Amazon Book Launch Strategies: Children’s Author D.C. Grant

Dawn's photoDC is a clued-up indie writer here in New Zealand. She’s been traditionally published in the past, and I appreciate her unique insight. Recently, she released her Jason Shaw Mystery Series. The first book, Speed, is free until tomorrow so grab it now – just click here.

I often say that writing the book is the easy part. Once the first draft has been done, the real work begins (and I’m not just talking about the rewriting, the revision, the copy edit, the rewrite after the copy etc…). Eventually you get to the point that you are sick of looking at it and there is nothing else that can be done. Everything else after this point is tinkering.

Speed cover_finalI had begun a mystery series and had books one to three all written and ready to go, so I decided to self-publish and attempt to gain traction primarily with eBooks. I began looking at the best way to market these books in an on-line environment. It’s not like I hadn’t done this before but my previous books were all set in New Zealand and this was the first set of books set overseas, America to be precise, so I needed a different approach.

In this respect, I knew I was now publishing alongside the ‘big boys’ in a much bigger pond so I had to construct strategies that would result in the books appearing in book rankings and thereby discoverability. Easier said than done.

Velocity cover_finalMy first conscious decision was to launch all three books at the same time. I had planned a staggered launch with the first book coming out followed a month or so later and the third shortly after that. However at a meet-up with a Joanna Penn who advised me to launch all three at once, I changed that plan. Accordingly, Speed, Velocity and Maneuvers came out over the Easter weekend.

The next decision was to enroll the books into KDP Select. For those that don’t know what this is, enrolling in KDP Select means that the digital book is only available on Kindle in the Amazon store. The book is also automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, the subscriber division of Kindle.  Books are enrolled for 90 days and, if the book gain momentum, I would consider re-enrolling in KDP Select. If not, then books can be un-enrolled and I’m free to publish elsewhere while still keeping the books on Amazon.

There have been arguments for and against KDP Select but as an unknown author launching a new series it offered the best chance of being noticed. Discoverbility being the author’s biggest challenge.

Maneuvers cover_finalNow that the decision was made to be exclusive to Amazon for the first three months at least, I researched how best to maximize my exposure on that platform so I investigated Amazon categories and keywords. To this end I downloaded Nick Stephenson’s book “How to Supercharge your Kindle Sales” (A recommendation from Joanna Penn). This book is an excellent resource and I cannot possibly summarize all the information in the book but I will touch on some of the strategies I put in place as a result:

  • Downloaded Kindle Spy to ascertain the words used most often in my chosen category
  • Placed the tagline “A Jason Shaw Mystery” on each of the covers
  • Choose category “Mystery and Detectives” under junior fiction
  • Ensured that the blurb had the words mystery, series, adventure, clues, detective in it
  • Used the corresponding keywords in the keyword field on the Amazon book metadata page

I think you can see a pattern emerging here with the word “mystery’ appearing most often in my word choices. The theory is that the more often a keyword occurs in the books metadata, title and keywords, the more likely the book will appear when a reader searches for books using that keyword, in this case, the word “mystery”.

All of this had to be done before the book was even loaded to ensure that the cover, tagline, keywords  and blurb were all aligned. It emphasizes how important it is to do your research and the bulk of the work before the book is published. Trying to change this after the book is launched means you could lose momentum especially as the book will be unavailable for a period of time while Amazon goes through its review process. Admittedly this doesn’t take long but when your book is down for any length of time, you are losing sales.

If you do this right from the get-go, you can upload the book and let it the Amazon bots do the rest (as far as the Amazon page is concerned at least) and concentrate on other marketing strategies.

Or even, start writing the next book!

D C Grant writes for children and young adults in the mystery/thriller and historical fiction genres.  She lives in Auckland, New Zealand and is known to drink lots of coffee to power her through the late night writing sessions.

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How to get your book reviewed

After the launch excitement died down a bit (read: I am no longer a zombie), I’ve got stuck into my next steps. As I wrote in my last post, word of mouth trumps in marketing, and a big part of that is getting more reviews for my work.

Friends & Family

Okay, so I know they can be a bit biased but you’ve got to start with what you’ve got, right? I’m confident that none of my friends or family who have reviewed my work have been at all dishonest in their rating or their written review, so I’m grateful for their support.

The drawback to these guys is that they’re often not familiar with Goodreads and Amazon, and usually don’t have a blog, so it’s not necessarily an ‘easy’ task.

Book Bloggers

This is the step I’m currently on. Book bloggers know what they’re doing, are familiar with the major platforms, and usually ask nothing in return except a free copy of your book, and sharing once the review is up.

They usually have clear review policies, so it’s easy to pick the reviewers that are likely to enjoy your book. So far, the book bloggers I have contacted have been friendly and professional to work with, making the process more fun than scary. Yay!

The two main blog lists I have used are:

I think it’s also good practice to look at their previous reviews, or at their Goodreads ‘read’ list. This gives you more of an idea about whether your book will be a good match for them.

Author exchanges

If other authors are willing, you can sometimes swap reviews. I’ve done this with author friends before, setting the ground rule that we’ll only post honest reviews or not review at all. There have been books I’ve chosen not to review because I couldn’t honestly give them more than two stars (mostly I just haven’t made the time to review though, so writer friends – please don’t take that personally!).

Goodreads Giveaway

My Goodreads giveaway hasn’t ended yet, and I’ve heard that there’s pretty much a 50/50 chance of the winners reviewing your book. I figured it was worth a shot anyway, and I’m glad I went for it.

Since creating the giveaway, I’ve been contacted by a couple of book bloggers that are interested in reviewing. Even if the winners of the giveaway don’t leave a review, I’m still getting reviews from having a go. Because these are from people who have chosen my book, I think there’s a higher likelihood of getting a review.

Other books’ reviewers

This is a strategy I haven’t tried yet. I first heard of it from a webinar by Jim Kukral (which I’ve embedded below). The idea is to go to books that are similar to yours, and click through people who have left reviews. This takes you to their profile page, and if their contact information (or website) is available, you can see if they are accepting review requests and contact them.

What strategies would you add to this list?

4 Marketing Principles for Indie Authors

I don’t claim to be an expert, by any means, but I have watched / read / attended many a marketing seminar, and I listen closely to those I deem successful. I’m constantly learning more, but there seem to be a few things that make success a whole lot more likely.

Write a decent book.

Note that it doesn’t say a brilliant book, or an awe-inspiring book, or even a great book. Just a decent book. The narrative is sound, it’s been edited properly, and the characters have a bit of roundness. Of course, all props to you if you can do better!

Write more books

If you look at the people who have consistently done well in the writing arena, most of them have several books out. The more prolific have tens, or even hundreds of books out. Obviously, we can only start with one, but I’ve chosen to ensure that the one is closely followed by the two, three and four.

Word of mouth sells

No matter what you’re selling, the marketing advice tells us that word of mouth is the biggie (I wrote a post related to this on D.C. Grant’s blog: How to Work the Rule of Seven). There are two main prongs I see here.

Firstly, if word of mouth means ‘people talking about you or your book’, well, give them something to talk about! This is one reason I had a physical launch party.

Secondly, are the ever-coveted reviews. These are a more permanent form of word of mouth, and I personally think the low ratings are just as important as the high ones – as long as they’re honest. I’ve put a link in the back of my book, and in my next newsletter I’m going to write a little blurb about why reviews are important. I’m also in the process of listing review sites and magazines that I’ll request a review at.

Know your audience

Who is the book for? Who do you resonate with as an author? Getting your book out in front of a million people is useless if none of them actually like your genre.

This is something I’m still fine-tuning, because I really do have a wide readership for both What Stars Are Made Of and The Caretaker of Imagination. They’re both sort of for children and sort of not, and I’m still making this clearer in my head. I think it’s because, as I said to a friend on launch day, they’re not for a certain age, but for a certain type of person.

Your ideas

What would you change on this list? Or, do you have any strategies that fall in these principles and I haven’t thought of? Sharing is caring, so let’s all work together to get our books in the right hands 🙂

 

Book Launch – check! Next Steps: Distribution & Internet Marketing

So in my eyes, the book launch at the Pt Chev Bookshop was a massive success. In fact, it was a SCARY success! I was overwhelmed by the support and came back home completely exhausted but still buzzing. There are photos on all my social media accounts, but here’s a few to give you an idea of things:

So obviously, I’m thinking about the next thing.

Distribution

For children’s books, and for the New Zealand market (which is relatively small but I do care about) print is still important. I’m working on distributing my books to bookstores across New Zealand.

At the Mairangi Writers’ Seminar last Monday, two speakers on the panel were buyers from the local Take Note shop, a stationery- and book-selling franchise. They suggested to email, with an attached media kit about the book, so that’s what I’ll be doing.

I’m using the template I found yonks’ ago on Rachel Abbot’s site, and you can see here. It was made for book reviews, but I think it’s a good template to follow for book sales as well.

Internet Marketing

While the physical event was fantastic, the internet sales have been abysmal! I think one reason is simply because it is a children’s book, and the other is because it’s easier to crack a local market than an international one.

Thinking along these lines, I’ve decided to direct marketing online towards adults. After all, the protagonist is 42 years old.

Running away, and being a kid again, are things a lot of adults can relate to, so my next job is to work out how I’m going to package this book as ‘a children’s book for grown-ups’, and see if that makes a difference.

Do you have any internet marketing tips to share?

NZ Authors & Booklovers: An Indie Opportunity

Sept 2014 - meI had the pleasure of meeting the passionate and bubbly Louise de Varga at a speaking event by Joanna Penn last year. Since then, I’ve met her a few times and we’ve become wonderful friends.

Louise is the lady behind the NZ Independent Book Fair (NZIBF), and is here to discuss the ins and outs of this event. I’ll be there, and I think it will be a fantastic opportunity for indie authors in NZ to learn lots, find out about business services, network with other writers and, of course, sell some books!

Over to you, Louise:

I’m passionate about people and books. It was after getting my own New Zealand themed children’s picture book rejected a number of times that I decided to get it independently published. It was then, with new book in hand, I realised the hard part had only just begun. I discovered getting my book into stores down-right frustrating. I then had the idea of the NZ Independent Book Festival to get Kiwi readers and authors connecting directly with each other.

The first festival was held in August 2014 in a couple of historical buildings in Devonport, not far from where I live. I expected only 30 authors to take up a stall so was surprised and pleased to welcome over 90 exhibitors. They came from all over New Zealand and were not only authors with books covering a huge range of genres but also literary businesses assisting writers to become published authors. Over 750 visitors attended the event.

The festival gave us lots of positive feedback but also some constructive criticism which in turn has helped to make it work better for more people. So in October 2015 the NZ Independent Book Festival has been shifted to the better suited North Shore Events Centre. It offers easy accessibility to the motorway, bigger exhibitor space, plenty of parking and an onsite cafe’. Other advantages are the separate room for seminars, speakers and workshops as well as an outdoor area for rides and entertainment for all ages.

NZ Independent Book Festival Logo Colour FinalMore and more people are now understanding the advantages of independently or self-publishing their own books using this type of publishing platform, be it in printed format or eBooks. The festival offers a great way to connect enthusiastic readers with enthusiastic authors. Thinking about selling books. Who is the best person to promote and sell their book than the author themselves? The plan for the NZIBF is for it to continue to grow and become the premier book event of the year, catering to readers and writers of all genres. With the support of independently and self-published authors and private literary businesses many more manuscripts will become the books found under readers’ noses.

A bit about Louise…

I’m a married mum of two teenage boys. I wrote my first story for my youngest boy over 10 years ago. Since then I have written many other stories with my Kapowai the Dragonfly character as well as short stories and poems. I won a creative writing scholarship in 2013 which gave me the courage to independently publish my first book.

Contact Louise about the NZIBF on TwitterFacebook, or her author website.

Do I really want to do this?

So as you know from my last post, I’ve been running on tight deadlines of late, and last week… the proof books didn’t arrive! Eek! I was good though, and I put my pride aside to ask for help. My sister became my PA for the day, and made some calls on my behalf. My boss bought me a hot chocolate, and my parents and my partner helped out, too. It all got sorted, thank goodness, though we did have to make some changes to our illustrator’s edition. It was turning out to be a LOT more expensive (we’ve gone with a printer in NZ), and so we’re selling it as a limited edition run. It’s all done by a real human being, and is even on 100% recycled paper, which I am fantastically pleased about. Not surprisingly, the stressfulness of the situation made me question whether I really wanted to be doing this. I felt like giving up, or just going digital. So – do I really want to do this?

The Test

The answer, of course, is yes. During my ‘I feel sorry for you so I’ll shout you coffee’ brunch with my sister, we talked about this. She said, often before success happens (however you define it), we are tested. I see this as my first big test for indie publishing, and I’ve passed. Perhaps not with flying colours, but I’m through: the launch will be happening, and I’m not totally put off print books.

What about traditional publishing?

My books aren’t the kind of works that traditional publishers are looking for. They cross boundaries in terms of style, vocabulary and themes that contemporary children’s books ‘shouldn’t’ have. They’re short, but not easy readers. They’re open to a wide age range, and the first one features an adult as the protagonist. Publishing independently is really the only way for me.

Can I make a living wage?

Just from writing? Probably not. There are authors who do, of course, but they are few and far between. Most writers, like artists and musicians, make a living from their art and a day job – whether that be teaching, speaking events or something totally different.

The solution

20150307_125141On the weekend, I had the privilege of attending Lizzi Tremayne’s book launch in Waihi. I was treated to my own little retreat at her house, and a beautiful dinner with her family (and her two gorgeous dogs). I took a walk up from ANZAC Cove to Bowentown Heads, an old Māori pa site, and had a lot of time to think and reflect.

20150307_171012
The view from Bowentown Heads

I realised that I am already doing what I want to be doing (with a little prompting from my writer friend, Cassie). My multiple streams of income are writing (children’s books), art (paintings) and teaching (tutoring at Kip McGrath). The only thing is that writing and art aren’t bringing in any income – yet. But it’s a long term game, and I can be patient. I’m playing with merchandise as well, and I have my website set up so I can sell stuff, but I think the bigger market for physical goods will be fairs, like the NZ Independent Book Festival.

The bottom line? Appreciate what I’ve got, be patient, and keep on keeping on!

Moving forward

So after a minor meltdown last weekend, I realised it was because there was more than one stress factor. I spent some time early last week figuring out what the stress factors were.

After that, I began setting up systems & changes for the things in my control, and trying to recognise that some things are out of my control and that’s okay (still getting there on that front).

I thought I’d share some of the things I’m changing with you today, partly to help me process them and partly because they might help you as well. I’m sure my problems are not unique to myself 🙂

Deadlines

I’d set a launch date with plenty of time for things to go wrong – or so I thought! – but after a few delays early on in the process, I’m cutting it fine to get the stock for my books by the 21st. Part of this is outside my control, but what I can do is set up Plan B, C & D.

If Plan A doesn’t work (the plan where the books arrive before the 21st), Plan B is to pay for expedited shipping from Blurb, which is only 1 day earlier but might make a difference. Plan C is to pay for expedited shipping from Createspace (4 business days) and Plan D is to order them in NZ, hiking the price up but meaning I could get them pretty fast.

Also, I’ve learned for next time the things I need to do to make sure I give other people plenty of time to get jobs done.

Energy Levels

Some just goes back to basics. I wasn’t eating enough fruit, and I’d begun exercising but found it hard after doing nothing for most of summer. This morning, I bought nuts, fruit, veges and a women’s multi-vitamin.

I’m aiming to get in at least 3 walks a week – 5 isn’t necessary at this point – and will be using wrist weights to get a bit more toning in. From next week, I’m aiming to do yoga just once a week. Baby steps are all good!

Legal Stuff

While my records are pretty good, they could be better. I had way too many spreadsheets and knew there had to be a simpler way of doing things! I ended up buying a printer / scanner / copier and signing up for Xero, and NZ-based accounting software.

By having a printer, it means I can have physical records of everything (my job this week) mostly just for peace of mind, and by investing in Xero I have a system that works and accountants are familiar with. This means that when I’m earning enough to have an accountant, it’ll be easy to transfer stuff over to them, if that’s what I choose to do.

Lack of Creative Work

I was spending so much time stressing about the books coming in on time, that I just couldn’t get into the mindset of being imaginative. Painting and writing felt hard because my mind just wasn’t in it.

By putting plans in place, it meant I could give myself the headspace I needed to be creative, without stressing about what else I ‘should’ be doing.

But enough about me. What strategies do you have to manage the (sometimes overwhelming) tasks in your life?

The importance of breaks & outsourcing work

Last week was oh-so-unproductive. I hardly did any of my guest posts for March’s blog tour, did a tiny bit of writing that I won’t actually be using, and… that’s pretty much it.

I did sell some books though. And I saw some people. Which reminded me that it is important to stop and smell the roses. To enjoy time with the people in my life, and to invite more awesome people in; to celebrate achievements or even just to pig out on chocolate for an evening. This is life.

It’s back to business-as-usual this week, but with a difference. I’m determined to get my morning walks in because they set a good tone for the rest of the day. The to-do list has regained its rightful place (front and center / centre) and I’m letting myself get through things at a human pace.

One of my to-do’s is an idea from Joanna Penn’s latest interview about using a virtual assistant. Oddly, my mum actually brought this up the other day as well. It’s about all those little jobs that can be outsourced to other people. I’ve already begun to do this (cover design, illustration, editing, formatting & proofreading*) but I’d like to do more of this as time goes on, so I’m only left with the stuff that either I HAVE to do (like, you know, write more books) or stuff I enjoy doing (like, uh, writing more books lol).

The table is split into three areas:

  • Things I don’t like doing
  • Thinks I cannot do to a professional, quality standard
  • Things I should not do (as the boss-lady of this here operation)

I’m going to tackle this list before heading into work today. I’m curious though – what jobs do you outsource? And what jobs do other people outsource to you?

*You can see some of the people I use for these services under the new ‘services’ menu. This is under construction so check back in the near future for updates.

Indie Marketing: How I use social media as an author

There’s a bit of polarity on whether social media ‘actually sells books’ or not, but for me that’s not necessarily the point.

In this post I just want to break down how I currently use social media outlets, and the gain I’ve gotten from each of them.

In 2013, I wrote a similar post on my friend Joy Findlay’s blog, which you can read here if you’re interested: joyfindlayauthor.blogspot.co.nz/2013/09/zee-southcombe-guest-post.html

Disclaimer: I don’t have huge amounts of followers on social media. For me, it’s about genuine relationships / connections.

Twitter: Writer-to-Writer Networking

Many writers seem to like Twitter, and this is what makes Twitter so good! For me, I’ve been able to develop friendships with other writers and share the ups and downs of writing (and life) with them. We’ve also been able to trade services – like beta reading and reviews – and it’s a great place to read and share useful writing-focused articles.

I may not sell books on Twitter, but without my Tweeps I wouldn’t have anything worth selling!

Summary: Twitter is good for meeting other writers and bartering services.

Google Plus: Writers’ Coffeehouse

I admit, the only thing I currently use Google+ for now is the Writers’ Coffeehouse. It was initiated by Amanda Staley as a strictly no-links community, which means it is ONLY discussion and NOT self-promotion (which seems rife on Google+).

There are a good range of people on there, so it’s great to ask questions on and get varied, thoughtful and practical responses.

Summary: On Google Plus, find a good community and share information, experiences and ideas.

Instagram: Process

As I’m a painter / illustrator as well, I share my painting process on Instagram. I’ll also share photos of cups of tea or my journal, and I’ve found it a great way to help my followers become a part of my process.

By seeing how my ideas develop, or ‘a day in the life’ snapshots, people feel involved in the project I am working on. This helps in two ways: firstly, it makes the project feel less solitary, and secondly, it makes people more interested in the finished work.

Summary: Take your fans behind the scenes and involve them in your process with Instagram.

Facebook: Existing Connections & Event Planning

Because Facebook is one of the earlier social networks, a lot of people are on there. I’ve found it’s a good way to tell people who already know me what I’m up to in the writing world. These guys have become my biggest supporters.

Facebook is definitely the easiest place to get details up for an event, and for the host to get a rough idea of numbers. It also means I can post things related to the event here with people who are actually interested.

I’m also in an excellent NZ indie writers’ group, and it’s been uplifting to connect with fellow children’s writers.

Summary: Facebook is great for planning events and sharing your books with existing connections.

How does social media work for you? And if you don’t use social media – why not?

Sponsorship & Promotion: Ask and ye shall receive

NB: This year, my fiction writing & publishing workload has increased. For 2015, I will be publishing once weekly (Mondays) for fellow indie writers. This will by & large be about marketing and promotion strategies I am using.

So last week I wrote a post about sponsorship being a way to afford goodie bags and giveaways for my book launch. The more I ask people, the more it feels like a good idea, and the more confident I become at asking.

It’s also interesting to note how many people I’ve been able to get into contact with who are friends of friends – my illustrator referred me to a few party places (she’s also a fairy face painter) and my Dad had a few contacts for me as well. Most people respect you for making an effort and trying new things, and that respect ‘leverages’ them towards giving you an extra hand.

I’ll be buying some merchandise for the goodie bags, and some prizes for the giveaways as well, but I’m trying to bulk up the bags with sponsorship. This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this, and I’m sure there’ll be lots of changes to the way I do it next time.

The takeaway? Talk to people you know, and get out of your comfort zone, just a little bit 🙂

If you’d like to get your books or products in front of an audience of kids, teachers and parents, get in touch with me or have a look at zrsouthcombe.com/sponsor. It could be anything from a discount code for your books, to a donation of one children’s book, to items for 50 virtual or physical goodie bags 🙂