Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Marketing Tip: Participate in Online Discussions

Book marketers, authors, publicists, and social networking gurus all sing the praises of participating in online discussions about the topics and themes of their writing. It's a great way to connect with people who are already interested in your topic. Do it enough, and in the right way, and you'll help your niche audience find your book. Here are some of the reasons:

1) People who blog want comments on their blogs. You're not bothering them by thanking them for their blog post, adding something helpful to the discussion, and ending with your name and book information.

2) People who frequent these blogs and discussion groups are looking for information that you're an expert in. You don't have to interrupt someone (like TV or Radio Commercials) to try to interest them in your book. They're already interested and stopped by the blog or discussion group or newspaper article to find more information.

How to Find Articles and Blogs to Comment On

1. Find key words and phrases that people use to search for your topics.

First, go to Google's tool for finding key words and phrases in Google Ad Words. (If the url has changed do a Google search for a phrase such as "find key words". Several sites have tended to offer these tools.)

For my financial book, I did two searches, one on "money" and another on "finances." I discovered, for example, that the phrase "earn money" was searched 368,000 times last month.

2. Find the most popular blogs in your subject areas. Here are several ways:
  • Visit Technorati , the most popular search engine for blogs. Search some of the key words and phrases you discovered. You'll notice that Technorati tells you the "authority" of each blog, according to how many other sites/blogs have linked to the blog.
  • See if one of Technorati's categories fits your subject matter. Click on the category and you'll find blogs listed according to their "authority."
  • Set up Google Alerts to e-mail you when someone has posted a blog or article on your subject matter.
  • Subscribe (with RSS) to the most popular blogs, so that you'll know immediately when they've posted something new. You'll need a free RSS reader, like Google Reader.
3. Is a blog getting enough traffic to make it worth your time to pursue or comment on? To find out how much traffic it gets, download (free of charge) Alexa's "Sparky" . This toolbar lets you see the popularity of any blog or site that you're viewing.

4. On some popular blogs, you may want to ask the administrators if they'd like a free copy of your book to review. (They may ask for another copy as a give-away.) Also, look at Technorati's list of top blogs in different areas. You might want to sign up for RSS feeds from the top sites so that you're first to know when they make a commentable post.

Other tips:

1) The early commenter gets the most visible comments. Blogs tend to post in order from first comment to last. Thus, if you're commenting on a newspaper article or a popular blog, comment as close to its posting as possible. Otherwise you may post comment #45, which nobody will ever read. That's the benefit of having receiving Google Alerts and setting up syndication from popular columns and blogs. As soon as you receive an alert, you can read the article and comment. Those reading the article all that day will also see your comment. [Maybe its a guy thing with my competitiveness, but I like to think that I've captured the "Poll Position" (first position in a car race or horse race) to motivate me to get that first comment.]

2) Before reading the article, scroll to the bottom of the article to make sure you can leave comments.

3) Realize that some blogs will not allow you to link back to your site or Amazon page. So just put the name of your book so that they can copy and paste into Amazon to search for it.

4) Some say that they allow you to use basic html to add a link. Here's an example. It's a bit more tricky, but not that hard once you figure it out. When a reply box says it allows html, here's the code I put into it to get a live link to our publisher site. (Typically, I link them to the Amazon page for my book, but that link's so long I thought it might confuse the issue.) (don't use the parentheses): (">Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It)

To make your live link, simply replace my url or web address (shown in bold blue) with your url. Then, replace my book title (shown in bold green) with your book title. Now, keep it handy, like in a saved Word document or a saved e-mail, so that you can find it quickly and copy and paste it into a comment the next time you need it.

Other Benefits of Commenting on Blogs
  • You become more of an expert on your topic and more up-to-date. It's an education in itself.
  • You discover other organizations that need to know about your book.
Do you have experience with commenting on other people's blogs or articles? Let us know what you think!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Submitting to Book Awards

The Benefits of Book Awards

An author friend submitted his book to be considered for an award. Although he didn't win, he was nominated for an award, giving him the right to put a sticker on his book saying something like: "Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year." He says that this sticker really helps him with sales.

For low platform authors who aren't household names, we need all the help we can get. So why not pursue honors, awards and blurbs that tell buyers, "This book is special!"? Authors who win awards can say to a bookseller, "This award-winning book..." which sets it apart from most competing books.

Additionally, winning books are often displayed at ceremonies, given special promotion. Distributors and booksellers may take notice, and finalists and winners often receive cash awards.

So I took a couple of hours to hit the library and peruse the 2009 editions of both Literary Market Place (LMP) and Writers Market, both of which have sections listing book awards. (There's also a section of the Christian Writers Market dedicated to contests.) Don't be overwhelmed by the huge number of awards. You can narrow down pretty quickly which ones apply to your book.

Update on "Benefits," 2/10/10: In November, my book won the "Personal Finance" category for the Best Books award! I ordered a set of gold stars, which paste nicely on my cover. I sent out a free press release, one of which was to an organization that targets press releases to libraries. It may have been this release which caused libraries to start placing orders with a quality book distributor, who contacted me requesting a contract. They're starting to market my book to libraries and make regular sales. Another experience: Last month, I took my book to an independent bookstore to see if they would carry it. Her first reaction was to look at the award sticker and say, "This helps."

Do My Odds of Winning Make It a Worthwhile Gamble?

Your odds are better than you might first think. First of all, you're seldom in competition with best-selling authors. They apparently don't feel the need to compete and big-time publishers focus their marketing efforts on their best selling authors when the book first comes out - not a year later when contest winners are announced.

Let's estimate the odds of winning an award from "
the largest independent book awards contest in the world" - The Independent Publisher Book Awards. They claimed to have 4,000 entries in 2009. Having so many entries, I assume that it's one of my longest shots for winning. But those entries are divided into 67 categories, narrowing down my competition to an average of 60 books per category. But each category offers three awards, thus narrowing down my competition to an average of 20 books.

Now if you're in a specialized category, like "multicultural nonfiction adult", isn't it entirely possible that I'll find myself competing with five other books, three of which are titled "How to Get Rich on the Internet," written in broken English by telephone company support personnel in third world countries?

My conclusion: If I've written a good book that's well-edited and designed, these are good enough odds to pursue.

Caution: There will be much more competition in the broader categories. But the good news is that a first, second, or third place in one of these categories says a lot about the quality of your book. In a February, 2010 letter from The Independent Publisher Book Awards:

"It looks like this year’s entry numbers are similar to last year’s, when we reached 4,000 total entries for the first time. That means the competition is very tough and the judging will be even tougher. Last year we had nine categories with over 100 entries each, and eleven more with over 70 entries each! I feel these large numbers bring credibility to the Awards, and that the more entries we have per category, the more valuable each award becomes."

Narrowing Down Appropriate Contests

Side note: according to Writers Market, contests come and go pretty quickly. Make sure the award still exists before sending your book. New contests are announced regularly in writers publications. These may not be prestigious, but your book would probably have less competition. And does the average book-buyer know a prestigious contest from a non-prestigious one?

My book is a nonfiction personal finance book written in a story form, published by a small publisher, targeting people 16-32 years old. So I can ignore all awards that:

1) Don't accept submissions. (Some contests do their own searching.)
2) Only accept submissions from Canada or Ohio or people born in Texas.
3) Cater to big-name authors and big publishers. (See the winners of past years.)
4) Take only fiction or poetry or books about orchids (yes, there is one like that).
5) Accept only non-published manuscripts.

Here's my narrowed down list, with stars by the organizations I'm pursuing:

* Foreword Magazine Book of the Year - - 61 Categories. "ForeWord is the only review trade journal devoted exclusively to books from independent houses." Foreword is respected by libraries, distributors and booksellers. With 61 categories, first, second and third places in each category, plus an announcement of finalists, there's a decent chance to get some recognition. Even to say your book was "a finalist in the Foreword Book of the Year Awards" could be a huge boost. Jan. 15, 2010 deadline. $75 entry fee per title, per category.

* Benjamin Franklin Awards - - Sponsored by "the largest non-profit trade association representing independent publishers": The Independent Book Publishers Association. 54 categories. "Regarded as one of the highest national honors in small and independent book publishing." Deadlines: Sept. 30 for books published through August; Dec. 31 for rest of books published in 2009. $80 entrance fee for IBPA members. $180 for non-members, which includes a membership. (Good contest, but I'm too cheap to fork out $180.)

* Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books - - Fifteen categories. "Each category will be awarded a winner, runner-up, and multiple honorable mentions." Deadline: Jan. 21, 2010. $45 entrance fee.

* The Independent Publisher Book Awards (67 categories) - - "Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in each category." Over 4,000 entries ... "the largest independent book awards contest in the world." $85 entry fee per category. Discounts for earlier submission. Deadline: March 20, 2010.

* Nautilus Award - - "Recognizing Books...that Promote Spiritual Growth, Conscious Living, and Positive Social Change as they stimulate the 'imagination' and inspire the reader to "new possibilities" for a better world." 28 categories. Submit August 2009 to Jan. 15, 2010. $165 entrance fee, but discounts for submitting earlier (e.g., $145 before Oct. 16).

* Best Business Books - - Each book will be judged on the originality of its ideas and content. Eleven categories, October 15 deadline. Submit two copies. No entrance fee. (Update: I didn't win or place.)

*Mom's Choice Awards - - Deadline of Oct. 1, 2009. $300 per book, per category. Benefits: book reviews, special promotions, etc. Over 100 categories.

*Best Books Awards - - $69 per book, per category. Deadline: Sept. 30, 2009. 100+ categories. Benefits: special promotions. Update: I won the personal finance division!

*National Indie Excellence Awards - - 100+ categories, $65 per book, per category. March 31, 2010 deadline. Benefits: promotions, etc.

The Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards -

Michael L. Printz Award
- - "an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature." "sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association. Actually, this is one of many awards for young adult literature. See the rest of the awards here: . Hurdle: Most of these awards require submission by someone other than the author/publisher/editor, e.g., a librarian. But if libraries are raving about your book, see if a librarian will submit it for you. Note also their category for Outstanding Books for the College Bound.

The Christopher Awards - - No charge for submission, but few categories (less chances to win) and winners seems to come from big presses.

Patterson Prize for Books for Young People -

What Next?

At this point, I'll go to each site and gather more information to help me prioritize. I'll ask questions like,
  • How much do they charge? (I don't have an unlimited budget!)
  • What are my odds of winning or getting at least getting a nomination?
  • Do they subdivide into categories, or is it me against hundreds of others for one or two big prizes?
  • How prestigious is the award?
I'll also want to see if there are smaller awards, open only to people in my region or to books on personal finance. Not all contests are listed in the publications I consulted.

Important: I had falsely assumed that all awards would be for books published in the previous calendar year, thus having deadlines of a couple of months into the next year following publication. But some work on different schedules. Check each contest to find their schedule.

Any other ideas or personal experiences with seeking book awards? If you won one or were nominated for one, did it help you with sales?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Marketing Takeaways from Ning Discussion

I've been following Ning discussion in their Book Marketing Network entitled "What's the Biggest Challenge with Your Book?" Many excellent ideas have been shared over the last couple of years. I decided to try to consolidate the ideas, which come from authors and book marketing experts and publishers.

1. My book won't sell itself. I, the author, need to alert the world to it's existence and show them a way to purchase it.

2. I need a distribution system (e.g., through Amazon, traditional distributors, etc.). Typically, people won't turn out in droves to buy from my website.

3. Get with a major wholesaler, like Ingram or Baker and Taylor. Bookstores tend to order through them. I need a return policy with the wholesaler, since book stores expect it.

4. Try lots of things to discover what works for me and my book. Every author is different; every book is different. Thus, what flops for one book may fly for another. When I find something that works, keep pursuing it.

5. Expect lots of failures and dead ends. It's part of the business. If one bookstore turns me down, learn from it and proceed to the next store. Ask what distribution channels they use. Ask what kinds of books they like to stock. The next manager might be delighted to take my book. "In 'The Last Lecture', Randy Pausch reminds us that brick walls are made to separate those of us who really want it from those of us who don't want it enough."

6. Reviews sell books. Get lots of them. Sending out books for review is one of the cheapest and most productive ways to promote books. Example: The MidWest Book Review welcomes small publishers and self-published books. Find other reviewers, particularly by finding publications (like trade journals) and columnists who write on my topic.

7. Do five things every day to promote my book. Most of those efforts will come to nothing, but cumulatively, that's 35 initiatives each week, 140 per month, over 1800 per year. With those numbers, people will take notice and channels will open. In a real sense, it's a numbers game, so do the numbers. It's okay to stumble a lot. It's okay to do things that produce absolutely no sales at all. But doing something trumps doing nothing.

8. Have a Website and/or a blog. There needs to be a place for people to come, meet me, hang out, and find out more about my books. When I send press releases, curious media will check my online press kit to find other reviews, interviews, topics for discussion, etc. Over time, I just might build a following. If I provide a way for them to leave me their e-mail address (to get a newsletter, etc.) then I can alert them to my next book.

9. Book signings aren't dead. The ones that work tend to be the ones where I go to talk about a felt need - some authors might talk about how to deal with an alcoholic family member or how to manage their money. Even if I don't sell many books, I'm likely to meet valuable connectors. One person does signings with a group of authors, which makes it easier for people to walk up and start a conversation.

10. Speak at meetings where people are already gathered. Rather than trying to gather a crowd, speak at civic organizations and to university organizations. They do their own advertising and have their regulars who show up every week. If you're terrified to speak before groups, that's pretty normal. Start small, learn from each outing, and see if it works for you. You might surprise yourself and end up enjoying it.

11. Consider doing a "virtual book tour." Get help from someone experienced in these. "You may want to contact Penny Sansevieri at or Chris Anderson (editor of Wired Magazine). Both have companies that help with virtual book tours." - Bill Frank

12. Participate in web-based discussions where people already gather.

  • Go to Google Ad Words Keywords Tool to find many phrases that people search concerning my topic.
  • Sign up for Google Alerts about your topic. Experiment with several of the key words/phrases I discovered. When it alerts me to an interesting article or blog that speaks on my topic, thank the writer for the article and add a comment, signing off with my name, the name of my book, and a link to my book on Amazon.
  • Go to Technorati. Use my key words/phrases to find the top-ranked (most incoming links) blogs about my topic. Lots of people typically read and participate in these blogs. Start interacting and sign off as above. On some popular blogs, I may want to ask the administrators if they'd like a free copy of your book to review. (They may ask for another copy as a give-away.)

13. Think outside of the bookstore. In non-bookstores, I'm not competing with other books. See if they will sell my books on consignment. "Leave fliers or bookmarks in hospital emergency rooms, doctors offices, dentist, etc. Hotels even let you advertise your book."

14. Give yourself time. Some say it takes as much as three years for a book to catch on. If my book isn't selling well after a year, welcome to the club. Am I still doing my five marketing thingies per day? Conversations start and die if not tended. It's my responsibility to keep the word of mouth going.

15. Keep learning! Read books (Bill Frank's recommended list is here.) Participate in these discussion groups. Readers don't choose books simply because they are well-written. If I want my books to sell, I need to study the industry, which means to learn, learn, learn. "Being knowledgeable about the book business is the best way to be successful in the book business. Armed with knowledge, you can determine what is the best way to go for you and your book." - Bill Frank, Aug. 27.

16. Nominate Bill Frank for any appropriate rewards. He's developed the best conversation I've seen about this topic. The content of this discussion is invaluable and should be read by all authors. If he writes a book on book marketing, I want it. He's humble, knowledgeable and patient with our questions. One practical way we can help him is to go to his recommended book list and check it as helpful (Note: "Rate It" in the right column of his Listmania List).

Bill, if you're reading this, we'd like to know any other way we can assist you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Marketing and Social Media: "Go Where People Are Already Gathered"

This concept, found in a Ning book marketing discussion, caused me to question the conventional wisdom on both social networking and book signings. An author was relating what was working for her. Rather than trying to gather a bunch of people to talk to them about her books (like traditional book signings), she chose to talk to civic groups and other pre-existing meetings that already had followings and publicized their own events.

When I did a recent book signing, I had to publicize the event, e-mail folks, etc. About 10 people came and I sold several books. Perhaps more will sell since I left some at the place of business to try to sell. But that was a lot of time and effort to try to draw a crowd and sell a few books.
Yet, there are many civic organizations and universities that have budgets to bring in speakers. They'd probably pay me something and allow me to sell books in the back afterwards. They already have loyal attendees and they do all the publicity. They gather the crowd and I just show up to speak. That sounds like a great use of my time.

Applying "Go Where the Crowd is Already Gathered" to Web-Based Social Networking

This makes sense and perhaps has application to our use of social media to get the word out about our books.

It seems to me that since social media (and the experts I read) is a "social" thing, where there should be ongoing discussions between people, that any marketing strategy involving Twitter, Facebook and a personal blog would be a pretty time consuming task. I'd not only put out information regularly (perhaps daily?), but would additionally follow others who follow me (time reading) and occasionally comment on their comments. And over time, that may or may not pay off in sales.

In a timeless world, where I could continually add things to my schedule, trying to gather a following would be a no-brainer. It's another way to start conversations about my book, gain a following, etc. But in a time-limited world, I have to think of this versus other ways to get the word out.

Now this goes against the prevailing wisdom of some of the marketing people I read. Feel free to reply if you think my reasoning is off.

Applying This to Writing a Newsletter

According to most marketing gurus I read, we should prioritize collecting e-mail addresses and sending out a regular newsletter. I understand the benefits of this and believe that for an author who has both the time and the passion for it, this can be a good thing.

On the other hand, sending out a quality e-mail can take lots of time and effort. And the newsletter can't likely promote your book every issue, so will the number of resulting sales be worth the effort, if your primary reason for starting it is to sell books? (I publish two quarterly newsletters, but they're not primarily to market my books. If that were my sole intention, I probably wouldn't publish them.)

Applying the "go where the people are already gathered" principle to newsletters, consider contributing to other people's successful newsletters. I just sent a post on a successful networking experience I had to John Kremer, one of the most respected names in book publishing. No telling how many people receive his regular e-letter or follow his blog. But he's putting my article on his blog, linking to it from his newsletter, and putting a link back to my site. All these people will then know something about my book.

Book marketing gurus like Kremer, Poynter and Jud probably each have many, many more people than I could ever gather for a newsletter. By helping them with their newsletters, I expose all of their lists to my books. And what about all the newsletters out there that target family life, personal finances, etc. I could keep myself busy for a year getting publicity through just newsletters!

Applying This to Writing a Column

Some publicists recommend that I try writing a column for a newspaper on my topic. Hey, it gets me out there, helps build a following, and who knows, I just might get syndicated and appear in newspapers around the country!

But writing a great column takes loads of time. And with all the competition out there, what are the odds that I'd win out over all the MBA's in professional writing who are pushing to write the same column?

And even if I win at this game and write a popular column that's syndicated, I can't talk about my book very much, or I become irritating.

I got to thinking about this problem, so I visited the Amazon pages of books written by some of the most popular syndicated personal finance columnists in major newspapers. Their Amazon rankings were 328,000, 612,000 and 353,000. That compares to my Amazon ranking of 132,000! That means that I'm selling many more books than these popular columnists (at least on Amazon). Perhaps it's because I'm going to places that people are already gathered, and each time I go (unlike a financial columnist), I can talk about my book, or at least put it with my signature.

Applying this to social networking, one person on Ning said that she has Google Alerts set up to alert her when anybody's writing on her topic. She clicks through to the the articles or blogs or online newspapers, reads the articles, comments and adds to the discussion, then signs it with her name and a link to her book on Amazon. She said that whenever she does this, she notes an increase in sales. I tried it yesterday with two comments, one on a newspaper and one on a blog. The person replied to the blog, "Thanks for the comment. I look forward to reading your book." Hmmm...that was a pretty quick return. And I didn't irritate anyone. And I didn't have to wait a year to gather a following. And I didn't have to spend many, many hours writing unique, informative blogs.

This blogger was delighted that I commented on his blog. (Bloggers live for positive comments, assuring them know that people are actually reading their stuff.)

This applies the "go where people are already gathered" concept to social media. Rather than spending my days trying to attract a Twitter and Blog and Facebook following that may or may not be interested in my book, a strategy that just might annoy my "friends" if I keep bringing up my book, why not simply go to the blogs and online media outlets that are already discussing my topic and join in the discussion? I get links back from many significant sites. And for the ones that don't allow links back (like many major newspapers), just sign it with your name and the name of the book.

So, regarding social networking, I'm concentrating on "going where the people are already gathered" rather than "trying to gather people". In a timeless world, I could do both. But the tick-tick of my wall clock reminds me that each second has a period after it. I've got to concentrate my limited time on the most likely payoffs.

Your thoughts?