Category Archives: Keys to Success

Agenting Book Prices to Marketing Success

I thought it might be interesting to report on the most popular posts in each of the last several months based on the number of hits:

November: “What Authors Need to Do: Market”

October:  “The Long, Hard Road to Overnight Success

September: “Your Book Costs How *#&! Much? Part 1

August: “Secret Literary (Agent) Math

We’ll have a year-end list in January.

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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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Reading Rejection

Like most authors, I’ve had more than my share of rejections from agents and publishers. The most frustrating part of the process was trying to figure out if I could glean anything positive from the process. Most of the time, all you get is a post card saying: “Thank you for your submission. We don’t think your manuscript is right for our list at this time. We are confident you will be able to place your book with a suitable publisher.” Yeah, right.

But, the truth is, this little postcard says a lot about the approach many agents and publishers take to accepting or rejecting manuscripts. It’s not a complete blow off. As the publishing market becomes more competitive, agents and publishers can only accept manuscripts they are excited to represent and publish. The margins simply aren’t there to carry a manuscript that they can’t be excited about.

More telling, and helpful, in my view are rejections where the agent or publisher has taken some time to give you feedback. One of my more disappointing rejections from an agent (for A Warrior’s Soul) said: “Alas I am already representing an author whose work is too similar to yours so I am going to pass on reading more.  Best of luck with your body of work.” Of course, I don’t know who that other author is. (There are only two other teen martial arts series I’m aware of and neither one takes the contemporary reality-based approach I do.)

The letter that left me scratching my head was a New York publisher’s rejection of The Pirate of Panther Bay where an editor wrote a very complimentary letter back saying: “The writing and the storyline is tight and well developed…and you have done a wonderful job of weaving historical elements into the story line while keeping them relevant and interesting.”

Okay, great, so why didn’t you publish it?

In truth, the sobering reason is pretty straightforward: As good as the book was, it just wasn’t right for that publisher at that time.

Such is the world in which authors, particularly new and the not-so-famous ones, operate.

What we (authors) should not assume is that our book isn’t any good because it was rejected.
A Warrior’s Soul is “highly recommended” by Midwest Book Review and the reviewer from Readerviewskids.com said he was “inspired.” Former teachers and librarians have recommended it for the classroom. The Pirate of Panther Bay has recieved reviews calling it a “swashbuckling tale of piracy, action and romance,” “A grand high seas adventure any teen would love; many adults as well,” and “masterfully captures a sword fight, building tension it seems hard to believe possible short of seeing it on a huge movie screen.”

So, I’m confident my books are solid contributions to literature and my genre. (I guess I’m just a little ahead of my time.)

Now, on to editing the completed draft of that third novel….

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Guerilla Book Marketing 103: The Long Haul

My third post on Guerilla Book Marketing-“Investing in the Long Haul”-has been graciously posted over at Blogging Authors (October 14, 2011). This one describes Phase 2 of my marketing place for A Warrior’s Soul. The first phase was focused on raising awareness of the book before publication. The second phase is all about sustaining the momentum from the first phase. Phase 2 is also about investing for the long haul: book clubs, articles in targeted publications, book festivals, and more. For details, checkout the blog.

Also, for those interested in the first two posts, here on the links:

*”Guerilla Book Marketing 1: Planning & Implementation” (Sept. 30, 2011);

*”Guerilla Book Marketing 2: Assessing Effectiveness” (Oct. 7, 2011);

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Guerilla Book Marketing 102

The second installment of my series on Guerilla book marketing–effective low-cost ways to market you book–has been posted over at Blogging Authors. This article focuses on assessing the effectiveness of marketing strategies leading up to a book’s launch, using my experience with A Warrior’s Soul as case study. I specifically focuses on the milestones I achieved leading up to the middle-grade novel’s July 29th release, and how I monitored and evaluated the success of each strategies.

The first post (appearing Sept. 30, 2011) focused on identifying and implementing strategies.

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How Much Does Guerilla Marketing Cost?

I’ve discussed guerilla marketing tactics for book launches for new and niche authors before (see here and here), but one question never seems to be asked: How much does it (or should it) cost?

I’ve heard ranges from zero (everything is your own blood, sweat and tears) to tens of thousands of dollars. As a niche author unlikely to hit the New York Times best seller list anytime soon, most of my marketing has been “guerilla” marketing–identifying effective and relatively cheap marketing strategies to achieve my sales goals. The stone cold reality is that I could spend $25,000 on marketing for my books and still not get the return necessary in book sales to justify the costs.

But, spending nothing on marketing doesn’t make sense. Believe it or not, you can accomplish quite a lot on a marketing budget of under $1,500. I advise budgeting at least $500, and be ready to spend close to $1,000 if the right opportunities arise, but here is what a budget of $500 can “buy” you:




  1. A facebook account, and a page for your book, is free. Also, web site managers like godaddy.com (the host of this site) will allow you to establish blog and web sites free of charge when you buy a domain name. You don’t have to start fancy, and you can decide to upgrade your web sites and blogs (as I have) as your cash allows.

  2. Expedited reviews of your book from one or two reputable on-line book review sites such as Readerviews.com, Midwest Book Review, All Books Review, etc. may be worth the investment to legitimize your book to a broader audience more quickly.

  3. Focused marketing efforts on developing a personal network and relationships with book clubs and experts in your field, including local book clubs.

  4. Travel to local and regional book festivals and other events, particularly if they are free.

  5. Inexpensive Youtube video marketing products such as video blogs. While they won’t be polished and professional, that can be part of the appeal to potential readers. A home video camera can provide surprisingly good quality and video editing software that comes with your operating system is probably all you need.

This marketing budget won’t get you to the New York Times best seller list, but they should be able to get you to the point you cover your out of pocket costs and can finance your next book effort!

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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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Don’t Skimp on Editing

Over at Blogging Authors, guest columnist Chris Hoole has a very important post on editing. I’ve talked about this before in the context of self-editing (April 19, 2011), so it’s nice to see a professional validate my experience as an author and editor. While Hoole’s own view might seem a little harsh, I think he’s spot on:



“Editors are stock and trade to the publishing industry.  While creative writing can break some of the rules out there, it’s important to understand that unless you’re reading a manuscript with a critical eye – something no writer can actually do to their own work [, or unless you can] objectively look  for errors in grammar, misspelled (but still correct) words and more, that sooner or later something is going to slip through the cracks. 

“There is a ‘worse’ breed of indie writer – one that believes that editors are the ‘gatekeepers’ to the writing community and because they’ve had either a poor experience in the past, or worse, just can’t take constructive criticism criticise editors at every turn.  These deluded souls are often seen putting out book after book after book and wondering why no one even talks to them any more – but are also, conversely, the loudest and most critical voices in the community, and are the worst ‘name’ in indie writing.”

Good writers, even the best, need good editors. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the acknowledgements section of any bestseller. Count the number of editors the author thanks for their insight and ability to keep their story on track. (For example, Suzanne Collins, author of the highly acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy published by Scholastic Press, identifies three by name in the acknowledgements of the third book, Mockingjay.)

Also, from my personal experience with A Warrior’s Soul, I had a difficult stylistic problem I couldn’t solve on my own. My character talked a lot “in her head.” A professional editor suggested putting the thoughts in italics, even though they weren’t really statements or specific thoughts. This was a brilliant move, making the story flow more quickly without losing the personal feel provided by his unique (and essential) perspective. (Other authors avoid this by writing in the first person, but for creative reasons I wanted to stay in third person.)

A good editor won’t just check spelling and grammar (although that’s important). A good editor won’t be a gatekeeper. Rather, he or she will be your best friend, telling you the good, the bad, and the ugly. They will professionally hone your voice and keep you from making mistakes-some fundamental but many not so fundamental-that detract from your story. That’s what they are paid to do. If you don’t get that candid, objective opinion, you’re not spending your money wisely.

For more on Hoole, see here. The Authors Academy also has held webinars on how to identify and commission the right editor for the level of work.

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Book Sales By the Numbers

It may seem like an odd question, but when do you know your book’s a success?

The question is a lot harder to answer than we might think. If you’ve published with a mainstream publisher, the answer is somewhat obvious: When the book makes money for your publisher. That threshold is also the point when they might consider publishing another book by you.

But, more and more authors are publishing with small and niche presses, subsidy publishers, or self-publishing. That begs the same question yet again. As someone with experience in both the mainstream and subsidy publishing world, I’ve developed a couple of rules of the road for my books.

1. I don’t worry about my publisher. I want them to make money, of course, but it’s up to the publisher to decide if they’ve made enough off my books to warrant printing new editions or picking up another book.

2. I want my books to cover my out-of-pocket costs. I love to write, but I can’t afford (or I’m unwilling) to shell out cash for books that don’t attract enough readers to at least break even from my personal checking account. (Note: I’ve given up on compensating me for the time I put into writing.)

Okay, these aren’t really rules; they’re principles. What does this mean in terms of cold, tangible, measurable numbers?

I got some help on this from Grael Norton, the acquisitions editor for Wheatmark, an independent publisher in Tuscon, Arizona (and publisher of my most recent novel A Warrior’s Soul) during on on-line publishing and marketing workshop for authors (their “Authors Academy,” of which I’m a member). I’m going to embellish his insight gained from practical experience with my own thoughts. Here are his thoughts in numbers with my embellished commentary:

One. By at least one very important measure, the physical sale of the first book is a major success, particularly for first-time authors. We often wonder if anyone will buy our book. That first sale gives us the confidence to go out and sell (or promote) the second copy. As I’ve discussed before, authors are the most important marketing tool for their books. So don’t under-estimate the importance of the first sale. But, of course, you haven’t come close to recouping out-of-pocket costs.

100. This, according to Grael (and I concur from my own experience) is a crucial threshold because this level of sales implies you have broken out of your inner circle of friends and family. Many people can leverage their good graces with their inner circle to sell 50 or 75 copies of your book. But, that’s about the limit for most individuals unless they are celebrities or have something near celebrity status. One hundred is a good number, but you are still far away from covering your out-of-pocket costs, let alone make money for your publisher.

500. At this point, you have broken out of the small, inner circle and really begun to sell a decent number of copies. This still isn’t a high enough threshold to sustain your writing career on its own, but if you have sold 500 copies, you have probably covered your out-of-pocket costs if you have used a reputable subsidy or self-publisher. (Notably, this is still not enough to make real money on your book, but at least your not draining your savings or checking account.)

1,000. Once you have crossed this threshold, Grael’s experience at Wheatmark suggests your book has tapped into a niche market. In short, it’s financially, and most likely literarily, sustainable. I would concur based on my experience with nonfiction and fiction books. You still aren’t selling enough to attract the mainstream big boys in publishing, but your making more than your out-of-pocket costs and subsidy-publishers are pretty happy.

2,000. At this level, you’ve tapped into a bonafide niche market and have a successful book. Indeed, this threshold might be sufficiently large that additional books will leverage the first into a sustainble series where you might be able to make some meaningful money. At this level, authors are approaching the sales range where mainstream niche and small presses can turn a profit on your work as well. (Notably, this is also the threshold for Wheatmark’s Great Expectations program where authors have access to a more complete array of publishing services similar to larger, mainstream presses.)

5,000. (My number, not Grael’s.) In my opinion, this is a threshold for a book to establish itself through the conventional publishing market. These sales volumes are high enough for an author to become attractive to agents and established mainstream presses (but still below what is increasingly necessary for the publisher or agent to make money). If your book is selling at these levels, a wider distribution system may well take it to a much higher level of sales. Your book will be noticed. You will develop a cadre of loyal readers that becomes your base for future books. You will be making money if you’ve signed with a decent publisher and have a decent publishing contract.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences. Because of spam, I’ve turned off the comment function on my blog, but feel free to email me at sam@srstaley.com.

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On the Effectiveness of a Marketing Campaign

Perhaps the biggest barrier I faced with the publication of A Warrior’s Soul was a lack of brand identity and a clear marketing platform. I couldn’t sell books if no one knew about me or the book. More problematically, A Warrior’s Soul is a niche novel, a bully drama with a martial arts theme (think Ninja!) targeted toward middle-grade readers (grades 4-8). How would I know if my plan would be successful? Of course, I couldn’t, but my experience provides some encouraging evidence of success and a lesson or two for new authors.

Leading up to the official release of A Warrior’s Soul, I put together a two-phase marketing plan. The first phase, ending when the novel would officially launch, was specifically targeted to raise awareness of the book and brand me as an author. The fundamental elements of Phase One included:



  • A pre-publication sale to advance sales and raise awareness for the book (ending June 20th, one month before the official launch of A Warrior’s Soul);

  • The creation of a personal website, www.srstaley.com;

  • The creation of a facebook page (A Warrior’s Soul book page);

  • Regular notifications and links from my personal Facebook page;

  • The creation of youtube channel and videos on the themes of the book;

  • Local media;

  • A launch event at the Dayton Quest Center for Martial Arts (and also my local dojo) with live Internet streaming of a reading, Q&A with a live audience, and signing.

Importantly, none of these specific strategies were explicitly designed to sell books. The main purpose of any marketing campaign is to raise awareness of a product; actual sales are an indirect, tangible but secondary outcome. For example, the pre-publication sale campaign for A Warrior’s Soul was designed to sell books only as a secondary objective, not a primary one. The main purpose was to use the launch event to raise awareness for the book overall (which of course would hopefully result in sales down the road.) 

I learned in my other “day” jobs that marketing doesn’t always work. In fact, one marketing professional told me in an offhand comment that “90 percent of all marketing campaigns don’t work.” I took this to mean the campaigns don’t generate revenue. While it’s too early to tell whether my marketing campaign has turned into signicant revenue (the official launch event was July 29th), I think I have a few interesting results that suggest, at a minimum, the goal of raising awareness worked. For example:



  • The Dayton Daily News ran an article on the book and its main themes, generating local buzz;

  • Selective web book reviews helped promote and validate the novel to a wider audience;

  • Stephen K. Hayes, an internationally recognized martial arts master and member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame (and owner of the Quest Center), personally promoted the novel on his facebook page;

  • The newly created facebook page had 35 “likes” before the book was released, and the page was visited by about 60 facebook users each week;

  • Visits to my author website, www.srstaley.com, spiked around key events.

The third point is probably most interesting. With each facebook post that included a link to the book on my website, page requests increased. For example, here on the weeks and page requests at www.srstaley.com leading up to the launch event along with Phase One marketing milestones: 



  • Week of June 19th:  82 page request (end of pre-publication sale)

  • Week of June 26th: 170

  • Week of July 3rd: 144 (Dayton Daily News article appears)

  • Week of July 10th: 241 (2 videos released; readerviewskids.com book review appears)

  • Week of July 17th: 426 (Stephen K. Hayes Facebook mention)

  • Week of July 24th: 741 (official launch on July 29th)

  • Week of July 31st: 292

  • Week of August 7th: 253

  • Week of August 14th: 303

Three insights are worth noting. First, each major publicity event goosed web traffic. Second, web traffic has consistently been higher after the launch event compared to the weeks before the event.  Finally, most of this traffic was created by my promotional efforts. Web traffic is overwhelming driven by direct links embedded in various promotions such as Facebook and Youtube. Almost none of the traffic has been driven by the major search engines such as Google or Bing.

Although it’s too early to tell if these efforts have driven sales, I think the evidence is pretty substantial that specific marketing strategies can, in fact, raise awareness about authors and books. This lesson is particularly important for new authors or authors working in a new genre without an established platform or brand identity.

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