Smashwords now Allows “Assetless” Pre-Orders

Image from blog.Smashwords.comIf you’ve used Smashwords pre-order function, you know that in order to set the book up you have to upload a version of the book. Mark Coker has strongly suggested uploading your final version, meaning that you’ve got your book completely edited and ready to go BEFORE you set your pre-order up. Organized authors might find this easy, but if you’re like me, you may find yourself finishing your final version at the very last minute. To  give authors wiggle room, Smashwords said you could upload a draft version, so long as your final version was uploaded at least ten days before your release date (that made sure that the final version arrived at all retailers in time). But it still meant formatting your book multiple times. For my last release I uploaded no less than five versions, including the final, meaning I formatted that sucker five times (I could have done it only twice, but being paranoid I kept uploading the “newest version” because of Smashwords’ preview function and the worry that the final might somehow get delayed and customers *might* end up with the unedited first version).

On the Smashwords blog, Mark Coker sites the need for a “final copy” as the reason only 10% of Smashwords books have taken advantage of pre-order:

This requirement created a dilemma for our authors.  If the book’s ready for release today, why should an author hold back the release for three or six months to gain the full advantage of a preorder?  You can’t blame these authors for deciding to release their book immediately, the day it’s ready for readers.

And he’s right. I’d have loved to take advantage of the three to six month pre-order period that industry leaders suggest, but because of that finished manuscript requirement I could only do one month, with the above multiple uploads.

No longer.

Today Mark has announced the “assetless” pre-order – authors don’t even need a cover to set up their book, only a title, description, category (such as romance, paranormal, sci-fi, etc.) and a release date up to twelve months in the future. That’s right. I’ve already given a release date of April 1, 2016 for my next book, and, as soon as I decide on a title for sure, I can set it up and start collecting pre-orders now. I’m free to make changes on it during that twelve month time and, if I have my next book titled (which I think I do) I can set it up and allow readers to pre-order book 9 the day they finish reading book 8! What a great way to take advantage of a reader’s urgency capture sales from people who have JUST finished your book and want to know what happens next RIGHT NOW instead of waiting six months to a year, and having to remind them why they wanted to order the next book in the first place.

Brilliant.

Amazon currently allows you to do pre-orders too, through their KDP (NOT KDP select, just the Kindle program in general), but they have a 90 day limit and they require a copy of the book. They do allow draft versions, but it still has to be formatted correctly and they want the actual book content (not a substitute place holder) so that they can “approve it”. Hopefully they will follow Smashwords lead again (Smashwords allowed indy authors to do pre-orders before Amazon did) and allow the assetless pre-orders soon.

You can check out Mark Coker’s announcement blog for details.

Have you ever done a pre-order book release? How did it work for you? Now that Smashwords allows assetless set up, does it make you more likely to set up a pre-order?

Categories: Uncategorized

Why Bob Should Have Worn Sunscreen OR What is Targeted Advertising?

I recently discussed the need to advertise your book using targeted advertising – but what IS targeted advertising, and how do you do it?

image from openclipart.org

image from openclipart.org

Meet Bob, the knife salesman. Bob is a go-getter, and he wants to sell as many knives as he can. He makes sure the knife store has plenty of his knives in stock – Only hundreds of knife salesmen also have knives there. There are so many kinds of knives there that people don’t see his – unless they’re looking for them.

Bob needs to advertise.

First he goes to his family and close friends. Many of them buy knives, not necessarily because they need them, or even want them, but because they like Bob. Bob’s a great guy.

Flushed with success, Bob decides it’s time to go out into the wide world. He picks a park where lots of people go and sets up at picnic table. A few stragglers wander over, and he makes a sale or two, but for the most part people ignore him. They’re at the park for a picnic, not to buy knives. Unhappy with the number of people who purchased, and getting hot from all the sun exposure, Bob climbs up on the table and announces the knives again – and again, and again, and again. He then wanders around and butts into people’s conversations, shoving knives under their nose. The results are no better (though luckily no one calls the cops).

Disheartened, Bob hears about a place where he is guaranteed to sell. Other knife salesmen have had success there in the past. Hopeful, he hurries over to the emporium. He gets set up, he puts up his sign, and he starts his demonstration – only to discover that almost everyone else in the emporium is also a knife salesman. Sure, a few buy (he is selling different knives than they are), but it’s not the success he was promised because most of the fellow salesmen are there to do the same thing he is: sell, not buy.

Desperate, Bob dumps his inventory in the knife store (more on that later) and starts writing articles for newspapers and magazines. he writes about how to sell knives. He writes about how to sharpen knives. He even writes about the different kinds of knives, but the people who read the articles don’t buy – most of them are also knife salesmen. SO he thinks he’ll be clever and spend his time hanging out where the other salesmen hang out – he’ll leave engaging comments on their articles, but the only attention that really earns him is from – you guessed it – even more fellow knife salesmen.

So how can Bob sell knives? How can he get discovered?

Aggravated, he moves his knives to a smaller store with more discover-ability. Maybe he even makes his own store – only now he has a new problem. No one has heard of this new, small store. So what does he do? He goes back to the park, shouting and waving signs to tell people that this little store exists – the problem is, the people in the park STILL aren’t looking for knives.

Just as Bob has a hard time finding his customers, so do authors. We have the same discover-ability problem he had at the knife store. There are thousands upon thousands of books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and all the others. Unless you’re a best seller, or someone is looking for your book, there’s a good chance a customer will never see it, let alone buy it.

To combat that, we hit up our friends and family, then we go to Facebook and post, post, post. Only most of the people on facebook don’t want to buy a book from us – they want to see cat memes and read about how our kids/parents/pet fish are doing. They probably don’t mind us mentioning the books sometimes (they are a part of our lives) but they’re not interested in advertisement after advertisement. The same goes for the other social networks. We rely on shares and word of mouth from our “army of friends” but, unless you’re luckier than I am, those 700+ facebook friends *might* yield one or two shares of any promotional material, and generally they stop there – far from the viral-ity we’ve been promised.

So we run to Twitter. As authors, we’re told that Twitter is the be-all-end-all for book sales. I don’t know about you, but I recently organized my followers in “lists”. Of the 1,600+ followers, almost 900 are fellow authors – and those are just the ones I know personally or who say “author” in their description. 140 of the remainder are author promotion sites (many no longer any good), 130 are friends from facebook, and 60 are artists or photographers (following me for photos). Then we take away bands, news sites, inspirational quotes and the 25 brands/celebrities who follow me back, and that leaves me with a potential 265 people, most of which are Russian (I don’t know what they’re tweeting – they could be spam for all I know), and 50 of which are book reviewers who are probably there to advertise their reviews and services.

So how many readers am I reaching? Am I mostly just advertising to fellow authors, like Bob did at the emporium?

And what about blogging? Sure, we might make a sale here, or a sale there, but if we’re blogging about writing topics, who are we going to attract? Most readers don’t care about “show don;t tell” or “25 secrets to success” – it’s fellow authors who want to read those articles. Yeah, one of those authors might read our book, but is it worth the time for that one sale? *

This is why our advertising needs to be “targeted”. Posting “ads” in unexpected places may make a few sales (I once sold a book because of an image on Flickr!) but it’s not an effective strategy. When gauging the success of a “campaign”, we need to look at not only results, but how much time or money went into getting those results. Did we sit at the park all day – composing tweets, posts, sales images, and replying to hundreds of blogs – like Bob, and make 5$? Or did we spend twenty minutes filling out a form and make 20$? $1 a minute is certainly better than a 1$ an hour, and it can be done by targeting your ads to people who actually want to buy.

How do we target our advertising?  Rami Ungar has posted his results with targeted facebook advertising, and, as many authors mentioned in the comments of my last post, email lists can be a great thing (In the next day or two I’ll post my results from several different sites.). There are website listings, and forums and facebook groups just for advertising books to people who are *looking for books*. In fact there are hundreds of places promising targeted advertising. But  how do you choose which to use?

This is where fellow authors come in. Before you spend money advertising, or lots of time, take five minutes and either ask your author friends (you should have some kind of group you belong to, whether on FB or google groups – like the Ink Slingers) or just do a quick google search. Usually you can turn up a forum post from someone else asking the same question, and you can then quickly scroll through the answers they got.

If Bob had done that, maybe he wouldn’t have had to sit at the park all day getting sunburned.

Man-and-Sign

How do you target your advertising?

EDIT: *I’m not saying that author blogs are a waste of time – I enjoy writing posts to help fellow authors – but I do it for the enjoyment, not for sales. The same for an author blog where I post stuff pertaining to my books. It’s more fun than profit, and I do it that way accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with doing something that could be construed as advertising that doesn’t REALLY make sales if it makes you happy instead. But if you’re just doing it for sales that aren’t appearing – and you’re not enjoying it – then you’re wasting your time.

Categories: Uncategorized

My Experiments with Facebook Ads

For the past couple of months, I’ve been using the Ads feature on Facebook in a variety of ways, seeing if using it can help me grow my audience on my blog or Facebook page, or even to increase my book sales. I’m sure many of you have already utilized and come to your own conclusions about these features, but for those who haven’t, I’m presenting my findings in case you decide to try Facebook ads and want some advice or testimony before starting.

And if you don’t know much or at all about this feature, let me tell you about it. The Ads feature of Facebook is a way for people with businesses or Facebook pages to build followings and even sell their products. Setting up an ad campaign is very easy: you write the ad and then once you’ve finished, you can set a target audience based on criteria such as age range, country, and interests or hobbies. You then set for how long you want the ad campaign to run (five days, a week, two weeks, etc), and how much you want to pay. I generally recommend between ten and twenty dollars a day. As how many people you reach depends on your daily budget, this price range guarantees you’ll reach a bunch of people.

Once you’ve finished setting everything, you click “Done” and send the ad off to be approved. Usually this takes no more than a half-hour or an hour. Once your ad is approved, you let Facebook do the rest. It bases its algorithms on who it shows your ad to based on the parameters you sent, and then people start noticing it. Some, though not many, even click on it.

I ran three different ad campaigns through Facebook. Here were the results:

  1. Blog Campaign: In this campaign I gave a link to my blog. I wasn’t trying to sell anything, just get people reading. Of the nearly seventeen-thousand reached, only about one hundred clicked on the link, which led to a slight increase of readership on my blog. Didn’t get any new comments or likes or followers, but it was still a noticeable increase, small as it was. Spent a little over $41 over five days.
  2. Reborn City Campaign: This time around, I was trying to see how effective an ad campaign was at selling books, so I picked my most popular one, my sci-fi novel Reborn City, and aimed it at fans of science fiction, particularly dystopia fans. Reached a little over twelve-thousand people, but only about 140 followed the link to RC‘s Amazon page. Of these 140, no one seemed willing to pay the full price for a print or e-book copy of RC, sadly. Spent about $70 over the course of a week.
  3. The Big Birthday Sale: With this campaign, I had a bit more success than the previous two campaigns, which I did in honor of my 22nd birthday. For five days, all my paperbacks were marked down, and all e-books free-of-charge, and each day I ran a new ad campaign, each one lasting a day, advertising the sale. I also expanded the criteria to include more people, leading to buyers from seven different countries. All told, I reached a staggering sixty-thousand people and managed to sell or download nearly twelve-hundred books. Although I didn’t make as much money (especially with the e-books) it was enough to know that people were downloading and reading my books. In addition, I received a huge boost in the number of likes on my Facebook page, going from 140 likes to nearly 400, most of them from India! All told, I’m pretty satisfied with how this campaign went, spending $65 total.

From these experiences, I’ve gained some insight into what makes a Facebook ad work. Firstly, it helps to be very specific with what you’re pushing. You can’t just go “Check this out! It’s new! It’s awesome! You should want it!” You have to say more than that. For example, if you want to push your latest novel, you can say “Chester Bennett was just an ordinary teenager with ordinary problems. That is, until he met Kaylie, a girl who was born into the wrong body and is on the run from the mobster parents she stole from. The adventure they go on together leads both teens to learning many uncomfortable secrets about themselves and each other, and teaches Chester what it truly means to love in Running in Cincinnati” (and that’s just something I made up on the spot. If you want to turn it into a novel, be my guest).

It also helps if you’re emphasizing why now’s a good time to buy. This is especially helpful during a sale. If you emphasize that your books are discounted or even free and that it’s better to get the books now because of these reasons, people will take notice. Of course, there’s the downside that you might not get as much back in sales as you did in spending money on the campaign, but if there are more people reading your books because they got them at a discount price and if a good number of them enjoy the books, at least some of them will review the books, tell their friends about them, and maybe buy future copies of your work.

And of course, you need to know whom you’re selling to. The reason why my last campaign was so successful was because I made sure as many people around the world as possible with the interests and hobbies I was targeting did see the ad. The result was a huge amount of people getting my books and even liking my Facebook page. So when selling, take advantage of the parameters you’re setting for the campaign. Even look in places you wouldn’t think of looking in (like I did when I decided to target Germany, India and Japan rather than just English-speaking nations). You never know who might want to check out your new book.

Oh, and use the Ads Manager page, which you can reach by finding it on the left side of your page. If you need to make any adjustments to your campaigns (and you will), the Ads Manager will allow you to do that, so don’t ignore it!

While it may seem like putting a lot of money into something that might not yield results, Facebook ads can be a lucrative means to reach readers if you allow them. You can start slow, doing one-day campaigns and seeing what the results are, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t. With any luck, it could lead to a few more devoted readers wanting to know what happens next in your latest series or to look and see what else you have available. Nothing wrong with that, right?

What’s your experience with Facebook ads, if you have any? What tips do you have for other readers?

Also, I’m happy to announce that, like I promised in my last article, I’ve set up a page called Conferences, Bookstores, & Other Resources with links to place like the Gulf Coast Bookstore that can be of service to you in promoting your works. Included on this page are stores, conferences, and websites that have the potential to be helpful for every indie author. You can check the page out by either clicking on its name here or you can find it at the top menu under “On Marketing & Promoting”. I will be steadily adding other entries to the lists there as I find them, so if you have any you’d like to recommend, leave a name, a description and links in a comment and I will put it up as soon as possible. Hope you all find it helpful!

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Social Networking, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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