Book Discovery Strategy #4: Joining a Box Set

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Most of the strategies we’ve discussed so far in the Book Discovery series have been solo operations. This makes sense, after all, a large part of your work as an author is done alone. Now we’re going to get into a few strategies that require other people. If you have to work with someone to boost your books, it’s never a bad idea to ally yourself with the top authors in your genre.

When a group of authors all works toward a similar aim, it’s likely they’ll come up with something spectacular. That’s the beauty of getting a group of creative people together. The same can be true of marketing. By putting together books from a variety of authors into a box set, you not only provide a great deal for readers, you also combine everybody’s promotional prowess. Readers love the idea of finding new, undiscovered authors they can read. When every author in a box set spreads the word, you’re able to share your fans with your colleagues, and they can introduce their fans to you. It’s one of the most synergistic forms of book marketing there is.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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Before self-publishing hit the big time, most readers could only get the ebook version of their favorite books by shelling out $10 to $15. Nowadays, with the wave of 99 cent and $2.99 books out there, many readers expect a deal and it’s the only way to get your foot in the door. Box sets include multiple full-length novels in the same low-priced bundle, which makes them a steal for voracious readers who are looking to save a buck or two. Even if some of the books in the box set are available for free, the image and idea of over a thousand pages worth of words for a low price is often too good to pass up.

Since box sets are often priced low (99 cents or free seems to be the norm), you’re not likely to make a ton of money by being part of one. The real advantage of joining a box set is getting your book onto the Kindles of many readers who’ve never heard of you. The goal is to get fans of another author in the box set to read your book and buy the other books in your series. Since many well-promoted sets sell thousands of copies, you’ve got a good opportunity to get several dozen new fans (if not more) out of the endeavor.

How Does This Strategy Work?

The box set usually starts with a few authors in a single genre who want to put a set together. From a time investment standpoint, it’s usually best to join a box set others are already assembling, rather than putting together on your own. Organizing a set takes a lot of work and there are many headaches you may encounter along the way. If you join an existing one, you’ll simply need to submit the book you want to include and follow instructions. Brave souls who want to put a set together from scratch will need to take a lot more action along the way.

Getting into or starting a box set starts with connecting with the other authors in your genre. Facebook and Twitter are great places to make initial contact, and from there, you can ask for an email address or hunt it down from the authors’ websites. Unless you have a box set track record, you’ll likely get a lot of declines when you ask people to be part of a set. Many authors are busy, lazy, or some strange combination between the two. Be advised; even those who agree to be a part of the set may do the least amount of work possible in the slowest imaginable timeframe.

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Once you’ve gathered together some authors, it’s time to figure out all the administrative stuff. Ask yourself when you’d like the set to come out, what platforms you’d like it to be on, who’s formatting, who’s handling the cover, how the group plans on promoting, and who’s handling all the money at the end. While all these issues can be time consuming, the formatting- and money-related tasks will take the longest to figure out. If you think formatting one novel is a pain, then try dealing with a dozen. Unless you’re an expert in the subject, outsourcing is recommended.

You can’t really outsource the sales and money aspect of the project, unless you aren’t the one putting the set together. As the head of the set, you’re responsible for keeping track of sales, putting aside the money the set has earned, and splitting it between all the authors involved. Instead of splitting the money monthly, it’s a good idea to do it every three to six months. This way, you don’t have to spend so much time figuring out earnings and paying a bunch of PayPal fees along the way.

As the set is coming together, make sure everybody’s books link properly to the next books in their respective series. Since the entire point of the set is to get sell-throughs, it would be a shame if any of the books weren’t linked up correctly. As the coordinator, it can be like pulling teeth to get the proper links and materials from people, so you should set hard and fast deadlines with plenty of reminders to get folks on board. Setting up a private Facebook group will also help you make small announcements that don’t require constant emails.

It’s common practice to use paid ads to push box sets and taking the money spent out of the end earnings. Make sure you clear that point with authors when they first join the project. While BookBub won’t take multi-author box sets, many of the other email advertisers will. Use the five-day strategy of spreading out promotions instead of having them all fall on the same day. This will give your box set the biggest possible boost. Encourage the authors to also email out about the set to their readers around the time of the launch. Subscribe to all the mailing lists of the authors ahead of time, and politely nag the people who neglect to send out their message.

Since box sets take a lot of work and some upkeep, many coordinators put a limit on how long they’ll release the set. Some will only put it out for a month at most, while others will let them run indefinitely. Six months seems to be a common length for these projects to move as many copies as possible. Decide on a length of time early on in the process to make sure the other authors are on board.

Has The Box Set Fever Cooled?

Box sets aren’t as popular as they once were because you can now find multiple collections in every major genre. When the idea was more or less original, all you had to do was put the collection out and it’d stick in the Kindle Top 1,000 for months at a time. It’s no longer that easy, and putting together a set is no guarantee of success.

That being said, several box sets still appear on the USA Today and New York Times Bestseller lists nearly every week. Most of these sets are in very popular genres like romance, but you’ll see an occasional thriller or science fiction set make the lists as well. Making these big time lists is tricky business, but a box set with the right authors will almost definitely get the word out about your series to new potential readers.

If you’re putting together a set yourself, then you’ll have to spend a lot of hours setting it up. Dollars per hour-wise, it may not be worth your time, but the other authors in the set will appreciate your efforts, which could lead to future book discovery opportunities later on down the road.

Book Discovery Strategies #3: Pitch Yourself to Podcasts

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Every form of online communication has a certain degree of separation between content creators and content consumers. When blogs were the main digital way for authors to connect with readers, the number one advice most people gave newbies was to start a blog. Some blogs remain popular, but for the most part, these daily or weekly words on a page are too far removed from the readers they target. While fans want to read what their favorite authors have to say, they also crave a deeper connection.

Podcasts remove one degree of separation from the content equation because readers can actually hear your voice. When they detect your cadence, tone, and vocal mannerisms, fans feel like they know you better. The same is true when you abandon guest posting on blogs to instead become a guest on a popular podcast in your niche. You’ll forge a deeper connection with new fans who now feel as though you’re acquainted. Talking about your book on a series of podcasts is a strong strategy for finding new rabid fans for your work.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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Podcasts have been around in some form for over a decade, but it’s only recently that technology caught up to make consumption of audio more feasible. Improved mobile podcast apps and new podcast software for cars lets people take their favorite shows wherever they want to go. With more listeners than ever, some shows have built up a robust audience of loyal fans.

Hosts of these programs put in the time every day or week to create their show, and their audiences trust the products they discuss and the people they chat with. When you appear on one of these podcasts, you borrow a tiny bit of that trust. Add to this the previously mentioned ability to let audience members get to know you better, and you have a golden opportunity to sell more books.

How Does This Strategy Work?

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We’re reminded of the liquor commercial where a group of guys are asked what tequila they want. The leader of the pack says, “Any tequila,” and goes on through a series of misadventures by saying, “Any haircut,” “Any tattoo,” and “Any place,” until the gang looks ridiculous as they travel along on a bus of senior citizens. This commercial comes to mind because many authors think that “any podcast,” will do. On the contrary, the podcasts you choose will make a major difference in whether or not you sell books.

It’s pretty easy to tell which shows have an audience and which don’t. If a podcast has fewer than 10 reviews and it has no comments on the posts on its website, then it’s unlikely you’ll get much from appearing on that show. You need to seek out podcasts with an active audience. That audience should consist of your ideal readers, because you won’t sell many copies of your fishing book on a show about poker.

Search through podcasts on iTunes and Stitcher to find at least five strong candidates for your appearance. Listen to at least one episode of each show to make sure the program is a good fit. Take some notes at this time so you can keep the shows separate in your head. More often than not, you’re going to find that over half these shows wouldn’t work. Either they don’t ever have guests or you realize after listening that the subject matter isn’t as strong a fit as you thought. Repeat the five show selection process until you have at least a dozen shows to submit to.

Pitch the shows you want to appear on. We use the word pitch here because you don’t want to send the hosts a lame email saying you’d like to promote your book. You have to go beyond that, because good hosts are always looking to give their listeners value. Maybe you’ll read an excerpt from the book. Perhaps you can give out some goodies or enter the listeners into a contest. Promoting your book isn’t enough to get hosts excited about your appearance. If your pitch wouldn’t convince you to let somebody on a show, then you need to keep working on it.

Once you get a few shows lined up, figure out how to incentivize listeners to connect with you. Non-fiction authors will often offer a cheat sheet or a free video series, while fiction authors will give away a free book or some bonus chapters.

To make this strategy really shine, you’re going to want to have your books in audio. Like attracts like, and in turn, podcast listeners enjoy consuming other audio content. You can use Amazon’s ACX platform to get your books produced in audio, or you can do the whole time-consuming process yourself.

Mass Emails vs. Individual Attention

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Many authors won’t consider a strategy like this because the submission process takes extra time. They’d much rather send out a mass email to content creators to speed up the process. The reason we recommend actually listening to the shows is the same reason we recommend getting on podcasts. When you’ve actually heard what the hosts have had to say, you remove one degree of separation. You aren’t just an anonymous emailer. You’re a listener, and that small amount of effort will give your request extra attention.

Nearly all strategies worth doing will require you to do something the other guy won’t be willing to do. If it’s hard and it’s smart, then it’s probably a good investment of your time. Keep pushing and one of your strategies is bound to succeed.

Book Discovery Strategies #2: Securing Email Advertisers

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The biggest challenge in book discovery is setting your book apart from the millions of other books online. Every so often, some readers will pull your book out of a hat because it’s on an also bought list or because Amazon sent out word of your book through a targeted email. Most promotions like that are out of an author’s control, but there are some lists you can pay to get your book listed on.

Email is the best way to market almost anything, so it’s no surprise that companies like BookBub with massive curated email lists have been very successful selling books. BookBub is the only email advertiser with almost guaranteed profitability, though there is a strong second tier with a good track record that includes eReaderNewsToday, Kindle Books & Tips, and Bargain Booksy. What these email advertisers have in common is their ability to get your needle of a book out of its Amazon haystack to put it in front of new potential readers.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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As the digital book age began to flourish, several companies saw the value in creating a service that would alert readers to discounts on good books. Millions of readers flocked to these services, and BookBub was the most successful of the bunch. BookBub topped former email advertising stalwart Kindle Nation Daily because the former never compromised its strict quality standards. It rarely recommended a bad book, so voracious readers knew they could trust the service to only point out the best titles.

The strongest email advertisers have curated lists of book buyers who make purchases in certain genres. When you have a sci-fi book, for instance, there are few better ways to promote the book than to send a link of it out to 50,000 sci-fi fans who don’t have a problem clicking the buy button. The email advertisers work because they have incredible lists that are proven to move thousands of books at a time.

BookBub and similar services also promote free books to their subscribers. By purchasing the right combination of services, authors have been known to give away tens of thousands of copies of their free books in a single weekend.

How Does The Strategy Work?

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Most of the hard work in getting an email advertiser on board comes in making your book seem strong enough to warrant a feature. BookBub’s standards are extremely high and the majority of authors who submit are rejected. What the 80 to 90 percent of rejections don’t realize is that there’s a sliding scale of qualifications for each genre.

You must look at the books BookBub has featured in your genre and judge your submission against theirs. If the books range from 150 to 500 reviews at a very high rating, then your book with 25 reviews isn’t going to stand a chance. The only exception here is a single author book bundle, which they’ll give a little leeway to as long as the books inside it have a large number of reviews on their own.

Get your book to the same level as the other books in your genre that BookBub has previously featured. If that means getting 300 reviews to get in the middle of 150 and 500 reviews the other books have, then that’s the burden you must bear. That may sound insane if you’re just starting out, but it’s what you’ve got to do to even be considered for a feature.

Once you’re accepted by the almighty BookBub, you can plan the rest of your promotion around the date you’ve been given. Seek out promotions at eReaderNewsToday, Kindle Books & Tips, The Midlist, Bargain Booksy and other well-known second tier email advertisers. Do your research to make sure you aren’t throwing your money away on an unknown service.

Amazon’s algorithm works in your favor when you have consistent sales or downloads over the course of multiple days. That’s why you should spread out your email advertisers over the course of five or more days. For instance, if you get a BookBub scheduled for a Tuesday, then you might want to get other email advertisers on that Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday.

The last part of the strategy is to make sure your book is prepared for your promotion. Schedule any discounts to go through at least 24 hours before your promotion. Use our previously mentioned Two Books Free strategy and have a version of your book with your email list advertisement uploaded at least a week ahead of time. Ensure that all your books link to future books in your series to get the best chance of a sell-through.

Getting Accepted Is a Journey Worth Taking

Many authors have described applying to BookBub as a Sisyphean task that often sees them getting crushed by an out-of-control boulder. If you go about the first part of the strategy in the right way, however, then you’ll work your tail off to get more reviews on your book and constantly strengthen your cover, your description, and your Look Inside. You may never get accepted by the big kahuna of email marketing, but if you work hard to try, you’ll only improve your chances of selling more books.

By the time you’ve finally improved your book’s credentials to the level of BookBub acceptance, you’ll have a title that’s bound to get much more reader attention as well.