Does Anyone Still Buy Books? Where?

There’s a new Author Earnings report out this month, and for me, that’s a chance to reassess everything you’re doing as a writer, and perhaps, to readjust your plans for the future. It’s hard to obtain reliable information about the publishing business, and every source has flaws, but I believe the information collected by Author Earnings is the most reliable we have, and certainly better than the info from AAP or Bookscan or other sources that don’t track Amazon sales. Granted, that’s tough to do, since Amazon doesn’t release its sales figures. But any accounting that ignores the retailer that sells more than 50% of all books sold in the US, and an even greater percentage of all eBooks, is inherently untrustworthy. Authors Earnings, using its advance computer-bot data-gathering techniques, counts everything.

Here are the three main takeaways from this month’s report:

One: In the five primary English-speaking countries, indie self-published books outsell the Big Five New York publishers.

When you’re doing the math, remember to add the sky blue (indie books) to the cyan (uncategorized, probably self-published). Independent authors are doing better worldwide than most people realize. Also note the increased growth of Amazon’s imprints. Amazon is the fastest growing publisher in the world.

Two: eBooks are still selling, and they sell far better at Amazon than anywhere else.

eBook sales did dip around May of last year, but they rebounded and are slowly growing again. As this chart makes clear, Amazon sells far more books than anyone else, but the other three are not insignificant. Which leads to the third topic…

Three: The answer to whether it’s best to have your books exclusively with Amazon, or to “go wide” (my wife calls this, “playing the field”), is still unclear. Amazon sells more books, and exclusivity does have benefits, the most significant of which is participation in Kindle Unlimited. KU allows members to “borrow” your book at no additional charge. The author gets paid based upon pages actually accessed by the borrower.

The plus is that many will borrow who would not buy. According to Author Earnings, “KindleUnlimited has grown into a Top-3 ebook retail channel in its own right; KU is now paying indie authors twice as many dollars as Barnes & Noble’s Nook is paying to all publishers combined.” That said, you have to wonder how many of those people would’ve bought the book (at full price) if they couldn’t borrow. Even if it’s only a fraction, you might make more in royalties.

And there are always risks in being dependent upon a single market. What if Amazon’s eBook sales dip again, even more precipitously? Or Amazon changes its policies on author compensation? Being visible, and taking advantage of promotions, on a variety of platforms may increase your visibility. It will also increase your ability to get value out of marketing promotions like Bookbub. I have friends who have told me they are getting something like a quarter of their sales from B&N.com or a combo of non-Amazon sites. (Of course, that only comes with active promotion.)

I wish I had a definitive answer here, but I don’t. My recommendation? Experiment, and see what works best for you and your books.

Author Earnings: http://authorearnings.com/report/february-2017

Promoting Your Work in Instagram

The blog is back!

I took February off to finish up a novel and to help Lara get the next issue of Conclave out. In case you’re wondering–Ben Kincaid is back! Justice Returns will soon be available. The Balkan Press has two new titles, Fetish and Other Stories, a lovely collection of short fiction, and Whimsical Warrior, a poetry book out in a few weeks. Lara’s novel, The Wantland Files, is doing phenomenally and was recently nominated for the Oklahoma Book Award. The summer writing retreat schedule is posted and we’ll soon be providing details about the fall writing conference.

Enough update. Back to blogging. I want to continue the prior discussion about marketing, this time focusing on Instagram. Whether we like it or not, social media marketing has become essential to book promotion. Most of you are probably already using Facebook and perhaps Twitter. But you may be overlooking Instagram, currently the fastest growing social media outlet, either because you think it’s just for kids or because you think it’s more about pictures than words. The latter part is true–but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to attract readers.

Instagram has about 500 million readers, and 300 million of those post or visit every day. Who are the people? According to the Pew Research Center:

  • 32% of all internet users (and 28% of all US adults) use Instagram. Would you like to reach 28% of all US adults?
  • Instagram use is highest among young adults, but 33% of 30-to 49-year-olds also use Instagram.
  • Females are somewhat more likely to use Instagram than men, 38% to 26%, respectively.

So Instagram may be best for those targeting readers between 18 and 49, but almost anyone could benefit. Creating a profile is easy. All you need is a username and a short bio, though I would also add a photo. And start posting. Don’t expect overnight success. Like everything else in the world of writing, it takes time to build an audience.

How are authors using it? Tyler Knott Gregson has used it to become the bestselling poet writing today, with book sales far greater than the more traditional or academically approved poets. He typically handwrites or types out his short poems and posts photos. Agent Gordon Warnock’s Instagram feed is named for his dog Archer–it’s called archersnack.  He posts a lot of dog pictures, which people love. Other authors have posted book covers, photos from signings and events, or gorgeous photos of the settings of their books or the places where they live or write.

Lara and I were at Eureka Springs’ Books in Bloom festival and I started playing the piano because, you know, no one could stop me. Moments later, Tess Gerritsen had snapped a photo and posted it, which drew her many readers to my page (though they were more interested in what I was playing than what I was writing).

The site has added Instagram Stories, which allows you to string together photos or videos to tell a story. And there is Boomerang, which allows you to post a series of 20 or so photo frames which Instagram will speed up to create a looping video.

Here are some suggestions for finding a following on Instagram:

  • Choose a regular posting frequency and stick to it.
  • Cross-promote from other channels. Don’t hesitate to ask your Facebook friends to join you on Instagram.
  • Create a consistent photo theme. For instance, I may mention other books on Facebook and Twitter, but on Instagram I’m strictly a poet.
  • Use hashtags. On Instagram, you can use lots. #instapoet, for one.
  • Create quote images or “memes,” always popular and frequently reposted.
  • Share your followers’ posts. Khloe Kardashian reposted a Lang Liev poem, and the next day her following (and book sales) skyrocketed.
  • Include faces in your images occasionally. Including yours. People are drawn to faces.
  • Share Instagram posts to Facebook. You’ve already created it. Might as well.

I hope that’s helpful. I’m also attaching a link to my summer writing retreats. Two have already filled, so if you’re thinking about attending, don’t wait till the last minute.

Summer Writing Retreats: http://www.williambernhardt.com/red_sneaker_wc/writing_retreats.php

 

 

Using Social Media to Generate Interest In Your Books

I know many of you find social media bewildering. Why do so many Americans devote so much time to it? Do they not have real friends? Wouldn’t they rather be reading a good book than reading someone’s post about lunch? And yet, social media consumes the hours and days of many, and it’s not just young people. Authors use it to promote their work.

Let me give you a dramatic example. Two poets, 2014. Louise Gluck won the National Book Award. Afterward, her new poetry book sold 20,000 copies, considered a huge success for poetry. Tyler Knott Gregson has won no big awards. But he has built a following by posting his poems on Instagram and Tumblr. Result? That same year, his new poetry book had a first printing of 100,000 copies.

Thank you, social media, for keeping poetry alive. (Lang Leav, another online poet, has sold over 300,000 copies of her self-published poetry books. Her break? Khloe Kardashian posted one of her poems on Instagram.)

WARNING: Don’t let social media consume more than 20% of your working day. Writing comes first. Following the pattern of celebrities, some writers have hired assistants to handle their social media posts. (Did you really think that was Britney Spears tweeting all day long?) Others use programs like Hootsuite to write their posts in advance at a convenient time.

You should pick and choose the social media outlets that are worth your time. The “wine chart” above, created by Chris Syme, explains how the leading media are used so you can make intelligent decisions.

Facebook: I like wine. 71% of all online adults post here to talk about their likes and dislikes. You can post information about your work, but you will put people off if you constantly post commercials to your “friends.” Vary the content. You can link directly to Amazon.

Twitter: I am drinking #wine now. Only 23% of the adult online population tweets, mostly the young. And there’s no way to sell anything here. Some authors have generated interest in their work by serializing fiction in successive tweets.

YouTube: Here’s my video on choosing wine. The second-most-used search engine on the Net. People go to learn or to be entertained, not to chat. Book “trailers” were trendy for a while, but ultimately did not spur sales. If you have a “how-to” video that relates to your book, that might work.

Instagram: Pictures of me drinking wine. Twitter with pics. Smaller percentages and even younger users. Kids think it’s a hipper alternative to Facebook, but it is in fact quietly owned by Facebook. A book cover might do you some good, but the Comments do not yet allow you to post URLs, so you can’t link to Amazon.

LinkedIn: Hire me, the wine expert. Great for nonfiction writers selling their expertise. Less so for fiction writers. Older demographic. Hosts a publishing platform that can link to your webpage.

Pinterest: Here’s my collection of wine stuff. 31% of online adults, primarily women, post here. Basically, you create an online visual catalog of your work. Poetry circulates easily because a poem can fit in a single pic, but fiction could work too.

To learn more about Hootsuite: https://hootsuite.com

Is Your Amazon Book Description Doing Its Job?

At my writing retreats, one of the hardest assignments I give is this: Write a 100-150 word description of your book. Like a synopsis, only harder. I give this assignment for good reasons. First, focusing on the core of the story, its strengths and target audience, often helps students finish the book. But today there is a second reason–the brief Amazon-page book description may be the most important 100-150 words you ever write. Studies show that, more than any other element, those descriptions sell the book. If you self-publish, you’ll have to come up with the description yourself. Even if you use a traditional publisher, you may be asked to write it, and at the least should be asked to provide input or editing.

Make those all-important words count. Make them sell your book.

Here are your goals:

1) Quickly summarize or hint at what makes your book intriguing or unique. Tantalize the reader.
2) Define the genre (or subgenre). Readers must know what kind of book this is.
3) In most cases, suggesting similarity to bestselling books in your genre is a plus.
4) Integrate keyword phrases that readers might type into the Kindle search bar when looking for their next good read.

One good place to get ideas for your description is the Kindle Bestselling Books list in your genre.  (Ignore books that are free. They may only be “selling” because they’re free.) See what makes those descriptions work. See if you can create the same effect for your book (without copying). This approach may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how few writers actually do it. Too many writers blow this description off with a few cursory lines that don’t inspire anyone to read, much less buy.

A few more tips for writing this all-important description:

1) Start with a riveting blurb about one or two sentences long. Why? Because initially, Amazon only shows the first bit of your description, followed by a hyperlink to “read more.” You need a compelling opening that will inspire readers to click on the “read more” to get the rest of your description.

2) Include some reviews of your book. If you don’t have any yet, you can add this later. If you have writer friends, see if you can persuade one to give you a blurb. You can’t control what others post in their reviews, but you can control what goes into your description, and potential buyers will see this first.

3) Show your first drafts to critique partners, friends, fellow writers, readers, anyone who will look. Ask them honestly: Would you buy this book? Listen to their input and revise accourdingly.

I know you’d rather be an artist than a salesperson. Me too. But like it or not, an author is, in addition to being an artist, someone selling a product to a consumer. In a field with much competition. A brilliant description can separate your book from the pack and give you the attention your deserve.