Monday 22 April 2013

Reaching Your Readers

Lessons in Marketing from London Book Fair 2013

First published on the Triskele Books Blog

I think most of us here at Triskele would agree the toughest thing we have had to take on for ourselves since going Indie is the dreaded marketing. And these days, it’s not just Indie authors that have to deal with it. Unless you are one of the tip-of-the-iceberg authors that the big publishers reserve nearly all of their marketing budget for, chances are, at some point, you are going to have to come out of your garret and do some self promotion.

Not all authors fit the stereotype of the shy, retiring type who would rather deal with characters on paper than readers in person. But even for those who relish a chance get out there and perform, it can be tough to switch from those familiar, introspective creative/editing modes into something a whole lot louder. So believe me, anything help we can get is more than welcome. And in these last couple of weeks we’ve found some diamonds.

First of all, there was the Booksellers’ webinar Metadata: Get It Right First Time.

Then, two of the highlights of the London Book Fair 2013, and the two events from which we brought home copious notes and a headful of ideas to try, were:

Joanna Penn – The Creative Penn – Advanced Online Marketing for Authors, and

Patrick Brown, Director of Community, Goodreads: Helping Readers Discover Your Books

All three of these have kindly made their presentation available on the web, and we have no intention of trying to duplicate them. But we thought we would share a few of the ideas that made us think, “we really have to do that!” And those basically split into two main areas – talking to your readers and (gulp!) metadata.

Talking to Your Readers

Let there be no misunderstanding, building the sort of author platform that has hundreds, or even thousands, of fans clamouring for your next book is a long, slow process. It’s not going to happen overnight. But you have to start somewhere, and there are ways to make the foundations for that platform more secure and longer lasting.

One of Joanna Penn’s key tips is not to let your potential readers slip from your grasp for lack of preparation. Make sure you have an email sign-up on your website / blog etc so that you have a way of contacting readers who have, say, shown an interest in your first book when you are about to release your second. (And if you write two different types of books, make sure that you keep two separate email lists, so that you are not telling the readers of your book on the banking industry all about your latest erotic novel!)

Goodreads has been – and I hope will remain, even after its controversial takeover by Amazon – one of the best ways of connecting with a community of potential readers.

One of the first things you should do is to set up an author profile page on Goodreads – and make that page as engaging as possible. Put a picture on there. Include a bio. Link to your website, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Include an RSS feed to your blog, so readers can see you latest posts.

And then get out there and talk! Talk about the books that matter to you. If star ratings make you uncomfortable, just leave a review. Engage in conversations with other readers – but not about your own books. The aim is to be the guest at a cocktail party that people want to talk to - not the double-glazing salesman that they slam the phone down on.

The right place to let people know about things like book launches, giveaways, book signings, etc, is the status update on your own page.

Goodreads Giveaways are a well-known marketing tool. Most people hope that they will lead to a spike in sales, or at least in reviews. In truth, it is probably more realistic to expect a spike in people putting your book on their ‘to read’ shelves, and to treat anything else as a bonus.

Currently, you can only give away physical books on Goodreads, not ebooks. You’ll need to decide on how many books to give away, and which territories you are prepared to ship to (so you don’t suddenly find yourself with a massive bill for postage and packing). You can, however, give away books from your backlist – say, as a way of drumming up interest for a new release – simply by leaving the publication date blank when you are setting up the giveaway.

Patrick Brown, in his talk at the London Book Fair, suggested that a month was the ideal time for a giveaway. Other indie authors have said this is much too long and that you only get people participating in the last few days, so I guess this is a matter of trial and error.

Listopia is the area of Goodreads that has ‘public’ list (as opposed to private lists set up by individual readers). Bear in mind that it’s okay to add your book to a list of ‘Historical Novels set in Revolutionary France’ – but not to a list of ‘The Fifty Best Fantasy Novels of 2013’.

And of course, you can always ‘talk’ to your readers directly. Technology these days makes it very easy to record podcasts and upload them to your website. These could be audio-samples from your book, or they could be you interviewing other writers. If this is your thing, then the potential is endless.


Say the word ‘metadata’ and watch a roomful of people screw up their faces as if you’d asked them to make sense of the General Theory of Relativity. But really it’s something most of us make use of every day of our lives.

You may all be writers, but first you were readers. Chances are you buy, or at least search for books online.  If you go into a library or a bookshop and ask for a specific book, the librarian or bookseller searches for it in a catalogue. So what ensures that you find the book you are looking for?


Whatever catalogue you are searching, you need the title to be accurate and the author’s name to be consistently given (not J.K. Rowling in one place, Joanna Rowling in another and Jo Rowling in yet another). And that’s if you know specifically the book you are looking for.

Suppose you have written a crime novel about a female serial killer going on the rampage through the Norfolk Broads. What you would like to happen is that your novel comes up as a suggestion when a reader searches for, say:

Crime novels with female serial killers

Crime novels set in Norfolk

And maybe also, crime novels set in rural England, or crime novels set around boats or... Well, it’s up to you, really.

So this is where two things become very important.

First of all, there is the ‘short description’ of your book. This is NOT the place to put your blurb, but rather to put all information that will allow people to categorise your book.

Secondly, there are the key words. There will be various places to put this information, depending on where you are uploading to, be it Amazon, Nielsen or wherever. The important thing is to make sure that it is

Relevant to the way that a reader might search for your book

Accurate (you’re not pretending that the book is something it’s not), and

Consistent across all the places you are entering it

There are basically two types of keywords – the ordinary sort, which are one or two words in length (e.g. novella, crime fiction, young adult etc) and long-tail keywords, which are whole phrases like the ones I used above (crime novels with a female serial killer).

Joanna Penn has some great tips for finding the most effective keywords for your book.

Her first step is simply to brainstorm all the keywords / long-tail keywords that could possibly relate to your book. Next you use those keywords in two places to find out what people have actually been searching for - Google Ads and Amazon itself. Google Ads will tell you specifically about numbers of recent searches. Amazon doesn’t – but you can deduce the highest frequency searches by what appears via the ‘automatic fill-in’ when you start typing in their search field.

Once you have done that, you compare the results from the two sources and pick the TOP FIVE long-tail key words to include in your metadata. Joanna has plenty of evidence from authors who have followed her advice that this can have a direct and immediate effect on your sales.

Okay, that was probably the easy bit. There is another side to metadata that is slightly more arcane, because here you have to stop thinking like a reader and think instead about the publishing industry and how they have been classifying books over many many years. Like any big industry, they have standards and codes that can make it sound as if they are part of a secret society. But it’s really not that difficult, and all the information is publically available.

First of all there is the BIC Basic Required Information. This is simply the list of basic information about a book that a traditional publisher would be expected to supply. If you’ve filled in the form to obtain ISBNs from Nielsen, a lot of it will look familiar. The more of this information you can supply, and the earlier you can supply it, the easier it will be for all forms of search mechanism to find your books.

Secondly, and I suspect that this is something that a lot of Indie Authors may be missing out on, there are the BIC standard subject categories. These are simple codes which computers can recognise and that will identify whether a book is say,

Crime and Mystery [FF], or Erotic Fiction [FP]

Beyond these two letter codes, there may be further subdivisions. (Under thriller and suspense [FH], for example, there are spy thrillers [FHD] and legal/political thrillers [FHP]). You can identify short stories, or fiction in translation. You can indicate if your books is of gay/lesbian interest. You can add geographical codes to show that your book is set in a particular region or country, or a code to show what time period your historical novel is set in.

None of this mandatory, but using the codes wisely and well could increase your book’s visibility, which is what this is all about. I would suggest you take a look at the User Guidelines before you plunge into anything, but for fiction in particular, it is really not that complicated.

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