Getting Traditionally Published

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Talking about traditional publishing as a means to book discovery at the end of our series is by design. Here at Author Marketing Institute, we’re much more focused on self-publishing than we are on traditional publishing. One of the reasons AMI Founder Jim Kukral created the site was because of his distaste with a traditional publishing experience he had back in 2010. That being said, it’d be shortsighted of us not to mention traditional publishing as a possibility for book discovery. Plenty of authors (some of whom are now self-published) got their start through the well-worn path of agent to editor to publication. While there’s no formula to getting your book traditionally published, there are certainly some things you can do to improve your chances.

Improving Your Skills And One Heck Of An Idea

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Working and reworking the same book for 10 years is the equivalent of finishing and re-doing the same third grade spelling workbook over and over again. You’re not going to learn much about writing craft if you don’t continually work to take on new, difficult challenges. Traditional publishing isn’t going to take many chances on a newbie writer, so you need to arrive fully-formed by the time you submit your first manuscript.

How do you get better as a writer? It starts by writing as much as you can and reading as much as you can. There’s a saying that you don’t find yourself as a writer until you’ve written your first million words. Some authors have gone so far as to literally write seven-figures worth of words and scrap every single one. We recommend holding onto those words and considering self-publishing them, but that part of the learning process is up to you. As you’re writing, you’ll want to get feedback from experienced editors, friends, and voracious readers. You don’t have to take all their notes verbatim, but you’re required to learn what works and what doesn’t work along the way.

Reading as much as you can will help you learn best practices as well. Nobody is telling you that you have to read the classics or snore your way through some Dostoyevsky, but you should at least read in the genre you want to write in. Carve out the time to read at least two books a month and take notes on what you like, what you dislike, and what you can improve upon. Reading and writing are the fundamentals to getting better as you go along.

As you’re developing your craft, you want to start considering the kind of ideas you’d pitch once you get in front of an agent. Author David Farland has helped to coach many authors who later became hugely successful in traditional publishing like Stephanie Meyer and Brandon Sanderson. He recommends taking your original ideas and tweaking them to have a wider appeal. The more people who could potentially read it, the happier your traditional publishing contacts will be. He notes that many bestselling books take readers on a journey to somewhere they’ve never been. It’s no wonder than Dan Brown’s books have been so popular, given their tendency to globe trot through Europe. You’ll also want to coax out the deepest possible emotions in your story. Apathetic characters and plot lines rarely make it past the first pitch stage.

When it comes down to it, how a book idea makes you feel is irrelevant. It needs to make readers feel something. You must transport them to another place, physically and emotionally. If your idea can’t do that, then it’s unlikely to sell.

Why You Should Show Off In Person

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Few authors take the time to write those million words and come up with a sellable idea. Doing so builds up a strong foundation that significantly improves your chances of publication. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, and you’ll still need to convince an agent and then an editor that your idea is worth its salt.

Query letters are pretty hit or miss, so it’s better to spend money on going to conferences where agents and editors will be on hand to read submissions. As with the Meeting Merchandizers strategy, smaller conferences with more one-on-one attention are better bets. You may have to spend a decent chunk of change to go to a conference that features agents or editors in your genre, but you’ll get so much more out of a face-to-face meeting than you will from sending a letter. There’s still a chance you’ll be turned down, but if you’ve spent the time improving your craft and generating your sellable idea, your chances improve dramatically.

There’s one more thing that can sweeten the pot for agents and editors to take on your book. If you have an existing platform of readers and followers, then you become much more attractive to a publishing house. Publishers give book contracts to people like Snooki because they have millions of social media followers. You may not have a Jersey Shore-worthy following, but if you have thousands of email subscribers, it’ll make your publishing pitch that much easier. The more you show that you can sell your books, the more likely it is you’ll be accepted.

But If You’re a Good Writer And You Have a Following…

If you’re good at what you do, and readers already like you, then why are you considering a traditional publishing contract? There are a variety of answers to that question. It may be a dream of yours, or you may not want to deal with the slog of editing and cover design. You might think that your books would sell better in a book store, or you could be eyeing a future career in speaking. As you’re considering this question, remember that there’s nothing wrong with being both a self-published and a traditionally-published author.

Hybrid publishing may be the future for all authors going forward. There are too many benefits to self-publishing for trad pub authors to ignore forever. If your heart is set on getting into bookstores, then self-publishing those first million words before sitting down with an agent might be your best ticket to success in both arenas.

Book Discovery Strategies #7: Paid Advertising

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Last month, thriller author Mark Dawson made headlines after a Forbes article disclosed his Amazon earnings. The fact that he earned over $450,000 from self-publishing in a single year was remarkable, but it wasn’t the most important part of the article for indie authors. What mattered more was the strategy he used to propel his way to the top. Dawson spent over $300 a day on Facebook ads, and for his efforts, he was rewarded with a 100% return on investment. In layman’s terms, that means for every dollar he put in, he got two dollars back.

The seventh and final book discovery strategy we’ll discuss as part of this series may be the most challenging. Using Facebook ads to either add email subscribers or gain direct sales is hardly a given. Plenty of authors have spent hundreds of dollars without a return. Others have experienced minor gains, only to see their ads stop performing somewhere down the line. The Paid Advertising strategy requires having some money to burn for testing purposes, and you’ll need patience to keep yourself from giving up when your campaign looks hopeless.

Facebook advertising is an advanced strategy, and we recommend doing as much research as you can before starting it. Never assume you’ll get a certain type of results before you begin, because Facebook has a way of subverting expectations.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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The masters of paid advertising on Facebook work tirelessly to target their potential customers with the utmost precision. There’s a lot you can do to refine your targeting. You can upload the emails of your subscribers and create a Lookalike Audience based on their demographics. You can target by age, gender, household income, preferred mobile device, and a host of other attributes. You can retarget ads to people who’ve been to your website using the Website Custom Audiences pixel. The advertisers who experience the most success on Facebook use a combination of the above methods to improve on the most important statistics: Cost Per Click and Return on Investment.

Paid advertising works when you continually work to lower your cost per click, or the amount you pay Facebook for each time a user clicks your ad. When you target a general Facebook audience, there are going to be a ton of people who aren’t interested in your sci-fi/fantasy book ad, which means Facebook will need to display your ad to more people and raise the cost per click. When you refine who you target to people who enjoyed a similar sci-fi/fantasy book, the ad will be more relevant to the audience and the cost per click will go down. CPC is important, but return on investment (or ROI) is the key to your campaign.

You could get CPC down to five cents a pop, but that number doesn’t matter unless you’re getting people to do as the ad intended. For example, if you’re doing a direct sales ad, you at least want to break even by earning as much as you spend. If you spend $50 and get $100 in sales, you get a 100% ROI (the amount you earned minus the amount you spent divided by the amount you spent). On the other hand, if you spent $50 and only got $25 in sales, you end up with a -50% ROI. While a low CPC is a good benchmark, what you really want is a positive ROI. One of Mark Dawson’s students in his Self Publishing Formula group blew Mark’s numbers out of the water with a box set that earned over 400% ROI. Imagine spending $1,000 a month with that kind of return? When the system works, you can reap some pretty great rewards.

How Does This System Work?

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Paid advertising has a lot of moving parts, but it all starts with creating an ad that people want to click on. Start by investing in a high quality image that’s 1,200 pixels wide by 628 pixels high. Images that work the best employ contrast and a color scheme that fits with your book cover or the page you’re sending customers to. The images don’t require text, but if you use text in your picture, make sure it covers less than 20 percent of the image.

Facebook wants to create a positive experience for its users, so it tends to weed out pictures that are too sexy or too violent. If those traits are important elements to your book, then it’s best to imply things rather than display them. For example, a James Bond type character would be best suited holding the gun by his side rather than pointing it directly at the viewer.

Once you’ve got your image or multiple images ready, start writing your ad copy. There’s no formula for words that work every time in ads, but it’s usually best to keep things short, use succinct punchy sentences, and inspire emotions in the reader to get people to click. Sensory adjectives work well, such as heart-pounding action and terrifying horror. Check out the book descriptions of the best selling books in your genre and try to adapt their buzz words to fit your ad. Since there are no guarantees with ads, you’ll need to experiment with what works best for you.

Once you’ve got your ad image and copy set, you’ll want to start working on your targeting. If you have an email list with more than 500 people, then it’s a good idea to create a Lookalike Audience using the Audiences tool in the Facebook Ad Manager. Facebook uses your existing contacts to generate over a million users with similar characteristics. You’ll use and refine this Lookalike Audience to target your ad.

Once Facebook has generated your Lookalike Audience, you’ll want to reduce the million or so targeted people under 200,000 by selecting interests your ideal reader would like. For example, if you were a horror author, you might narrow your targeted audience by only targeting people who like Blake Crouch or Stephen King. You can narrow things further by targeting by the devices they use, such as a Kindle if your ad is focused on Amazon readers. You can go deeper on targeting by age, household income, and more, but try targeting an ad at between 50,000 and 200,000 people to start.

Now all of the above steps were simply to create one ad. To get the best bang for your buck, you’ll want to test multiple ads with multiple different audiences to see which ones work the best. Create a few different ads and target audiences to start.

Facebook ads can be tricky, and we’ve hardly had enough time to cover even the basics here. We recommend taking Mark Dawson’s free training at his Self Publishing Formula site to give you a more well-rounded explanation.

The Name Of The Ad Game Is Tweak

You’ll need to make a lot of small changes to find the best possible ads for your Paid Advertising strategy. Sometimes changing a word, an image, or your Amazon sales page copy will be the difference between a dud and an incredibly successful ad. If you’re doing a direct sales campaign, you’ll want to sell books that are high-priced enough for you to get a decent return. Multi-book box sets priced around $6.99 tend to do well when paired with a strong campaign.

It’s going to take time to get used to the ad system, and it’ll take even longer to find an ad or a series of ads that you’d label a winner. You’ll likely burn a few hundred dollars to find something that works consistently, but if you can find even consistent 10% ROI, you’ll have a guaranteed method for increasing your sales. In the right circumstances, such a marketing method in your corner can truly be a Holy Grail for your author career.

Book Discovery Strategy #6: Meeting Merchandizers

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Most of the book discovery strategies we’ve discussed on the Author Marketing Institute can be done from the comfort of your own computer. This makes sense because you’re marketing a digital product in a digital age. But since not all e-retail platforms operate using new digital practices, your success off of Amazon may require some travel and face-to-face interaction.

As we’ve previously mentioned, sales and popularity on Amazon is heavily tied into the website’s algorithm. You’ll be displayed on more searches if you sell more books at a higher price. You’ll stick higher up in the sales rankings if your sales are spread out over a few days. While Amazon does some editorial choosing for its Deal of the Day promotions, most of the books it features are part of an automated process. The other ebook retailers use some automation, but there’s also a lot more selection by members of each site’s merchandizing staff.

First and foremost, merchandizers for iBooks, Nook Press, and Kobo are likely to choose books that are already selling well. Unless you’re constantly ranking high on those platforms to begin with, you won’t get chosen during that stage of the game. However, if you meet and connect with these merchandizers, your face-to-face efforts may be well rewarded with prominent placement.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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Before Amazon dominated the ebook landscape, getting featured online or in a book store was the result of negotiations between a publisher and a book store or website. While Amazon usually doesn’t take payments for features of that kind, several of the other retailers continue to negotiate with publishers for online placement of books. If the non-Amazon retailers could get paid for every space on their site, then that’s likely what they’d do, but there are simply too many spaces available and too many readers hunting for their next fix. When the retailers figured this out, they began letting self-published authors jockey for space.

Non-Amazon retailers get plenty of emails requesting placement or marketing assistance, but you get a lot more impact from a face-to-face meeting. It’s easy to dismiss an email address to the digital wastebasket, but when you see a person and hear their pitch, you can’t help but want to assist. Even though reps at non-Amazon platforms don’t always have a gleaming reputation, these are people who love books and want authors to succeed. When they see that you’re an author who writes well, understands marketing, and wants to keep putting books into reader hands, you’ll be well on your way to a featured promotion.

As authors have experienced decreased revenue from going exclusive on Amazon, they’ve sought out improved earnings from the other platforms. While some tactics that work on Amazon like the use of keywords carry over to Apple, Kobo, and Nook Press, getting featured is the only surefire way to sell more books through the other retailers. It’s an absolute must for multi-platform success.

How Does This Strategy Work?

Meeting with merchandizers is probably the simplest of the book discovery strategies, but it will require travel, money, and time. The first step is finding out where the representatives of the various platforms will be taking meetings or setting up a booth. The major retailers like iBooks, Nook Press, and Kobo are a fixture at big-time conferences like Book Expo America and the London Book Fair. Since these events are so big and crowded, you may want to consider trying to strike up a conversation during a smaller conference.

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To find where the reps will be, start by emailing each retailer to ask. Kobo will be the quickest to respond with the most human attention, but you may be able to get the info you need in this manner from iBooks and Nook Press as well. If you’re unsuccessful, check out the list of speakers at writing conferences in your area. The events with a slight self-publishing focus are the likeliest candidates for merchandizing rep attendance.

Once you’ve found the closest conference that will feature representatives from the retailers, save up for your trip and take the necessary time off work. Depending on the size of the conference, you may need to schedule a meeting to get face time with the reps. In most cases, however, you can skip a presentation or two and go chat up the reps while most of the attendees are listening to the speakers.

You’ll want to know your pitch and have a set of business cards handy to distribute. You should know approximately how many books you’ve sold, and you should be prepared to bring up your book on a mobile device (on that retailer’s platform). The better your book looks and the better reviews you’ve obtained, the more likely it is that the rep will want to hear you out. Beyond the pitch part of the encounter, you should be ready to have a regular old conversation. Reps want to hear your story and know that you’re a human being, as opposed to just an email address. That way, when you follow up with them, they’ll remember exactly who you are.

After the conference, follow up with the rep as soon as you can. Make sure to provide any information the rep requested from you, such as your title, the link to your book, and any other marketing materials. Don’t be a pest, but make sure to follow up just enough to get your book featured. After you’ve secured the feature, check back in with the rep every couple of months to see if you can get your book back in a prominent place.

Who You Know

There are ways to connect with reps without meeting them in person. Perhaps you know a friend who has a connection with a rep, and this person can act as an intermediary for the two of you. But if you don’t have friends in high places, you’re going to need to make the effort to introduce yourself.

Beyond connecting with reps, you never know who you’ll meet at these conferences and other events. In addition to getting a foothold on the non-Amazon platforms, you may make other contacts who will lead to additional sales opportunities. The only way to make those connections, however, is for you to leave your living room and get your face out there.