Anatomy of a USA Today Bestseller or How I Made the List

Many people have asked me how I hit the USA Today Bestseller list with The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, so today I am going to share exactly what I did, including more detail and numbers than you could ever want. This is going to be a LONG post.

This method is not the only one by any means, but it is time-tested and many authors have used it with success. Of course, if you want try it, you’ll need to adjust it to your own needs and budget.

A Bit About the USA Today Bestseller List
Each of the bestseller lists is a little different, but USA Today counts sales from Monday to Sunday, so you would want your promotion to mirror this. As the name of the publication implies, only sales in the United States count toward their list. The number of sales you need varies, but the general advice is 5,000-9,000, though I hit the low end of the list with 4,191. The number depends on the time of the year because there are busy and slow periods in publishing just like in any other industry. But the good news is pre-sales count if you are trying to hit the list with a new book. The general rule is that you need at least 500 sales at Barnes & Noble and iBooks in order to make a list, so you can’t try if you are Amazon exclusive. There is debate about whether that 500 is combined or separate or if it is even accurate; some people say the real number is closer to 150 or 200. The point is you need a mix of sales–USA Today won’t count you if you are only on Amazon.

Quick Tips
For those who don’t want to read the whole post, here are some quick recommendations. But I do suggest reading the whole thing because not everything you need to know is covered here.

  • You really need a Bookbub Featured Deal in the U.S. to make this work.
  • Ad stacking is key to gaining and maintaining momentum.
  • Have a budget before you start so you don’t go crazy with your spend.
  • Put thought and strategy behind your advertising, graphics and text.
  • Lower your price at least 3-4 days in advance at all retailers. I did this and still had problems with NookPress and Google Play not lowering correctly.
  • When you put your retailer links into the forms for your ads, save which ones you used. One or two nights before your sale, check all them to make sure they are reflecting the sale price – especially if you use distributors. I had a rouge Barnes & Noble link that was removed from a major newsletter because the price didn’t drop with that link, even though it did with all the others I checked. By the time they told me there was a problem, the newsletter had already gone out and they refused to send the correct link. I will always wonder how many sales I missed out on because of that stupid link.
  • Ask for help! People are so willing to share and do what they can to help you succeed!
  • Tell people you are aiming for a list. That’s not something people get to help others do everyday and I really believe letting people know makes them more likely to share than if you just say your book in on sale.
  • Don’t be shy or get worried you will annoy people. You may, but they will also understand why you are posting so much. And if they don’t, you don’t need to be friends with them anyway.

My Sales By the Numbers
I’m listing these early in the post so you can see what I achieved with the method outlined below.

Total sales: 4,191
Estimated Total Income= $2,136.30
Estimated Expenses = $1,672 (newsletter ads) + $761.40 (social media ads) + $9 (graphics) – $2,442,40
Estimated Total Loss = $306.10

It doesn’t bother me that I lost a little money on this. Profit was not my endgame. My goal was to hit the list and I did. You may feel differently and that is totally fine.

By retailer breakdown:

Amazon = 3,574 ebooks (and five print books, but those don’t count toward the list)
Barnes & Noble = 298

  • Nook Press = 6 (I had issues with them not changing prices, so that is why it is low)
  • Distributed through Smashwords: 283
  • Distributed through Draft 2 Digital = 9 (I don’t use them like I should)

Apple

  • Distributed through Smashwords. (I have yet to go direct with them, but I should) = 224

Kobo

  • Distributed through Smashwords = 91

Smashwords = 5

Smashwords sales

(Google Play was not included because they never lowered my price.)

My Category Rankings
Barnes and Noble

  • #1 in fantasy
    • Held for 2.5 days
    • In top 15 for 4 days
    • Bestseller status for 5 days
  • #11 in ALL Nook ebooks
    • In Top 100 for 3 days

Amazon

  • #1 in three subcategories on Amazon
    • Held for 2.5 days
  • #4 in Fantasy on Amazon
    • Held for 2 days
  • #5 in Sci-fi and Fantasy on Amazon
    • Held for 2 days
  • #40 in ALL Kindle ebooks
    • In Top 100 for 2.5 days

Apple

  • #8 in Sci-fi and Fantasy on iBooks (I only thought to look at this on Sunday, so I’m not sure if it was any higher. It likely was at least on Thursday.)

Smashwords

  • Made their Hot List two weeks in a row.
    • Week 1
      • #1 selling book
      • #1 selling boxed set
      • #1 selling fantasy boxed set
      • #1 in fantasy
      • #1 in fairy tales
    • Week 2 (this is with it back at full price)
      • #4 selling boxed set
      • #1 selling fantasy boxed set
      • 1 in fairy tales

Outsold both George R. R. Martin (2 books) and Nora Roberts at certain points. I know most of their fans likely already have these books so it isn’t like I outsold a new release, but still, these authors are HUGE!

BookBub is Key
You can try the other elements described below without a BookBub Featured Deal in the US, but unless you already have a huge audience, I wouldn’t recommend it. BookBub is expensive, but very powerful. They say most authors average about 3,000-4,000 in sales from one of these deals, but that depends on the category you are in. (I was in fantasy, where they say the average is 2,100. My numbers were just above that at about 2,500.) In my experience, if you want a US deal (which is where the vast majority of subscribers are) DON’T click both US and International, even though they say it increases your chances. Every time I’ve clicked both, I’ve gotten international only. While that is good for increasing sales and establishing greater foreign readership, a US deal is what gives you the chance to make a list. This was the first time I indicated I only wanted a US deal, and the first time I got one.

When you are submitting for a deal, unless you are published by a major house, the general advice is to focus on your ebook only. This is partly because of the costs involved in printing paperbacks, which limit how far indie authors can reduce our prices before we lose money on a sale. It is also because many of the lists count paperback and ebook sales separately, so focusing on both won’t actually increase your chances. Plus, most readers of these newsletters are buying ebooks anyway. (I did find that I saw a slight increase in paperback sales during the campaign even though that book wasn’t on sale, so you may see the same benefit.)

When thinking about your potential deal, there are two big decisions you have to make: which book and what price? As for which book, it is easier to make the list with a boxed set (either of your own books like I did with the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy or with a set from various authors who have established fan bases) than it is with a single book. This is because readers feel like they are getting greater value when they get more than one book at a sale price. (Hey, I can’t blame them.) It is definitely possible to do it with a single book, but you will have to work that much harder at advertising and rely more on your fan base to promote.

Another fairly big decision is which genre to advertise in. Bookbub only has so many choices so you have to decide which best fits your book and its potential readers. If your genre is straightforward like contemporary romance, it will be an easy decision because they have that as a category–and it is a very popular one. However, The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy is historical fantasy and they don’t have a category for that, so I had to choose between historical romance (which it is not), historical fiction, and fantasy. I’ve learned from previous experience that my Guinevere books sell better when I market them as fantasy, so that is the category I went with, even though historical fiction has a bigger BookBub subscriber number. (A lot of this has to do with anticipating reader expectations. I think straight historical fiction readers could be turned off by my Guinevere books because she is a mythological, rather than historical figure and the book has mystical elements to it.)

Marketing expert Amy Collins told me once that the bigger the price drop you can demonstrate for BookBub, the more likely you are to get a featured deal. How far you choose to drop it depends on your goals for your campaign. If you are looking to make money (or at least break even), you may not wish to go all the way down to $0.99 like I did. (My normal price is $9.99.) However, if you don’t care about a profit and are just looking to try to make a list, as I was, drop the price down as much as you are comfortable. I personally wouldn’t advise free because 1) you won’t make any of your money back and 2) many of the lists don’t count books offered for free.

Rumor has it Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days for BookBub deals because you can then ride the “tail” from the ad for the rest of the week. Mine was on a Thursday, and I did just fine. My sales dropped off pretty quickly Saturday and Sunday, so for me, the tail wasn’t as long as some had led me to believe. If you don’t like the day/date that Bookbub gives you, just email them (quickly – I think their rules say it has to be a certain amount of time before your deal) and they will change it. Mine was originally on a Saturday and I asked them to change it because I was traveling and also asked for a different day based on when other major advertisers had open slots.

You Got a Featured Deal, Now What?

Ad Stacking for Newsletter Lists
The first thing you should do when you find out that you got a BookBub Featured Deal (besides celebrate) is start planning the other ads you are going to run in the week of your promotion. These are usually mostly ads targeted at newsletters/mailing lists of readers. Some of the really popular ones (especially Robin Reads and Fussy Librarian) fill up a month in advance, so keep that in mind when confirming your BookBub date. Also keep in mind that some of these sites are VERY expensive. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford them. I went into debt for this and I don’t advise anyone else to do so. Below are ones I used, along with the price, which of course, they can change at any time. Some of them are flat-rate pricing and some let you choose what package you want. Here’s a great database to use to evaluate potential ad companies.

Location Date Cost
BookBub Thurs 7/11 $516
Just Kindle Books Wed 7/10 $53
Fussy Librarian Tuesday 7/9 $20
Book Gorilla unknown free, part of a package with another company
BargainBooksy Wed 7/10 $40
ManyBooks Wed 7/10 $78
Robinreads Mon 7/8 $85
ENT Tues 7/9 $35
Choosey Bookworm Mon 7/8 $36
Kindle Nation Daily week $119
BooksButterfly 6/8-6/12 $190
BookRebel Mon 7/8 $25
Riffle Select Wed 7/10 $75
Early Bird Books Mon 7/8 $300
The Portalist Wed 7/10 $100
Total 1,672

There are a few that I would have liked to have used, but couldn’t and why:

Book Barbarian full
Book Cave not accepted
Free Kindle Books Didn’t have enough reviews
BookDealio date conflict
Booksends not enough reviews
Ebooksida not enough reviews
Writerspace not appropriate for a short period promo; better for new release

The best advice I can give is to cluster ads from these types of companies around your Bookbub ad, preferably BEFORE the day of your Featured Deal. Don’t run other ads on the day of your Bookbub Featured deal; just let it do its job on its own. It is better to get some heavy hitters in before your Bookbub deal so that they jump-start your sales and trip Amazon’s algorithms into paying attention. That way your book is primed for the big BookBub day.

Based on my sales, the promotions that seem to have done the best are the ones I scheduled on Monday (Robinreads, Bookrebel, Early Bird Books), as I had 625 sales that day, as opposed to 227 on Tuesday and 220 on Wednesday. I’m only using Amazon as my example because they have the easiest report by day but my sales at other locations showed a similar pattern.

It is still important to continue to advertise after your Book Bub deal. You can do this through ads from the places above and/or through your own ads. I had scheduled all of my ads with other companies earlier in the week, so I relied upon Facebook/Instagram, Amazon, and Bookbub ads that I created during the last four days of my campaign (Friday-Sunday). My sales reflected that as they trended steadily downward. I will go into more detail on the ads I created myself below.

Theme
When you’re planning your campaign, you need to think like a marketer. This means:

  • Being consistent in your messaging through all of your graphics and other communications.
  • Keeping your color scheme and fonts consistent as well.
  • Having a theme to tie together your copy and images.
  • Using images that are professional (I recommend stock photography from iStock, Adobe Stock or some other paid site) and that are consistent.
  • Using comparison titles to help readers understand what type of book you’re promoting.

You can choose to base your theme around anything–perhaps an upcoming holiday, season, news event, TV show or movie that your books are similar to–as long as it gives your audience something to identify with and as well as a clear, honest picture of what to expect from your book.

I chose to target the “showhole” left behind by the end of Game of Thrones because my Guinevere books have a lot of similar attributes (political conniving and maneuvering, murder for the sake of gain (though not as many deaths as GRRM’s books], a quasi-medieval setting [though mine is more early medieval], and a bit of magic). I also played off the idea that in the show at least the women did not fare well, but they do in my books. This also ties nicely into the resurgence feminism is having at the moment. I also wanted to touch on the idea that fans have waited a long time for The Winds of Winter and still have a long wait, so they can use that time to read my book.

Once I saw how the various messages performed (more on that below) and I had some solid success to back up revising my ads (this was on Friday after the big Bookbub push), I decided to keep the basic graphics and message the same, but change them a little to play on the books’ new bestseller status and create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), since the campaign was coming to an end.

Graphics
Once I had those basic ideas in mind, I decided to create eight graphics that I would both use as the basis for my Facebook/Instagram and Bookbub ads and share on social media. The reason two were similar is I wanted to see which type of background connected better with people, simple or complex.

Out of those, four played heavily on the Game of Thrones theme:

But I knew not all my readers were fans of the show, so I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I also created an ad that appealed more to readers of historical fantasy, one for readers of epic fantasy, one that emphasized the award the book recently won, and one to those who are attracted to the romance in my books.

I use Canva to create my graphics. I’ve tried Bookbrush, but I can’t get it to work correctly for me. (Some people swear by it, so use whatever you are comfortable with). All of my images either come from Canva or Adobe Stock. (It is very important to use legally purchased images. Yes, it costs money, but it’s better than getting yourself sued for something you stole off of Google.) I have a running account with them that costs $29.99/month, so I have hundreds of credits to use anytime I need them. I don’t have any special graphic design training; I think I just picked things up over my 15 years in PR and marketing.

Once the Bookbub deal happened and I had several things to crow about, I edited my graphics. You’ll notice the bestseller seals (which I created myself, based off of things I had seen others do). They aren’t on every image and I don’t always include all three because sometimes that made the design too busy. I let the ad dictate what I did and did not include. Also note the change in language. It is simpler and uses terms like “Buy now!” Don’t Miss Out!” and “Hurry!” to create a sense of urgency and FOMO. These graphics also emphasize the end date more which is both a helpful reminder for people and another way to emphasize this is a limited time offer.

 

Prep Work

There are a few things it would be wise for you to do before your promotion week.

  • Make sure your book page is properly formatted on all sites. You’d be surprised how messed up they can get, especially on Amazon (their editor follows no known HTML logic) and Barnes and Noble (which I never did get fixed, despite multiple attempts).
  • Check Amazon your categories. Amazon is always adding new categories, so if you haven’t checked yours lately, you might want to shift them around. It is easier to hit #1 in a smaller, more niche sub-category. But I actually took my book out of the Arthurian niche sub-category and put it into the bigger historical fantasy category because I wanted to see how it did. My two categories are Fiction > Fantasy > Epic and Fiction > Fantasy > Historical.
  • Check your Amazon keywords. These are how Amazon will throw you into a third category, so make sure your keywords really reflect what you book is about. This is how I got into the Sword and Sorcery subcategory
  • Get any typos fixed that you or readers have identified and be sure to upload the new files in plenty of time before your sale.

I also did a few other things that are totally optional:

  • I asked on Facebook if any of my author friends had a newsletter timed to the sale and was willing to mention it. From that, I got nine people who said they were willing to share anything I posted on Facebook, a suggestion for someone to contact who might help, a newsletter swap with author Nancy Bilyeau and an interview and newsletter mention from marketing expert Amy Collins. This is something I would totally do again. The worst people can do is ignore you or say no.
  • I was heading to the Historical Novel Society Conference just a few weeks before the sale and I knew they would have a swag table so I had 25 small cards printed advertising the sale. I didn’t count how many were left after the conference (a lot) but I needed something to do with them. So I handed them out to people I knew at my day job. I have no way of knowing how many people actually bought the book from the card, but as several of my co-workers said, “Hey, if we can ask you to buy cookies and pizza for our kids, you can certainly ask us to buy a $0.99 book.” I would advise checking on your company’s solicitation policy if you’re going to do this, just to be safe. It was fun, but it’s not something I think I would do again.
  • They say the higher the number of reviews your book has on Amazon, the more likely readers are to buy your book, so you may want to try increasing your number before your promotional week. I emailed my newsletter subscribers asking for review in exchange for free book (not sure if that is totally okay or not, but I did it). It only netted me two reviews out of 2,000+ newsletter subscribers. I won’t take that exact tack again, but if I had more advanced notice I might have done Choosy Bookworm’s Read and Review program, which I’ve used before and had success with.

Newsletters/Blogs
Another important step is to email your newsletter subscribers and if you have a blog, write a blog post letting people know about the sale, your desire to hit the list (don’t be shy about this!) and how they can help you. The messages can be pretty much the same. I would advise making your story as personal as possible. After all, if you’re going to ask people to help make a dream come true, it’s only fair that they understand why this is your dream. 

Because I changed newsletter providers, I don’t have access to the email I sent to my newsletter subscribers, but here’s the post that I did on my blog. It’s a little longer than I would recommend, but the important things are:

  1. Include your buy links up front so people don’t have to look for them
  2. Bold the key messages for those who will skim
  3. Provide more detail toward the bottom for those who want it
  4. Say thank you. After all, you can’t make a list on your own; you are reliant on people buying the books and spreading the word. 

You may also want to send a reminder close to the end of the sale period and/or provide updates along the way. This is especially good if you are doing interviews or writing articles to try to attract attention to the campaign. It gives you (and your fans) more things to share online, too.

Here are mine:

These not only may spur some people to action, but it will also serve to keep the energy up around the campaign. And be sure to do a wrap up post after, especially if you make the list!

Also, if you are part of any group blogs, make sure you post to those as well! They will reach different audiences.

Street Team
If you have a Street Team – a group of dedicated superfans who have promised to help promote your books – even a small one (mine is only 29 people, but I know authors who have around 1,000 in theirs), make sure you let them know about the sale and provide them with resources to help tell people about it. I created a page on my website with ready-made graphics for Facebook and Instagram, as well as tweets that could be copy/pasted: https://nicoleevelina.com/spread-the-word-the-guineveres-tale-trilogy-0-99-sale/. I included this link in all my communications with them via email and in our secret Facebook group. The idea is to make sharing your information as easy as possible for them. (When I updated my graphics, I created another page: https://nicoleevelina.com/new-sale-graphics-guineveres-tale-trilogy/ and let everyone know about the updated information.)

I also invited my team members to share suggestions in the Facebook group for how to keep up interest over the weekend. Then I added some of my own, a few of which were good, a few of which were really dumb. I included everything because you never know what might spark an idea.

If you have a large Street Team, you may want to run a contest with prizes for the person who gets the most shares/likes/etc. or something else to reward the people who put in the most effort. This is something I wish I would have thought to do.

If you don’t have a Street Team, start one now. You can begin by setting up a simple sign up form on your website and then ask your fans on social media, your blog and your newsletter if they’d like to join. Then put a link on your website as well. It will grow over time.

Social Media
I am active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, so that’s where I posted these graphics. I did daily posts (with a different graphic each day) on Instagram and Facebook (both profile and page…yes, I know technically you aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing on your profile). If you are aiming to hit a list, TELL PEOPLE. As one of my writer friends said, “You should never be modest about your accomplishments [or in this case, goals] as an author.” I think most people really want to see you succeed and if they know you have a goal like that in mind, they will be more willing to help than if you just say, “Hey my book is on sale.” Sales happen all the time; it’s not every day you can help someone hit a bestseller list.

Instagram

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day.
  • I used a core group of about a dozen hashtags and then added others that were more specific to the given graphic. For example for the one with the guy on the side that talks about Lancelot, Arthur and Aggrivane, I used the ones below. You’ll see the specialized tags about romance at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The graphic that did the best was the Winds of Winter ad. Instagram has hidden the number of likes for me, but I was mentally keeping track and it got over 1,000. I have never had anything like that happen before and I can’t explain why it was this one that hit. I used the same hashtags. This was even still the case when I updated my ads with the award seals.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well. That was mainly just me being excited but also a little to show others how well the book was doing in the hopes they’d want to jump on the bandwagon and but the book, too.

Facebook

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day on both my profile and my page. (Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to advertise anything on your profile, but with the low percentage of people who see anything you post to your page, I do it anyway.)
  • I pinned my favorite post to the top of my profile on Monday. That way it would be the first thing people saw all week.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well.
  • I asked everyone on FB over and over to please share my posts that had the graphics and buy links. I estimate that atleast 30 people shared over the course of the week.
  • I drove everyone I know crazy with the above, I’m sure.
  • I also posted to about three or four different Facebook groups a day, totaling about 15 groups. There were several others that I never got around to posting in.
    • Here’s my whole list. Some will apply to you, some won’t. But you can find ones in your genre.
    • Be sure to read a group’s rules (usually the post pinned to the top in the main area or over on the right-hand column) to see if they allow promotions. Some do, some don’t, and some only allow it on certain days or in certain ways (i.e. you have to comment on a post the admins start; you can’t start your own.)
    • Don’t do too many right in a row or even in the same day because Facebook might accuse you of spamming and lock you out for a period of time, not something you want during a promotion.
    • It’s a good idea to participate in the groups first so you don’t just look like a spammer.

Twitter

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day. I pinned that tweet to the top of my profile.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well.
  • When I was getting close to number 1 in Canada, I started doing specific tweets aimed at Canadian readers. This was my only Canadian promotion; I hadn’t done any ads (mine were specific to the U.S.). The rest was word of mouth.
    • At the same time I also asked my friend, Canadian author Susanna Kearsley, if she would mind sharing my promotion to to her fans. She did. 🙂
      • I was very careful in who I asked and how. This is not something you want to take advantage of. If you are going to ask other authors to share your promotion, it is best to stick to the ones you know well, and ask politely. Some may say no or not respond and that is okay.

Pinterest

  • It didn’t occur to me to add my promo graphics to one of my boards (I have one called “Book Shelf (My Books)” for this very purpose) until Friday.
  • The reason to do this is to get the graphics onto the boards of your followers for free. I have 18,900 monthly viewers, so that is a lot of people. I wish I would have done it on Monday instead so they would have had longer to see them.
  • Two of the graphics were in my top 10 pins for that week, netting a total of 1,018 impressions for free.
  • I also promoted a pin, which I will talk about below. It is not included in the numbers of the bullet above.

Advertising (non-newsletter lists)

Facebook/Instagram

Total spend: $353.78

  • I ran a total of five ads using Boosted Posts over the course of a week. In total they reached 13,872 people, 5,062 who engaged (liked, shared, etc.) with the post and 24 of whom clicked a link.
  • My most popular post in terms of both reach and engagement was The Winds of Winter ad (which isn’t surprising since FB and Instagram are now linked). I just wish I understood what made that one so popular.
    • Interestingly, I didn’t even post that one until Friday.
  • The two that posted on Monday and that ran the entire campaign had very different results. The one I thought would do better only had 1,430 reach and 646 engagement, but the other one that was female-focused blew it away with 5,206 reach and 846 engagement. Go figure.
  • I had one ad (the bottom one in the image below) that wasn’t doing well at all, so I killed it right away.

Pinterest

Total spend: $16.28

Strategy

  • This ad was a last-minute decision that I made on Friday night on a lark.
  • I decided to promote one of my pins (the romance one with the guy) instead of creating an ad. It is a new option and frankly, way easier. I chose that pin because I felt like it appealed to the widest variety of people and aligned well with Pinterest’s mostly female audience.
  • I only had two days left in the campaign at that point (less once Pinterest approved my pin), so I didn’t throw a lot of money at it – only $20, of which I actually spent $16.28

Results

  • The results were 10,328 impressions, 1,400 close up views, four saves and 132 clicks on the buy link, for a click through rate of 1.28%.
  • Verdict: I would totally do this again, but keep my spend low.

Bookbub

Total spend = $383.37

Strategy

  • I broke my ads up into ones that would run in the early week before the BookBub Featured Deal and ones that would run in the end part of the week.
    • They say the average click-through rate for a BookBub ad is about 0.5%. even though we should all be aiming for at least 3-5%.
    • There are a lot of complexities about how you set up your ads and how that affects your rate. I’m not an expert, so I just tried different things to see what worked.
    • These ads appear at the bottom of the emails, so opening the email counts as an impression but doesn’t guarantee that the ad is seen or clicked on.
  • I targeted my ads both by category (fantasy and historical fiction) and author because just doing category alone made my audience too broad. Authors I targeted included Deborah Harkness, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Brooks, Philippa Gregory, Diana Gabaldon, George R. R. Martin, and Susanna Kearsley.

Results

  • The Bookbub ad that did the best for me.

    I ran a few different ads with a few different goals:

    • In the early part of the week (Mon-Wed) I ran five ads.
      • Three were different graphics, just to see which performed better.
        • Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot: 6,597 impressions, 17 clicks, click through rate of 0.26%
        • Historical Fantasy at its Finest: 6,682 impressions, 26 clicks, click through rate of 0.39%
        • A Woman Rules Camelot: 7,302 impressions, 18 clicks, click through rate of 0.25%
      • I also ran ads that just targeted certain retailers, i.e. Apple or B&N, to try to drive up sales there. That didn’t work at all. My click through rate for those were 0.03% for Apple and 0.08% for B&N, which is abysmally low. I won’t be doing this again.
    • In the later part of the week (Fri-Sun) I ran three ads, two which I designed myself and one of which I used the Bookbub ad generator for.
      • Historical Fantasy at its Finest: 2,259 impressions, 3 clicks, click through rate of 0.13%
      • Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot: 2,046 impressions, 0 clicks, click through rate of 0%
      • Bookbub generated ad: 12,364 impressions, 37 clicks, click through rate of 0%
  • Things I learned:
    • Simple ads with little text and the book cover work the best.
    • You may as well just use Bookbub’s ad generator instead of spending the time to design your own.
    • The more money you throw at an ad, the more impressions you will get (my budget for the BookBub generated ad was twice that of the others) but that doesn’t necessarily mean much higher click-through (that one had only 0.30% vs one of the ones I created with 0.39%)
    • I need to take some classes on how to create ads that work.
  • Will I do Bookbub ads again? I’m honestly not sure. I am reading that some people thinking they have gone the way of Amazon ads: too popular and too expensive to really make a difference anymore. If I do them again, I won’t budget as much money, that is for sure.

Amazon Advertising

Spend: $2.75 (lockscreen) + $5.22 (product ad) = $7.97

Strategy

  • I originally had two ads going, a lockscreen ad (shows on the locked screen of a Kindle) and a sponsored product ad (shows in the product listing on Amazon when people search for certain terms or authors that you define).
  • Amazon doesn’t give you a lot of options for customizing your ad. Your image will be your book cover and you have only 150 characters for your ad copy.
  • My ad copy was: “Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot. Priestess. Queen. Warrior. Guinevere was much more than a sinner. Experience life through her eyes in a 3-book set.”
  • My copy focused on Game of Thrones, but I also told my audience a little about who the book was about (a Guinevere, who is not your average portrayal. She is a priestess, a queen and a warrior who was more active than the traditional sinner) and what they should expect (there is an implication in the roles I mentioned that they will get magic, political mechanations, and action, plus you know that you will be reading her experience as it happens).
  • I chose manual product targeting by category. My categories were 1) /Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Epic Fantasy 2)/Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery Fantasy and 3) /Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Historical Fantasy. I picked these because they are my categories for the book within Amazon as well as the categories I thought my readers would read. Interestingly, these are the three categories I hit #1 in!
  • I also targeted a few products, mostly GRRM books, The Mists of Avalon, and the categories of Arthurian Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, Fantasy Anthologies, Mythology and Folk Tales, and Myths & Legend Fantasy.

Results

  • I stopped the lockscreen ad after only a day and only spending $2.75 (with 0 sales) because Amazon just wasn’t pushing it out. I won’t do lockscreen ads again, as I’ve noticed from personal experience that they are HEAVILY weighted toward Kindle Unlimited books. (Plus a lot of people have them turned off in their settings.)
  • Interestingly, my sponsored product ad wasn’t pushed out much either. I only spent $5.22 for 16,846 impressions, but made $44.15 in sales from it. I had an average click-through rate of 11.82% which is really good.
  • Verdict: I might do a sponsored product ad in the future, but I am finding Amazon Ads to be less and less effective.

Things I Would Do Differently
No matter how good any marketing campaign is, there are always lessons learned and things you would do differently next these are mine:

  • I didn’t find out about merchandising with major retailers (Barnes & Noble, Apple and Draft2Digital) until my campaign was almost over. Apparently if you tell them you have a sale (and mention BookBub if you have on because they understand how important that is) they may help promote your book. I emailed all of them and only heard back from Barnes & Noble. It was too late for this campaign, but now I have the links to their forms for the future. 
  • May not use quite as many newsletter ad services in the future. I don’t know. I’m on the fence about that.
  • Add my graphics to Pinterest on the first day of the campaign rather than when it was almost over.
  • Contact a few people I know (Chuck Wendig, Joanna Penn)  who might have helped promote the book. 
  • Possibly engage a VA like Kate Tilton on the campaign.
  • Look at Apple stats earlier. That just totally slipped my mind.
  • Run a contest with prizes for the person who gets the most shares/likes/etc. or something else to reward the people who put in the most effort.

I’m sure there are other things I could have done differently or better, but that is what is coming to mind. If can think of anything else, please let me know!

Questions?
If you’ve made it this far into the post, congratulations! If you can think of anything I haven’t covered or that you want more detail on, please comment and I will totally share!

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How You Can Help Me Make a Dream Come True

Being a writer is full of “dream come true” moments.

Some happen with each book, like typing “the end,” or holding a hard copy in your hands for the first time, or celebrating your publication day.

Some happen more rarely, if at all, at least for most authors. Hitting a bestseller list is one of those, especially for an indie author since we don’t have the distribution power of traditional publishers.

This week I have the chance to make that happen. You see, I have a Bookbub featured deal in the United States today for my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. The whole thing (all three books in one volume) are only $0.99 in ebook through July 15. If enough people purchase it by then, I could possibly hit the USA Today bestseller list.

I’m a firm believer that God helps those who help themselves, so I am not being shy in asking for your help. I only ask one thing of you in return for a series that took me 19 years to write: please download The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy by June 15. Even if you already have one or more of the books in another format, even if you don’t ever intend to read it, please consider spending $0.99 to support my dream.

If you aren’t tied to Amazon for your ebooks, please consider downloading from Barnes and Noble or iTunes (authors have to have a certain number of sales from there to make the list; Amazon alone doesn’t qualify.)

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Tell Me More
What’s the book about? You can read the full description here, but in short, it is the story of King Arthur and Camelot from Guinevere’s point of view—her life story.

  • Book 1, Daughter of Destiny, covers her early life as a priestess of Avalon and her first love during a time she never dreamed of becoming queen, as well as how she met Morgan and Arthur.
  • Book 2, Camelot’s Queen, tells the story we are all familiar with, Guinevere’s time at King Arthur’s side, but it also provides a twist on why she had her famous affair with Lancelot.
  • Book 3, Mistress of Legend, includes the fall of Camelot and Guinevere’s later life as she seeks to reestablish her identity once she is no longer queen and preserve the legacy of her mother’s people from the invading Saxons.

In case you are wondering what others have said about the trilogy, I’ll quote from a few reader reviews. (You can read the trade reviews on the book page.)

“The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy shows us not a passive woman, but a strong one…This is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure woven with a touch of fantasy.” – K9freind1

“Loved this series! Strong, vibrant characters. The world building is detailed and pulls you right into the story…I’d highly recommend it for a great summer read.” – John

“I didn’t want this story to end!…This book is 100% book of a lifetime to read!” Kristinann

Going Above and Beyond
If you are so inclined, please also share information on the sale on social media. I’ve created a page that has ready-made images (just right-click on them to download) and sample tweets and links to where the book is for sale to make it as easy as possible to share.

What do you get in return? Three books that are my baby. If I could list with this single-volume boxed set, it would be especially meaningful to me because I originally imagined Guinevere’s story as one gigantic volume (ala The Mists of Avalon). While I certainly don’t mind it being broken up into a trilogy, I love that I can offer it the way I envisioned it as well.

If you’ve already helped my dreams come true by buying, THANK YOU. If you have time to leave a review, that is always appreciated and may encourage others to buy. Here’s the link to review on Amazon.

Thank You
Thank you for any help you can give. Know that your support makes you agents of fate in my life. Let me know how/when I can return the favor for you. 

In the meantime, if you need me, I’m going to be fighting the temptation to look at my Amazon rankings every five minutes…I’ll let you know in a few weeks if we were successful in hitting the list!

Amber & Dusk First Line + Giveaway

I can hardly believe it, but we’re only one month out from the release of my debut novel, Amber & Dusk! I’m so incredibly thrilled to be sharing this book with the world and I can’t wait for you all to read it.

(If you’re only here for the giveaway, scroll down to the bottom of the page. I promise I won’t be too mad.)

I’ve talked a lot about my publishing journey both here at Spellbound Scribes and elsewhere. I’ve talked a little about the inspiration for writing Amber & Dusk, and likely will write up a nice long post about all the research and media that inspired the book next month. But today, I want to talk about that one magical sentence on the first page of the first chapter. You got it–The First Line!

I think first lines are magical. I have a running list on my note app with my favorites, and I return to it often for inspiration (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure in the windowpane;” Nabokov). I actually even have some first lines memorized from books I didn’t even read (like Pynchon’s epic “A screaming comes across the sky.”) Yes, yes, you could say I’m a little obsessed. So it will come as no surprise that my obsession extends to my own work.

I spend a lot of time crafting the first lines of all my books, and Amber & Dusk was no exception. But what was unique about this first line is that it stayed exactly the same from the very beginning. The name of the main character changed (twice), a ghost king appeared and then (thankfully) disappeared, countless scenes were cut and reworked and added and revised. But the first line–it stuck! And so, to celebrate the 1 month countdown (technically, 33 days) here is the first line!

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And because I’m feeling extra celebratory, here’s an exclusive opportunity to win a signed hardback copy of Amber & Dusk, with character artwork, a personalized note from me, and an amber pendant reminiscent of the one worn by my main character! To enter, follow the link for ways to enter, such as commenting on this post and following me and the Scribes on social media. Good luck!

Click here to enter via Rafflecopter!

Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

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Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

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Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

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An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.

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And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

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Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

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Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

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Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

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You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

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See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

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This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.

Research for historical romances

This week Scribe Brian O’Conor let us know that he’d have to leave us. I’m bummed because I’ll miss his posts, and wish him the very best in the future! This post first appeared Monday on Dale Cameron Lowry’s blog…though I might have tweaked a word or two, since I’m never ever done editing….

This last couple weeks, I’ve been busy celebrating the release of my 1950s m/m romance Aqua Follies. Since the past is on my mind, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about research for a historical romance.

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There are probably as many ways to do handle research as there are writers out there doing it. My two most recent releases were set in the middle of the 20th century, long enough ago to qualify as ‘historical’, but not so distant from contemporary times. With both these projects, I approached the research as a series of layers, and I did my best to balance information and story.

First, I tried to place my stories as specifically as possible in time, to figure out where they fit in the big picture. For example, Aqua Follies takes place in late July until October of 1955. With those dates in mind, I framed the story with current events. WWII had ended ten years before, but the Korean War ended in July ‘53 so it made sense for the characters’ life experiences to be influenced by those conflicts.

In the mid-50’s Senator McCarthy was in power, and there were several incidents of gay men being rounded up and arrested or sent to asylums. At the same time the Mattachine Society – an early gay rights group – was spreading, and same-sex establishments were in operation in Seattle, their patrons’ safety reliant on a system of police corruption. Those were the kinds of real events that became the framework I crafted the story around.

Once I get the dates plotted out – the top layer – I look for information about what life was like in the time-period. Google is a gold mine for this kind of research. Pretty much the only limit for what you can find is your tolerance for digging. For Aqua Follies, I was able to find everything from essays on cultural attitudes towards homosexuals to the daily weather report, all of which helped me create the world where the story takes place.

It’s the details that will make the world ring true. My final layer of research is seeking out first person accounts that describe aspects of the story. One of the huge benefits of writing a story set in the ‘50s is that I could talk to people who been alive then.

My friend’s father-in-law, Overton Berry, played jazz in Seattle from the early ‘50s, and he was a huge help in filling in the good bits. Overton talked about how professional musicians operated, what the standard repertoire might include, and he also gave me a feel for what society’s attitude toward musicians might be. If I was working on an earlier piece, I’d look for diaries, old catalogues, and magazines to help with the fine detail. I will never truly know what it was like to live in 1950s Seattle, but I learned as much as I could to make readers believe I was there.

And what happens with all this research? Like ol’ Ben Franklin says, “Do everything in moderation, including moderation.”

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A good story will incorporate historically accurate facts without beating the reader over the head with them. This example might be kind of a cliché, but you don’t need a paragraph on how the Colt 45 was manufactured in the middle of a fight scene, and you don’t want a dissertation on a Victorian woman’s undergarments in the middle of sexytimes. Research should inform the story, not become the story.

In my work, I find the process has a real give and take; I write until I hit a detail I need to research, then dig around enough to feel comfortable writing more. In addition, research has helped me solve story problems. For Aqua Follies, I needed something dramatic that would keep my two heroes from coming together. A small story in the Seattle Times digital archives described how one of the real Aqua Follies synchronized swimmers mistimed a dive and nearly drowned. That two-paragraph article became a key event in the novel, and was definitely not something I would have come up with on my own.

Even with the best intentions, though, it’s possible to throw in an anachronistic detail. Despite something like eight beta readers and two content editors, it was the proofreader who recognized that Buddy Holly was still in high school in 1955, so couldn’t have had a song on Skip’s car radio. If there are other little slip-ups and a reader calls me on them, my best bet is to smile, apologize, and add them to my notes so I won’t screw up the sequel.

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I recently read a historical romance that I described as “the Glee version of a Regency”. The author had most of the details down, but there were enough little bumps either in characters’ attitudes or the language they used that I didn’t quite believe that version of the time period. The book sold very well, so clearly not every reader is going to throw their Kindle at the wall if a subordinate forgets to address a duke as Your Grace. Good storytelling is worth the effort, though, and I love the process of excavating the layers of history and finding a balanced way of bringing them to life.

If you’d like more information on writing historical romance, check out these articles by Elizabeth Crook, Chuck Sambuchino for Writer’s Digest, Anne M. Marble for Writing World, and KJ Charles. Thanks very much!

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The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because sometimes good things can come of it. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

 

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10 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year as a Published Indie Author

Image purchased from Adobe Stock
Image purchased from Adobe Stock

When I originally picked this date for my post, I thought I would be writing something about making history with our first female president and a tie-in to my book Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to ever run for president in the US in 1872. 

Yeah, not so much.

The last thing we all need right now is another political diatribe (believe me, I’ve written many in my head in the last 24 hours). So, as they say on Monty Python “and now for something completely different…”

My one-year anniversary of being a published author is coming up on January 1. As with all other things, you learn as you go. Here are 10 things I’ve learned from experience this year.

  1. Set a realistic publication schedule. Don’t try to publish four books in seven months like I did. I am living proof that is possible, but you will wear yourself to your breaking point. I set that schedule because I didn’t know what I didn’t know – namely, that even if you indie publish like I did, all the rounds of editing and cover design and layout take a lot longer than you think they will – especially when you’re juggling them with a full-time job. My suggestion is one book every six months at the most. That way you’ll have time to take things slowly and carefully, as you should. That being said, releasing several books in a short time frame is great for marketing and sales because it gives people more things to read once they find one book they like.
  2. Have some kind of a marketing and production budget. I did not because I didn’t save before I decided to publish. I also had no idea how much things cost. You can do some/all of these things yourself, but I know my skills and what I have time for. There are also ways to save money on some of these (don’t sacrifice the editing or cover!), so your mileage may vary. Here’s a run down of approximate cost ranges:
    1. Editing = Can run you $1,000-$3,000+ depending on who you hire and how many rounds you do
    2. Cover design = $250-$500
    3. Layout = $1,000
    4. Audio books = varies by length of book and cost of talent but mine were $2,000-$3,00o each
    5. Printing/distribution = There will be a setup fee in IngramSpark (Createspace is free, but bookstores won’t order from them) and you have to pay for your own copies that you hand sell. You’re looking at around $50 for setup and $4-$6 per book you order depending on length.
    6. Marketing = This is totally up to you. I went overboard, but I’m glad I’ve tried just about everything. That just means it will take a while to earn that money back and pay off my credit cards. 🙂
  3. Audio books are worth the cost. Yes, they are expensive and time consuming, but they are also great passive income once they are done. I’ve sold more audio books than print and ebook combined. They are also a ton of fun to be involved in, and many sources say audio is the next big thing in books. As soon as I can afford to get Madame Presidentess made into audio, I’m going to, and it will be part of my publishing budget for every book I write.
  4. Your book will find it’s audience. No matter what you write, there are people out there who want to read it. You can help them find you by blogging even before you publish and by attending events related to what you write. And of course, through targeted marketing. Most writers are niche writers, so don’t be disappointed if you start out small. Indie publishing is not about the overnight success; it’s about the long tail career. You never know what may happen that will expose you to a wider audience over time.
  5. Marketing is hard. I say this as someone with 15 years of professional marketing experience and a master’s degree in public relations. Marketing a book is unlike any other kind of sales/PR/marketing you will ever do. And it is harder than ever to break through the noise, regardless of whether you are traditionally or indie published. But you have to try. I learned a lot through what didn’t work.
  6. Don’t drive yourself crazy over sales. There is more to life than your sales numbers. Yes, we all want to make the big bucks, but if you focus solely on that, especially as an indie, you will drive yourself mad. Some authors take the perspective of “if it doesn’t translate directly into sales, it isn’t worth doing.” I respect that mindset, but it isn’t mine. I started out writing because I have to, not for the money. So I look at how creatively fulfilled I am and how things are working from an exposure/branding/PR perspective in addition to sales.
  7. The writing community is incredibly supportive. I knew that already, but man will indies join together. This year I have experienced so much love from the community and little to no competitive ire. I even got the best support from a man who wrote about the same subject I did. I think a lot of the reason for this mindset is because we know what it’s like to go it on our own and we don’t have to worry about being dropped by a publisher/agent.
  8. You get better at everything as you go along. Whether it’s writing or marketing, you hone your skills with practice. Just keep going.
  9. Keep writing. The best type of marketing is another book. It gets your name back out there and draws attention to what you’ve already written. This is why it’s so important not to get caught up in too much marketing. We have to remember that our #1 job is to be writers.
  10. Take breaks when you need them. Says the girl who hasn’t taken one in four years. But this is how I know how important they are. If you don’t refill your creative well, you won’t have anything left to give. I’m taking at least the rest of this year off to do just that.

I feel like given other subjects I could have covered today, this is a pretty generic post. But it’s honest. And this is all I have in me at the moment.

How Amazon’s New Review Policies Hurt Authors and Book Bloggers

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I’m popping in for an unscheduled post because I have something I have to get off my chest. Ahem.

In my 10 months as an indie author, I’ve learned many lessons, the biggest of which is probably that the industry changes really fast. But I have a big problem with one of the latest changes, which affects not only indie authors, but ALL authors.

Amazon has decided that reviews that are part of a paid blog tour can’t be placed on their site. Now, I understand that they consider this part of their “you can’t pay for book reviews” rule which is a valid rule. But I don’t think they understand how blog tours work. Here’s the deal. On a blog tour, you are paying for space on the blogger’s site – whether that is purely promotional with cover, blurb and buy links, or a review, if the blogger chooses to leave one – and for them to receive a copy the book, not for the review, which is optional. I’ve been with a few companies that say if the blogger doesn’t like the book, they shouldn’t post anything, a rule I like because I’d rather see nothing than see them publicly skewer my work. (Granted, in that case I get no publicity either, but the person did read the book, so I didn’t pay for nothing.)

Not allowing these reviews to be posted (or later removing them, which is worse) puts authors in a bind and lessens the value of blog tours. Reviews are SOOOOOO hard to come by, especially for indie authors who don’t have the same level of exposure as some traditionally published authors. I don’t understand why, but a lot of people are hesitant to leave reviews. Of course, I know some people won’t like the book and some just forget, but others worry that they have to write something worthy of the New York Times. I keep telling everyone that even if they just give it a star rating and say “I liked this book,” that is enough. But yet I have people who I know loved a book because they told me by email or on social media but they have never left a review.

And that’s not even counting Amazon’s policy that reviews left by anyone they deem may know you can be removed. That’s a whole other level of trouble for authors. I know they are aiming to remove bias, but when you are just starting out, friends and family are a large chunk of your audience. Plus, nowadays a lot of our readers connect with us online, which is a totally different nature than an in-person actual friendship and shouldn’t fall under this rule.

At the same time, we live and die by reviews. Amazon uses the number of reviews we have to trigger their marketing and promotions efforts, including the “customers also bought” and “you might like lists.” These may not sound like much, but they are crucial for exposure. Perhaps the biggest way Amazon reviews affect us is that in order to even be considered for the Holy Grail of promotions – the BookBub feature – your book must have at least 50 4- or -5-star reviews on Amazon. (I’ve tried getting a feature on a book that doesn’t meet that requirement; don’t bother because they will reject you right away.) Not to mention that when people are trying to decide whether or not to purchase a book, they look at the reviews. Correctly or not, the more reviews a book has (assuming they are positive), the more attractive a book is.

But getting back to my original point, blog tours used to help us reach those goals. On average, a blog tour will net you between 10-20 reviews, depending on how long your tour is and how many people liked the book. Now, those reviews don’t help toward our marketing goals. Yes, you still get the eyes of the blog subscribers and maybe Goodreads users (if they post there) on the review, but that’s not nearly as many people as would see it on Amazon. And you can excerpt the reviews in the Editorial Reviews section, but those don’t add to your ratings score and most people ignore them. Reviews used to be a value ad for doing a tour. Now that that is gone, I don’t know if tours are worth the money. Where does that leave us and where does that leave book bloggers? Only time will tell.

Amazon pretty much built the self-publishing industry with the Kindle. Now they are restricting the possibility of success for the very people they need in order for their sales to continue to be strong. That makes no sense to me. Before you say, “if you’re not happy, don’t use them,” I will note that I have my books on many platforms and 95% of my sales (not including hand-selling) come from Amazon, so I’m dependent on them. Right now, I’m just grateful they exempted authors from their rule that you can’t give away free goods in exchange for a review; if they hadn’t we’d be totally screwed and ARCs would be a thing of the past.

As a customer, I love Amazon. As an author, I find their business services easy to use and I love the exposure I get to their audience, but their review rules are bewildering. Why outlaw something that will help them make money? Aren’t sales what they are after? Now they are basically asking us to find a bunch of total strangers and magically convince them to buy a book from an author they’ve likely never heard of and leave a review. Easy-peasy, right? Maybe if you already have a following, but if you don’t?

I fear that these rules, especially if they continue to get tighter – which I imagine they will – may well discourage people from self-publishing or make authors think twice before continuing to do so and hurt the industry Amazon helped build. Will it kill the industry? Probably not, but by restricting reviews to this extent, Amazon is certainly shooting itself in the foot and dissatisfying one of their biggest customer groups.

What do you think? How do we thrive despite increasing restrictions? If you’re an author, will the changes affect the way you market your books? How? Am I thinking about this wrong? If so, how do you see the changes? I hate to be wrong, but it’s always possible.