Journey to a Bestseller: Catch-up on Our Book Progress (Series #31)

Hello everyone! We have some new people and I digressed from the “journey” last week with my story about my German grandmother. I appreciated all the kind words. So, I decided we’ll start off with a low down of what I’m working on what the next steps are.

First, we have been on a marketing excursion with the first two books in my trilogy. I joined a giveaway and got some exposure, so the books that are published are doing well. I don’t need to worry about them for a little while. (Although marketing never stops.) I will push them when I launch and get publicity for the set. And there’s always some contest, or giveaway, or competition. I would like to submit my books for some awards. They are not cheap to enter, when you think of how many you enter versus your winnings. Which are nill unless you’re a winner. Do you want to take that chance? Make sure to ask yourself before jumping into any and all marketing opportunities. Think about what you want and research it before paying someone else.

MOST of the ways people market, is just a waste of their time. Some people have figured it out. They sell their knowledge for a price, but swear that if you follow their formula, you too can be a bestseller. If you are going indie and they have an indie formula that makes sense, provides exposure for your work, and won’t break your bank, consider it. Or put it on a list for another day.

What are those things I shouldn’t waste my time on? In my experience–now remember, this business is very subjective, and what works for one may not work for another–things like boosting posts, paying for followers or to grow your reach, paying a publicist, or buying another author’s list.

I was told by a successful author once that when you start out, focus on getting those reviews. People don’t want to buy an unreviewed book. But that’s not usually that big of a deal, if you are peppering your mailing list with review requests, someone is bound to review. The rule is 20%. How ever many people you ask, expect 20% to open it, click it, buy it, whatever. And in my experience, that is the sad truth. And it hurts. I believe in everyone who requests my books.

Here’s my take on it: To sell your book, you need exposure; for that you need ads. The ads that work and the ones worth your money, like Bookbub, require a minimum of ten reviews on Amazon. COM (other Amazons don’t count) to purchase their ads. So in that way, your reviews directly affect your sales. So hit the pavement and send your book out in a free pdf or mobi file to anyone (hopefully they read your genre) who will agree to read and review for you.

Now, don’t just spam your friends and family to buy your book when it comes out because you want a “big launch.” Don’t force all your coworkers to buy it, either. You don’t want that, unless they all happen to read your genre already. But if Grandma Sally loves cozy mysteries, and your best friend reads erotica, and your spouse’s family are all into sports and non-fiction subjects, but you wrote a YA fantasy, Amazon’s algorithm is going to lose its mind. It won’t know where to place your book. Should it be shown to those who love mystery? Or those who read erotica? Or non-fiction? If Amazon doesn’t know where to put you, you don’t go anywhere. You just slide down the ranking scale until you fall off. Just kidding. That’s not possible. (Oh, and Amazon will remove any reviews by people that it sees you are friends or family with on Facebook. Just beware. Lost half my reviews. Also authors who swap reviews will find them both removed.)

Because of that, cast your nets wide, but mainly seek out your target audience. Show your book to them. I know, I know. Easier said than done. You don’t have to tell me. I am losing a crap-ton of money from the sales I COULD be making if my five teenagers shared my book with their friends. But I can’t even PAY them to read my young adult fantasy romances. It’s disheartening, and discouraging. But know that if you lack familial support, you are not alone. There are a lot of us slogging through the process, trying to figure it out and become successful. (I equate “success” with a steady profit gain over expenses, and a self-sustaining business.) And my family will eat dirt when I’m as successful as one the Big-Names. Mwahaha.

Next on the docket: The countdown for my third book is spinning, it seems. The launch is scheduled for March 22nd and I’m sweating. I have NINE of the ten reviews needed for me to purchase the ads I want. (Anyone want to review?) We’ll go over that later, when I do it. So, I need to gather my critiqued manuscripts and compare. I find it easier to do it all at one time, but others like to edit according to one ms (manuscript), move to the next one, and redo the whole thing each time. That sounds like a waste of time to me. I want to know what they all agreed needs changing. Don’t get mad if you get your ms back, covered in red ink from one person.

That person may not have connected with your story. And remember, you don’t have to take ALL the advice given. You have to learn enough to know when you are being given bad advice. That’s a good reason to know the occupation or something defining about your beta readers. Screen them before you begin. Not necessarily to toss anyone out, but it tempers their advice when you see what perspective it comes from.

And not that all incorrect advice is “bad.” But even in programs like Grammarly that check your documents for spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, etc. (it’s a free download, no really), sometimes the context is different than usual, or you ask a statement as a question, and Grammarly gives you the wrong suggestion. It happens. The point is, you–if you are planning to make a living out of being a writer–need to learn enough about editing to know when you are being given the wrong advice. No one is supposed to find all your mistakes for you, the programs are a checker for those things you may have missed. Here’s the grand tip of my career: *Never stop learning the business.* If you need to know marketing, set out to learn all about it. And when you become a success, pay it forward.

I’ve been thinking, I might need a street team. What’s a street team? Here’s what Wiki says, “A street team is a term used in marketing to describe a group of people who ‘hit the streets’ promoting an event or a product. ‘Street Teams’ are promotional tools that have been adopted industry-wide as a standard line item in marketing budgets by entertainment companies, record labels, the tech industry, corporate brand marketers, new media companies and direct marketers worldwide. The music industry is now seeing a boom in the use of large street teams to reach out to fans and improve sales in the smaller hard to reach fans internationally.”

I’m not sure how to obtain one, though, so I will get back with an article on that later. If you have ideas on that, or would like to join the team I put together, just message me or comment on this post.

I’m looking for a few people that might want to help. If that’s you, and you want to help me administrate this crazy author life, contact me.

Now, finally, on to the book this journey is all about, The Clockwork Pen. What have we done so far? Let’s run it down.

First we all worked on concepts and planning, then research for our novels (for the people who took this journey with me). We wrote a story with character-led action, no plot holes, active third person, with character growth, and gave it high stakes. We followed the essential scenes for every story: ordinary world, inciting incident, point of no return, first battle, midpoint, second battle, dark night of the soul, react, the final battle, and resolution. We learned about “Chekov’s gun” that states if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in chapter one, it better go off before the end. We self-edited and looked at punctuation and word count. We drew a fantasy map for free on Inkarnate.

We talked about knowing what you want on your cover, keywords and categories. Then, when we were sure it was done and self-edited, we sent it on to our beta readers. Now, while our books are with beta readers there’s a lot we can do. But this is where our group divides into traditional vs. indie. While the traditionals now begin to query, the indie author begins their big dive into marketing. I have heard people say, “you should market before you ever write the book. Market the concept.” blah blah blah. Nobody does that. I felt silly trying to market my first book before it came out. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just boosted posts and hashtagged everything. Wrong.

Everyone needs to know the marketing aspect. Even traditional authors this day and age need to work on their own marketing, so don’t reject any ideas just because you are traditionally published. So let’s divide them up.

Traditional: We talked about how to write a query letter and I gave a real-time example of a query that I critiqued and explained what an agent sees. We made a spreadsheet to get ready to query agents, and talked about what to look for and what to record. We haven’t talked much about the publishing process from start to finish and choosing the right agent, but that link should cover it. :^D So write your query and send it.

Also keep your eyes open for pitch parties on Twitter. The literary world exists on Twitter. That’s where agents and editors can be found. Don’t know how to Twitter? Check this post to get yourself started. Don’t know pitch parties? Read the second half of this post.

Oh my gosh, this is it. This is the step we are on. I can’t believe it. It’s been a lot of weeks that have dragged on, but we are ready to query. Unless you still have your manuscript out with an editor. My story is still with a friend who is a professional editor. As soon as I get it back, hopefully next week, I will send my queries out. Ooooh, I’m nervous. I’m trying to prepare things for this launch, and I’m nervous that I will be so busy working my job and launching that I won’t be able to mess with querying. But you know what? Once I send those letters out, I don’t have to do anything but wait for rejections–or offers, I hope.

Maybe being so involved with the launch will keep me busy while I’m waiting to hear from agents. Yeah. That’s it. I’ll do it. As soon as I finish editing the third book and address whatever my editor found.

Okay, let’s say you just sent off all your queries and now you don’t know what to do. Now’s the time you do what the indies are doing.

Independent: If you submitted traditionally, you had to make up a synopsis, and sales copy. That blurb that goes in a query letter to hook an agent, is the bit you indies will put as the book description on Amazon. Yes, if you want to sell books, you pretty much have to go through Amazon. They are becoming a scary force. But I digress. So, if you are self-publishing, you need to spend some time on the words that will decide if a customer buys or passes. I know I’ve written on this many times, but I don’t seem to have a post dedicated to it. The “Info” portion of this post applies to writing sales copy/book description.

Make sure while you are waiting, to make up an author name for yourself that you use uniformly over all your social media. If you are @unicornwritersrock on one site and @fantasyauthor on another, your fans won’t be able to find you. Make it easy for them. Order some business cards. Make up some hashtags that you use whenever you make posts regarding your writing. Set up your website. There are free and easy versions out there. My site is WordPress and it’s free, but I pay $12 a year for my name .com– Don’t make your writing and website names focused on a particular book or series, YOU are the brand. You can make it about the book, and it’s great for now, but when you write a new book/series, what are you going to do? You’ll have to change everything to your name. So start there.

Get an author photo. You can pay someone, and at some point I suggest you do, but until you’ve made that kind of money, a selfie stick and a lot of drama will get you what you need. Take a bunch of shots. Get them from above, behind your shoulder, straight on, or give the phone to your buddy and have fun together. Take a serious shot, and a smiling shot, and a laughing shot. You want something that shows the head and shoulders for an author photo.

And finally, start your big marketing push with some of these ideas. What you need first, when you are published, is an audience. You need readers and readers trust each other, not you, so you need reviews. You can seek out book review bloggers, or paid review sites (though they are considered “editorial reviews” and don’t apply to your “review count”). You can always ask your beta readers for a review based on what they read. Remember, your book should have been self-edited before you sent it out, so they should have a good idea of the story.

When we talked in the past regarding reviews, most authors want to know where to find reviewers. Read this post to find a few ideas. And if you are a writer, you need to share the following post to all your potential readers: How to write a book review, the mad libs version.

Now, I don’t want to just leave you hanging and say, “Hey, send in your query letters!” and then not share more about the process. If you’ve read the links I provided above you will understand that there is a formula. I will post my own query letter for you to see, after I have queried, in case I change it. But the most important thing to take away from the query letter is to hook that agent. They don’t know you, or your book, only what you put in those three paragraphs. So imagine your friend asked you about a book. Let’s make it Hunger Games. That seems pretty safe. Most people know that one, right?

Obviously there would be an introduction, and the word count and genre.

Next introduce the main character(s) to us. Name up to three characters in a query. And put their name in all capitals when introduced. So we’d say:

In District twelve, Katniss puts her life in danger daily by hunting illegally, scraping to keep herself alive and taking care of her little sister.

Now, give us the inciting incident, meaning, what happens to shake up their “normal?”

When Katniss volunteers to be a tribute in a deadly lottery, to save her sister, her troubles begin. She leaves home with another boy from the district, headed to the nation’s capital, leaving behind a boy she cares for, who vows to help her family.

I have seen a lot of people give the first incident and say, “They were ready for the fight of their lives, paid with the highest price,” and that’s it. That’s their description. Well, if the characters are ready to fight NOW in the story, what happens in the rest of it? I want to know if I’ll enjoy the story. And what’s “the price?” Is it death? Banishment? Disfigurement? That alone would give us a better idea what kind of book we’re dealing with. Use the same tone in your query as you do in your book. If you wrote a comedy but can’t make us chuckle with your query, the agents aren’t really sure if you can pull it off.

So, in Hunger Games I might say something like:

“Katniss uses her survival training to stay safe while she’s being hunted, but when the boy from her district falls from an injury, his only hope for survival is for Katniss to risk her own safety to protect him. A self-preserving, matter of fact, provider, can she find the courage, the heart, she needs to expose herself to the killers for his sake?

Little does she know, Katniss in her strength, becomes a symbol for the oppressed districts and the nation’s ruler sees her a threat. Unbeknownst to Katniss, the choices she makes in the ring will haunt her…if she makes it out alive.

da da dum. My writing partner and I say, at the end of every great chapter, you should feel like saying “da da dum.” So when something is worded well, we shout it. I’d probably leave the query right there. By telling “the story” people think it means they have to tell us what happens in the scenes of the book, but what the agent wants is for you to talk “about” the book. What kind of story is it. Tell us about it conceptually. Is it a “friends to lovers romance?” Or is it “a sexy college co-ed academy?” Is it a hero’s quest to find knowledge/magic, or maybe a poignant story about teens with cancer? Put your story into this frame of reference. What would you say your story is about?

Last comes your little bio of writing experience and anything personal you may have in common with the agent or might make you stand out.

I have a query letter I’m proud of, but I don’t want to post it before I query with it. That wouldn’t be wise. Well, I will let you know next week if I’ve gotten my manuscript back from the editor. I have a lot of editing to do. Bleh. Nah, I say that, but I adore this job. I just wish there were more hours in the day. Well, whether you are in traditional camp, or team indie, I’m here for you. I’m doing both, so I’ve got you covered. Let me know your questions, and I can answer them in the blog for everyone.

I promise, next week I will teach something you don’t already know. I needed to take inventory of where we are, and the new people are probably still wondering what the heck is going on. Lol. Stick with us. I repeat myself a lot, but most of the stuff in publishing is all related anyway.

You just Keep Writing, and I’ll see you next week.

~jenn

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