Establish a S.M.A.R.T. book promotion goal

iStock_000018615175XSmallBook Promotion Tip of the Week #9: Figure out how many copies of your book you want to sell before you start promoting.

(You can always adjust your targets later.)

After floundering around in the book promotion literature for quite a while now, and blogging about what doesn’t work, I am learning that one principle is more basic than the rest: if I don’t set some promotion goals for myself, I’m never going to get anything done. I could continue to research promotion forever, rather than doing anything about it.

Not that I’m giving up the research, but I’ve decided that even if I haven’t read and learned everything that’s out there yet (by a long shot), the moment has come when I must start to make a focused effort on the actual promotion.

A key word here is “focused” — because I’ve also come to the realization that the goal I set for myself cannot be “to sell books.” That just isn’t a very “SMART” goal.  If “to sell books” is all I’m striving for, I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s like setting myself the goal “to lose weight” or “to read Tolstoy” or “to learn another language.” Those are ultimate goals, but they are not specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-sensitive goals, which is what SMART stands for (more on S.M.A.R.T. goals later).

First I need to decide what I want to do with my promotional efforts. Do I want to get to number one (which I think is the general hope that most of us have as we set off on our non-specific promotional adventures)? If so, what does this mean? Do I really think I am going to sell 300 copies of my book EVERY DAY on Amazon? According to this article on Salon, that’s what it takes to make a book an Amazon bestseller. I must face whether that is my specific goal and intent, or whether that is a pipe dream.

And even if that IS my goal, then how many days of 300 sales/day am I aiming for? Would I be satisfied with 300 sales for just one day? – enough to get my book to the top of the Amazon list just once, at which point I could legitimately say (for promotional purposes) that my book had been an “Amazon bestseller” (as in, “My book was once an Amazon bestseller”)? How much practical good is that going to do me in the long term?

Maybe it is The New York Times bestseller list to the top of which I wish to climb. That one is far more prestigious, of course, when it comes to putting a plug about it on my promotional materials. The NYT list is based on weekly sales of books and ebooks across the USA, and no one really knows how many copies of each book must be sold before you make it to the top of that particular mountain, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than I can realistically plan to sell at this point.

Maybe I just want Don Valiente to top the list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon for a day, or for The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel to appear and then stay in the top-ten list in women’s fiction. Maybe I’m eying a local newspaper’s weekly posting of the top ten fiction books sold. (Or maybe I’ve written a family history and I’m not interested in top-ten lists at all: maybe I’ll be happy if I sell ten books, period.)

According to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry on “bestsellers,” the term is relatively recent and means so many different things in different contexts that it actually means nothing. The entry points out that, depending on the venue, in the U.K. a “bestseller” can mean anything from 4,000 to 25,000 copies sold. In Canada, 5,000 copies sold (ever) constitutes what we call “a national bestseller.”

Why do the numbers matter anyway?

There are a couple of reasons why the numbers of copies of books sold matter (quite aside from the royalties that accrue). First, purchasers do respond to books that are at the top of bestseller lists, even though such lists have nothing to do with quality. (I go back to my Fifty Shades of Grey example which proves that book-buyers can be total sheep exhibiting no taste, and no sense of literary or even erotic discernment whatsoever.)

In addition, and of equal importance, in the case of Amazon when you reach a certain level of sales, the site starts recommending your book to other people who have bought or looked at similar books – which means that Amazon is now doing some of your promotion for you.

And yes, once your book has made a bestseller list, you can call yourself a “bestselling author,” and no one can ever take that away from you. (Although I guess they can demand to know which list you were a bestseller on, and for how long, and they could ask you that in a radio interview, so be prepared.)

It is for such reasons as these that some writers are paying to get onto bestseller lists which – as I reported last week – you can do if you have enough friends and money.

Does the number of books you want to sell affect your promotional efforts?

I think it does, even if you aren’t aiming for the top of a bestseller list. This is the crux of the question when it comes to this week’s Book Promotion tip.

In recent days, I have been thinking about S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is a term which has been in use in the business world for decades, and which I keep coming across in my reading about marketing and even in some of my editing for clients. The acronym stands for  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. Many experts consider these five attributes to be key indicators when it comes to establishing and attaining goals in such areas as personal and professional development, project management, employee performance, etc.

If your goals don’t have these five attributes, such experts would point out, how can you possible attain them? “Selling books” has none of those attributes, and therefore it’s a lousy goal. (For me it also leads to madly riding off in too many directions at once, as I have several books to sell, not to mention my podcasts on grantwriting, and dozens of places I could sell them, and dozens of ways I could approach the promotion in each case.)

So for me, here is what I am setting as my first S.M.A.R.T. goal: Within six months, to attain at least thirty days of sales of at least ten copies a day of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (Kindle version). I have chosen this number because I estimate that this will get us onto the “top 50 Westerns” list on Amazon for those 30 days, which will help to propel us towards ongoing sales with diminished effort.

This goal is Specific because it says I am going to focus only on Don Valiente and ignore my other books for now, and it also sets a specific number of sales per day for a specific number of days.

This goal is Measurable because six months from now (mid-September) I will be able to tell whether I have attained the goal. I can see on my KDP page how many copies we are selling. (I can also track our progress vis á vis other western novels on Amazon. If we need to up the sales numbers per day to get to the top 50, we can do that.)

This goal is Attainable — with an attractive promotional campaign that targets readers of Westerns, given a consistent promotional effort for six months that (at no significant cost to us) positions our books in as many places as possible, I believe that this goal is attainable.

This goal is Realistic. It allows for the fact, for example, that if I send out a review copy of Don Valiente, even if someone does review it, the review will likely not appear for three to four months at least. On the other hand, hitting The New York Times bestseller list is not a realistic goal. I don’t even think that getting into the top 10 list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon would be realistic, when I consider the competition. And I know me: if a goal doesn’t seem realistic, I am going to give up on it very quickly.

This goal is Time-Specific. I have given us six months. (I am now putting a memo in my calendar to report back to you here then, and let you know what happened.)

Do you have a SMART goal for your book promotion? Do you want to declare it in public here so we can cheer you on?

Do you think that setting goals is necessary or of use?

Let us know! I love your comments and so do my readers.

Next week: a book promotion tip that is more specific — that takes less time to write. :)

Effective book promotion is not about the book. It’s not about the author. It’s about the audience.

Book Promotion TipsBook Promotion Tip of the Week #8 March 3, 2013

Why is it that so many writers forget all about who they are talking to when they start promoting their books? All of us (I hope) have an audience in mind when we are doing the actual writing of the books – even if we think of that audience only as “readers like us.” And yet when it comes time to tell other people about what we’ve written, and to get them interested in buying our books, many of us completely forget about our prospective readers. We focus only on ourselves.

We say, “Special promotion this week only!” or “Help me reach 100 sales this month!” We announce that our book is new and hot, that it is well edited, that it is the third book in a series, that it is available at Barnes and Noble. Maybe we say, almost timidly, “I hope that you will take a look.”

Statements like these offer nothing to our readers. We have to remember that (like us) other people are basically selfish. Aside from our closest friends and a few relatives, our prospective readers are not going to read a whole book for our sake: they are going to read it because it does something for them, or at least does something to them.

Whether you are writing jacket copy, a blog post, an email to a book reviewer, or your author profile, take your focus off yourself and direct it at your audience. What do your readers want? What do they need? What is going to grab their attention because it appeals to them?

How to Do It

In order to write effective promotional copy, you need to figure out what is going to get your potential readers to sit up and take notice. What would it take if you were in their shoes?

Think about what you are offering them in your book. If – as is the case with much fiction– you are offering a diversion from real life, divert them in your promotional text as well. Grab their attention away from reality by asking questions, giving clues, whetting interest, building suspense. On the website for The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, for example, we make bold statements that are intended to pique audience interest. We say, “The West will never be the same.” We use terms like “seduced,” “in flagrente delicto,” and “escaped-convict killers.” Contrast this to the first page of my author website, which is intended to convey information only, is all about me, and (unless you want to know all about me) is dry as dust.

If your book is non-fiction, give your prospective readers a taste of what you are going to give them in your book: share a tip or a bit of unusual information that will make them immediately want to read more, or tell them how your book will help them improve their lives. Using this principle, last week I changed the front page of my podcast website for non-profit organizations so that the first words visitors see are these: “I can help you write a more effective funding application” (which is true, by the way). Until I made the change, the first thing they saw were my credentials. But then it hit me that what visitors to my podcast website want to know first is what I can do for them: they can read my credentials later.

So, ask yourself this: what can you say to your prospective readers that will make it almost impossible for them to resist the temptation to learn a little more about your book?

It’s not easy to do this. The text you write needs to be tailored so that it actually reflects the contents of your book (and not in a misleading or inflammatory way, of course ☺),  but it also needs to appeal to your specific audience. It may be worth your while to test the impact of your wording on a few friends and relatives before you post it (and if they are the ones who would read your book even if it were the phone directory and tell you it was brilliant, either ask them to be honest for a change, or find another test audience). No matter what you are writing, putting yourself in the shoes of your readers is the key to being effective.

So. Take a hard look at the latest piece of promotional copy you wrote. Be honest. Is it focused on the needs and interests of the people who are going to read your book? If not, why not?

I’m talking to you. *

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Some hot tips from readers:

Thanks to Merna Summers for sending me this link to a book awards program that neither of us had heard of before, the Sharp Writ Awards. The info on the 2013 competition is online.

SmartWrit

And thank you to John Aragon for directing me to this article, which discusses the practice of paying to get on bestseller lists: something I didn’t know you could do.

Leapfrogging

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* Well, and to myself, of course. As usual.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #7: February 11, 2013

Book Promotion TipsCreate A Media Kit

(then USE it)

A media package is a collection of germane and interesting background material relating to you and your book that writers of articles for publications (on- or off-line) and individual bloggers can use to enhance the reviews or profiles they are doing about you. When the kit or package is complete, you can send it out by email – or by mail, including a hard copy of the book if one is available – to individuals or publications that you think might want to review your book.

A complete media kit includes between seven and nine components. It should include 1) information on the author – including a biography and an annotated bibliography, lists of awards, prizes, and other writing achievements, etc. – and 2) information on the book, such as an intriguing bit of promo copy and at least a taste of what the book is about, plus perhaps interesting details about the writing process, how the cover was created, other books that readers of your book might like, etc.

The kit should also include 3) photos of the author and the book cover, suitable for reproduction, and information on 4) where the book is available for sale. Make sure to include your 5) email address so that the media person or blogger can contact you if he or she wants additional information.

A press kit can also include 6) an excerpt from the book itself, and 7) copies of reviews. You might want to include some 8) sample questions that an interviewer could ask you about yourself or the book (you can either answer them in the kit or not… depending on your inclination).

Last but not least, you might want to create 9) an actual media release, a well written story that a newspaper or magazine might run about your book if it is looking for a space filler (or the writer is behind schedule and desperate to find some copy for a deadline). You can get lots of information on how to write an effective media release if you simply Google the words “how to write a media release.” This article, from The Toronto Star, is good.

Turn the Media Package into a Website

Once you have all the materials together that I have listed above, and anything else you might want to include in your press kit or media package, you also have the basic components you need to create a website for your book. John A. Aragon and I have just put together the media package for The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, and we have posted all the pieces on the book’s brand-new website here: www.donvaliente.com

Check, Check & Check

Demonstrate excellence: Before you do anything with your press kit or publish your book’s website, make sure that you have created excellent text copy and that all your links work. Your media package is your ambassador: it is the first contact many influential people will have with your book. If your media package is hastily assembled and badly edited, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Be interesting: This is almost as important, if not more important, than demonstrating excellence. If your website/media package isn’t interesting, no one is going to bother to investigate any further. (I can’t tell you how to be interesting. Either you got it, or you don’t. But keep in mind that the “interesting” part needs to relate in a genuine way to you or your book: putting  photos of your kid’s Popsicle-stick trick in a media package is not likely to do your book any good.)

Update: Don’t forget to add new book reviews and awards as they come in to both your media package and your website.

USE IT!

There is absolutely no point in having a great media package and book website if you don’t tell anyone about it. (I am not talking about telling your buddies on Twitter and Facebook – I am discovering that despite what everyone “in the know” is telling us, social media are almost a total waste of time when it comes to book promotion.) Find the names and addresses/emails of the people and outlets where you want reviews/profiles about you or your book to appear, and send the appropriate individuals a package by mail or via an (interesting) email. Don’t send too many of the latter as blind copies to a single email, either: it is my theory that a lot of genuinely worthwhile emails go to spam because the senders have added too many people to the bcc line. In fact, I tend to prefer to send the same email, one at a time, to each recipient. This takes more time, but I think it’s worth it. Same goes for individually addressing form letters that go out through the traditional mail system.

Second-hand recommendations are always better than first-hand ones. If you tell someone to read your book, it will have an effect that ranges between negative and negligible (unless maybe you have the goods on that other person, or it’s your grandma). Self-promotion cannot compare to the impact of having someone else tell other people to read your book (or even tell them to NEVER read your book. That attracts readers, too: fewer, perhaps, and for entirely the wrong reasons.)

Taking advantage of these truths is the whole purpose of a press kit, of course.

In a future article, I will tell you how John and I went about finding and attempting to contact media we wanted to review Don Valiente, and how I am doing that for The Whole Clove Diet and for my grant-writing podcasts, and I’ll report on how it all worked out.

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Please note: I am about to start compiling a pdf of all of my BOOK PROMOTION TIPS OF THE WEEK. If you would like a copy of the most recent complete edition, email me at mary at marywwalters dot com – preferably with BPTW in the subject line – and I will send it to you. No charge. If you want regular updates, let me know that too – but you can save yourself emails if you just subscribe to The Militant Writer after you have downloaded the back posts that you’ve missed.

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Book Promotion Tip of the Week #6.5: February 4, 2013

Book Promotion TipsReport on Our Facebook Launch

On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, John A. Aragon and I held the first “live” Facebook book launch I’ve attended: our own. It was a smashing success, although I may have one or two Facebook friends who are no long speaking to me.

You can still see the proceedings here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/509375175774289/

John and I were celebrating the launch of our new novel, The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, and our kind guests responded in the spirit of the invitation and the book. Several people brought liquor, and others brought food (Tina Sweet’s Hallowe’en “munchies” were a highlight). A few people played us some music that contributed to the atmosphere, and a couple of videos attracted positive attention (notably the Skeleton Dance that Charlie Maze posted, and the Old Man’s Dance that Liz brought along). There were fruit sculptures, pictures, and even fireworks. It was great.

A couple of people asked us questions about how the book had been written, which we answered. We also provided some info they hadn’t even asked for and probably didn’t want to know (like how the sex scenes – of which there are really only 2.5 or so, but they are notable – came into being).

We held the launch over a period of two hours (7 to 9 p.m. MST, where John lives, in Santa Fe, and 9 to 11 EST where I am). All told, about 40 people dropped by with comments, congratulations, quips and compliments. All in all, it was more fun than some real-life book launches I have been to, and I highly recommend a Facebook launch as a way to attract a bit of attention to your book.

The only drawback was that apparently all the people who’d been invited (which was ALL of our Facebook friends) got notices by email every time anyone posted anything during the party. After about 100 emails, a couple of my friends alerted me to this problem. I knew, as did many others no doubt, that you can “turn off notifications” (upper right-hand corner of your screen) when you don’t want to get any more information about an event on F/B, but they didn’t know that. And a lot of other people probably went offline for the evening and came back to find their email boxes inundated with launch-related info. I apologized to them. I had not realized that unless you decline an invitation to an event (which some people don’t like to do because they think it’s rude), you get a notice about every post that relates to it.

Therefore, if you are having a launch or hosting any other live activity on an actual Facebook Event announcement page, you might want to warn your invitees that if they don’t want to get an avalanche of emails (or an “avalaunch” perhaps), they should decline or turn off their notifications.

For those who did want to attend, however, it was a great party!

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #2: December 9, 2012

Gold star

Reach out to your readers

Increase your online profile and attract new readers by commenting regularly on other people’s posts about issues that relate to the subject of your book (without actually pitching the book itself. You won’t make any friends if you do that. Just make sure that the signature on the comment includes a link back to the website where you promote yourself and your book, and that your comment is so interesting that no one will be able to resist clicking through to find out more about you.)

  1. Use your search engine to find subject matter that relates to your topic (in the case of my books about grantwriting, I might Google, for example, “funding proposals,” “grant writing” and “grant deadline”), and
  2. when you find an article, a blog post, or a forum topic that relates to what you have written about, read the item and then make an intelligent comment. (You do need to read the item because in order to attract interest, you must figure out where the article writer or the original poster is coming from, and you need to find a hook in the article – some specific issue or statement – that you can refer to in your response.)

If your book is non-fiction of any kind, this exercise should be fairly straightforward. If you have written a novel or a book of poetry, on the other hand, you may have to sit down and actually think about what subject matter you would like to explore with other individuals online. In the case of  my most recent novel, The Whole Clove Diet, again my approach is fairly obvious: I can search for forums about body image, blogs about food addiction and news items about the latest diets, and I’m there. But I can also explore other aspects of the novel by searching for “addictions” in general (there is an alcoholic in the novel whose approach to booze has a lot in common with Rita’s toward food)– or even ”stepmothers,” as my main character is one of those. For my first novel, The Woman Upstairs, relevant topics would include “mother-daughter relationships” and “family conflict.”  Even “oppressive WASP Ontario childhood” would fit the bill.

Keep in mind that using actual quotation marks will help you with a search: if I search the two words “funding” and “proposals” together without the quotation marks, I get a result that can go far outside my area of focus. If I put quotation marks around “funding proposals,” I get only sites that contain those two words in the text­ in that order: which is what I want.

Also keep in mind that you are not looking for other writers with this initiative. In my experience, writers are not great buyers of books written by writers they have met online. Most writers have their own agendas for what they want to read. So don’t bother searching “my first novel” – it won’t get you anywhere productive because people who are writing about first novels today are a dime a dozen (or even more in some cases).

Remember that the idea here is to contribute to the online discussion about a subject that matters to you and to other people, not to make a sales pitch. You want to become part of the online community that is writing about an issue you have explored in your book.

You aren’t likely to make immediate sales of your book this way, but if you become a person who is known to make intelligent comments on a specific subject area, you will eventually attract readers.

You have to give, many times in most cases, before you will receive.