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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: sell more books

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How do we sell more books? This is the big question all authors ask (myself included). Obviously, there are countless opinions about how to sell more books, but not all opinions are created equally.

Thus, before we hop onto the latest marketing/promotion fad we’re wise to understand why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Books are not like cups of coffee or breakfast cereal, and thus require a different approach.

Yes, ads, marketing and promotion campaigns sell toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste because seriously…who is NOT USING this stuff? When it comes to influencing what folks do with their free time, however, it’s a whole other game.

Writers are unique as well. Yes, we really are special unique starfish. And, since we are responsible for producing the product, we need a social media approach that leaves time to write great books.

This said, what’s the critical element that makes a book a mega success? Is it lightning in a bottle? Black magic? Voodoo? Can we buy it on Amazon? Is it banned in Georgia?

No. The answer is actually pretty simple (though simple and easy are NOT synonymous). Writers have to get out in the metaphorical boat.

We had a saying when I worked in sales: Fish where the fish are. 

If we want to sell more books, we must learn to fish, and the fish are schooling on-line. And trust me, I know it’s tempting to take shortcuts.

Yet, there’s a marked difference between a legendary angler like Jeremy Wade who goes after a very specific fish to catch and release…and that weird third cousin who tosses dynamite in a pond then collects whatever floats to the surface.

Approach and technique make all the difference in our results. But first…

Field of ‘Dream On’ Marketing 

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A lot of authors don’t even want to get in the boat let alone learn to fish. They try to apply the ‘Field of Dreams Plan’ to sell more books.

If I write it, they will come.

No. No they won’t. Sorry to break the news. No one cares about our book simply because we’ve published one.

Reading for pleasure has been steadily declining since the 1980s, and now that our culture is firmly entrenched in the new digital paradigm, this number is dropping off…a cliff. Back in 2004, roughly 28% of Americans over the age of 15 read for pleasure. As of 2017, that number was down to 19%, and for good reasons.

There’s Netflix, Fortnite, YouTube, Instagram, Tinder, and Candy Crush. Also, the final season of Game of Thrones in April—Spring is Coming—and we need to refresh our memories and who exactly all three hundred four characters are. Right?

Suffice to say, writers have had a tough time inspiring humans to read since before the radio was invented. The 24-7 Global SHINYfest is certainly NOT helping. This is why, if we want to sell more books, we cannot simply publish the book then slap down some cash for some Facebook ads.

When we settle for this approach, we’re essentially saying:

Hey, why don’t you devote an average of 11-15 hours you don’t have, to sit still and do an activity you believe you hate? Oh, and PAY ME!

Yep, they’re right on that.

No, no…I can see through their window. Nope, they’re on Netflix. My bad.

Seemed so promising with that 3-D dragon sparkle cover.

Writing excellent books is a fantastic start for those who want to sell more books. But, don’t get too excited. While a great book is a fabulous start, there’s more work we need to do to locate and cultivate our audience.

How Do We Move the Needle?

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Yes, I know the above statistics look grim, but as Mark Twain once said, ‘There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ Numbers are wonderful, but they’re a guidepost not gospel.

Sure, data is useful because, if research showed that 96% of all Americans read three books a week and we still weren’t able to sell any books? Probably safe to say writing books is NOT our strong suit. Maybe look into cosmetology school or underwater welding.

Ah, but, when the numbers are low—19%—it’s easier to accept that, when faced with an ambivalent marketplace, we’re going to have to think and do things differently.

We need to work smarter, not harder. If you want to captivate a reading audience, you must do these three things.

Intentionality: Social Media on Porpoise

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*bada bump snare*

First, if we want to sell more books, we have to ditch the ‘Field of Dream On Marketing Plan.’

Times have changed and buying habits have as well. As I said earlier, Fish where the fish are.

When it comes to 21st century publishing, if authors don’t have a strong digital presence (brand), we’re not even in the right place to be successful. It’s like trying to fish on dry land…which does NOT yield a tasty catch and just makes us look ridiculous.

So please, get on-line. Your future fans are there and waiting to discover you.

Secondly, stop devoting huge efforts marketing to people who would define themselves as ‘avid readers.’

Why? Because every author out there is trying to sell books to the same limited population, a limited population only capable of buying and reading so many titles.

Additionally, marketing to ‘readers’ is a doomed plan when we apply basic logic.

I just mentioned there are fewer ‘avid readers’ than ever before, but—thanks to self-publishing and indie press—there are more ‘published authors’ than ever before. Fewer readers compounded with exponentially more titles for sale.

See the problem? Basic MATH.

These digital waters have been overfished to the point that anyone who’s still fishing there is likely starving.

Our odds of success will vastly improve if we learn how to make converts, which brings me to my third point.

Thirdly, ditch the misconception that non-readers don’t read AT ALL.

Remember, the 19% stat only represents people who don’t need to be coerced to read. 

The other 81% of literate humans in need of being informed or entertained CAN read, they’re simply choosing NOT to read. This group just needs convincing. A little seduction. Build a relationship. Tell them they’re pretty and ask about their day.

Put out better bait.

***Cat videos are marvelous, FYI.

Yes, it’s more ‘work’ but what (legal) long-term relationship doesn’t require consistent emotional investments?

Every dark horse runaway success has one common denominator:

These authors/books were able to convert millions of fans from the ‘NON-READER’ population into the ‘THEIR READER’ population.

There are converts who will claim they ‘don’t like to read,’ but they own every Harry Potter book (in hard cover) and will read anything and everything J.K. Rowling publishes forever and ever AMEN.

Fifty Shades of Grey didn’t launch to stratospheric success because it scored rave literary reviews from elite book critics. 50 Shades did what other books didn’t or couldn’t.

E.L. James’ books moved the needle in a MAJOR way because 50 Shades converted disinterested ‘non-readers’ into ‘die-hard devotees.’ Devotees that then set suburban bedrooms and sales records on fire.

Change Tack for the BIG Haul

sell more books, Kristen Lamb, book marketing

When we want to sell more books, converts are key. Yes, avid readers are wonderful to have as fans, because they (we) read all the time. We enjoy books, buy books and most of us need a twelve-step program and a sponsor because of our book-buying habit.

This should be awesome, right?

Hold on there, Sparky.

While us avid readers inhale books faster than a line of cocaine at a West Hollywood party, we’re not exactly blown away when we find a book we can finish. We don’t feel our world just tilted on its axis because we enjoyed a novel. It takes a ridiculously amazing book to get us amped up.

Conversely…

For the person who believes she hates reading and doesn’t understand why anyone would read a book unless there was a mandatory test at the end? When SHE finishes a book and LOVES it? This person becomes positively EVANGELICAL and tells everyone who will listen to buy it.

***Oh, and this sort of ‘catch’ is easily caught with kitten videos, funny memes and just talking about what y’all have in common. No ookie ‘self-promo’ required. People buy from who they know and LIKE.

Alas, what frustrates so many authors (and traditional marketing/advertising/PR people who still think it’s 1997) is that social media is the modern version of ‘word of mouth.’ Unlike direct marketing, social media efficacy can’t be precisely measured or controlled.

Also, as authors, our social media activity can’t be outsourced. We aren’t a faceless company like GEICO or Starbucks. People expect they’re interacting with US on-line, thus paying someone else to pretend to ‘be’ us is a bait-and-switch that smacks of catfishing.

No one in the history of ever enjoyed being catfished.

Social media activity also can’t be solely automated, because that’s called rude…I mean spam.

How many of us have emails dedicated for the stuff we don’t want? We use spam filters, and gripe to anyone who’ll listen when forced to sit on the phone interacting with a robot.

So then WHY would this be a good plan to do to our (potential) readers?

Hint: It isn’t.

Why would we serve what even we don’t want to consume? Exactly. An automated tweet or post here and there? Fine. But go easy on this.

If we wanted to try to connect with an automated message and never a human? We’d call our cable provider’s customer service line. At least there we could mock the irony of the name…and drink heavily.

In The End

sell more books, Kristen Lamb, book marketing, Pexels, Chevanon Photography

Selling more books becomes simpler when we open our minds to who makes up our potential audience. Once we’re brave enough to venture into uncharted waters and plumb new depths, our odds of success improve dramatically.

The more niche we can become, the less competition we have to outmaneuver and outdo.

Me trying to connect with and catch ‘readers’ is heck of a lot harder than trying to locate then connect with ‘people who love true crime, binge-watch Dexter, and quote Fight Club way more than is socially acceptable.’

Dare to do more than hook ‘a fish.’ Instead, be bold and go after that ‘perfect catch.’

Yes, it takes more time, finesse and patience, but it’s worth it. You’ll sell more books, and get to enjoy a colorful, diverse, and enthusiastic ‘school’ of followers who will continue to grow and bring you joy long after the first sale.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I love hearing from you! Does this make ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’ seem a tad less terrifying? Do you struggle with the idea of selling your book because it feels too smarmy? Have you been approaching your promotion from the perspective of an avid reader instead of a person to be converted?

Maybe most people don’t read books, but they might read YOUR books…

Come to the Dark Side. We have cookies… 😀

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

MARCH’S AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)

ON DEMAND: A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

Taught by Kristen Lamb, $55 Delivered to YOUR computer to enjoy at your leisure.

SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be In Witness Protection

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, March 7th 7-9 PM EST $99

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

Too many voices telling ALL THE THINGS! AHHHHHHHH! Taught by Kristen Lamb, Friday, March 15th, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)

Yes, I will be teaching about Instagram in this class.

Story Master: From Dream to Done

Taught by Kristen Lamb, March 28th, 7-9 PM EST ($55/$349 GOLD)

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, March 30th 2-4 PM EST $55

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We can Twitter ’til we flitter and Facebook ’til we face plant and that won’t matter much in the greater scheme of things if we fail at our single most important job—writing a great book. Our single greatest challenge is to hook the reader hard enough to buy (and then read) our novel.

Sales ultimately are impacted by reviews and if no one reads and no one finishes?

Exactly.

Yes, covers are important and social media is vital, but those sample pages can mean the difference in No Sale and Big Hit.

One writing book every writer should have is Hooked by Les Edgerton. I think this was the first craft book that truly woke me up and showed me all I really didn’t know about writing.

As a new author, there were far too many elements I believed were important when in reality? Not so much. Additionally, because I was focusing on the wrong “stuff” I was failing to develop the “right” stuff.

What I love about Hooked is how Les demonstrates how all the factors that go into making great beginnings don’t just evaporate. These are tactics we must keep employing throughout the work to keep the reader engaged and turning pages. Our job is to obliterate sleep, to send our readers tired and grouchy and over caffeinated to work…but ultimately satisfied.

Let’s talk about some common ways beginnings fall flat.

The Writer is Easing Into the Story

Nope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had writers wail, “But you don’t understand! The story really starts on page 50.”

Okay, then cut off 49 pages and you’re golden.

Modern audiences simply don’t have the attention span for us to go on too long. Yes, I get that the authors of yesteryear got away with this, but they were competing against shoveling manure and shoeing horses, not YouTube, Facebook and 24-hour entertainment. Additionally, writers back in the day were often paid by the word, so that sucker was padded worse than a freshman term paper.

These days we need to get to the point as quickly as possible and fiction is about one thing and ONE thing only. Problems.

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Readers Don’t Need a Set-Up…Really

We writers can be really guilty of brain-holding. Readers are smart. Really. We don’t need to go ten or twenty or fifty pages to “set up” the story problem so the reader doesn’t get lost.

Even Andy Weir’s The Martian begins with:

I’m pretty much f**ked.

That is my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.

Weir doesn’t start with the crew landing on Mars and bonding and working to “set up” the sandstorm that strands Watney on Mars. He starts right in the guts of the problem and we (readers) keep up just fine.

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We Don’t Care Why

Often new writers will begin a novel with a lot of telling and flashbacks in an effort to explain why a character is a certain way. We don’t care. That is the realm of psychotherapy, not fiction. Want to see who a person (character) really is? Toss them into a problem.

Sure, later in the story we can divulge the character was abused or abandoned or whatever, but the beginning is not the place for that. Yes, we eventually know that Connelly’s character Detective Hieronymous Bosch grew up an orphan after his mother (a prostitute) was murdered. We eventually find out that these circumstances fueled Harry’s choice in occupation and even his world view. But the Bosch books never begin with this. That is for later.

Why?

Because the past is in the past and cannot be changed, therefore it is not a story worthy problem. It is a bad situation, not true drama.

In fact, we as the writer need to know these details, but sharing them might not always be a good thing.

Hannibal was far more interesting before he was explained.

Readers are perfectly fine with meeting a fully formed character (flaws and all) and just rolling with it from there. In fact, the wondering why a character thinks or acts a certain way often drives the reader to turn pages hoping that it eventually will be explained.

Inner Demons

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My previous point dovetails nicely into inner demons, which we will explore in another post for sake of brevity. I get a lot of novels that begin with thinking and more thinking and waxing rhapsodic over “inner demons.” Here’s the deal, we don’t like people who go on and on about their personal problems and character flaws in real life. Why would we pay to endure that in print?

Fiction is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy.

Remember that we are using the story problem to make the reader care about the protagonist. If we jump the gun too soon and start dumping a lot of emotional baggage on the reader, she is going to feel like she is trapped in the checkout line with that stranger who feels the need to share details of her ugly divorce.

We have to earn the privilege of the reader caring.

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Beginning with thinking and internalization presents a structure problem as well. Internalization is part of what is called a sequel. Sequels can only happen as a direct consequence of a scene. Scenes are action and goal-oriented. All fiction begins with a scene (problem/conflict).

Outer Problems Versus Inner Problems

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Humans feel far more comfortable with outer problems (initially) and it is what draws us in. If you have ever visited a major city like NYC, then think of it this way.

On the sidewalk there are countless faceless people.

If we notice someone crying? We might (big on the might) get involved, but we wouldn’t feel very comfortable. If, however, a person is carrying a briefcase and the latches give way spilling out the contents? Most of us wouldn’t think twice about helping the person gather her papers.

We also would feel far less weird if after we helped gather the papers, we “found out” the person was discombobulated because she was upset over a personal problem (was just fired). We might even want to know more because we’ve established enough report to activate empathy.

This is the difference in using an outer problem to hook versus inner drama.

Good fiction goes right to a tangible outer problem.

Beginning with Melodrama

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Any time I see a book that opens with a funeral, a death, a hospital scene, I cringe. This is going to sound cruel, but we really just don’t care. If we have not been introduced to the characters who are clinging to life or recently deceased? We have nothing emotionally vested and so sections like these are just tedious.

***This goes along with a protagonist starting things off by relaying her abuse history as a child.

And the more the writer tries to amp up the “feelings” the weirder it gets for the audience.

I get that the story might be prompted by a death or a tragic event, but there is no reason to drag us along if we don’t know the dearly departed.

Remember that even in Star Wars, we did spend at least a little time with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru before they were butchered. If the story would have started there? It would have just been weird.

There are a lot of other things that go into crafting excellent beginnings, but we will talk about those another time. I am trying something new, though. Thursday, June 16th I am holding a Battle of the First Pages. If you’ve ever been to a conference and to an agent gong show, this will be similar.

I will upload your first page in the W.A.N.A. virtual classroom (all you need is internet and pants are optional) and will read until the point I would have stopped (or, conversely, where I am hooked). Then we will parse the first page sample for what the writer did well or what could be done better. Sign ups are limited but it is only $25 for two hours of fun and games and the recording is provided for free with purchase.

Anyway, I do love hearing from you! What are your thoughts, opinions, questions regarding beginning?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Again, I am trying something new and offering an open and interactive workshop. Is your first page strong enough to withstand the fire?

Battle of the First Pages

June 16th, 7-9 EST. Cost $25

This is an interactive experience similar to a gong show. We will upload the first page and I will “gong” when I would have stopped reading and explain why. We will explore what each writer has done right or even wrong or how the page could be better. This workshop is two hours long and limited seats available so get your spot as soon as you can!

So You Want to Write a Novel 

June 17th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35

Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.

We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

We are friends? RIGHT? HUG ME!

It is estimated that the average American is exposed to about 3,000 advertising messages a day. Everywhere we go there is yet another ad—billboards, commercials, radio, train tunnels, e-mail, cereal boxes, mail boxes, and even on the golf holes and bathroom stalls.

We cannot escape being constantly pitched to no matter where we hide. How many times have we gone to the gym, just to come out and have sales flyers stuffed under our windshield wipers? Or tried to read e-mail, but had to wade through twenty junk e-mails all selling stuff?

The simple truth is that we are over saturated with marketing, and it is making us sick. Those who continue to pour it on will not be regarded fondly. One tactic some “marketers” are using to get beyond our mental ad filters is to “make their approach personal,” but are they simply going too far?

Personal or Creepy?

First of all, marketing does NOT sell books and here is why.  But this reality aside, whenever I teach writers how to use social media to build a platform, I frequently have to do some retraining due to just plain BAD advice. These social media experts teach tactics normally reserved for Amway salespeople and those with water filters, vitamins or time share for sale.

And we all just looooove those people, right?

There is no substitute for authentic interaction. There are no shortcuts, but that isn’t stopping a lot of writers from thinking that they can get something from others without having to give. Here are a list of my Top Five Creepy Social Media Marketing Tactics Used by Writers…

Creepy Tactic #1–The Twitter BFF-Bot

Please DO NOT set up an auto-response to thank someone for following you and then pitch to them.

Sure, I am right there….
Yeah, don’t bother. UNFOLLOW.
Oh, sure! Let me drop everything to buy your book.
All my BFFs send me automated messages. NOT.

I give kudos for effort but not so much for smarts. Let me get this straight. You cannot even be bothered to talk to me in person, but you want me to drop everything and read your blog, follow you on Facebook, or buy something from you?

Really.

Do I even need to spend more time on this?

Creepy Tactic #2—The FB Fan Group Rufie

Please do not add people to your fan group unless you know them, have talked to them, or have asked permission. We don’t like our Facebook page being rufied into consenting to be a fan against its will.  At least be a little classy and buy it a digital drink first and tell it that it’s pretty.

Courtship, people!

I am constantly logging on to Facebook just to realize that I am now somehow a member of a fan group for an author who I don’t know and who’s never even bothered to say “hello.” I don’t care if you are giving away free books, iPhones or puppies. This tactic is rude, unprofessional and just plain ookey.

Creepy Tactic #3–The Search Tool Cyberstalk

I know Twitter has that nifty magnifying glass that allows us to search key terms, but misuse this tool and it can get you banned from Twitter. The search tool is to help us locate people who share common interests or who are talking about a given topic. For instance, if I LOVE sports, puppies, knitting, skydiving, or puppies that skydive, I can use the search tool to find tweets that mention those key words. This helps me find relevant links, locate hash tag conversations (#puppiesinthesky), or simply talk to and connect with people of similar interests.

This is NOT a tool to cyberstalk others. DO NOT use this tool to find people to pitch your book to.

If I tweet I swear toddlers are little psychic vampires. The Spawn is still going. How many days until school starts?

I DO NOT WANT a reply tweet that says: Hey, I see you love vampires! Mine don’t sparkle, but today they are FREE!!!

Cyberstalking will not make a person on Twitter love us or our book. In fact, it has about the same success rate as real stalking. It is creepy and grounds for a restraining order.

Creepy Tool #4—The Sock Puppet Tweeter

If you don’t want to tweet, then don’t. And if you are going to automate messages selling your book, don’t also automate messages to look like you are actually talking to people on Twitter. We know it’s fake and it’s insulting.

Creepy Tool #5—Fan Page Manipulation

If you like someone, great. “Like” their fan page. DO NOT “like” someone’s page as a ploy to get them to return the favor. We don’t like manipulation in real life from the people we know and love and we really don’t like it from people we don’t know from a hole in the ground.

Yes, social media is social, and people will often respond in kind out of relationship reciprocity, but we need to initiate the reciprocity. We don’t need an e-mail saying things like, Hey, I liked your author page. Why didn’t you like me back?

This is Facebook, not high school.

I know that you guys are trying hard to be responsible, and that’s why I try to approach social media with a bit of humor. If you have made some of these mistakes, I get that there are a lot of “experts” teaching you that these behaviors are okay.

They aren’t. Stop it!

Okay, that’s settled :D.

What are some other creepy tactics you’ve seen on social media? What makes your skin crawl? Am I completely wrong and not seeing the value of these tactics? What are your thoughts? Opinions? Has your Facebook page been rufied? Does it cry and have trust issues? Are you tired of being pitched to even when you go to the bathroom?

Thank you Lynn Kelly for the image via WANA Commons!

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of August I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.