emails were ignored, and so we would turn to our next weapon of choice: phone.

Da Dun...Da Dun

I would print the list of contacts out, sometimes hundreds of names, and call them one by one, pitching them the story and using all of my non-existent charm, wiles. It took me all of one day to develop a deeply-seeded complex about the phone. I loathed it. I woke up in the morning and felt the weight of all the calls I’d have to make that day pressing crushing me.

Da Dun...Da Dun... DA DUN, DA DUN-DA DUN-DA-DUN!

In other words, it sucked royally. I should just add here that I hardly ever actually played the video games that I was pitching and did not, in fact, own a single gaming system – not even a Game Boy.

Each day of work became harder. I started taking the stairs instead of the elevator just to forestall the inevitable calling for a few extra precious seconds.

 

And then there were the events my company threw on behalf of our clients. We were not only expected to attend but also to come off as mildly interesting. My memories are a blur of crowded bars filled with fashionably dressed strangers. For the most part, people were very nice, but I had a lot of trouble with the “at least be mildly interesting” instructions I was given.

 

My coping mechanisms at these events included fiddling with a drink, wandering aimlessly from one side of the bar to the other and texting my sister to call me so I could step outside and regroup for a couple of minutes.

Sound like a nightmare? It was.

I was a terrible fit for the position and left after less than a year. Yet, for all that stress – all those dreaded climbs up the stairs to a list of names I needed to call – I’m glad for my public relations experience.

Why?

Simple – I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be a bright, blossoming social butterfly.

I'll never be a social butterfly

The more I struggle to force myself into the wrong mold, the more miserable I’ll be. When we concentrate on improving weaknesses, we may be able to reach a level of mediocrity if we’re lucky. If we concentrate on improving our strengths, we may just be able to become great.

When I started focusing on the things I was good at – mainly, writing – my confidence grew, and I noticed my shyness backing off. There’s no self-esteem booster like being good at something and knowing it.

Now, as a part of my copywriting and copyediting business, I’m on the phone almost every day. I also have to network and meet potential clients – sometimes complete strangers – to pitch them. In essence, I’m doing a lot of the same things that used to give me hives in my PR days, yet I don’t feel the same nearly-terminal level anxiety.

The reason’s pretty obvious. I’m not pitching video games I don’t care about, and I’m not thrown into a situation I have no control over. I’m pitching myself and my writing skills – two things I truly believe in. That makes all the difference.

The moral of this story is to do what you’re good at. Be proud of your skills and use that confidence to keep your shyness at bay. This may seem like a really simple lesson, but it took me nearly a year of hell to figure it out.

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An Example Of A Book Review Request Pitch

March 1st, 2012 No comments

Below is the template I use to pitch my novel Falling – Girl With Broken Wings to book review bloggers. I’ve had about a 15% success rate so far using this pitch, which I think is pretty good.

Personally, I think the pitch is a little long, but I always struggle to write short pitches. Also, it’s important to stress that this is only a template. I carefully review each blog I want to target and pay particular attention to the submission guidelines to make sure the reviewer excepts my genre and is accepting submissions. I then tailor my template to their blog, sometimes commenting on recent posts or something they wrote about themselves in their “About Me” section.

Lastly, when pitching, I usually try to come up with a clever and enticing email subject line. In this case, however, I’m sending a book review request to a book reviewer, so I opted for upfront and clear in my subject line.

 ***

Email Subject Line: Review Request: Falling – Girl With Broken Wings

Email Body: Hi [F Name],

I am a fan of [blog name] and appreciate your unique and witty reviews. I know that you are probably inundated with review requests, but I’d like to offer my debut novel for the pile.

Falling – Girl With Broken Wings is a paranormal adventure that will appeal to older teens and adults. From your previous reviews, I know you are drawn to strong and flawed characters. My protagonist, Maya, fits this bill. She is an unapologetically quirky narrator who holds grudges, usually bombs the witty comeback, and is mostly sure she isn’t a monster—at least not a full one. You can read a short summary of the story at the end of this letter.

The novel is approximately 70,000 words in length and is available as an ebook at most online publishers, including Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and Smashwords for $2.99. If you do choose to review my novel, I can provide a thumbnail of the cover and an eBook file in whatever format you prefer.

Additionally, I would love to provide up to five copies of the book for a giveaway if you’d be willing to host. Lastly, I am offering a pretty significant free sample of the book on my website, www.GirlWithBrokenWings.com if you or your readers would be interested in getting a taste of the novel.

Thank you so much for your consideration and for your support of authors like myself,

J Bennett

JBennett@GirlWithBrokenWings.com

About FallingGirl With Broken Wings

Maya knew something was wrong.  The stranger’s glowing hands were a big tipoff.

 

When the stranger murders Maya’s boyfriend with a single touch, drags her to an abandoned storage unit, and injects her with a DNA-altering serum, Maya prays for a savior.

 

Instead, the college sophomore gets a double helping of knight-in-not-so-shining-armor when two young men claiming to be her half-brothers pull off a belated rescue. Now Maya is swiftly transforming into an “angel”, one of the scientifically-enhanced, energy-sucking creatures her brothers have spent their whole lives trying to destroy.

 

Maya’s senses sharpen, her body becomes strong and agile, and she develops the ability to visually see the emotions of those around her as colorful auras…beautiful auras…tempting auras.

 

One brother wants to save her. The other wants to kill her before she becomes too strong. Maya just wants to go home.

 

Struggling to control the murderous appetite that fuels her new abilities, Maya must find a way to accept her altered condition and learn to trust her brothers as she joins them in their battle against the secret network of powerful and destructive angels.

 

Oh, and she’d like a few words with the one who changed her. Words, then lots of stabbing.

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The Free Press Release Experiment Part Two

January 19th, 2012 8 comments

The Exciting Conclusion!

I know that you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for the results of my groundbreaking free press release experiment.

…not the edge?

At least the middle of your seat then…oh…not even that huh?

Mild curiosity?…come on, don’t make me beg.

Alright, so you’ve been mildly curious to learn the results of my free press release experiment.

Last week, I put together a little experiment to test the integrity of the free press release options on the web. Sure, there was a little scientific curiosity in the mix, but mostly this experiment was spurred by my lack of marketing budget for my new ebook Falling – Girl with Broken Wings.

 

I spent three hours putting together a press release announcing the book’s release and two hours submitting it to five press release websites:

The release went out on 01/11/12. It’s been a full week now, and the results are in. Was my five hours of time worth the investment? Do free press releases provide any type of reach? Am I now a multi-million dollar author who can afford to clone my favorite goldfish so that me and Hans the guppy will never be separated? (Hint: the answer to that last one is no, but I’ll find a way Hans. I swear it!)

They say that the vast majority of scientific experiments end in failure. It’s comforting to know that I’m in good company. Below is a screenshot of a Google search I did using the exact title of my press release.

 

You’ll see that I got a whopping three results. I’m no math major, but I do understand that, with the exception of the numbers one and two, three is pretty much as flimsy as it gets.

The top result is from the 24-7 Press Release website. The second result got picked up from I-Newswire, and the third result was from the PR Log site. It’s disappointing enough that these three companies provided only a single link each, but what the heck happened to Online PR News and PR.com? Does their free press release option distribute to an Internet that exists in an alternate reality (and do these alternate reality web suffers even have access to Amazon?)

It’s interesting to note that the press release I posted on this blog (not exactly a search engine powerhouse) made it to the second page of search results. Therefore, I can only conclude that this humble blog is a better PR site than PR.com and Online PR News. (Thus, I will soon be rolling out an online press release service called “Shy Writer Diamond Plan – sure, you’ll only get one link but we’re still better than Online PR News and PR.com”)

Just for kicks, I searched for the title of my press release on Google News, which brought back zero results. This was not surprising as most PR distribution services require payment to submit to Google News. Googling the full title of my book did not bring up any of the press releases on the first two search results pages. My efforts weren’t a total waste, though. I did learn that there is a song called “Girl With Broken Wings” by Manchester Orchestra.

By the way, I have heard a crazy rumor that other search engines exist that are not called Google. A quick Google search quickly laid these rumors to rest. (This is a joke. Bing and Yahoo! do exist, I think. I’ve never used them.)

Lastly, combing through the Google Analytics for my book’s website, I was not able to find any indication that my press release adventure had resulted in a bump in traffic.

These results point to a non-surprising, non-revolutionary conclusion that will not rock your world in any way, shape, or form (won’t even jostle your world a little bit). Free…sometimes sucks.

If you are looking for a cheap way to market your company, I suggest taping your cat for five hours. You’re bound to catch it doing something that will garner a few hundred hits on YouTube. Adding your company’s website address in the video’s background should result in some decent exposure, certainly more than you’d get by spending five hours putting out a press release through free websites.

Don’t have a cat? Well, then you might need to dole out some bucks. Most of the same press release companies I used in my experiment offer basic distribution packages starting at $22 on Online PR News and $49 on 24-7 Press Release. I-Newswire offers monthly packages, PR Log is a free press release site, and PR.com…well, that site just looks ghetto. I’d recommend staying away unless you want to get your car jacked as soon as you look the other way.

In the past, I’ve used the 24-7 Press Release $49 service with decent results. They put together a nice report with over a dozen links to distribution sites, which I appreciate.

I know that there are additional press release sites out there on the net. Some of them may even have free options with a little more push behind them, but I’ve learned my lesson. Free press releases aren’t worth the effort. Plus, I don’t have time at the moment. I’ve got to go walk the fish.

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The Free Press Release Experiment

January 13th, 2012 3 comments

So, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. I’ve released my ebook, Falling, and I want to let everyone know about it, but I have a marketing budget of roughly zero dollars.

Luckily, chance/fortune/providence/a broken condom saw to it that I ended up right here in this time and place where access to bunches and bunches of people was just as easy turning on Torgo (my laptop) and hopping online.

Free is the new black, so why not take advantage?

The traditional way to announce an important piece of news was to launch a press release. Now, many people are satisfied with posting an update on Facebook and Twitter. Press releases are still around however, and so are a growing number of press release distributors (the companies that actually release the press releases to news and media networks).

I’ve written many press releases; first as a worker bee at a public relations agency, and more recently for my own clients as part of my copywriting business, Endeavor Writing.

There are some top tier (means expensive) press release distribution sites like PR Newswire and BusinessWire that PR agencies typically use to cast a huge net. There’s also a growing crop of smaller distributors. These guys don’t have quite the distribution muscle of the big guns, but they’re also within the budget of most small business owners. Some even offer free press release options.

Free, the magic word.

I’ve always been curious about these free options. I’m well aware that they don’t have the distribution power behind them of a paid press release, but do they get any love at all?

No time like the present and a non-existent budget to try it out. Earlier this week, I spent roughly three hours creating and polishing a press release. It wasn’t one of my best, but I am a big believer in the idea that “perfection is the enemy of actually getting stuff done”. Next, it was time to hunt down these free press release sites, upload my little baby and see what happened.

On 01/11/2012, I ended up submitting to five different sites that offer free press release distribution options:

In all cases, these sites offered a free press release option that was ad supported. That means my baby could very well be announcing my book and pushing weight loss diet pills at the same time. It’s not a comforting thought, but I’ve little room to complain.

Most of the programs restricted free press releases to one per week, or even one per month. Understandably, the free press releases were allowed very few extras in the way of category choices, keyword options and image inclusion. Bare bones means bare bones. In fact, only one company – PR Log – allowed me to add an image.

On a side note, PR Log is a free press release site and was, by far, the easiest site to use. Many of the other sites kept hounding me to switch to a paying option throughout the submission process. One company in particular – I-Newswire – was really bad about this.

It took me just under two hours to submit my press release to these five sites, making it a five hour adventure from start to finish. Now we’ll see if my time was well spent. I’ve created Google Alerts for a few terms related to my book. These alerts will pick up any mentions across the web and let me know what type of distribution my press release got. I’ll also be checking the Google Analytics on my book website to see if any traffic was generated from these websites.

All in all, I think I should be able to track the results of this experiment pretty well. I’ll give the press release a couple of days to land, and then I’ll report back the results on this blog.

On a last note, if you are considering performing this same experiment, don’t rush the process. Make sure you develop a compelling press release (Google “How to Write a Press Release” for help). You’ll need to create an account with every press release distribution service that you use. You’ll also find that each company has a slightly different submission process. Some of these sites are not very intuitive. Some of these sites, in fact, seem to take some malicious pleasure in watching you impotently click on every conceivable links searching for where you can actually submit your god damn press release! Read all of the instructions carefully and double check everything before you submit. Once your press release is out, it’s out.

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