Tuesday, April 18, 2017

So. Many. Books.

"With thousands of new titles being published every day, what do you do to try to raise your new book above the fray and catch the eye of readers?"

This week I am grateful to fellow Canadian crime writer SG Wong for stepping in to share her perspective on the topic of the week.
SG Wong writes the Lola Starke series of novels and the Crescent City short stories, written in the tradition of the hard-boiled detective genre, with two-fingers’ worth of noir and a liberal sprinkling of magic and ghosts thrown in for good measure.

Someone once referred to me as an “award loser.” She wasn’t wrong.

Does that mean I should be using that phrase as an attention-grabber? It’s accurate, after all, and truth in advertising is still an ethical standard these days. Plus, it’s eye-catching for its unusual phrasing; just think of all those seemingly dime-a-dozen “Award-winning” whozits who also publish books. Hmm, maybe I should plaster it on my website and all those bios I send out for speaking gigs and public appearances. Ooh, I know: I can use it as my banner on my Amazon author listing…

The topic of “discoverability” is something akin to kryptonite for many authors, I think. It certainly has a soup├žon of “fatal weakness” for me in that I still haven’t quite hit on the formula that yields me thousands of purchases on release day. And do you know? I just saw an author celebrated for his millionth download on Amazon—of one book. Honestly, I’m happy for him; let’s celebrate each other’s successes! Still, I couldn’t bear to click and read more about it. I smelled too much of my own failure lurking in that post. (I know, I know: “failure” and “success” are just placeholder labels, contrived to help us keep score.)

The truth is that many of us struggle every day—every other day, if we’re lucky—to be both artist and business person. We may feel confidence in our art, ie., our writing (c’mon, admit it: this happens), but many of us flounder at getting our books noticed. Which isn’t to say they get read or reviewed, or even purchased.

I’m an indie author. I’m accountable for every aspect of my book production, as creative director and entrepreneurial lead. I spend a lot of my work time on marketing. Indeed, isn’t that what I’m doing right now, writing this guest post? Why else would I expose my professional kryptonite to a group of virtual and literal strangers, for nothing more than the ephemeral promise of exposure?

Well, because why not?

I’ve been an indie for just over 3 years and the best advice I can give anyone, self-publishing or otherwise, is to experiment. Be brave. Be curious. (Also, fiscally responsible. More on that later.) See what other authors are doing; consider if it would work for you. And by that last, I mean, are you comfortable doing it? I don’t mean could it work for you because just about anything has that potential. Ask yourself, does it hit the sweet spot of (interesting) x (conceivable) within the framework of your career?

For example, blog tours are excellent for introducing ourselves and our latest release to a wider range of readers than our own blog audience already covers. They also help us build relationships with bloggers and other authors; an online version of professional networking.

But I don’t do blog tours. I think they’re neat; I just don’t want to spend the time and energy whipping up 500-word posts for two weeks’ worth of stops. Notice I wrote “don’t” rather than “can’t.” For many reasons, my family and volunteering obligations among them, I’d rather spend that time elsewhere. That’s what works for me. It’s a choice I’ve made, mindful of what I may be giving up and mindful of what I gain.

I’ve tried a lot of things to whip up discoverability for my books. (Non sequitor alert: you can always tell a business-y term by its utter inelegance.) I have online sales pages on multiple platforms. I’ve purchased featured placement and limited-time deals. I’ve offered my ebooks for free to the US library system. I’ve recruited generous social media influencers to hype my new release.

I’ve attended free webinars. I’ve purchased online courses. I’ve learned about building email subscriber lists and using Facebook ads and writing PR releases. I’ve joined private FB author promo groups and binders full of women writers. I pay annual fees to professional orgs like Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime and my provincial writers guild. I tweet and post and snap photos and pin images. I ask people to share my stuff. I ask for reviews.

And I continue to submit my work to awards competitions. Yes, awards noms are marketing, win or lose. As an indie author, I also have to consider how to finance all of my own experiments. So, that takes some adulting, too. Just because I’d like to enter my novel in three categories in the IPPY Awards, doesn’t mean that US$55-95 per novel per category (plus shipping) is a good use of my budget. So it’s a balancing act, too: choosing marketing initiatives that have the best chance of yielding something positive.

Here’s what I’ve learned about all of this: it can be been exhausting, emotionally and mentally and physically.

But only if I view each effort as a make-or-break moment in the trajectory of my so-called success—or as another chance to fail.

We can’t all be million-sellers out of the gate. I bet the million-seller I read about isn’t; I suspect he’s been at it for a while. I know that booksellers must needs protect their shelf space with tight schedules and a gimlet eye on sales numbers. As we already know, there are SO. MANY. books getting published online every day, in a panoply of tastes and quality. There are a gazillion factors utterly out of our control when it comes to selling books.

I have no idea what will rocket my novel up “above the fray.” Honest. No idea. But, really, it’s not anything I can control anyway. Other than putting myself and my work out there, that is. We can’t win a race we don’t enter, right?

However, I know how to research, how to be curious. I know what I’m comfortable trying. I know when it’s time to move out of my comfort zone, too; ie., how to be brave. And I only know all that because I’ve been willing to experiment—and to cut myself slack when things absolutely do not work out the way I want. (Ask me about the social media campaign for my release last Fall. Wait; don’t.)

So, I keep entering the race. I show up. I write and publish. I connect with readers and other authors. I organize events. I sign up for events. I contribute to my writing community, whether in-person or online. I do my best to stop second-guessing if I’m doing marketing the so-called “right way.”

Curiosity. Courage. Resilience.

They may not have boosted my discoverability much so far, but I can always count on them to keep me going when “failure” becomes a burden instead of a chance to try something new.

RM:  Thank you, SG! 

I'm sure it helps to have beautiful covers like these, too.... Learn more about SG and her work at http://www.sgwong.com.

1 comment:

RJ Harlick said...

Great to see you on Criminal Minds, SG. And a terrific post. I've learned about a few promotional avenues new to me, that I might try with my next book.