Monday musings: peering through the fog

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Misty Foggy Road Mystery Fog

As I drove through an extremely foggy morning last week, I thought of all the people who try to make predictions about the future at the beginning of every year. It struck me that it’s like trying to tell which way an unfamiliar road will curve when you can only see 30 metres ahead.

If there’s one thing that 2016 taught me, it’s to keep my predictions to myself. But I have read a number of others’ forecasts for the directions and the curves the writing game will take in the next year.

These predictions may seem pretty safe, but what’s interesting is the way they fit together to have an impact on readers as well as writers.

Amazon’s dominance will grow

Amazon has been the number one retailer of books (and a whole lot of other stuff, too) for years, and this market dominance is only going to increase.

Retail sales are also suffering, and “brick and mortar” retailers are losing market share to online retailers—like Amazon, but also to others, even their own online operations. Barnes & Noble reported its 2016 holiday sales were 9.1 percent lower than in 2015. The company attributed that to lower traffic in its stores. In contrast, online sales rose 2 percent.

Other bookstore chains are struggling, and are devoting more and more floor space to things that are not books: music and movie disks, decorations, novelties, even food.

The only way for independent bookstores to survive is by specializing.

Amazon has opened some brick-and-mortar stores of its own, and while it has enabled authors to publish their own books for years, it has started a number of publishing imprints of its own, such as Thomas & Mercer (the publisher of one of BestSelling Reads’ members, Alan McDermott).

More market share will go to e-books

While paper will never go away, e-books are taking up more market share. As of 2016, the estimates in the U.S. were that print books represent 39% of book units sold, and e-books 61%.

The ease and economy of publishing e-books is one of the factors behind the staggering growth in the numbers of self-publishing authors.

More writers will self-publish

Some writers call this “increased competition,” but that term doesn’t quite capture the reality of writers. Books are not like cars or washing machines—we read them in a matter of days, usually, and move on to the next book.

Restaurant cluster in Paris

The situation is more comparable to restaurants. Restaurant owners are smart to cluster together, because more options bring more customers. Diners love to come to a street crowded with restaurants, and will come back many times to try all the choices available.

Readers are the same. After all, a traditional bookstore brings together thousands of different authors, and readers prefer bigger bookstores with more choice.

Writers will band together

Another prediction I read was that authors will work together to increase their audiences. That’s interesting, because working with other authors is how I began self-publishing fiction. I find my experience with BestSelling Reads, and another group I belong to called Independent Authors International, to be hugely rewarding—in terms finding other great writers, learning how to improve my writing, as well as finding new readers.

The big challenge for writers is not to out-compete other writers, not to sell books (although that’s a nice thing to accomplish), but to learn how to engage with audiences. That’s what a story is: a connection, an experience shared by reader and writer.

For readers

When I was young, I cannot begin to estimate the time I spent hanging around in bookstores, looking at all the titles I had to choose from. Readers today can spend hours just perusing books, trying to decide which one to open next. That’s why sites like Goodreads and Library Thing are so popular—they help readers decide which book to read next, to find good books in the e-mountains of words available.

I promised I would not make any predictions for 2017, but I will tell you about one other trend I noticed over 2016: the increasing number of services and systems for sale to help authors sell more books by learning how to tag their titles on Amazon, set up mailing lists to readers, send enquiries to book reviewers, build platforms and more. “This is the secret that bestselling authors use.”

As I said, no predictions. Just a warning: some of these services and subscriptions are very expensive, and none of them guarantees a writer will sell more books.

No predictions, but a question to the readers out there: how do you want to engage with writers? Answer in the Comments.

 

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Monday Musings: The Author & Social Media Hang-Outs

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by Kathleen Valentine

Lola2As I continue my never-ending quest to navigate the ins and out of social media marketing for books, I, like most independent authors, spend a lot of time wondering what on earth I’m doing. Lately I have been reading about “social media hang-outs” for fans of an author’s books or series. It took me awhile to figure all this out, but what it amounts to is creating a place on social media—Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter seem to be popular platforms—where an author can interact with readers in sort of a secret club. Some of these groups are by invitation only and are closed to the uninvited, others are open to whoever wishes to join. Since I don’t belong to any, I don’t know what goes on in them and, frankly, I prefer not to think about it.

However, recently I started thinking about how to go about creating one. I have a personal account and an author’s account on Facebook. I have a blog that gets a decent amount of traffic. I’m active on Twitter, less active on Pinterest, so I sort of felt like I didn’t need another social media distraction. Besides, as I contemplated my books I thought it would make better sense to focus on a series and create my hang-out with that series in mind. My Beacon Hill Chronicles are my best selling books and they are all set on Boston’s Beacon Hill. However, that setting is a little scary—people get killed there. A lot. Who wants to hangout at a crime scene? And my Halcyon Beach series is set in a dilapidated, run-down, off-season tourist trap and is filled with ghosts. Not enticing.

Lolas

Then there are my Marienstadt books. They have not been as popular as my other series but they have very loyal followers. The fourth book in the series, The Legend: A Marienstadt Story, came out in February and the people who have read it tell me that they love it. So I had an idea.

In all my Marienstadt stories, no matter what is going on, everybody is always popping in to Lola’s Strudel Shop on Main Street, a few doors down from the police station, to get coffee, order strudel for parties, give themselves a treat, and catch up on gossip. If it happens in Marienstadt, it gets discussed at Lola’s. So bearing that in mind I started a Facebook community page for Lola’s Strudel Shop. I was lucky to snag the URL www.facebook.com/Marienstadt, too.

One of the ways I amuse myself is by writing scenes that may or may not find their way into books. Since finishing The Legend, I was missing my Marienstadt people so much that I wrote half a dozen scenes. I do not know whether they will turn into a book or not but I decided to share them in Lola’s Strudel Shop. I’ve also posted links to pages of interest to Marienstadt fans, and several of the pretty quote-graphics that I make for Twitter and Pinterest. When I had a few posts that I thought might be of interest, I made the page go live and invited friends. In two days nearly a hundred people joined and my posts began to gather Likes.

It’s too soon to know how this will turn out but I’m having a good time doing it and what is more important than that? I am using Facebook’s Notes feature to post my stories and am hopeful that I’ll get some feedback. It might be fun to co-create stories with readers.

So, if you want to take a look, please do. I hope my efforts will serve as inspiration for other writers trying to figure this marketing business out.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: More Thoughts on Blogging

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by Kathleen Valentine

bloggingFor the last several weeks I have been blogging here about using social media for marketing. My emphasis has been on book marketing—I am a writer after all—but a lot of these techniques can be used for nearly any sort of marketing. As I have been working at increasing my social media presence, I’ve come to the belief that getting readers to come to my blog is probably my most worthwhile effort.

I started my blog in June 2006 which means I’ve just passed my 10th anniversary. Recently, when I was looking at my blog stats, I realized that a lot of my old blog posts had very low numbers of visits. Then I realized that a couple years ago I changed my blog’s URL to include my name (www.KathleenValentineBlog.com) and all the stats reset at that point. So, though I’ve been blogging for ten years and have over 2,000 blog posts, the actual stats are only for the past two years.

When I set my blog up I chose Blogger as the host so I am familiar with how they present stats. I am sure other blog hosts have similar reports, I just can’t tell you where they are. Recently, for the first time ever, I had over 1,000 visitors in one day and I credit that to using Twitter to promote past posts. Over the years, I’ve kept an eye on my stats and am frequetly baffled why some posts get so many more hits than others. One post about my cookbook has had over 20k hits but I suspect that is because the word “bacon” is in the title. I don’t get any special credit for that. It is not always easy to figure where traffic comes from, but I do notice that a lot of it comes from Facebook and Bitly URLS that I use on Twitter. Some observations on the value of blogs:

It gives readers a sense of who you are. I blog a lot about events in my town, mysteries, legends, and lore that interest me, and how these things are useful in my writing. I also blog about books I am reading, recipes, knitting and sewing, and random thoughts on life. If a reader reads my blog regularly, they know how I write and what I write about. If they like all that, they may like reading my books.

Individual pages/Tabs add extra information. It took a long time for me to set up separate pages in tabs across the top of my blog, but I’m sure glad I did! My individual pages have received a lot of hits. The largest number of hits have been on About Kathleen (over 5,000), a separate page for my 4 Marienstadt books (over 4,000), and a separate page for my 4 Beacon Hill books (over 3,500). What that tells me is that visitors to the blog were sufficiently interested to have a look at those pages.

All my books are listed, with buy links, in a single column on every page. Do people use these? I don’t really know but I do know that regular readers of my blog cannot escape noticing them. They know how to find what I have to offer.

How important is all of this to the individual blogger? Only time can tell. I’ve blogged regularly for 10 years but it is only since I’ve started using social media to promote my blog that I’ve seen a BIG increase in traffic. I am happy about this.

Another good thing about blogging is participating in blog events, like the A-to-Z Challenge and the TMI Challenge. If you participate and, as part of your participation, visit other blogs and comment, you build community and attract new visitors.

Let’s face it—we all know that getting the attention of potential readers is what marketing is all about. We don’t like it, but we do it. By making it as much fun as possible and following our own bliss, we cannot help but attract new audiences and isn’t that what we want. Have fun.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Anatomy of a Tweet

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by KathleenValentine

tweetLast week I wrote about learning to schedule Tweets on Twitter. Twitter is a very good way to attract attention to your work on the internet, especially to your blog posts. If you have your blog set up to show your books and to offer pages/tabs with more information, increasing traffic on your blog will give you greater visibility overall on the internet.

I have been blogging for over 10 years. I blog mostly about things that interest me—especially interesting places, stories, legends, and folklore which I use as background for many of my stories. However, I also post recipes, talk about my knitting and sewing projects, about local events, and about authors and artists that I love. Before learning to promote my blog on Twitter, I would write a post, post it to Facebook and Twitter, and hope people saw it. Occasionally one of my posts would be picked up by another site (I’ve had posts reposted by Huffington Post and the New York Times) and then I’d see a lot of traffic for a few days. Then traffic would die down again and go back to normal.

By creating a database of Tweets to blog posts I hope people find interesting, I can schedule posts throughout the day. By doing that I’ve seen traffic on my blog quadruple in a little over a month. What I do is:

  • go through past blog posts that I think people might find interesting

  • create a Tweet for that post

  • find an appropriate, interesting picture to go with the post

  • save the Tweet in a DOC file

  • schedule the posts using TweetDeck to post throughout the day

I usually try to schedule one Tweet per hour and, since I now have around 200 Tweets, that means I can go for days without repeating a Tweet. Some Tweets—ones that promote a special I am running, for instance—get Tweeted every day. Others might only get Tweeted once a week or so. I can tell by the number of times my various Tweets get Liked and Retweeted which ones are working for me. I can also check my blog stats and see how traffic has increased. A lot of my posts that had around 100 views now have 5 or 10 times that many. Here is a typical Tweet:

The Legendary Fisherman’s Sweater bit.ly/29DKi8S Historic #knitting #FolkloreThursday @FolkloreThurs pic.twitter.com/CjFt5p3lK1

This is what it looks like on Twitter: anatomy And, this is what all that means:
 The Legendary Fisherman’s Sweater – This is the title of the post.
● bit.ly/29DKi8S – this is a link to the blog post that has been shortened. Usually URLs are fairly long but you can shorten them using a service like bitly.com. It is free. All you do is cut and paste your long URL into their box and it magically shortens it. They even have a special shorten version for Amazon links.
● Historic #knitting – a little bit of description including the hashtag for knitting. This Tweet will be visible to anyone who tracks or searches on that hashtag.
● #FolkloreThursday – This is a hashtag that has proven to be very useful for me. Whenever I make posts about folklore and legends and Tweet on Thursdays using this hashtag I get a LOT of Likes and Retweets. Finding hashtags that are particular to your needs is very valuable. I often go to Hashtagify.me and search for hashtags that might be good for my Tweets.
● @FolkloreThurs – This is the Twitter handle for the people who started #FolkloreThursday. By including it in my Tweet I am making sure that they have a chance to read and possibly share my Tweet.
● pic.twitter.com/CjFt5p3lK1 – This is the address of the picture I include with this Tweet. I liked this picture and thought it was amusing. I try to keep the images fairly lo-res so they load faster.

As you get more active on Twitter you will find hashtags that get a lot of attention. For instance #MondayBlogs and #SundayBlogShare can help a lot. You participate by using the hashtag in your Tweets and randomly Retweet other Tweets containing that hashtag.

As I said before, my purpose in doing this is to increase traffic on my blog where people can learn more about me and what I have to offer. So far it seems to be helping.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Streamlining Twitter

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by Kathleen Valentine

twitterIn the past week or so two different author friends told me that they need to learn how to use Twitter. I felt that way myself a couple months ago but after attending Rachel Thompson’s #BookMarketingChat on Twitter, and doing some research I’ve learned a lot. If you have never used Twitter you would be better off getting an account and learning how to use it first. If you have a Twitter account and have done some tweeting, this might help.

First understand what Twitter can do and what it can’t do. With every Tweet you have 140 characters to get your message across. Therefore you want to do this efficiently. Twitter can help you attract followers, show what you have to offer, and help build relationships. Twitter by itself is not a good medium for selling (whether you sell books, art, handcrafts, etc.) However, Twitter is very good at getting people to visit your blog and web sites. Since I started using Twitter regularly I have seen an impressive increase in blog traffic. Whether this will translate into sales remains to be seen but traffic on my blog has quadrupled and I receive an increasing number of Notifications every day.

Watch your Notifications. Once you get active on Twitter, watch your Notifications. Notifications tell you when someone Follows you, Likes one of your Tweets, adds you to a List, and Retweets you. Most people are worried that they don’t have enough Followers, but that will grow as you get active. When someone Follows me I usually follow back unless they are very far outside my fields of interest. There are people who subscribe to services that build their following, which I have never done. It is up to you to decide how to acquire Followers but learning to use hashtags can help this. I’ve discussed this on another blog post. What you really want are Retweets. Every time someone Retweets you, your Tweet goes out to a whole new audience. This helps increase your exposure.

What should you Tweet about? This is the most important thing to learn. Spamming buy-my-book will get you nowhere—people get tired of those Tweets and rarely pass them on. What I do on an on-going basis is create Tweets that I keep in a DOC file on my desktop. Every day I use a Tweet scheduler (more about that later) to schedule Tweets throughout the day—usually one per hour. Now that I have a couple hundred Tweets in my files, I can log on in the morning, schedule a day’s worth of Tweets in about 20 minutes, and forget about it for the rest of the day. The Tweets I save are:

  • Inspirational Quotes for Writers—these consist of a quote from a writer on an attractive background. I’ve been doing this on Facebook for years and now have an arsenal of a thousand quotes. I usually schedule 4-5 of these every day.

  • Articles from My Blog—Getting people to come to my blog is important to me. Once they are there they can see all my book in a column on the right, plus tabs for my series books, bio, and the giveaway I am running. Over the years I have blogged about cooking, sewing, knitting, folklore (a special interest of mine), and many other subjects. It took awhile but I’ve created a list of Tweets about these subjects that include a link, hashtags, and images. I made a post about this a few weeks ago.

  • Quotes from My Books—These are just pretty pictures with quotes that I hope people will like. All that is included is the quote, the title of the book, and a link. These get Retweeted a lot. I posted about these before.

  • Tweets to Interesting Articles on Other Blogs—Sharing is caring and I’ve acquired a lot of links to blog posts by others that I like. For example my friend Skye Alexander writes a blog about exploring the afterlife, not a subject I know much about. I have created a variety of Tweets to her articles and I schedule them regularly. They get a lot of Retweets, more traffic for her, and good karma for me.

  • Tweets about Specials, Giveaways, Promos, etc.—I create Tweets for specials I am running, giveaways, contests, etc. I try not to run these more than once a day.

Once you have acquired an inventory of Tweets that you keep in a file, subscribe to a Twitter scheduler. I use TweetDeck but there are others like Hoosuite and a lot I never had any experience with. Once you are set up with TweetDeck, you can schedule Tweets throughout the day by just cutting and pasting them from your file. I usually schedule 4-5 inspirational quotes, 4-5 articles from my blog that I vary to include recipes, knitting patterns, and articles on legends, book reviews, travel, etc. I schedule a few directly promotional Tweets for giveaways and sales, then fill up the rest with my own book quotes, and articles on other people’s blogs.

Next time I’ll write about the anatomy of a good Tweet. Learning to do that can make all the difference. For example, I wrote a blog post about a local curiosity in Erie, Pennsylvania, where I once lived. In a city cemetery there is a mysterious crypt that is said to house a vampire. I wrote the blog article about it some years ago and it got maybe a hundred viewers. However, once I made a Tweet for it, including links, hashtags, and a creepy picture, and began Tweeting it a couple times a week, the views went up to a thousand in no time. That means a thousand people who now know about my blog and who had the opportunity to check out my other posts and books. Not a bad investment of my time.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: To Thine Own self Be True

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by Kathleen Valentine

flyingbooksIn January 2012 I sold 10,000 ebooks. I was in the midst of an unimaginable sales run and between October 2011 and May 2012, I sold so many copies of one 99¢ (The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic) book that I was able to pay cash for a new and much needed car—not a fancy car, but a good one. That was the peak of my glory days as an author. It’s been an increasing struggle ever since and the slide into oblivion is omnipresent.

These days I’ve been working at learning how to market my books by using social media, blogging, finding unique ways to advertise, etc. As I work on all these things I can see how slipshod my marketing efforts were in the past. I have been making a concerted effort to rewrite and improve my bios on all my author pages, pay attention to my “brand” (though I’m still not clear what that is), and cultivate relationships on the various platforms. As I do this I am discovering something that makes me uncomfortable.

Obviously, the purpose of social media is to get as many followers as possible—preferably of the sort who will buy and read your books. That is easy to understand. But I am not real comfortable with the whole process of just “liking” or “following” for no reason other than hoping the other person will like or follow me back. I understand the reason for it, but it makes me feel kind of false. Even worse than that is trying to attract attention to my posts, blog posts, etc. by concocting titles that are very attention-getting, but then offer empty content or content that contradicts the title.

For example, the other day I saw a Tweet about a blog post titled Seven Tricks Guaranteed to Get You Instant Followers (I changed that slightly but the concept is the same.) Naturally, I clicked on it and the first thing I got was a pop-up asking me to subscribe to the author’s newsletter. How do I know if I want to subscribe before I even see what you offer? It took me awhile to get past that. Then I found a list of seven bits of advice that, while useful, were fairly involved. All of them required a registration process on one site or another, setting up a landing page, adding all kinds of info, and connecting it to other social media. I followed the instruction for a couple of them but there was nothing “instant” about it—and I still haven’t seen all the promised followers.

There is also a tremendous amount of dubious advice. I Googled “tips for getting followers on social media” and got 16,400,000 results in 0.49 seconds. Whew. I started clicking on them one at a time and realized in short order that most of them said about the same things and a lot of the advice was of the thanks-a-bunch sort. My favorites are “write interesting content.” Well, thanks so much, define “interesting content.” And, “write what your readers want to read.” That’s an admirable goal but not exactly enlightening. There was a time—back when I was selling thousands of books a month—that I wrote what I felt like writing and people seemed to love it.

What does all this mean? Basically, the book business has changed a lot! Once it was hard to get books published. Now publishing is a piece of cake but getting people to notice is hard. The indie publishing boom has spawned a lot of business opportunities for entrepreneurs who will promote your books for you for a fee—in a lot of cases it’s a very hefty fee. The days of running a sale and sending out a few Tweets, then sitting back and watching the ebooks fly through the ether are over. Selling books is a slog and each author has to decide what they have time and energy for. Some authors take the spam-everything approach, others take the limited, but targeted, approach. I would not be so bold as to say which works better.

I guess we have to sell our books the way we live our lives. Some of us live large and grand and out there, in your face. Others pace ourselves and cling to the belief that cream rises. You have to do what’s best for you, and you have to live by your own moral code. Trust yourself. I can’t give you any better advice than that.

Thanks for reading.

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