Thursday, March 23, 2017

Five Things Preparing for my Debut Taught Me

My debut novel, AMERICA'S NEXT REALITY STAR, was published a couple of weeks ago. There's so much excitement that goes into the days before the release, but there's also a lot of work involved. 

The past year has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. After all the time I spent looking for an agent, and all the time I waited (sooooooooo patiently, let me tell you) to get an offer after signing with my agent, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really spent any time thinking about once happens once the deal is done.

Part of it was superstition: I didn’t want to act like I assumed I’d get a deal, because I didn’t want the universe to take that opportunity to laugh in my face. But part of it was simply things I hadn’t even thought about needing to know yet. It wasn’t until I started trying to figure out how to get people to buy my books that I realized. Even after I signed the contract, I was busy for a long time focusing on editing and copyedits and social media and not spending enough time looking at the bigger picture.

Here are five things I learned once I started doing the research.

1.     I know nothing about marketing. Worse, I found the sheer amount of information out there to be completely overwhelming. Worse than that, when you’re trying to learn about marketing six months or even two months before a release, it’s difficult to measure whether you’re having any success at all. Is that one pre-order because of that guest blog I did? Or did my great aunt hear about the book from Grandma and head on over to preorder that day?
2.     Learning to market is work. This is important. There were days where I spent all my writing time reading about ways to get sales, researching and creating swag, or drafting articles and guest blogs to pitch. After several days in a row of this, I felt like I should be writing, like I’d accomplished nothing since I hadn’t added to my total word count. But learning how to sell books is just as important as writing and editing them, so it’s important to devote time to the process. And not to make myself feel like I’m not doing anything important.
3.     Twitter followers ≠ sales. Going into my debut year, I had about 4,000 followers on Twitter. I felt great about that. After all, my Twitter followers were primarily other writers and readers, right? People who’d want to read my book? Wrong. I’d say about one percent of my preorders came from Twitter followers as opposed to friends I met through Twitter, real-life friends, and family members. Building that audience is great, but don’t think everyone who favorites your tweets is going to rush out and buy your books. It doesn’t really work that way.
4.     Watching Amazon rankings will make you crazy. No, seriously. My New Year’s Resolution was to dial back to checking no more than once per day. It’s super exciting when that number creeps closer to #1. But here’s the thing: when your book goes up for preorder months before the release date, it’s not going to hit #1. It’s not even likely to go into the Top 100, not for a debut author. So you wind up refreshing and fixating on the number, with zero idea of how it correlates to actual sales.
5.     I’m not good at anticipating what people want. I did a giveaway where people could buy my book for extra entries. The giveaway got hundreds of entries – exactly six people utilized that option. I did not require proof of purchase, and my Amazon numbers did not reflect six sales. One is someone I know bought the day before, and that was allowed. The others? No way to say. I also said I’d give feedback on non-winning entries for people who pre-ordered the book. Of the six sales, one person took me up on that offer. A few months later, I did another offer: free query critiques to the first 5 people who pre-ordered the books. In my ridiculous pride, I expected to be inundated with responses within a few minutes. Several friends shared the offer, but no one replied. Mathematically, this is a great deal. At the time, I was charging $10 for a query critique (now it's $15). So, for less than half the cost of a critique, a person could get one, and all they had to do was preorder my book. They didn’t have to read or review it. Heck, I couldn’t even stop them from canceling the preorder as soon as the critique was received. But no one bit, despite the fact that my query critiques usually do well when I donate to auctions and other contests.

Marketing a book can easily be a full time job of its own. As publishers take on more and more writers, much of the burden of convincing people to buy our books falls to us as writers. There are millions of books on Amazon – what makes someone choose ours over someone else’s? With so much at stake, it’s important to attack the task like any other job that needs to be done: do the research, make a plan, and stick with it. Part of me always hoped I’d be able to rely on my good looks and charm to sell books once they were out of the world. And, sure, I suppose those things would help if I were standing on street corners hawking my wares. But selling books online in the twenty-first century requires just as much dedication and creativity as writing the book in the first place.

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