Thursday, May 1, 2014

Indie advance marketing—is it for the birds? (Warning: I like lists!)


Once upon a time, a wise old farmer said, “Don’t count your chickens before they're hatched.”  And the people that obey that admonition tend to be happier for it.  Not only do they not get their own hopes up, they don’t disappoint the people around them.  Alas, it’s always not easy for a self-published author to follow that advice.  Particularly when it comes to marketing.  

I was stunned a few weeks ago when I pulled up a newly published book on Amazon.com and saw that it had roughly fifty reviews already posted to it.  There was no way that customers had had time to buy, download, and read the book between it “hitting the shelves” and when I saw the listing—barring time travel, that is. 

I promptly began researching how to get reviews on a freshly publish book and stumbled onto something called “advance reviewers.”  I had seen Goodreads giveaways promising ARCs (advance review copies), but I had no idea what that meant or even that it might be important to me.  My understanding of how this concept applies to self-publishing is that an author has a manuscript that has been edited, formatted, and copyrighted (in short, a finished but not-yet-published book) that they are about to release.  Using the many sites and services available (ex. Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the author begins advertising for advance reviewers.  And the copy (advertising text) had better be first rate.  I’ll go into more detail on that later on.

Armed with all of this information, I began drafting my first publication schedule.  (It’s my fourth book, but I’m still trying to figure all of this out.)  I estimated that in six weeks I could get my manuscript back from the editors (I abuse some good friends and family members that are highly skilled in the areas of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.), revise/format/copyright it, and submit it to Amazon Kindle and my printer, Lightning Source International (LSI).  I also estimated that I would be taken away in a nice padded truck after about three weeks.  Oddly enough, that hasn’t happened yet.

I’ve still got a lot to do and my “publication” date is only a month away.  That sounds like a lot, but when you factor in processing and shipping times, it really isn’t.  Frankly, it’s stressing me out.  I’ve never climbed this far out on a limb.  It really would only take one thing going wrong (a car accident, a bad case of the flu, a power outage of any length) and I’m left picking up the pieces of a beautiful air castle.  That’s one down-side of being a self-published author/one-man-band.  I do believe in prayer, though.  I pray every day that I will be able to achieve the publication goals I have set for myself.  I’m also trying to take notes and prepare for next time this time.  Forewarned is forearmed, after all.  (Yes, I love old sayings!)  And I’ve learned so much about the process this time around!  I’m even going to try to boil down some of the more important points for you.

Because the sites I’ve listed above are freely available, they are also the target of a small army of independent authors.  On Facebook, popular groups will often get more than twenty updates in a two hour period, pushing previous postings down and off the visible page.  I know I usually only scroll down through the first four or five listings, so that is all I really expect from others.  On Goodreads, heavily trafficked groups can have a dozen new listings every day, even in the threads that are intended for very selective types of posts.  Twitter changes every few seconds, and my attempt at using LibraryThing to locate advance reviewers just hasn’t panned out (more on that below).

Things I have learned about obtaining advance reviews:

  1. Prepare a publication schedule. 
    1. Put your book in reviewers’ hands a good month before publication.
    2. Allow for time to prepare, post, and repost your advance reviewer offer.
  2. When preparing the offer text, include all the facts.  Some that I would have overlooked are:
    1. If given the option to include a title (some sites have them, others don’t), include:
      1.  Title, genre, and what you’re looking for.  Advance reviewers are a little different from regular reviewers.
        1. Ex.  Troubled Skies, YA light fantasy, advance reviewers wanted
    2. The available book formats: print or digital
    3. How many copies are available?
    4. Your preferred contact method/information
    5. Where you would like the reviews published
      1. Amazon.com, Goodreads, Smashwords, etc.
    6. Pertinent dates
      1. When will the book be available to the reviewers?  Be as specific as you can.
      2. When will the book be formally published? 
    7. An engaging synopsis
      1. Consider your target audience.  Even better than getting dozens of offers to review your book is a handful of offers from users who know what they’re getting and want it.
  3. Site usage (Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, etc.) 
    1. Research in advance.  There are interest groups specifically for genres, age groups, genres, etc. 
      1. Groups also frequently cross-over from site to site (ex. The Goodreads Clean Romances Group on FB).  Different users favor different platforms, so post to the group wherever you find it.
    2. Tweets can be directed at specific groups using @theirgroupname
    3. Hashtags can be used on Facebook or Twitter to increase your #searchability
    4. LibraryThing:
      1. To post an offer in the groups, search for “book promotion” and limit the search to “groups” on the left-hand side of the page.
    5. Post frequently but respect the group’s rules
      1. On Goodreads alone the potential for posting is mindboggling.  Take your time.  Read the group rules and obey them, even if it means spending five minutes hunting for the appropriate folder to post in.  Posting in the wrong folder could easily result in your post being deleted by a moderator.
      2. Some sites or groups request that you share/like/retweet/favorite postings by other authors.  This only takes a minute and, quite often, increases your own visibility catching the attention of someone who might’ve overlooked you otherwise.
    6. DON’T spam anybody,
      1. But especially don’t pester a group titled the ‘Heroes of World War II’ with your fiction/children’s/whatever book about Unrelated Stuff.
  4. Respond promptly to offers to review your book.
  5. Decide in advance if you’re interested in doing a review swap
    1. If you are, I would recommend a little research each time one is offered to you.  Can you tell if the other author voluntarily reads books from your genre?  Are you interested in the other author’s genre?
  6. Follow-up
    1. Approximately two weeks after providing a copy of your work to an advance reviewer, follow-up with them.            
      1. Say “Thank you” again.
    2. Follow-up again about a week before your book “hits the shelves.”
      1. Remind them of the publication date;
      2. Reiterate that you appreciate their time and efforts.
      3. If possible, include links to the sites where you would like the reviews to be published.
        1. Goodreads permits pre-publication listing of a self-published book; Amazon.com does not (to the best of my knowledge); LibraryThing may.
    3. For purposes of follow-up, it is useful to make a list of when which reviewer received a copy of your work.  (I posted ahead of time for reviewers and limited myself to three days during which I would send out book copies.  That simplifies my follow-up timetable)
  7. LibraryThing
    1. The Early Review program is intended to be used by publishers.  Self-published authors are encouraged to use the Member Giveaway Program.
    2. About the Member Giveaway program.
      1. I only just realized I could apply for Author status on LibraryThing and do a Member Giveaway that way.  (I learn something new every day, as another wise person once said.)
When you think you’re ready to post your advance review request, close your computer and go do something else.  Then come back and reread it as if you were the advance reviewer.  I know you’ve done your best to make the post compelling (and honest), but ask yourself if you’ve left out a pertinent detail.  Providing the right information is a courtesy to the reviewer and double-checking is a small thing that can make a big difference.