Tag Archives: book marketing

My book marketing marathon continues

More than a year after I published three books in one day, I’m still working on getting the word out.

In between Goodreads giveaways and soft-touch marketing for The Renegade Chronicles, I’ve been focusing on a new sci-fi series, The Soul Sleep Cycle, which may or may not debut in early 2018. But even though I’m excited to share new stories, my search for sword-and-sorcery fans is far from over

And so I’m delighted to announce a couple of upcoming book marketing events:

Speculative Fiction Cantina

Friday, May 26, 2017
5 p.m. CST
http://tobtr.com/10020673

I’ve been interviewed for author profiles on blogs here and there, but I’m tackling my first live podcast next week.

The Speculative Fiction Cantina covers sci-fi, fantasy, horror, alternate history, steampunk, cyberpunk, and “things weird and wonderful in the world of books and writers.” Author Aram Keledjian and I are tag-teaming for the May 26 episode.

In addition to the interview, I plan to do a reading from Rebels and Fools.

Downtown Fond du Lac Wine Walk promotional image

Tour the Town Art Walk / Wine Walk

Friday, June 16, 2017
4 to 8 p.m.
Macy Place Art and Tea Shoppe, 82 S. Macy Street, Fond du Lac, Wis.

I’ll be one of two featured artists at Macy Place for Tour the Town Art Walk, and I’m delighted to announce that my partner in crime will be none other than Jake Weiss, the talented designer who created the covers for all three Renegade Chronicles novels as well as the free ebook compendium. The art walk is free.

Even better, the June art walk coincides with downtown Fond du Lac’s annual wine walk, which means we’ll all be able to raise a glass to the literary arts. Sorry, that was just hokey. Anyway, you’ll be able to chat with Jake and me, see some of the concept art for the covers and buy a book (or three). I’ll sign copies and maybe do a short reading.

I’d love to see you or hear from you on the podcast. Of course,  if you’d rather bypass all of this marketing stuff and go right to the stories, feel free to buy The Renegade Chronicles in paperback or ebook formats at any time!

 

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Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

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Unlike fiction, numbers don’t lie

For a “word guy,” I sure geek out on numbers.

This left-brained gravitation came in handy when putting together my 2016 business plan. And now, more than a full year later, I’m in a position to evaluate how close reality aligned to the strategy.

Because when it comes to collecting data, I err on the side of ridiculous.

Maybe it’s because the craft—the art of writing—is largely subjective. Sure, there are rules for composition and standards for publication, but (ahem) renegade books still may rise to the top. Other than word counts and number of pages, there just isn’t much room for figures.

But other aspects of my writing—the business of writing—are easy to quantify. For example:

Number of Books Published in 2016

  • Projected: 4-5
  • Actual: 5

Going into 2016, I knew I would publish all three novels of The Renegade Chronicles in both paperback and e-book versions as well as a digital-only complete collection. Back in late 2015, I had included publishing Magic’s Daughter, a standalone fantasy novel set in the same world as the trilogy (Altaerra), as a stretch goal.

While that didn’t happen, I did produce a free e-book companion to The Renegade Chronicles, Capricon and Beyond, bringing my total to five.

As a goal, this turned out to be a pretty straightforward success. But sales are another story.

Sales of Individual Books

Rebels and Fools (paperback)

  • Projected: 60
  • Actual: 47

Rebels and Fools (e-book)

  • Projected: 110
  • Actual: 14

Heroes and Liars (paperback)

  • Projected: 45
  • Actual: 35

Heroes and Liars (e-book)

  • Projected: 85
  • Actual: 13

Martyrs and Monsters (paperback)

  • Projected: 30
  • Actual: 36

Martyrs and Monsters (e-book)

  • Projected: 60
  • Actual: 7

The Renegade Chronicles (Collection)

  • Projected: 80
  • Actual: 15

Clearly, I fell short of my goals here. The only milestone I met—and surpassed—was the sale of Martyrs and Monsters in paperback. Not so surprisingly, the deficit in sales directly impacted income.

Total income

  • Projected: $1,355.40
  • Actual: $786.45

Ouch. And the shortfall in paperbacks wasn’t nearly as bad as the disappointing number of e-book sales because I earn far more royalties for an e-book than I do for a printed version. (No printing costs mean more money in my pocket.)

And then there’s the money coming out of my pocket…

Total expenditures

  • Projected: $1,225.01
  • Actual: $1,857.73

Double ouch. For the record, many of these expenses were a result of setting up my business (One Million Words LLC), not necessarily the publishing of my novels, though there were costs associated with that as well.

Moreover, I ended up ordering more copies of the book to sell at events than I had thought I would. Some of that I recouped, but I have a couple hundred dollars in inventory on hand at the moment, thanks to a certain snowstorm that won’t be named. (OK, it was Bailey.)

You don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate how the above numbers affect profit.

Total profit

  • Projected: $130.39
  • Actual: -$1,142.25

Fact: most new businesses don’t make a profit their first year, so maybe breaking even (or coming out just above that) was too optimistic. Yet I ended up much farther afield than I would have liked.

So what went wrong? Perhaps I just didn’t work hard enough?

Total hours worked

  • Projected: 12.00 hours/week for a total of 624 hours
  • Actual: 13.29 hours/week for a total of 691 hours

Nope, I wasn’t slacking. Maybe I didn’t put enough time into what matters, such as marketing.

Total hours spent on marketing

  • Projected: 1.00 hour/week for a total of 52 hours
  • Actual: 3.56 hours/week for a total of 185 hours

It became obvious early on that a single hour of marketing per week wasn’t going to accomplish much. And even a novice entrepreneur understands that marketing directly impacts sales. Yet after investing more than three times what I had originally allocated to marketing, why weren’t readers finding—and buying—my book?

What did I miss?

Breakdown of total marketing hours

  • Blog: 32.25
  • Events: 34.25
  • Media relations: 13.75
  • Newsletter: 7.50
  • Seeking reviews: 20.00
  • Social media: 18.25
  • Website updates: 8.50
  • Phase 2: 20.75
  • Everything else: 29.75

You may be wondering, “What’s Phase 2?” Well, when I saw that sales were sluggish, I did a bunch of research and came up with a plan to boost them. That’s when I decided to put out the free compendium e-book.

For the record, here is how the rest of my time shook out:

Non-marketing hours

  • Planning/writing the first draft of If Dreams Can Die: 190.00
  • Publishing The Renegade Chronicles: 183.00*
  • Donated hours: 35.00**
  • Business planning: 28.25
  • Creating/publishing the free e-book compendium: 27.00
  • Random tasks: 20.25
  • Business administration: 13.25
  • Miscellaneous research: 5.25
  • Trying to publish short stories: 4.00

* Additional hours for this project were expended in 2015.

** I donated some of my One Million Words time helping a friend publish his memoirs. More on that in the days ahead…

Pie chart showing how I spent 2016

Analysis

I spent more than a quarter of my time (26.77%) on marketing communications, including a gamut of channels to try to connect to my target demographic. That’s only slightly less time than I spent on actual writing! Only publishing (The Renegade Chronicles novels and the compendium) consumed more hours in 2016.

Which means I must be one lousy book marketer, huh?

Maybe. But in my defense, I also took a grassroots (read: cheap) approach to marketing. Sure, a business needs to spend money to make money, but there are entirely too many ways for an author to flush away what little startup capital he has. If I’m going to invest a penny in a service, I demand demonstrated ROI.

To date, I have yet to find a surefire method for rising above the noise—er, competition—to reach with the right readers. And yet if I don’t do something to draw attention to my books, they’ll remained buried beneath Amazon’s algorithm along with hundreds, if not thousands, of similar products.

But wait, sales don’t reflect the total number of people who have read my book…

Free downloads

Rebels and Fools (e-book)

  • Projected: 0
  • Actual: 508

Capricon and Beyond (e-book)

  • Projected: 0
  • Actual: 84

The idea was this: If I made Book 1 free to download, folks who enjoyed it would pay actual money to read the rest of the series. One can come to a number of conclusions as to why this didn’t happen. Maybe they didn’t like Rebels and Fools very much.

Or maybe people who like free books like them because they don’t have to pay for them…and with so many complimentary promos going on any given time, they’ll be elbow deep in free reads for eternity.

What’s next?

Examining the time and money I put into marketing and then making informed decisions based on the data is my priority. But I started One Million Words not only to sell books, but also to write new ones.

Learning that I could crank out a book in 190 hours was very eye-opening. Granted, it’s the third book in a series (The Soul Sleep Cycle), so some of the heavy lifting had already been done prior to plotting out If Dreams Can Die. But it does raise a series of interesting questions:

  1. Am I better off focusing my energy on finishing and publishing The Soul Sleep Cycle through One Million Words in hopes that sales from that series will drive The Renegade Chronicles’ sales?
  2. Or am I just going to face the same obstacle as before—struggling to be heard in an oversaturated market?
  3. Or am I better off being more proactive in finding a different publisher for The Soul Sleep Cycle, such as a mid-sized or small press, so that I’ll have a partner in marketing that series?
  4. And what about other revenue streams? (Would anyone really pay for a pun-a-day calendar?)

One thing is for certain. I have plenty to ponder as I close the books, so to speak, on 2016.

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Fun and games with book reviews

Sometimes book marketing seems like one big game.

Sometimes it feels like a joke.

In the spirit of positivity and productivity, I’ll eschew the plethora of ridiculous scenarios an author encounters while trying to promote his wares. But one paradox that made me smile (or, rather, roll my eyes) was when I was submitting information about my free Kindle promo and came across multiple paid services to spread the word.

That’s right: not only would I not make any profits on the book downloads during the promotion, but I’d actually be losing money in the process.

Any entrepreneur worth his home office knows you have to spend money to make money. It all comes down to ROI. But I personally believe there are better marketing avenues than pay-per-tweet networks.

OK, one more laugh: there are some online book reviewers who won’t read a novel until it has received a certain number of reviews on Amazon. I suppose professional/quasi-professional reviewers need everyday readers to make a decision before they deign it appropriate to crack the proverbial spine themselves. But from an author’s perspective, well, we need reviews on websites to gain exposure so that people buy, read, and, yes, rate the book on Amazon.com.

In an earlier blog post about the 5 ways to support the writer in your life, I brought up the importance of posting reviews. I’d like to revisit that topic today. Now. Because it turns out they are really, really important.

Also, I’m not too proud to beg for book reviews.

In case you need some convincing, here are a handful of reasons why book reviews can make a big difference in a novel’s success:

  • As mentioned above, some book review websites won’t bother with a novel unless it has at least five or ten or more reviews on Amazon.
  • Some book marketing services won’t include a book until it hits a certain quantity and rank of reviews on Amazon. For example: “Must have at least ten five-star reviews.”
  • Oftentimes, readers won’t take a book seriously if there are zero or very few customer reviews. Zero reviews just looks suspicious, and having less than ten is admittedly sad.
  • Amazon.com itself assesses the value of a book based on the number of reviews. Once a book hits fifty reviews, it makes an impact on Amazon’s search algorithm. In short, the more reviews (and the more positive the reviews), the more likely a potential buyer will be shown/recommended said book.
  • You’re also helping your fellow readers—which is why it’s important to be honest when posting a review.

So now you can see why those little yellow stars are so important—and why I’ve decided to make it as easy (and fun!) as possible for anyone who has read Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, or Martyrs and Monsters to compose a short yet oh-so valuable review.

Are you not entertained?

Mad Libs cover

Mad Libs: the epitome of fill-in-the-blank fun!

Just fill in the blanks, “Mad Libs style.” Then copy and paste copiously.

  • After reading (a previous book), I was looking forward to (expectations of this book).
  • If you like (adjective) characters and (adjective) plots, you’ll love this book.
  • This book reminds me (adverb) of (another book/series/author).
  • This book is at its best when (general example).
  • The pace of the story can be described as (adjective).
  • My favorite character is (proper noun) because (reason).
  • This book made me (verb phrase).
  • I can sum up this book in a single word: (adjective or noun).
  • I would (adverb) recommend this book to (noun).
  • I can’t wait to read more books by David Michael Williams (punctuation)

Party over here!

While Amazon is arguably the most important place to post book reviews due to its market share in the U.S. as well as other countries, there are many other places where folks buy books. Below are links to webpages where people can purchase The Renegade Chronicles, and they’re just waiting to be filled up with your brilliant comments:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

Note: you’ll only be able to leave a review at Smashwords if you purchased it via Smashwords.

CreateSpace

At CreateSpace, all you have to do is click the Facebook “like” button!

Goodreads

Are you a member of Goodreads? If so, use these links:

One more thing

If you’ve read any of my books, please, please, PLEASE post a review somewhere…anywhere!

(Told you I wasn’t too proud to beg.)

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Books, booze, and a bit of blather

Let’s be honest: you probably couldn’t pick your favorite novelist out of a lineup.

Unless, maybe, it’s Stephen King.

That’s because most readers, at best, catch a glimpse of an author’s face while flipping through the back few pages of the book. Some of the top-selling authors might get a second glance thanks to websites, magazine interviews, and so forth, but for the most part, fiction writers retain their anonymity.

Many of us prefer it that way.

When my 10-year-old daughter asked if I was going to get famous after publishing The Renegade Chronicles, I told it was doubtful and that I’d rather sell books than become a celebrity. I’m OK with the fact that “David Michael Williams” is just words on a page for most people.

Except every author is a brand, and boosting sales often requires putting oneself in the spotlight. In the spirit of “selling myself,” I’ve been dedicating time every week toward marketing my books in the form of author spotlights, online interviews, and review requests.

June kicks off the next phase of my book marketing: live events.

Now, I’ve never done a book signing or a reading before. And I can count the number of times I’ve publicly spoken about my fiction writing on one finger.

If my comfort zone as a writer is a few square feet around my laptop, the two events on the horizon are going to metaphorically push me all the way to Madagascar, complete with scary lemurs.

It’s not that I have a fear of public speaking or that I’m not confident in the quality of my writing. I’ve presented on a variety of topics in a professional capacity. I can be an incredibly social guy when I want/need to be and could talk about any topic related to writing for hours on end.

But now I’m putting not only my expertise on display, but also my labor of love and…well…myself.

What passage should I read? How many copies of my books should I bring to sell? How am I going to calculate sales tax on the fly and make change? What should I wear? What if no one has any Qs during my Q&A?

And why ever did I think this event marketing thing was a good idea?

Nerves aside, I am excited about the upcoming opportunities to give The Renegade Chronicles more exposure. If you’re in the area, I encourage you to attend. You can even razz me if you want, though I might have to guilt you into buying a book as payback.

Here are the details:

Downtown Fond du Lac Wine Walk promotional image

Tour the Town Art Walk / Wine Walk

Friday, June 17, 2016
5 to 8 p.m.
Cujak’s Wine & Coffee Bar, 47 N. Main St., Fond du Lac, Wis.

I’ll be the featured artist at Cujak’s Wine & Coffee Bar—a very cool venue—and this month’s art walk just happens to coincide with the downtown wine walk. You can buy tickets for the wine walk, but the art walk is free. I will have all three of The Renegade Chronicles novels on hand to sell, and I’ll sign copies, answer questions, and most likely do a short reading from Rebels and Fools.

Fond du Lac Area Writers Club

Tuesday, June 28, 2016
7 p.m.
Moraine Park Technical College, Room O104, 235 N. National Ave., Fond du Lac, Wis.

I was invited to be the guest speaker at the monthly club meeting of the Fond du Lac Area Writers (FAW). Be sure to attend if you want to learn more about my writing background, the evolution of The Renegade Chronicles from a vague idea to a published trilogy, the publishing process itself, and my future plans as an author and indie publisher.

Get news about upcoming events and the latest announcements about my books delivered directly to your inbox. Sign up for the David Michael Williams newsletter here.

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Milestones from my book marketing marathon

What do you call a race without a finish line?

That’s not really a riddle. Or if it is, I don’t pretend to know the answer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about book marketing lately…because I’ve been doing a lot of book marketing lately. I keep coming back to that cliché about how (fill in the blank) is a marathon, not a sprint. As much as I want to quickly plow through my list of marketing tactics so that I can wrap up this project and begin planning my next novel, progress is unavoidably slow.

And pushing myself harder will only cause me to burn out faster.

Maybe the whole marathon metaphor is flawed in this case because publishing The Renegade Chronicles felt a lot like crossing a finish line. Leading up to that achievement was a series of tasks that required sustained pacing and a “keep your eye on the prize” mentality.

But even with Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters displayed on my bookshelf, trophy-like, a new endurance test lies before me—the next leg of the never-ending race.

In the spirit of celebrating small successes along the way, I submit the following 10 marketing and sales milestones:

1. Last month, I got a bit of press thanks to Action Publications.

2. Over the past couple of weeks, I sent requests to roughly 80 book bloggers. Three of them have expressed interest in reading and reviewing Rebels and Fools.

3. I’m on deck to be included in a “Newly Released” list on one website and the subject of an author spotlight on another site.

4. My professional Facebook page recently reached 100 likes.

5. The Fond du Lac Public Library now carries all three volumes of The Renegade Chronicles.

6. I’ve sold 75 “units” over the past six weeks. This includes paperbacks, individual e-book downloads, as well as the three-in-one digital collection.

The flag of Denmark

Right now, someone in Denmark might be reading my book. How cool is that? | Photo by US CIA via Wikimedia Commons

7. Three of those e-book sales were from readers in Denmark.

8. Last week, I received some very positive feedback from someone who doesn’t typically read fantasy: “I wasn’t sure if I would (like it). This isn’t my normal genre. I struggled just a little in the beginning trying to keep track of who all the characters were, but after that I was hooked. … I love the number of strong female characters, the bit of romance, all the adventure and plot twists. … I’ll be sure to post a great review when I finish.”

9. I will be the featured speaker at a Fond du Lac Area Writers’ meeting in June.

10. On June 17, I will be the featured artist at Cujak’s Wine and Coffee Bar during the Tour the Town Art Walk in Fond du Lac. (I’ll provide more information closer to the event.)

On second thought, writing, publishing, and book marketing are not so different from actual marathon running. The finish line is simply a measure of progress, not a true end—because there’s always the next race and another opportunity to improve.

Thanks for reading my blog and for your ongoing encouragement. I’m convinced “word of mouth” is the most effective form of marketing, so if you know anyone who likes fantasy adventure, please tell them about The Renegade Chronicles!

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