Category Archives: Promotion

My Three-Year Journey to the 10K Cake Club

spice-cake-su-1673099-lIf you’ve never heard of the 10K Cake Club, it’s the name given to that elusive group of authors who reach the milestone of selling 10,000 copies of their book(s). Now, given that statistically, most authors will never sell more than a hundred copies (no kidding), reaching this milestone is an amazing feat. But we all know how numbers and milestones are relative, and our own expectations can often derail even the most wonderful achievements.

PJ Sharon here, celebrating with you, my dear friends, my three years as an independently published author. I released my debut novel, HEAVEN is for HEROES in September of 2011. (In celebration, I’m giving away an audiobook copy of HIFH over on my website blog. Stop by and leave a comment to enter and feel free to share the post with friends on FB or Twitter. Contest ends September 30th at midnight. )HIFH_audiobookcover (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)

Now, I recall being asked, while on a panel of Indie authors, what my sales goals were as a newly self-published author. At the time, self-publishing was on the rise, Indies were on fire, and sales were through the roof for newcomers. Being the ambitious and overachieving sort, I replied with confidence that I wanted to sell 10,000 copies a year, netting me about a $20,000 dollar a year paycheck from my writing–what I saw as realistic and an amount that would make all the hard work worth the effort.

This was a reasonable goal, but one that I soon found was more or less beyond my control to achieve. I did not foresee the effects of market saturation, the need for endless promotion, or the ever-changing Amazon algorithms that would make it nearly impossible to gain traction on the discoverability front. Basically, I could not have predicted the “luck” factor.

When, in the first year, I sold over 5,000 books (I had three titles out by then), I was not unhappy with my results. After all, goals are merely guidelines…a star to shoot for. But in the second year, when I had the brilliant idea to switch from Contemporary YA to writing a Dystopian trilogy, and sales dipped to half of what they did the first year, let’s just say I was less than thrilled with the results of my ongoing efforts. I shuddered to consider my hourly wage as a writer and decided it was best to stop looking at daily sales reports, screaming into the wind about my books, and beating my head against a wall trying to figure out what the heck the secret to success actually was.

My third year hasn’t been any more profitable than the previous two, despite the fact that I–at the suggestion of Indie superstar Bella Andre no less– went back and wrote another Contemporary YA. In fact, I’ve spent more on covers, editing and formatting on PIECES of LOVE than I have on any of my others simply because I’m trying to compete in the market and feel that others do a better job of these things than I can do myself. Added in is the cost of producing a theme song for POL (thinking that this might be a novel idea and help with sales, but has as yet, not appeared to make any difference at all). With production costs up and sales down (thanks to Kindle Unlimited and the insane amount of new product coming into the market), I’ll be lucky to recoup my costs over the next year.

I’m hopeful that once I finish the Dystopian trilogy, add a boxed set or two to my cybershelf, and get back on the promotional wagon in 2015, that I might see some real return on my investment.

Lest you think that any of this is sour grapes on my part, think again.

I went into this with eyes open that it would be a LOT of hard work, gave myself five years to turn a consistent profit (this is typical for any new business), and expected that there would be a steep–and ever-changing–learning curve. I’ve had to adjust my expectations for financial success, but am hopeful that with perseverance, the pay-off will be worth the continued effort. This is, after all, my retirement plan, and being that I have another fifteen years until retirement, I’ve got plenty of time to make it happen, right?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that success is measured in many ways. Positive reviews and happy readers who are excitedly awaiting my next release are priceless in the grand scheme of things. Knowing that over two and a half million readers have enjoyed SAVAGE CINDERELLA on Wattpad thrills me beyond words. And the awards and accolades for my books tell me that I’m doing something right. Reader reviews continue to average 4.5 stars across the board.

Another important lesson for me–one that continues to be challenged daily–is about finding balance. I worked around the clock that first year and a half, typically putting in 80 hours a week between my two jobs. I finally decided this past year to set myself a schedule. Knowing that I need to work my day job at least 20-30 hours a week to earn a  guaranteed paycheck to cover expenses, I set a limit on my writing/publishing time to 25-30 hours a week. Perhaps that’s partially to blame for the decrease in sales numbers, but I will say, I’m much happier and healthier these days. Time with family and time to take care of myself are far more important to me than sales figures and financial gain. If I’m in this for the long haul, that’s the way it has to be. I’m good with that.

It’s taken me three times longer than expected–and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others who have done it seemingly effortlessly–but I’ve finally made it into the 10K Cake Club. very-excited-girl (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC)

Cake and ice cream all around! And perhaps a bottle or two of wine…

What milestone can you celebrate today? I hate to eat cake alone.

i-Movie & Book Trailers

As I’m counting down to the launch of my next book, PIECES of LOVE, due out in a few weeks, I figured I would do something a little different this time. I finished and posted my book trailer before the book’s release. You would think this would be a no brainer, but I’ve published five novels and haven’t managed to do this until now. With good reason, I assure you. I can’t tell you how long it takes me and my husband to produce a decent trailer. Don’t get me wrong. He is an amazing source of technical support, but he’s a super busy guy and can’t always work to my time schedule. I also get frustrated in trying to share my creative vision with him in a way that translates to exactly what I want. Yes…I’m afraid I’m a bit picky. So this time, I took it upon myself to learn how to use i-Movie, and created my own book trailer.

I thought I would share the process with you today.
First off, I recommend finding the right music. There are several stock music sites that offer “free” music, but it can take hours of listening to samples to find just the right piece, and the selection of free titles is limited. It’s likely you’ll pay a nominal fee for what you want. Be sure to read the fine print because you may also only have the music rights for a specifically contracted period of time. The most important thing is to find music that is released under a Creative Commons license, and to give the artist credit when due. Here are a few sites where you can find music suitable for book trailers.

http://www.incompetech.com

http://www.audionautix.com

http://www.danosongs.com

http://www.ccmixter.org

Since I’d gone this route before and found the process daunting, and I wasn’t willing to pay someone big bucks to do  a trailer for me, I almost wasn’t going to have one this time around. As the fates would have it, my main character in PIECES of LOVE, Lexi, plays guitar, sings, and writes music. In my efforts to help readers connect to the character on a deeper level, I was inspired to write lyrics into the book. Of course, then it dawned on me that I should also try to put music to the words. Not that I’ve ever written a song or know how to write music, but what can I say…my muse was feeling adventurous. With a step in faith and a little effort on a lunch break, the tune came to me, and I recorded it into my phone (love those apps). Then I took it to my pal, lifelong musician, Ozone Pete, who plays guitar and “knew a guy” who could help with a professional recording. Six months later, we spent a day with Jim Fogarty of Zing studios in Westfield, MA. All in all, it took a total of about fifteen hours over two days and I had a theme song—now available for download on i-Tunes.

It was the perfect choice for the book trailer.
Once I had the music, I was ready to start on the hard part. Being techno-challenged and averse to learning the Mac’s operating system, I was prepared to defer the actual trailer production to my husband, but as I said, that wasn’t to be if I wanted it done sooner rather than later.  I bit the bullet, so to speak, and dove in.

I used parts of the book’s blurb and boiled the synopsis down to a paragraph, creating a “story board” with 8-10 slides to “tell” the story. I figured each slide would require about 6-10 seconds—long enough for viewers to read. Adding the transitions and front/back matter, I was able to keep the whole production at about two minutes.
Using stock photos from Big Stock Photos, each costing about $5-10, I chose photos that reflected the blow by blow description of the story. Uploading the music and photos to my husband’s Mac and importing it all into i-Movie was a challenge for me (being Mac deficient) but a snap for hubby, so I let him do that part. Once I had all the pieces there to work with, it was a matter of choosing an appropriate segment of the song to match the story board. Two minutes is a bit long for a trailer these days, but I had a certain timing in mind for the slides and the music selection to work together.
Caution: Timing each slide and transition accordingly is an OCD sufferer’s nightmare…or dream come true, LOL. I tweaked and cajoled this thing to death, but the final product was worth it, IMO.

Yes, countless hours went into the project, and there were studio costs, but in the end, for a few hundred dollars, I have a product I’m proud of and it’s exactly what I envisioned. I can use it to promote my book as well as the song on i-Tunes, and at the same time, offer an entertaining connection for my readers who might find it interesting to hear the author singing the theme song.
As much as I’m not a big Mac fan, I-Movie is a powerful program! Once I figured out how to use all the neat features, the possibilities seemed endless. There are several backgrounds, title fonts, and styles to choose from for each slide, special affects you can apply to pictures and transitions, and many variables you can and can’t control. For instance, I wanted to blur a couple of the photos but couldn’t do it in i-Movie, so I exported them to Power Point, manipulated the shots there, and then saved them to the i-Movie event I was working on. It was simply a matter of playing with the program and figuring out what worked. Of course, when I ran into trouble, hubby was there as tech support.
Once I had fine-tuned my baby and edited the crap out of it, I published it to You-tube and shared it on all my social media sites. It had over a hundred hits the first day! I’m glad so many people have enjoyed the production and I truly appreciate all the positive feedback.
If the DIY version seems too daunting, save your pennies, because a decent trailer can run you anywhere from $300-$1200. I’ve seen them for more and I’ve seen them for less, but you definitely get what you pay for in this case. I once paid $50 to a supposedly reputable person and was less than satisfied, so lesson learned for me. Until I can afford to pay the big bucks, I’ll continue to go the DIY route.

What do you think of book trailers? Are they an effective promotional tool? Seen any you love? 

Facebook Parties-Fab of Fad?

Good May Day, Scribe’s fans. PJ Sharon here. I won’t likely be dancing around a May pole today, but I will be celebrating Spring with over fifty of my author pals from the Book Lovers Buffet who are having a party over on Facebook this afternoon.

POL Music Cover Every fifteen minutes between 3-10 pm, EST, another romance author will be available to live chat with anyone who wants to stop by for a visit. I’ll be there from 7-7:15 pm. sharing favorite cruise destinations and giving away e-books and an i-Tunes download of the single, PIECES of LOVE, the theme song from my upcoming release.

Lest you think this is a silly waste of time, there will be oodles of giveaways and some enticing questions to draw a crowd throughout the day. Favorite paranormal creatures? Vacation destinations? Favorite perfume or men’s fragrance? Fashion, dance, Texas hunks…topics for everyone. There will be gift cards, e-books, audiobook giveaways and more!

So what’s with all the Facebook parties lately? Is it just the latest trend in author promotion? Or is it a savvy way to use the platform that so many of us have worked to build? Since connecting to readers is an all important part of our job as authors, hopping on the FB train seems like a good idea…at least for now. As with any new promotional trend, I suspect this one will burn itself out fairly quickly, but for now, I’m having fun with it and plan to use it for my book launch in June.

Here’s how it works (to the best of my knowledge and limited experience). To create a FB event:

  1. Click Events in the left menu of your homepage.
  2. Click Create Event in the top right.
  3. Fill in the event name, details, location and time, and then choose your privacy settings. Keep in mind that you must include an event name and time. (TIP: Keep the time limited to just a few hours if you are doing this on your own. It can be quite hectic and draining!)
  4. Click Invite Friends to add friends to the guest list. Check the names of the people you want to invite and then click Save.
  5. Click Create.

You’ll be taken to your event where you can share posts, upload photos, invite more guests, and edit event details.

That’s it!

Of course, you’ll want to create a theme for your party, upload a flashy new banner, offer incentives for people to stop by, create engaging content ahead of time so you can keep momentum going throughout the party, and maybe even have a famous guest or two stop by at a scheduled time so readers can pop in and live chat for a few minutes with your celebrity guest. You may want to enlist some help spreading the word via Twitter, Google+, Goodreads or other social media outlets.

Be creative and think outside the box. What do your readers love about your books? If you write cozy mysteries maybe share some recipes or craft ideas. If you write romantic suspense, maybe ask about favorite suspense movies, creepiest actors to play villains, etc. Consider your audience, make it fun and entertaining, and have some prizes to encourage reader engagement. Use Random.org to choose your winners. The way I use it for free is to keep a numbered list of commenters and then plug in the range of numbers (1-10 for instance if I have ten folks who have left comments) and let Random pick the winner’s number.

The bottom line, as always is that it’s not so much about “buy my book” as it is “hey, I’m a human just like you…let’s hang out.” Readers are much more likely to want to chat about books in general, life’s little entertainments, and what they can get for free than they are to respond to “buy” messages, so keep it real, keep it fun,  and keep it friendly.

I hope to see you all later over at the party!

What do you think of FB Parties? Fab or Fad?

 

 

Do you listen to BTR?

For those who haven’t heard of it, BTR stands for Blog Talk Radio, the latest in on-line entertainment and informational programming. Everyday professionals, experts, and entertainers are hosting their own radio shows and being heard by millions. These topic-driven programs allow listeners to hone in on their interests and hear the latest news in whatever industry that floats their boat. So what does that mean for readers and writers? So glad you asked! PJ Sharon here with the latest scoop on how to help writers find their audience and readers connect with their favorite authors.

Writers can share their books and talk about their writing process with interviewers while sitting behind their computer or on their phones, feet up and fuzzy slippers gracing their desks. All while sipping tea and chatting about their favorite things with whomever decides to tune in. Fans or readers can type in questions to be asked and answered in real time, or a link to the show can be used later for promotion and advertising purposes.

For readers who love romance, it’s a chance to hear your favorite authors dish about their characters, read excerpts, and maybe even share a few spoilers about upcoming books. Basically, it’s another way for readers and writers to connect in a fun, user-friendly format.

The really cool thing is that anyone can host their own show. Of course, that means adding consistent content, being entertaining and engaging, and building an audience over time. It’s not for everyone, but those that are doing it appear to be enjoying the up close and personal interaction and sharing it with listeners.

I’ve done several such interviews over the past year or so and I have to say, I love doing them. It means not having to actually be on camera, but being able to hang out as if I’m conversing with a pal on the phone. It’s very non-threatening. My most recent BTR interview was in February with Linda Mooney from Other Worlds of Romance, who hosts mostly sci-fi/fantasy writers and has a decent following.

She asked me to come on the show and read a steamy excerpt from WESTERN DESERT, book two in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Several listeners showed up to ask questions and I had a blast sharing my story with them, including behind the scenes insights into the third book, the title of which I’ll reveal at the end of this post as promised last month!

After the show, Linda sent me the link to embed into my website so readers can refer to it and listen at any time. What a great promotional tool and something I can definitely add to my press kit. I’m sure if I use it properly it could lead to TV/radio interviews in the future. It’s a way for media types to hear how well you speak about your books and interact with the interview process. You can find a list of hundreds of shows that might be willing to host romance authors here. Or you can go in and search categories for more specific shows that focus on your genre.

Just one more way to connect readers and writers in the digital age!

Now, to reveal the title of the third book in the trilogy…drum roll, please… we had WANING MOON, WESTERN DESERT, and coming this fall…HEALING WATERS, the continuing adventure of Lily Carmichael and friends as they make their way back home to warn the good folks of Stanton of a coming doom. Will they reach them in time…or is it already too late? Can Lily and Will overcome their differences and find their way back to each other as they race against time to save the human race from certain destruction?

Don’t forget to join me on my PJ Sharon Books FB page as I roll out the cover reveal for my next Contemporary YA novel, PIECES of LOVE, set to release June 21st. POL Picture4The big reveal will take place on April 18th, but pop over and “like’ my page now so you don’t miss out on the fun as I reveal a new “piece” of the cover each week along with an excerpt. Leave a comment on my FB post and be entered to win an ARC of the book, winners to be drawn on reveal day, April 18th, when you’ll also be privy to links for the release of my single, PIECES of Love, the theme song to the book.

Tell me, have you ever listened to BTR?

PJSharon_PiecesOfLove_800px

Addictive Reads

Happy Tuesday, Scribe’s readers.

PJ Sharon here today, sharing my most recent group endeavor and plans for a bit of a shake-up here at the Secrets of 7 Scribes. One of the biggest surprises for me on this journey has been the willingness of other writers and authors to band together and help each other succeed. There is power in numbers, and group blogs, blog hops, multi-author contests and group events have proven that working together is a must when trying to reach a broader audience.

MOD_Author_Services_logo_72dpiOur resident marketing guru, Jennifer Fusco of MARKET OR DIE AUTHOR SERVICES, often talks about expanding our sphere of influence. But how do we do it? How do we reach new readers, get more reviews, find more sign-ups for our newsletters, and connect directly with people who want to engage with us in this crazy social media jungle? I’m sure there is more than one answer, but I’m thinking sites like ADDICTIVE READS are a great model.

When I was first invited to join the Secrets of 7 Scribes four years ago (gulp), all of us were unpublished writers, working our tails off and only aspiring to become authors. Now, a mere four years later, we are all published or contracted to be published soon. Not a bad place to be, but in this increasingly complex and ever-changing industry, we need to change it up here at the Scribes to stay relevant. Stay tuned for our upcoming metamorphosis!

Addictive reads-Button-Black-copy-259x300In the meantime, I’ve been hanging out with a group of “hybrid” authors ( a combination of indie and traditionally published authors), who are taking group blogging to the next level. The page is still in the creation stages and not all the author pages are completed, but feel free to pop over to the ADDICTIVE READS site to browse and check out all the great books available to readers, including a bunch of free titles. We’ve also begun a Beta readers and Reviewers FB page so avid readers can sign up to read books by these fabulous authors before the books are even released! I love this idea. (This is a closed group so you’ll need an invitation to participate. Let me know if you’re interested).

As for the Secrets of 7 Scribes, me and my fellow Scribes are in talks about how we can upgrade our page to become a more reader-centric site that offers more than just daily blog posts. We want to ensure there’s a reason for readers–as well as writers–to visit us every day. Of course we’ll continue to have pages of resources in our FAQ that you’ll want to follow if you are on the path to publication–our commitment to paying it forward–but the idea is to showcase us and our books while connecting to readers and offering incentives for loyal followers. I hope you’ll stay with us during this transition.

While you’re waiting to see what we have in store here at the Scribes, feel free to visit the ADDICTIVE READS website and like their FB Page to see what these award winning and bestselling authors have to offer.

What would you like to see here at the Scribes?

Whoa-ooooooooh, on the radio by J Monkeys

Hiddey-Ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Are you familiar with the 70’s song, On the Radio by Miss Donna Summer?  No?  Click here and give it a listen.

So why the disco today?  I’m on the radio tomorrow!  Very exciting times – my first radio interview.  I’m not really nervous about doing the interview, but I am a bit nervous about sticking my foot in my mouth.  You see, I have a terrible birth defect – my brain and my mouth work independently of each other.  I can’t tell you the number of times in my life when I’ve said something incredibly stupid, thoughtless or rude, without meaning to at all.  I swear, it’s one of the reasons I like being a writer.  I get to edit before anyone else becomes aware of what I’ve said/thought.

But the opportunity to do an hour long interview was much too good to pass up.  It’s not all me talking, there will be music and stuff too.  I’m going to be talking about my soon-to-be-released-book DIY Publishing ~ Cheap & Easy.  After much ado, this handy little manual for do-it-yourselfers will be available next week.

So, if you want to hear more about it, and potentially hear me gaff, tune in to 88.1 fm in central CT from 6:30 – 7:30pm on Sunday, January 5th.  Or you can stream it live at http://www.WESUfm.org.

 

To Select…or not to Select. That is the question.

PJ Sharon here on this chilly New Year’s Eve Day. Since I’m in the process of re-evaluating my first quarter marketing plan for 2014, I thought I’d share the results of my latest promotion. Most of you are familiar with KDP Select, Amazon’s 90 day exclusivity contract that requires authors to publish only with them for that time period. The perks of putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket are paid borrows by Prime members (average $1.94 per borrow), entry into their new “Count Down Deals” program, and/or the ability to run FREE promotions for five days of the 90 day period. A year ago, all of this was very attractive. Now, not so much.FREE promo

Most Indie authors agree that running free promotions has been much less effective than it was a year or two ago. Now that the market is flooded with freebies and bargain books, it’s getting harder and harder to sell at any price—even FREE! Sales of my last published novel, WESTERN DESERT, book two in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, which released last July, reflect the drastic change. I’ll preface these results with the caveat that YA Dystopian is a hard sell across the board lately since that market is pretty much glutted. I also believe that book two in a trilogy is often tougher because folks won’t buy/download book two if they haven’t read book one, and readers don’t want to get hooked into a trilogy with no guaranteed release date of the third book.

Having said all that, I’m trying not to take it personally or be embarrassed about such a poor sales record. The fact is, I don’t think the numbers reflect the quality of the book at all. What reviews I do have, are excellent, and feedback I’ve had from readers has been awesome. So what’s up with the numbers?

Coming June 24th!
Coming June 24th!

I enrolled WESTERN DESERT into the Select program in October, figuring I would promote books one and two through Halloween, running my first two day FREE promo around the time readers might be drawn to Dystopian/Sci-fi-fantasy stories. I was part of a group sale, advertised on the usual 20-30 sites that promote freebies (some charge a nominal fee of $5-15), and did a social media blitz, including some blog appearances. The best I did was had about a thousand free downloads and sold eighty or so copies of WANING MOON, book one in the trilogy.

Now, I realize that those results meant that my book was in the hands of potentially a thousand new readers, and it did wonders for my sales rankings for both books during the sale, but being that WANING MOON was selling for the .99 cent price point, I made about $30. I’ll add that there was no after sale bump in numbers (meaning my sales flat-lined again immediately), and I’d spent my budgeted $100 for advertising the sale, netting me -$70 for my trouble. Consider the amount of time it takes to set up ads on 20-30 sites, schedule blog appearances, participate in social media non-stop for two days, and well…you get the picture.

I waited a couple of months, planned my last three day FREE run for right after Christmas, hoping to catch all those new Kindle owners, and promoted both books like crazy. As in, “Two Books for under a buck!” “Buy WANING MOON for .99 cents and download WESTERN DESERT for FREE!” I joined with Awesome Indies for their Holiday Bonanza e-book sale, promoted on 30 FREE e-book sites (I’m hearing now that it takes 50 sites to make a dent), and I scheduled mega tweets, FB, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest, and tumblr promos. I spent my $100 budget, and had the support of dozens of other authors who tweeted, posted or otherwise shouted it to the world for me. Here were the results:

Worldwide (including a few downloads in Germany, France, India, Canada, and Australia—a new market for me!), I had a whopping 543 downloads of WESTERN DESERT and 39 new sales of WANING MOON. Oy! Hours of preparation, insane amounts of marketing, and yes, I’m down about $85. I did reach the #1,026 mark on the Amazon rankings in the Free kindle store, #2 in the Sci-fi/fantasy/Genetic engineering category, and #10 in the Dystopian category, but numbers bounced right back to oblivion when the sale ended.

Granted, I was unable to procure ads on the really big sites like Book Bub and a few others which require as many as twenty-five reviews these days to even be featured and are very choosy about what they pick to advertise, but really? For the work involved and the investment of time and money, it feels like I’ve run a marathon and placed next to last. A far cry from last year’s FREE promo for SAVAGE CINDERELLA  when I boasted 40,000 downloads between my two day and then a three day promotion. The best part was the over 800 direct sales in the weeks after my free run. Yikes! What a difference a year and-a-half makes. Even HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES and ON THIN ICE promos last year at this time did much better than my 2013 efforts for my Dystopian reads.

It would be nice to get a few (hopefully good) reviews out of the promotion and getting my name out to new readers is always a good thing, but all in all, the Select program has little left to offer me with this book series. Perhaps when I publish another Contemporary YA romance, or when I have a boxed set of all three books in the trilogy, I’ll give it another go, but for now, KDP Select is a losing proposition for me. Of course, take all this with a grain of salt, because I’ve heard of a few other authors on my loops who are still pulling in good numbers with Select. Go figure!

What do you think? Have you had better results? How did you do it? Am I missing something?