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New York Times, Suzanne Collins, Danica Patrick make Top Five list for 2013

Here’s the annual round up for the most popular blog posts for 2013:

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Does the New York Times boost book sales?

In an earlier post, I discussed a
recent article I had written that 
appeared in on-line forum Room
for Debate published by the New York Times
. My article
focused on the role bystanders have in intervening when they witness violent
crimes, and how that intervention is important in maintaining a free and civil
society. These are central themes in 
my
bullying novels
 for
middle graders, 
A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade.

Like most
authors, I am experimenting with different strategies for raising my visibility
among key audiences. I am appearing at the Downtown Marketplace in Tallahassee and I’m
active in the 200+ member Tallahassee Writers Association. Renegade
also won 2nd place in the Children’s Chapter Book Division of 2012 Seven Hills
Literary Competition, a national contest sponsored by TWA with blind judging. I
am also building my web presence and digital footprint to emphasize my
expertise in bullying and self-defense, and, most recently, I launched a blog
on “practical self defense” at www.defensivewarrior.com. All this
was set up before the New York
Times
 article was published.

On some metrics,
this was a very successful marketing event. Visits to my website (
www.srstaley.com) tripled, helped in large
part to the inclusion of a direct link in my tagline. Traffic stayed well above
typical levels for several days. Higher traffic to my web site also likely
drove a new tripling of traffic to my self defense blog since I linked used my
home page to link to articles for background.

So, did I
experience a bump in book sales when the Times article appeared? Or, more
directly, was I able to monetize this raised international awareness and
exposure? 

The short answer
is no. 

It’s a little
tricky tracking my impact but amazon.com provides a useful barometer. From the
basic metrics tracked by amazon, print sales have done virtually nothing since
the article appeared on April 22nd. Digital sales seemed to have increased
slightly as my author ranking began to spike somewhat more frequently around
the third and fourth weeks of April. But my rankings have spiked more
frequently since the beginning of the year, and these spikes seem to center
more around personal appearances than general publicity. Thus, the more
frequent spikes are just as likely a product of ongoing marketing efforts that
build on and link individual events rather than one specific event.

I also have not
added many twitter followers since the article appeared even though my twitter
handle (@SamRStaley) was included in my tag line. Visits to my self-defense
blog tripled on the day the article appeared, but quickly fell to their normal
levels. More interestingly, visits to my blog increased by nearly 10 times in
the day or two following a posting on Facebook by a follower with a high
profile in the martial arts community weeks in advance of the New York Times
article. In fact, his cross post generated nearly three times the traffic to my
blog than the Times article (and most of this traffic was the result of my own
marketing of the link though facebook). 

Of course, the
article I wrote was not directly tied to my books. They were listed in the tag
line (with links), not embedded in the narrative. And the article was not in
the book review section of the Times. All those factors would mitigate against
its effectiveness in monetizing this exposure.  

Lesson learned: A one time event is unlikely to boost
your sales unless it is directly tied to selling books. The value of the New York Times article was in raising general
awareness of my work and in validating my expertise, not selling books in the
short term. 

The key to
monetizing this marketing benefit is the consistent, steady application of a
marketing plan that focuses on building my marketing platform over the long
haul. 

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While I’ve Been Gone…..

Apologies to my readers for my neglect of my blog for the past few months. I’ve been busy getting my latest book, Renegade, into press and launched. Fortunately, I have good news to report!
 
Renegade was successfully launched on October 19, 2012 as part of a web-based broadcast during national bullying week at the Quest Center for Study of Martial Arts in Dayton, Ohio. The following weekend, I launched the Renegade in Florida with a book signing at the Bookshelf at Midtown in Tallahassee, Florida. Most recently, we found out that Renegade won 2nd place in the nationally competitive Seven Hills Literary Contest!

We’ve also started getting a few excellent reviews; check them out at amazon.com.

So, I’ve been out and about even though I haven’t been blogging. Now that Renegade is out, I plan to get back to regular posts right here.

Thanks for everyone that has helped make Renegade a reality in 2012! 

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Why All Writing is Persuasive Writing

I was recently asked to give a talk to a persuasive writing class at Tallahasee Community College. This is really in my wheelhouse since, as a public policy analyst and researcher, I’ve been writing commentary (argumentative writing) for nearly three decades. In fact, my first commentary appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1985 (on Sweden’s then failing economy). Since then, I have written hundreds of opeds and commentaries, many of them nationally syndicated and some appearing in leading newspaper such as The Wasington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. I’ve also edited hundreds of others by other authors.

So, I thought I would open up by talking about some of these commentaries and what makes a good commentary. There is both skill and art in distilling a major public policy issue into 700 words or less.

But, as I was putting my notes together, I realized that just about everything I write is persuasive or argumentative. In fact, anything anyone writes is implicitly persuasive, whether someone is writing conventional commentary or a novel.

Why? Because authors write with intent: We are trying to communicate ideas to our readers, whether through plot, action, characters, setting, or staightforward argumentation in an editorial. Thus, everytime we put pen to paper, we are engaged in persuasion. In fiction, we are trying to convince our readers that our characters really are good, evil, or just like them. We are crafting our stories so that our readers can see the same things we do as the originators of the story (although they often see more). Our characters serve a purpose. Our plots serve a purpose. Our setting serves a purpose. And the way we combine them tells a story; it works when we craft a story that is persuasive to our readers.

This is one reason why the old writing addage “every word counts” is so important. Any extraneous word dilutes the message or story. This is true for fiction and non-fiction.

Thanks Paula Anderson for requiring me to be self-reflective enough with my own writing to come to this realization!

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Does a Writer Have to Sacrifice Story for Action?

One of the more important dilemmas facing a middle-grade writer, particularly one that wants to target boys, is the trade-off between story and action. A good story is crucial to a successful novel as characters and setting are weaved together in a plot to keep forward momentum in the book.

In fact, that’s one of the first rules of writing: Keep the pace of the story moving forward. A good story is almost always moved forward through conflict. (For a great discussion and “how to guide” to using conflict as the basis for crafting story, see the book on screenwriting by Robert McKee titled Story.) But conflict comes in many forms, sometimes focusing on relationships (confict between people), sometimes focused on physical survival (man v. nature), sometimes focused on personal psychological obstacles (e.g., self-doubt or self-esteem).
 
Identifying the nature of the conflict is criticial for writing for boys. I discuss this is a recent video on Youtube (VL-7), but the gist of the issue is this: Boys are more in tune with action and physical sources of conflict. We hear it all the time (and parents know it’s true): Boys are impatient and are “bundles of energy.” They really don’t become engaged with emotional or interpersonal sources of conflict. Their perspective is framed fundamentally by their developmental stage, which, in the teen years, if more driven by physical development. More importantly, their emotional development is tied to this physical development. The twin forces–physical and emotional conflict–frames the way boys handle conflict. Novelists take note!

For writers focused on engaging boys, the trick is to fuse emotional conflict with physical action in order to create a story. In some ways, this requires the novel to be more layered and complex than in more traditional approaches to writing. Sometimes I think (incorrectly) that a novel for a girl could sustain itself solely on the emotional conflict between her and her mother or best friend. (Importantly, girls like action too, but they are also more open, willing, and accepting of emotionally driven stories.)

Writing action sequences is an art in itself. Combining the physicality of action with the emotional conflict that creates complex story lines can be dauntingt, but it’s not impossible. Thus, I don’t think writers have to sacrifice story for action. I think I achieved some of this goal with A Warrior’s Soul (at least if the amazon.com reviews are a meaningful indicator). The action starts with the first sentence, but the emotional content is embedded in the lead character’s response:

Hands trembling, Luke crouched behind the plastic trash can and prayed he’d be okay. The crumbling brick wall should have been enough to hide him. The rattling chains from belts and scattering rocks from scurrying books warned him it might not.

The story really takes off from here, using the action to drive the plot and conflict that ultimately results in Luke making a critical decision in the book’s climax that resolves an essential emotional dilemma (and completes his character arc).

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How Long Should You Market Your Book?

Just heard from an authority over at the Author’s Academy that authors should think about marketing their book over a three-year time frame. Yeesh. That seems like a lot. But, alas, it’s been my experience that this is probably about right. In fact, it’s probably closer to 3 1/2 years because I believe you should be marketing 6-9 months in advance of the actual publication of the book. In fact, for all of my books, it’s taken at least a year to create a basic level visibility once they’ve been published.

Here’s a quick, thumbnail sketch of a three-year marketing plan:



  • Stage I: Pre-publication marketing that builds awareness by creating a web site, getting local media, securing endorsements and early book reviews, holding a launch event; generate “buzz” (6 months);

  • Stage II: Build an readership base/audience once the book is published, primarily by honing your core marketing message based on stage one, publishing articles in key venues, contributing to blogs, building content on your website/blog, and experimenting with marketing toward specific segments (12 months);

  • Stage III: Consolidate your readership base by targeting the most receptive audiences, continuing to do what you did in stage two but focusing more on sales generation, reaching out to targeted audiences for special sales, and creating depth and consistency with your marketing (12 months);

  • Stage IV: Branch out to new markets based on the success of your initial marketing efforts (12 months).

Something to ponder: a second book, targeted for publication in late Stage II or in Stage III. This is a great way to validate you as an author and provide another hook and reason for people to buy your first book. On a personal note, I’ve seen revitalized interest in my first novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay, now that  A Warrior’s Soul has been published.


For more details about the specifics of what this plan might look like, see my earlier series of articles on Guerilla Book Marketing here, here, and here.
 

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Guerilla Book Marketing 101

I have a series of three guest posts over at Blogging Authors that discuss marketing strategies for new and niche authors. The first post, “Guerilla Book Marketing 1: Planning and Implementation,” appeared on Friday, September 30, 2011, and discusses the steps (including a chronology) I used to launch my newest novel A Warrior’s Soul. The second post will appear on Friday, October 7th, and will include an evaluation of those efforts (including benchmarks). The third is scheduled to appear on Friday October 14th.

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Your Book Costs How *#&! Much? Part 3

My previous posts on book pricing covered the importance of marketing and distribution systems (Part 1) and the willingness to pay (Part 2). Today, I want to conclude my series commenting on why charging a higher retail price for our book is actually consistent with a well functioning economic world. In other words, demand curves do in fact slope downward, even for niche books (like mine) that focus on a narrower reader base. I’ll still use my experiences with my debut novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay, as the illustrative case.



So, what about the Law of Demand? Won’t a higher price discourage sales? The short answer in the classroom is “yes,” but the practical answer is you need to have the right price for the right market.




This is why preserving the ability to discount from a realistically high retail price for our book is essential for our success as authors. Discounting can only be achieved by setting a high initial retail (cover) price. So, even though the price may be higher than most books sold in bricks & mortar book stores, the effective price for most of our customers wouldn’t have been that much different because the sales path for small books is so radically different from the “big boys.” For readers of pirate novels, the difference between $8 and $12 is really not very much and has almost not effect on their willingness to buy the book. (In technical terms their demand is inelastic; less responsive to changes in price.) They value the story in the book more highly than the typical romance reader. They are willing to pay the higher price because they believe the story is worth it. Real-world pricing is about market segmentation—niche markets give us more ability to set a higher price based on willingness to pay.




This is quite consistent with the Law of Demand and the downward sloping demand curve I teach in the university classroom. We tend to forget (and neglect to teach) that each buyer has a different price point. In the real world, publishers and authors should be trying to match a price to each buyer’s preference. The market demand curve represents all the buyers for a particular product for the entire market (niche buyers + general readers). Some buyers will pay the full price for our book (in our case $19.95). Others will not be willing to pay much at all (mass market readers without a specific interest in pirates or action stories).




So, pricing in niche markets is really about recognizing that we operate in a different, segmented market with different buyer sensitivities to the retail price. We can price higher because our customers see enough value in what we produce they are willing to pay for it. Moreover, a higher retail price allows us to provide a more competitive price to customers in very specialized parts of our market such as book clubs, nonprofit organizations, corporate sales, or book fairs. In the end, to stay viable, we need to price based on what the market will bare, not simple theory that neglects the nuance of how real markets operate.



Oh, and by the way, the retail price for my newest novel, A Warrior’s Soul (a bully action story with a martial arts theme) is $19.95, but you can buy your copy now at a 25 percent discount before June 20, 2011 through an exclusive arrangement with the SKH Quest Center for Martial Arts (www.skhquest.com)!


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