Journey to a Bestseller: First Steps for Marketing (Series #30)

Good weekend everyone. Happy Sunday. This week is for the indie crowd. I have been talking the last few weeks about spreadsheets and queries. But what about us self-publishers? I hear you. Your book, finished and self-edited, should now be in the hands of beta readers. And only include your mom in this if she’s an editor. But my aunt is a high school English teacher. She’s good, right? English teachers do not necessarily grade for the same aspects a novel reviewer would look for. Finding past participles in Shakespeare’s stories is not the same as finding the character’s voice, and making the plot engaging, or being a good fit for your target audience. But they can tell you if you have spelling/grammar errors. Don’t discount their opinion by any means, but if you need editing, you have two choices.

1] Find an editor. You can go with someone professional, or someone on, or even someone who you met on Twitter in the literary field. Make sure they know what they’re doing though. Look for references. These services will cost money.


2] You can learn how to edit. Wait, wait. Come back. I’m not done. If you are an author. You desire to grow in your craft, right? You want to be great, right? Each book you write sharpens your skill exponentially, so why not? If you learn about editing, and I’m not saying go to night classes, I taught myself so much from the internet. Articles that talk about character formation, and pace, will teach you how to write it pretty darn good the first time. Now, every first draft is what? Thanks Mr. Hemingway. You will always need to edit your first draft, I don’t care who you are.

But if you write an okay book and make it good with editing, what happens when you start with a good book and edit it? Right, it becomes GREAT. And that’s the #1 secret to all your success. *Write a GREAT book.* Everything else will fall in line. It will be easier to market, easier to sell, get better reviews and will travel by word of mouth. Just what you want.

And even if you edit books for a living, you want new eyes on your manuscript. Don’t know what to ask your beta readers? Here’s an idea, ask them what you would ask for in a comprehensive book review. You can find out what that means in the post on how to write a review step by step. I would want to know all these things. You are welcome to send your beta readers the link to my post if you wish.

So, we’ve got the manuscript in the hands of a few trusted individuals. Maybe you’ve even got one or two back. I suggest keeping them all in a file and when you are ready to edit, go through them together, comparing for differences in beta copies. You are the judge of what stays in your book. You have control. But that also leaves you solely responsible if you don’t complete all the necessary steps. Forbes had a great article all about this. Entitled “Don’t Publish That Book,” the author speaks about the problem self-publishers have with releasing their book baby too soon. A large percentage of self-published books are not ready to be released when they launch.

During this time, you are going to make a spreadsheet, similar to the query log. But the bread and butter of your ability to make sales, are reviews. I have read many successful authors in my quest to learn publishing who say not to even bother with promotion until you have at least ten to twelve reviews. My first book had been published for a year and I only had six reviews. It was disheartening. But they are essential. In order of importance regarding self-marketing, the most important ad you have, is the cover of the book. If it isn’t stunning, if it doesn’t grab your attention in the thumbnail, readers aren’t going to click on it.

After the cover is your product description/sales copy/blurb. (I wish there was a universal literary definition for summaries and synopses and blurbs that said which was definitively which.) Once they click on that picture that grabbed them–and we’ll talk all about “knowing what you want on your cover” in the weeks to come–they want to know what it’s about. If this grabs them, they double check the price, and if you are priced competitively, and the description hooks them, they’re going to buy.

If you have a drab, lackluster explanation of your plot, put in five minutes getting outline points into sentences, or just let any intern at your publishing house do it for you, the reader will pass. Why? You didn’t hook them. Writing this bit should take you some time. You spent all those hours perfecting your book, why wouldn’t you spend a relative amount of time on crafting the words that will sell it or not? Like right now, while your book is being read, take some time and get something down. No one knows your book like you do. If you have trouble, read about how to write sales copy.

In last week’s post, I said this about writing your blurb:

“There is a formula to my method, yes, however it requires intense, concise, planned creativity. Because your [blurb] has ultimately one goal: to hook the reader (or agent). You’ve written a detailed synopsis of your book, either because you used it to outline, or an agent called for one, so you think, I can just pare this down and make it my description, right? No, no, no.

Think of it this way, imagine you just read an awesome book with a girl hero who saves a race of people from genocide by sword-fighting and magic, and there are dragons, and an ocean voyage (this is my book)… Now, you really want your friend to read this. So when she asks what it’s about, you don’t quote her a summary of the book’s order of events, do you? Of course not, you make it sound exciting and make her want to read it. You don’t tell her everything that happens, just the good stuff, enough to pique her interest.

In the same way, you want to tell us a little about your story, but you don’t have to say much regarding specific scenes. Rather, share the concepts with us, like you would with your friend.”

If you’re not sure about your blurb’s effectiveness, reach out to readers and/or other writers to ask for their opinions. On Facebook there are tons of writer pages, and on Twitter you can use hashtags like #writingcommunity or #writerslife, just put a hashtag in your post and start to type “writer” and you will see other suggestions pop up.

Ideally you could go back to the 80s and sit at the mall and people watch and when someone sits by you, you tell them your blurb and ask if it sounds like something they’d be interested in. See, the reader (Or agent, if you’re writing a query) is a complete stranger to you, they know nothing about your work except the bit you give them in the description. It doesn’t matter what your book actually says, if you don’t advertise it right, it’s going nowhere. Even if J.K. herself put out her famous series and said, “it’s a book about a boy who is mistreated by a foster family and gets a magical letter to come to a school that will teach him to be a wizard, and then he goes to a magic train station and buys a wand at these really dark and creepy, yet cool stores, so he can defeat the evil wizard that killed his parents,” you’d yawn. Yeah, sounds like any other Middle Grade fantasy plot. Magic? Check. School? Check. Reluctant protagonist? Yep. Uncomfortable romance? Uh huh. Sounds really fascinating in a watching-paint-dry kind of way.

There’s a 50% chance you’d click on it. And I’m being very fair giving equal opportunity to choose. But you’d lose so many readers who would adore the story. Okay, I’m repeating myself now. Your sales description is important enough for you to creatively construct it, and test it.

Also during this time, if you have not written your dedication, acknowledgements, about the author (bio), or taken an author photo, those are all on your list. If you haven’t already made your author name “handle,” figure out what it is and make changes to match it across all your social media accounts. You could be a “writer” like @writersherrihart or #joneswriter or an “author” like mine @haskinauthor. If your name is the same on all your sites, you are easy to find and Google will easily identify you when your fans search for you.

If you have everything else done, this week I want you to make a new spreadsheet that says:

#Date askedResponseNameEmailFormatSent bookReminder email sentReviewedStarsReview on
1!/27/2020YBilly Sue JonesBilly@email.compdfYYY5Amazon, Goodreads
Make sure to scroll side to side, there are 11 columns

Yep, that’s right. We need those reviews to entice other readers and purchasing some of the better ads for marketing requires a certain number of reviews (Usually either 5 or 10). Now as an author getting reviews, you must be careful. It is perfectly fine to give away free books in exchange for a review. They cannot be paid for. If you paid for a review, you can put it in the Editorial review section.

Also, your family and close friends cannot leave you a review. If Amazon sees the reviewer as a close friend on facebook, they will remove the review. Even if it’s a super great review and the other person isn’t your friend anymore, or you begged your mom to write it and she finally did, Amazon will still take it down. Author swaps are also not allowed. If you review another author’s book and they review yours, Amazon will remove both reviews. So, if someone leaves you a review and comes back with a request for one, explain that if you write one for them, you both lose, and offer to write them an editorial review for free or if you’ve won any awards or bestseller status, you can offer to write a blurb for their cover.

I know why Amazon does it. They are trying to protect the results from immoral authors that are gaming the system. I mean, it’s one thing to pass on secret tips that are “Amazon legal,” but not widely known. Like this one, did you know that you are allowed to have more than those three little categories? You can actually have ten. And it’s fine, totally legal and legit. All you have to do is have an author account with Amazon (Author Central) and email Amazon through Author Central and tell them which categories you’d like your book listed in.

There are ways to do that, as well. Keywords and categories are mega important. I let my publisher just pick random categories and keywords like: fantasy, magic, wizards, mages, sword-fighting. NO. The keywords or “keyword phrases” that you are allowed to provide are the keyword phrases that people use when they are searching for your book. I’m trying to think of a few of mine. Strong female hero, YA college romance, epic adventure quest, young adult contemporary fantasy, YA alpha romance.

First, go up to the top right of your browser screen on Google and click on the three vertical dots. From the drop-down menu, click “New incognito window.” This will allow you to search on Amazon without the search results messing up your Amazon preferences, but more importantly, it doesn’t throw biased suggestions in there for you. Now you can see something closer to what everyone else sees. Next search for a topic relating to your book. If you were me, you might try something like “YA fantasy.” I typed in YA F and then the drop down menu suggested several keyword phrases to me like: YA fantasy romance, YA fantasy books, YA fae romance, YA forbidden romance. The more letters you add into your search, the more options the menu gives you. Write down all the ones that pertain to your book. Then pick another aspect, like “sword and sorcery.” I got to “Sword and S” and not much comes up, sword and sorceress, sword and scimitar. Try to think not about the subjects in the book, but what the book is, by itself. For example: young adult friends to lovers, Romance books for kindle, teen girl books, Middle grade books for boys, hot and steamy regency historical romance. Those are all popular keyword phrases.

Can you see how it would benefit your book to pop up on the list when someone types those words? That’s what you want. So, try to describe your book or who its for, and when Amazon suggests popular search phrases, write down the ones that fit with your work.

Categories, likewise, are very important. Half the battle is getting your book to come up in the right group with the right search terms, and then your cover has to attract, and your blurb better cinch the deal, or the price. My first book, The Key of F, has been at #1 in all three listed categories all week, but I don’t have a bestseller flag behind my name yet. Why not?

Easy. It’s a BESTSELLER list, and my book is on a free promo, so I’m not technically “selling” anything. My husband doesn’t quite get the concept of working hard now, and hoping for money to follow later. It’s a gamble, an investment, and doesn’t make logical sense. The same situation goes for agents and editors. We only get paid for your three-book deal when you get a check. If you cancel your contract, I’ve done all the work for you for free. The books I edit now will only pay me if their authors are diligent with their marketing, and make a profit. It’s a risk. Forbes said that published authors sell an average of 500 copies per book. I’m not sure if that sounds like a good thing or a bad thing. Right now, 500 books sounds great to me, but for the life of the book? Not so much.

I need to end this here, but if you have any questions or need me to go into more detail on something, let me know. For now, keep writing, and I’ll talk to you next weekend. I hope you found something you need to work on.


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