Friday, October 17, 2014

Beating the Drum

It’s no secret that I am miserable at self-promotion. I can talk up other people’s books from morning to night, but my own? Forget it. What I love best about New Books in Historical Fiction is the opportunity to showcase other writers. I have no desire to become the kind of person who irritates everyone she meets by screaming “buy my books!” at every opportunity. Writing this blog is fun. Posting and re-pinning pictures on Pinterest, a breeze. Facebook and Twitter, when I have time to visit either, allow me to connect with old friends and make new ones. Folks on GoodReads chat about books, which I love. Still, friendship—even virtual friendship—vanishes fast in the face of self-promotion. Social media offer great ways to communicate with people, but no one wants to feel as if the others in a conversation are there only until they’ve figured out how to pick everyone’s pockets.

At the same time, one must be realistic. Before readers can buy a book, they have to know it exists. And new books appear in the hundreds, if not thousands, every day. Many of them, to be blunt, could use better editing, professional typesetting and cover design, and, most important, more time spent perfecting the writing. How is a poor reader to wade through the deluge of titles and find the islets of books worth reading, never mind the works of a particular author?

Someone has to tell them. Traditional publishers have publicists and marketing departments to perform that function, as well as an in with major review publications and bookstores. The rest of us have to find a way to let potential readers know (and remind them) without becoming annoying.

That’s relatively easy when a book is first published. At that point, I feel as if I’m giving people information, even useful information. And there’s some evidence that my readers agree. I have put out three novels this year—The Winged Horse in June, on schedule, then (off-schedule, because I wanted to test the effects of Kindle Unlimited) Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades in late August/early September. On both occasions, I saw a rise in sales during the first month, extending to other books of mine.

But then comes the drop-off as the people who have already encountered my work read their copies of the new books and move on. Some of those readers (you know who you are, and I thank you!) write reviews. Most of the reviews are good. My books routinely pull in ratings of four and five stars—not only from friends—with readers applauding the generally high quality of the writing, especially the characterization, as well as the absence of errors. Although I lay no claim to be the next Austen or Tolstoy, I have reason to believe that the books themselves do not disappoint. But important as reviews are, there is some question as to how much credence prospective readers place in them, given various people’s attempts to manipulate the system. So what else is out there?

Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library do seem to be a plus, selling and lending more books than I lose from other sources. Although I don’t intend to move all my books to KDP Select anytime soon, I will explore the pluses and minuses of launching Kindle Countdown Deals on the two currently enrolled. Yet I still find myself wondering: what is the next big thing, the Facebook or Instagram of the future? My project for the next few months is to explore this question. Stay tuned for results.

Meanwhile, if you belong to GoodReads, my giveaway of The Winged Horse (U.S. only, because GoodReads requires print copies, and postage has become exorbitant) opens on October 23, the four-month anniversary of the original publication, and runs for a month. Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades are already available to borrow through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library—and, in defiance of Amazon’s suggested e-book price of $4.99, cost only $2.99 each. You can find samples of several books at my website, and all are accessible through the “Look Inside the Book” feature at Amazon.com. So give one of them a try: you just might find your next best read where you least expect it.

If you have advice or experience you’d like to share, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear what has (and hasn’t) worked for other people, as well as which approaches readers like—and which they hate.

Image: Clipart no. 32149408.

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