Category Archives: How to Sell Books

Art is Not a Thing. It is a Way.

rainbow-fan

An Editorial by Louella Nelson

In February 2017, the New York Times cut many of its popular categories of best-seller lists—including the lists for mass market paperbacks, a bastion of the romance novel—upsetting many in the arenas of publishing and reading. “Among the lists that appear to have disappeared are the graphic novel/manga and the mass market paperback lists as well as the middle grade e-book and young adult e-book lists,” Publishers Weekly’s Calvin Reid reported on January 26.

I prefer to follow up with good news: I thought this comment by the editor and publishing manager of Romance Writers of American (RWA) based in Houston, Erin Fry, was a beacon to authors who strive so long and hard to reach a pinnacle in publishing. “Thankfully,” Fry writes, “there are a number of other ways members can achieve Honor Roll outside of the NYT list: appear on the Publishers Weekly Top Ten bestseller list or any other PW best-seller list based solely on format, genre, or region; appear in the top 50 of the USA Today bestseller list; or have sold at least 100,000 copies in a single language” (which is the category I fall into).

Fighting back, RWA National sent this open letter of objection to the Times and also posted the statement on its own website:

As a trade association representing more than 10,000 writers of romance fiction worldwide, Romance Writers of America (RWA) is deeply disappointed by the decision of the New York Times to change its bestseller criteria.

Romance authors, most of them women, have dominated the best-seller lists in mass market and e-books for years. To dismiss these authors and the millions of readers who buy their books is to ignore what “bestseller” truly means. Each year, consumers buy more than $1.3 billion worth of romance fiction. If the New York Times eliminates the mass market and e-book lists, they are proving that they are out of touch with what consumers actually buy. Further, the dismissal of two formats dominated by women can’t help but feel sexist.

RWA strongly urges the Times to reconsider its decision.

_____________

Reid doubts they will, and that’s a shame. Literally. Art–and there IS art evident in mass market fiction–is not a thing you can toss away on a whim or a concern about a bottom line. Art is the thread that binds a culture and makes it strong, vibrant.

I believe the move to cut back lists of popular fiction signifies the ongoing killing off of creative arts in favor of the flourishing of financial interests in our culture, if “cultural” we’d be when our arts dry up.

At the end of January, one blog post on a site called The Passive Voice announced a snide headline: “Panicky NYT circles the wagons around 1%-ers, throwing the rest of traditionally published authors to the wolves.” The 1%-ers are the big-name authors who hit the best-seller lists every time they launch a new hardcover. Pretty much the entire reading world knows their name. If a publisher mostly publishes 1%-ers, they’re playing it safe and not trusting that an investment in a new author will pay off. That’s been going on for a while.

Thus, new authors flock to publish their own books. However, the NYT shut another door in their faces. If the new author does everything right and sells a ton of copies, expect no recognition from the NYT: The organization dropped e-book lists. Looks like the NYT is playing to the 1% market, cutting costs, risk, the hopes of new authors, and the pleasure of millions who seek a new voice to read.

Without data to back up my claim but with life-experience guiding my opinion, I suspect that, like other major papers, the NYT suffers its share of money woes. As is so often the case when the financial picture darkens for a corporation or a country, funding and notice for the arts get cut back. For example, following the 2008 financial meltdown, the University of California Extension in Irvine, where I was teaching beginning through advanced novel-writing courses, cut all arts classes from its catalogue. They kept the computer-related courses that filled to capacity every quarter and that strategy no doubt helped the Extension program survive the financial crisis.

The ivory tower creative writing degree program at UCI only allows in about 8-10 students from all over the world, each year. So the closing of the Extension writing courses meant a good deal of Orange County and beyond went without a place to learn to write, publish, or produce. That was 11 years ago.

Even though the economy has rebounded, not much has changed at my local Extension. A quick scan of the catalogue I checked today shows business management, instructional technology, process improvement, finance, law, leadership—a host of valuable courses that can earn my neighbors some cash flow working in the businesses in Orange County. But not one course is offered in creative writing, screen writing, play- or poetry- writing, never mind singing, painting, dance, and so on.

I try to stay positive. And most of the time I can rise above that tug of disillusion that stems from chaos at the national level, mayhem in countries that offer rich culture and rare antiquities, and a community institution that delivers “university-level learning solutions by leveraging the expertise of the  campus and community” but completely ignores the need of the human spirit to renew itself in its arts (quote from UCI website).

Instead of advertising “solutions” and “leveraging,” let’s hear them yell out loud, “Creativity encouraged here!” Creativity is a friendly animal who lives quite well alongside capitalism, as successful romance writers know well. Instead of cut-backs in national lists of the books people love, let’s add lists for the new genres birthed by creative minds. Let’s open the doors of learning once again to the singing of souls through literature, music, and art.

It’s not just the number-crunchers at the New York Times or the local college or university that pluck at my positivity, but also the surging mood in Washington to do away with funding for the arts. Greed is more ubiquitous now than it used to be. Greed kills art.

The grand opera singer Beverly Sills believed, “Art is the signature of civilizations.” In this age, what are we leaving to posterity? A narrower view of what books to read? A business-only agenda? I ask this not just as a published writer but also as a college writing teacher and as a sole proprietor, a businesswoman serving the editorial and mentoring needs of best-selling and aspiring writers. What will we teach the next generation, those fresh young minds who feel a soul-deep longing to create—not just in computer science, for example, but in computer-generated art? That their dreams are not valid? That financial and engineering professions are more important?

Let’s just stop. There is another way to live, a way that arrays our many-faceted talents like a rainbow fan.

Elbert Green Hubbard was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher who was born before the Civil War and unfortunately went down with the RMS Lusitania in 1915. He said, “Art is not a thing; it is a way.”

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Making Ads and Amazon Rankings Work for You

This article is directed to the many writers I mentor and teach who are interested in promoting their books and stories via Internet advertising. The main focus for my own initial experience in book advertising was when Amazon, my publisher, put my first historical romance, Rye’s Reprieve, on sale for 99 cents without warning.

Rye's Reprieve (3) Final - CopyAmazon in its publishing role effectively uses email blasts to promote the works of its authors, so immediately my novel began climbing in the Top 100 of various lists: Historical Romance, Western Romance, Inspirational Romance, Kindle Worlds, as well as Westerns and the Romance category under Westerns.

Even after the advertising I’m going to talk about below lost its influence, today, September 19, 2016, the book is #97 on the Western Romance list, which could mean Amazon is still doing a modicum of promotion, or my own humble ad campaign combined with theirs has residual effect, or there is some mysterious force at work. It’s too much to hope that the book has a following, a life of it’s own. That would be too exciting for words.

Even more importantly, Rye’s Reprieve, which had only 13 reviews before July 2016, currently has 54 reviews on Amazon (79 % are 5-star reviews) and 80-plus ratings on Goodreads. And finally, I enjoyed seeing my new readers find and buy my other books and stories.

Here is the report I wrote in late August (with updates today in red):

Yesterday my book Rye’s Reprieve hit #7 on the Kindle Historical Romance Best Sellers list. Perhaps you are jaded by all the wonderful best-selling authors who regularly hit #1 on all the major lists and don’t think #7 is all that much.

But consider: Rye’s Reprieve is my first historical and my first novel-length fiction to release in more than two decades*. Reestablishing a writing career equates to pushing a two-ton boulder up Mt. Baldy. So seeing your new book hit #7 is about as good as eating homemade blueberry ice cream made with blueberries you picked on the hill behind your house just that morning.

*In May 2014, my period short story “Cora Lee” achieved #6 in Literary Short Fiction, following behind stories by Stephen King and Lee Child. For that launch the only promotion I did was to mention the book on Twitter & Facebook and in a newsletter to my email list of about 1200. I reissued my Harlequin titles and put out several short stories. My Amazon author page shows all fiction.

I didn’t achieve this recent modest success on Rye’s Reprieve without friends’ advice and a bit of luck. Here’s how I did it.

Decoding the rankings

On March 9 after my initial email promotion, Rye’s Reprieve went to #6 in Kindle World Romance. In contrast, this go-round, August 7-11, with the 99 cent sale and some low-cost promotions, the book hit #1 in Kindle Worlds Romance and Westerns (and at this writing, it’s still #1 in Kindle Worlds overall.) It achieved #3 in Kindle Western Romance and held there, which, together with #7 in Historical Romance, is more prestigious because the competition is huge. This “little engine that could” is still #97 in Western Romance!

Screen Capture by Snagit

Screen Capture by Snagit

How do you begin for your own promotion? Make a study of Amazon’s ranking structure. It’s complex—more complex than what you see beneath your title’s descriptive data on the book’s Amazon page. Here is the link to see all the lists available under Best Sellers Kindle Store eBooks: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kindle-Store-eBooks/zgbs/digital-text/154606011/ref=zg_bs_nav_kstore_1_kstore . You can see the list above, with Romance and then Western Romance highlighted. From there, click on your genre and drill down until you find the various lists where your book exists.

Under ebook subcategories, Romance is the umbrella topic. I then checked Historical Romance as well as Western Romance. Clicking Westerns takes you to Western Romance.

Another ranking, Westerns, can be found by clicking on Literature & Fiction/Genre Fiction. Strangely, under Genre Fiction, Romance is not listed!

I found Kindle Worlds rankings in the Ranking area on my book’s page.

But also, if your book is on sale, think seriously about placing relatively inexpensive ads on websites whose sole mission is to promote free and 99 cent ebooks.

What worked in promotion

First, Rye’s Reprieve was released in February 2016 in Debra Holland’s Montana Sky Kindle World. For all its Worlds releases, Amazon controls when price-reductions occur; they put my book on sale without warning at the beginning of August. I’m assuming they did multiple email blasts that included my book, but even those didn’t keep the book up in the rankings for long.

In addition to my own Facebook and Twitter announcements of the 99 cent sale, a member of OCC RWA and Novelists, Inc. (NINC), Lauren Royal, opened her Friday Freebies & 99-Cent Bargain Books and her weekly newsletter featuring historical novels to NINC members, so I submitted my book cover and blurb. She also mentioned my title on Facebook and Twitter. The promotion at www.LaurenRoyal.com hit on August 5 and was free.

Debra Holland recommended I try for an ad in eReader News Today (ENT) and I was lucky to be chosen to participate. The fee for an ad on a specific day for historical romance is only $60. You can pay by PayPal or credit card (as most of the sites I mention allow). The morning the ad appeared at www.ereadernewstoday.com, August 7, the book shot to #1 in the Kindle Worlds mentioned above and #5 on the Western Romance list. Unfortunately, I did not think to check the Historical Romance category, but when I did a couple days later, the novel was ranked #22, rising to #7 in the past few days.

ent-ad-8-7-16I credit Amazon emails, the ENT ad, and Lauren’s newsletter for Rye’s Reprieve’s initial rise in rank.

Meanwhile, I contacted colleague Linda Carroll-Bradd and asked her advice about advertising. She recommended I look into www.JustKindleBooks.com and www.Ebookshabit.com. The ad at Just Kindle Books costs $20 plus Add Ons (keep the book on their homepage for extra 3 days $20; Facebook post to 26,000 followers, $10) for a total of $60. The fee includes cover image/link on Pinterest, Tumblr, and other main social media.

That promo hit August 11. The book rose to #7 in Historical Romance, # 3 in Western Romance, as well as #1 in Westerns, and #1 in KW both Romance and Western. This is a pretty good indication that Just Kindle Books is worth the money. In contrast, I did not get the bump I was hoping for from a $10 ad with eBooksHabit.

After reading a chapter email and attending the Published Authors Workshop at RWA on Saturday, I gathered the following advertising ops for ebooks that are free or 99 cents from Kitty Bucholtz, Vicki Crum, Shelley Bleackley, and others.

I had spent $120 so far. With a remaining budget of about $250, I placed ads here:

Robin Reads (August was closed when I checked but I wrote to them about the success of the initial advertising efforts, they encouraged me to submit my book, and voila! A spot in their calendar opened up: Aug. 25. If they select me, the cost will be $45.)

Choosy Bookworm accepted me and will advertise Rye’s Reprieve on Aug. 18. Yay! The Rush Premium Feature costs $70 and the cover will remain on their Featured eBooks Page for a week.

Book Sends is pricey at $90 for the spot on Aug. 18 and just about ate up my budget—I have only $25 left to spend.

However, when you’re making pennies per book, money can’t be your main motive for promotion. It has to be gaining new readers, racking up a few more reviews and even cross-over sales to your other books and stories, and seeing your efforts pay off in a rise in rankings that you can share with followers. Some authors also experience a bump in sales when the book returns to its normal price, which in the case of Rye’s Reprieve is $3.99.

Did I mention BookBub? If they agreed to let me advertise with them—a slim possibility—the cost would be $500 and they anticipate I’d have roughly 2500 sales. If that happened, I’d clear $375 after costs, and the ranking would no doubt shoot Rye’s Reprieve to single digits on most coveted lists, plus bring a whole bunch of new readers to my author page.

I did not yet advertise with eBookWorth, Bargain Booksy, or Fiverr’s BKnight with its $5 price tag and 50,000 readers, because I needed to meet Marianne Donley’s deadline for A Slice of Orange. However, I will at least check out their sites.

I probably don’t need to mention…most of the authors and professional newsletter editors want the authors they feature to put the newsletter link in their social media announcements.

I would appreciate having an email from anyone who wants to share their promotion/ranking journey, and if things really jump by the end of August, I may give a follow-up report in a future blog post.

Contact me at lounelson@cox.net or this website. Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/louella.nelson.1 and Twitter: @LouellaNelson


This post first appeared in the Orange County Romance Writers of America blog machine, A Slice of Orange, in August 17, 2016, and has been updated here.