Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Promo: One Author's Thoughts

I'm definitely not an expert this arena, but after reading Em's post the other day, I thought I'd share what little I know about the elusive art of self-promotion.

Most epub authors put a lot of stock into their websites, but do you know how effective your web presence is? Of course, sales are the ultimate way to see if any promo efforts are working, but if you do a blitz of different things immediately after a release, it's tough to know which were the most effective. Do you have a good web statistics tool? If you place an ad and link it to your site, it's important to know who's giving you traffic. And I don't mean hits, because many web savvy folks now say hits don't count for much. You want to see if you're getting "sessions" or "visits" instead.

I'm a big fan of the free stat tool, AWStats. It tells me how many unique visitors really came to my site each month, how long they stayed, how many (and which) pages they visited. Did anyone add me to their favorites? And most importantly, what link out there in cyber-land got the visitors to my site? AWStats has real-time reporting that will tell me if someone has blogged about me or whatever before Google or Technorati reports it. Of course, the link to my site has to be the connection here, so no linkage, no trace on AWStats. There are similar tools out there, so check them all out before making your choice--or use more than one. Also, since AWStats lets me see what sites brought in a visitor, I can try to keep up with reciprocal linking. Frankly, I don't get many visitors through reciprocal links, but it's nice to know where those links are. Sometimes they'll surprise you.

A lot of people talk about web rankings. If you're interested, check out Tawny Taylor's A Girl's Guide to Google Rankings for more about this strategy.

The whole chat and chat loop thing. My chat experiences sucked. Mainly because I suck at chatting, but basically here's how it went down -- the authors would show and the moderator, then maybe two potential readers who often turned out to be unpubbed authors looking for submission tips. Finally, an actual reader would show, but all they wanted was to win a download. Defintely not for me. I do chat loops very seldom, and I only do those that offer targeted days. Participating in a generic erotic romance day on a loop will give me crickets (unless I offer a contest that requires participation, of course). Try to find those that 1) aren't the same loops you've been doing; and 2) have a niche focus (like an MM day or interracial romance day only). Does the loop have a substantial amount of members? Is the loop active? In the future, I may try to find some special interest loops related to my subject matter that aren't made up of writers and readers per se.

Think outside the box a bit. I check my stats neurotically and one day in July I saw a HUGE jump in visitors. Lo and behold, a risk I took about six months prior paid off (at least in terms of exposure). This risk was to submit my site for review to Jane's Guide (NWS). Jane's Guide was known to me mainly for their rating of porn sites (um, research, yeah...) but turns out they also review writer sites. And guess what? They apparently have a lot of viewers. So my normal "real" visitors tally about 17 to 70 daily, but when my site's review hit Jane's, that number climbed to 247, then 296 the next day, before slowly decreasing. These numbers are probably laughable to bigger authors, but for little ol' me who doesn't put out a lot of stories each year, I was thrilled. The review was favorable and my numbers, though lower than that initial bump, are consistently higher now, plus the majority of my visitors still come via Jane's.

My future plans include... advertising in Washington DC's City Paper. They've very liberal and have personal ads that are quite freaky. My kind of folk ;) If your area has a "wide-open" media outlet like this, you may want to try a short ad and see what happens. Another thought is reciprocal linking and/or to write reviews and articles for a sex toy company, which I'm trying to line up now. I want to reach not only ebook readers but people who like sex--bottom line. If they're looking for something hot be it a toy or "a sexy amazonian SWF who deserves to be worshipped" then maybe they're horny enough to take a chance on an ebook.

Paid, targeted campaigns. ManLoveRomance is a promotional co-op that brings in a lot of visitors to my site as well. Laura Baumbach does an amazing job of reaching out to audiences erotic romance authors usually can't tap into on their own, like expensive banner ads on sites like The Advocate and presence at several conferences per year. If you're considering a paid promo co-op, talk to members first to get feedback on the group's effectiveness. The link from MLR generates the second highest number of visitors to my site.

Offer something extra. The reviewer at Jane's mentioned the erotic doodles on my site, even though I asked for a review as a writer. I think anything that sets you apart from the crowd and offers a "bonus" to your readers can generate interest. Some writers worth mentioning in this area are Kate Willoughby and the writing duo Anne Cain and Barbara Sheridan. Kate offers epilogue blogs (written by her characters) and "behind the scenes" extras (including deleted scenes), plus she's given workshops. Anne offers plenty of her gorgeous art and a yaoi calendar on their Dragon's Disciples web site. Look for unique ways to connect with your readers.

Contests. I have mixed feelings on this topic, but it does bring activity. If you're new to epublishing, try to drive all contest participants to your site (maybe to answer a question or two) or to your Yahoo loop or whatever to gain members. If you're chatting on someone's personal loop, though, you don't want to steer people elsewhere (unless maybe to answer a question about your site and come back to answer -- depends on the loop. If in doubt, it's best to clear it with the loop owner). After you get a backlist, of course give those titles away instead of your latest release so people won't hope to win the new one instead of buying the book. I personally like giving away epub gift certificates. This way maybe the winner will buy one of mine.

Finally, stay focused. And I cringe writing those words, because I never do. As we all know, the best promo is writing another book and getting it out there. So staying focused on writing every day is essential. Strike one for me. Successful writers seem to stay focused on one or two genres. Strike two. They also give good word count -- novel length or at least a chunky novella every time. Strike three. If I could stay focused on one genre and on getting a fully fleshed-out tale, then I think I'd do much better in sales. When I see who makes the bestseller lists at my pubs, it's the people you can count on to deliver a certain type of tale, well-written, at a consistent heat level, and generally a certain length. You buy author X, you get what you expect. Call it brand loyalty or whatever, but it will make an author in my opinion.

Geez, what a long post. Sorry to ramble. Of course, all this is just my personal experience. If you love chats (or differ with anything I said above), please share why. I'd love to hear any other thoughts on this subject.


Barbara Sheridan said...

Thanks for the mention :)

Anne's fabulous art is a definite plus for us.

Judging from stats to our site (we use sitemeter) it seems that most visitors come via a Google or similar search. They're hearing about us somewhere, but WHERE? Review maybe? *shrug*

I agree on the chats & loops. They don't seem to help.

I still think word of mouth is the best promo ever but I still haven't found a way to make that happen--IF one can "make" it happen.

How do you get people talking about you and your work beyond becoming the subject du jour of the latest blogland wank fest?

Laura Bacchi said...

You're welcome! I love the site.

I wish I knew the answer to your last question. I wonder if a lot of ebook readers are solitary types. Sure there are those who have blogs and participate in forums or do reviews, but I'm betting most tend to be introverts who don't necessarily make their reading tastes known--at least I was that way starting out as a reader. My friend would rave about some literary gem while I pondered whether to tell her about the kinky sci-fi I read the week before. I kept quiet.

I did hear somewhere about an ebook discussion group. That's pretty neat.

veinglory said...

I am not sure what causes real buzz. I did learn that to cause sales it needs to be real--actuall readers actually loving the book etc.

Pepper Espinoza said...

John Keats once said something like "There are more readers than ever. Now if only we could figure out what they're reading."

Thanks for the ideas, Laura. We're already doing things like offering free stories and other extras, but we're incorporating a few of your other suggestions.

Laura Bacchi said...

You're welcome, Pepper :)

Gwen Hayes said...

very informative

I was thinking,when my book is closer to done, that I would make use of my blogger and wordpress profile and go blog hopping to blogs about the kind of research I did for my book. Not to spam, but to join in conversations about things that interested me during the research phase. Since my profile would link to my website, it might generate more traffic from people not in the loops already. Especially if your stories fit a certain niche

Laura Bacchi said...

Hi, Gwen. Blogs can be a good way to connect, but I'm not getting a lot of traffic to my website through mine. Sometimes I wonder if blog diehards stop at the entries you post and don't dig deeper to find out more about you. I did finally add book covers and buy links to my blog to keep my titles front and center.

For me, visiting blogs and keeping mine up eats up a lot of time. But I enjoy it, unlike chats, so I don't feel too guilty about it :)

Laura Bacchi said...

UPDATE: Hmmmm. Looks like that reciprocal linking thingy isn't the best idea. Since I didn't see a links page on the toy site, I asked for where my link would be. They did send me the link... Unfortunately it appears they've built a separate page for link exchanges. Not good.

I did some Googling. Some places
build partner pages just for cross-linking. According to one article I found, many bogus exchanges have pages and pages of links, but they aren't connected to the main site. This means folks can't find your link. It's buried. So the toy company gets top billing on your link page and you get tucked away somewhere hard to find.

I also Googled some authors listed on the exchange page and the link site's name, but couldn't get any hits to show. Also not a good sign.

But... if you review toys for this company, you do get quality linkage. That checks out. However the link exchange issue leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do believe I'll pass.

Anonymous said...

I like AWStats, but my favorite stat tracking program would have to be Google Analytics. I've tried many stat programs, and so far Analytics is the best (imo).