Category Archives: My Novel

Book Promotion

Book Promotion 2016, Priming the Pump

I published my first novel a year ago and I’m still feeling my way when it comes to book promotion. I’m an introvert who enjoys research and writing, so selling and promoting is not a natural fit for me. But I spent years coaxing my novel into being, and I’m on a mission to find the readers I had in mind when I wrote my story. If marketing can help me do that, I’m happy to learn.

Earlier in the year, I put together two small promotions for my novel, a one day $0.99 promotion at the beginning of February, and a two day $0.99 promotion at the end of May (see details of these efforts at the end of this blog.) Both promotions were informative, but results were only modest.

In July, I decided that August (the doldrums of summer) would be a great time to put together the most effective marketing package I could muster. I planned to target readers who were most apt to enjoy my particular book (literary fiction/action adventure), and stay under budget ($400 – hoping to make some of that back in sales). I started by applying to Bookbub and was rejected—for the third time (alas), so I would have to search out and depend on other promoters.  I scheduled a 6 day Kindle Countdown e-book promotion in the U.S. (Amazon.com) and the U.K. (Amazon.uk) – note that you must sign up for these separately, and Kindle Countdown promotions are not currently available in other Amazon markets. My promotion officially began at 1:00 am on Thursday, August 18th and ended at 11:00 pm on Tuesday, August 23rd.

Once my dates were scheduled, I spent a lot of time preparing. I began by buying Martin Crosbie’s 2016 edition of How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on AMAZON KINDLE and reading the chapters on marketing. Then I scoured the internet for information on e-book promotion–how to do it, and what has worked for other indie authors. I read every recent (2014 to current) blog from indie authors on their marketing efforts that I could find, and scanned k-boards and Goodreads group discussions. I collected links to recommended promotion sites, looked up their Alexa ratings and statistics on https://statvoo.com, and created a Word spreadsheet to make it easy for me to compare promotion sites. (If you would like a copy of my spreadsheet, make a request on my website’s contact form, include your e-mail address, and I’ll send it to you.)

Book Promotion

I wanted to know which services and strategies writers have tried, the ones they they would use again, and the ones they would avoid in the future. And then, I  made some decisions, organized and ran my promotion. Below are the marketing sites I used and results of my Kindle Countdown promotion:

The Promotion Begins:

Thursday, August 18thDay 1

I used the first day of my promotion to make sure the Countdown was up and running and the price of my book was marked down to $0.99.  Here is a snapshot of To Swim Beneath the Earth’s baseline sales rankings before any promotional activity (watch how the rankings of my book improve as the promotions continue):

Sales: 0 Books / Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read: 0

Friday August 19th   —Day 2

Scheduled promotions: (an asterisk (*) means this promoter is a favorite with indie writers)

Sales: 57 Books / Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read: 0

There was a moment (in Action/Adventure) when my novel was ranked between two of my all time favorite novels (Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian )– what a thrill!

Saturday August 20th —Day 3

Scheduled promotions: (an asterisk (*) means this promoter is a favorite with indie writers)

Sales: 89 Books / Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read: 42

Sunday August 21st —Day 4

Scheduled promotions: (an asterisk (*) means this promoter is a favorite with indie writers)

Sales: 42 books / Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read 414

Monday August 22nd —Day 5

Scheduled promotions: (an asterisk (*) means this promoter is a favorite with indie writers)

Sales: 83 e-books/ Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read: 180

Tuesday August 23rd —Day 6 (Kindle Countdown Price ($0.99) Ended at 11:00 pm)

No promotions.

Sales: 35 e-books/ Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read: 2,169

Total Sales:  306 e-books /KEN Pages Read: 2,805
Total Cost of Promotion:  $353.99

Past Promotions

I have done two more limited promotions earlier in the year.

February 5th (2016)  a one day $0.99 promotion

Sales:  34 e-books

May 28th & 29th (2016) a two day promotion

May 28th– Fussy Librarian  @ $15.00

Sales:  11 e-books

May 29th– Kindle Nation Daily with Book Gorilla  @ $89.00

Sales:  32 e-books

Coming up Next: Residual results the week after the promotion and some thoughts about its overall effectiveness.
Get Reviews

ARGH—The Things We Do to Get Reviews!

Every published writer knows, or is destined to find out, that for a book to be discovered and find its way into the hands and hearts of readers, his or her book must somehow find its way up from the glut of books on the market, and announce and distinguish itself as worthy of attention. I published my first book a year ago this month and I’m finally feeling like my novel is getting some traction. Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  1. Accumulated some credible and positive reviews.
  2. Submitted my book for evaluation and endorsement from a trusted source. I was lucky, I found Indie B.R.A.G.
  3. Found ways to promote my book to readers who are most apt to enjoy it, my target audience. (I’m still experimenting with this, and I will be writing a blog dedicated to examining the results of a 4 day Kindle Countdown Promotion August 19th through August 22nd.)

For this blog, I want to tell you what I’ve learned about step 1:

HOW TO GET REVIEWS:

Until you’ve accumulated those early reviews, you aren’t likely to get that trusted endorsement or be able to stage a serious promotion for your book.

As I write this, my novel, To Swim Beneath the Earth, has accumulated 33 reviews on Amazon and 25 reviews on Goodreads (these were posted by 42 discrete reviewers because many reviewers posted their review in both places).  Consider, that it has taken me a full year to garner those 42 reviews.

I’m proud of those 42 reviews, even the ones from reviewers that thought my characters or approach or writing fell short of their expectations, but even so, I had (and still have) a lot to learn, and going forward, when it comes to strategies for getting those reviews, there are things I would do differently. I benefit nearly every day from the generous advice of other writers, so in the spirit of paying it forward, here’s mine.

Thrusting your shiny new book into the hands of friends and family, and asking them for reviews seems like a safe place to begin, and there are lots of websites, how-to books and articles about launching your book that recommend just that. So, not knowing any better, that’s where I started, but I wouldn’t do it again, and here’s why. Your friends and family have a vested interest in you as a person, but they may not have the inclination or time to read your book. And if that’s the case, it puts them in a terrible position, even worse if they invest time reading this opus that’s so important and personal to you and find out they don’t like it. And if inflicting a double-bind on the people you love is not reason enough to find other places to get those needed reviews, asking people close to you to write a review is against Amazon’s Terms and Conditions, and, trust me, you as a published writer don’t want to get on the wrong side of your most important business partner. So, yes, gift your book left and right to the people you want to celebrate with you and feel ecstatic when they read it and tell you they loved it, but these aren’t the people you want to review your book.

If you choose not to use your biggest, most adoring and personal fan base, then who should you seek out to review your book? Here are some sources that worked for me:

  • If you can afford to spend a little cash, turn to Patchwork Press’s Netgalley Co-op. Netgalley has a huge team of dedicated bloggers, librarians, and book readers who are passionate about reviewing and getting the word out about new and undiscovered books. Until recently, Netgalley was only available to the big publishers, mainly because the cost of submitting titles was so expensive. But now, Patchwork Press and several other companies have established Netgalley co-ops that make the reviewing service available to all of us on a month-to-month basis. I paid $95 for two months and ended up with 8 reviews, 3 from bloggers who featured their review of my book on their website, 1 from a librarian, and 4 from popular Goodreads reviewers. Eight reviews for $95 many not sound like many, but these were all solid reviews and my book received some great media exposure. I did get my first 2 star review, but the reviewer’s reasons for feeling less that ecstatic about To Swim were well articulated and that helped me understand her perspective. So although it was a negative review, the feedback was useful, and I’m hopeful that it will help other readers make an informed decision when they consider buying my book. I loved Netgalley and I am only sorry that I didn’t find it in time to make it part of my book launch.
  • For anyone who loves books, Goodreads is a many splendored thing! And Goodreads is the place where authors who need reviews can and do come together to help each other. The Goodreads Community has author groups galore. My favorite review-focused group is The Reviews Initiative for Indie Books . Here you’ll find authors reviewing each others’ books and short stories within a well thought out system that ensures that Amazon’s rules are all carefully adhered to. Expect to provide a free copy of your e-book and to give a review to get a review.
  • I’ve recently added a request for review at the end of my e-book, a suggestion I took from eNovel Authors at Work, a great website full of tips for authors. They promise this request will work like magic. I’ll let you know if it results in more reviews after my promotion next month. Mine reads:

Thank you for taking the time to read To Swim Beneath the Earth. If you enjoyed it, please consider telling your friends or posting a short review. Word of mouth is an author’s best friend. Thank you, Ginger Bensman

There are lots of review-getting strategies out there, but these are the ones that have worked best for me.

    May all your reviews be good ones!

 

 

Writing before the writing

The Writing before the Writing

How I Discovered My Novel Using the Short Story Form

Lately, I find myself woolgathering—pulling together ideas, images, and feelings, looking for a window into my next ambitious fiction project. To that end, I’m revisiting the process and strategies that worked for me last time.  When I began thinking about To Swim Beneath the Earth, I started by making a rough outline that included plot points and some essential characters. To Swim is Megan’s story; it’s how she sees her world, so I knew that story could only come from her experience. Early on, one of the most helpful things I did was spend several months writing vignettes and short stories about the members of her family. Most of those early efforts have been lost to deletions but I’ve kept two of my favorites.  A short story titled, Box Stepping about how Megan’s parents met, that I will be including in a short story collection planned for publication this fall, and a shorter piece with the tentative title, Rocky Mountain Lullaby, about Megan’s father, Will Kimsey, and the bedtime story that he tells his children about how a Chicago boy found where he belonged in Colorado. These two mental ramblings proved to be foundational as backstory and informed To Swim in more ways than I can count.

What I learned from Rocky Mountain Lullaby (a brief unpolished 2,500 word exercise available to read in Short Fiction on this website):

  • The relative positions of the members of Megan’s nuclear family – Megan’s father is central to his children, the mother stands on the periphery. Megan has a close relationship with her brother and sister but a tighter alliance and identification with her brother.
  • That, through her father’s story telling and her attachment to him, Megan’s father holds an almost mythical place in her thinking.
  • That her parents came from an urban setting (Chicago) to a small Colorado town on a sort of quest (more her father’s than her mother’s) to find a place where they could belong and start a family.
  • That her father has a deep connection to the natural world, something he and Megan come to share.
  • Maybe most important, this little piece helped me find Megan’s voice. (I even cribbed a few phrases and used them in my novel.) Once her voice was in my head, Megan’s story seemed to unfold, almost of its own volition—what a thrill!

 

 

“To Swim Beneath the Earth”

It’s here! A full arc — a story told, a complete and finished book. After years and years of  To Swim Beneath the Earthimagining the world through the haunted, sometimes warped, experience of my protagonist, Megan Kimsey, I’m sending her out on her own. Truth told, I already miss her.

To Swim Beneath the Earth is the story of Megan Kimsey, born and raised in a small Colorado town on the edge of the La Plata Mountains, where she grows up haunted by images. Straddling cryptic glimpses of events that foretell her own future, and events remembered from a past in the highlands of Ecuador and Peru more than 400 years before she was born, she must challenge her Catholic upbringing and the stigma of a mental breakdown following a childhood tragedy, before she can strike out on a quest for meaning. Megan’s journey leads her to South America and an expedition among the remnants of the Inca Empire, and finally, to a wind-swept outcropping high atop Cotopaxi Mountain in search of the frozen child she sees in her dreams.

REVIEWS:

“A woman discovers that she’s the reincarnated spirit of an Inca warrior in this imaginative debut novel . . . An often elegantly crafted story that explores the love between parents and their children and how people come to terms with the loss of loved ones.” —Kirkus Reviews

To Swim Beneath the Earth is an epic novel told on a deceptively small scale. Megan’s story is one woman’s journey from everyday life to something much bigger, a transcendent life that has no limits . . . This is a beautiful and uplifting story that affirms the wonder and importance of life. I highly recommend it.” —Kathy Cunningham, author of Finding Erin Campbell (Read the full review on Goodreads.com)

“A beautiful novel …deserving of 5 stars … images so profound I felt like I was actually living Megan’s life with her.” —The San Francisco Book Review

AWARDS:

To Swim Beneath the Earth has received a 2016 Indie B.R.A.G. Award for literary fiction.

I have been selected as a Featured Author by The Book Hippo in the United Kingdom for To Swim Beneath the Earth.BookHippo featured-author

WHERE TO FIND:

To Swim Beneath the Earth is available in paperback and e-book  on  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and locally at the Reader’s Guide bookstore.

Self Publishing

Straight Talk for Writers About Santa & the Easter Bunny (or The Self Publishing Adventure Begins)

About once every three years for the last two decades, I have attended the Willamette Writers Conference. I go for many reasons—inspiration, to learn about the craft of writing, to revel in the enthusiasms and support of fellow writers, to meet and pitch my work to agents and editors, to hear what’s happening in publishing, and hopefully—to leverage the day when I’ll be a published author myself. For most of those years, conference offerings have been heavily weighted toward classes on craft and giving authors tools to create that perfect pitch that will help them score an agent or editor to champion their work. To be sure, Willamette Writers Conference 2014 still featured a generous sampling of those “usual suspects,” but serious, respectable self publishing (self publishing with its chin held high and a defiant look in its eye) occupied a significant place at the table too. Presentations focused on self/indie publishing led by Tom Corson-Knowles of tckpublishing.com, indie author William Hertling at williamhertling.com, and Media Connect’s Brian Feinblum at media-connect.com had standing-room-only participation, and the writers I met who attended came to learn and left feeling positive, motivated, and maybe a little high on a sudden surge of liberation—and for good reason.

Not so long ago, literary agents & editors had all the power, and authors could either plead for their patronage & protection (most often an act approaching desperation) or die in obscurity—and maybe die in obscurity anyway, if an editor, after buying the rights to publish a work decided the resulting book wasn’t worth much effort after all, do a half-hearted job of marketing and promotion, and dead-end the published manuscript in the boneyard of remaindered books. And in that case, an author had little recourse and no second chances, because the publisher owned the rights to his or her work. Back then, self-publishing was considered an admission of defeat and, even more insulting, an act of vanity.

Enter the age of the internet and the rise of Amazon as a marketplace for books, the Self Publishingincreasing popularity of e-books, and a burgeoning slew of author-friendly book publishing and marketing resources that make it possible for authors who have the desire and are willing to do the work to publish and maintain control of their manuscripts without the involvement of agents and traditional book publishers.

Are there pitfalls and problems? Sure. Self publishing is a lot of work, and depending on how much of that work authors are willing and able to do themselves, there can be expenses—things like editing, formatting, book and cover design, and marketing. But for years now, publishers have been insisting authors take more and more responsibility for editing and marketing. Agents and publishers expect a manuscript to be in great shape if they request it for consideration, and they look more favorably on authors who have an author platform and a plan for promoting their work. Another disadvantage, self published books aren’t well represented in bookstores. Brick and mortar book stores continue to have an historic and symbiotic relationship with publishers and libraries, but scan the internet and you’ll find that purposeful and persistent self published authors are making inroads there too.

All that said, the greatest hurdle for a self published book is endemic to the new ease and accessibility of self publishing itself. Anyone who can persist long enough to write a book can publish it. Some will be masterpieces, some great reads, and some—well, not so much. With the traditional gatekeepers dismissed from the gates, a veritable horde is tromping through. Democracy for writers? I know! I know! Democracy is messy, full of dashed hopes and rabble, but also untapped possibility.

Inca Images Angst of the Edit

The Angst of the Edit: Part 2

May 12th, as promised, Erin Brown (www.erinedit.com) the editor I hired to give me some straight-up talk and recommendations about my novel, e-mailed me a six and a half page evaluation and returned the printed manuscript that I sent to her marked up with her edits and page notes.
So what did Erin tell me?

• That some of my secondary characters need stronger voices and more distinct personalities.
• I need to develop and deepen some of my linchpin relationships.
• My novel has two interconnected stories that need more careful integration.
• My story is about reincarnation and I need to make the history and details of that other time and culture (the Incan civilization right before Francisco Pizarro began his conquest of the Incan Empire in the 1520s) more explicit, clear, and immediate for my reader. In short, I need to make sure that my reader has all the information necessary to contextualize and enjoy the story.
• I need to bring more feeling and passion to the second half of my novel.
• My ending is currently an epilogue in the form of a letter that Erin felt was too abrupt. She recommended that I lose the letter and write an additional concluding scene.
• In many of the above instances she had ideas about how best to accomplish the changes she recommended (a huge springboard and time saver for me in visualizing what revisions might look like.)
• On the manuscript pages she marked places where: I needed commas, ended sentences with prepositions, scene changes that would be better served by a transition – and taught me that scene changes are marked with a #, manuscript etiquette that was entirely new to me.

Were there surprises? Not many, but that doesn’t mean getting Erin’s input wasn’t money well spent. I have a hunch that those of us who write because we love written words (both reading them and writing them) have an overall sense about where our work falls short. What’s maybe harder is separating the darlings that should to be killed (a mangled quote from Arthur Quiller-Couch 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures “On the Art of Writing”) from the ones that really shine on the page. Writing, at least for me, is such an immersive and exacting occupation that when I’m finally satisfied with something I’ve written, the images and the words themselves take an almost solid form and it becomes a challenge for me to imagine them differently. Erin helped me get past that blind spot. She gave me a renewed vision of my work and a roadmap with concrete suggestions that has revitalized my enthusiasm.

So what’s next? Doing the work, of course, but to keep focused in a world of distractions, I’ve given myself a hard deadline. I’ve signed up to pitch my (finished and revised) novel at the annual Willamette Writers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference begins August 1st.

Angst of the Edit: Part 1

Angst of the editAfter 15 years of dedicating my lunch hours, evenings, weekends and vacations to a single project, I finally finished my 103,000 word magnum opus. That happened a year and a half ago, and I’ve been in an unhinged tailspin ever since. My role and relationship with a work that had sustained and challenged me for years had changed and the sense of inertia and lack of closure that followed the euphoria of actually finishing was the equivalent of a mid-life crisis. I felt like a doting parent whose baby is all grown up, educated and beautiful, but without ambition. If I was going to get her off the couch and out there on her own, and set myself free in the process, I had to do something.

I began reading books on editing, attended writers’ conferences, and followed the popular wisdom offered on the internet. I put my novel away in a drawer for a good long 2 months; then took it out, and read it (from the cover page to the “the end”  ) with an eye toward adding depth and clarity, all the while whacking away words, paragraphs, and whole chapters, anything that might be extraneous. (I shaved off more than 10, 000 words and, man – oh—man, I hope I whacked the right ones!)  Then I farmed my novel out to trusted readers and prayed that their observations and suggestions would conflate into some helpful consensus – but what came back were generous compliments and wildly differing opinions about what worked and what didn’t. In the meantime, I used Query Tracker to research and query a small sample of agents (arbitrarily, I picked the fat round number 20).  Of those, three agents asked to read the full manuscript and three others asked for partials. What I got back from all but one were standard form variations of “this isn’t right for me,” and/or “best of luck in your search for representation.” Only one humane agent who had read the full manuscript offered a glimmer of something specific and helpful, “I see a lot of talent on the page,” she wrote, “Your concept is great, but this book needs to be edited.”   

A professional edit. I mulled over the suggestion and perseverated for months about the cost – and the risk. If I was going to invest a significant amount of money, I would choose an editor with experience and credentials who could give me a professional and unvarnished evaluation of my work. And yes, it feels risky, like going to a doctor to have him look at a suspicious mole; the response could be anything from, “Looks fine but don’t forget to wear sunscreen and keep it covered,” to “Ms. Bensman, I’m afraid I have bad news.”

It took me two months of asking around, trolling the internet and researching possible editors to find one with extensive experience editing literary and popular fiction for major New York publishing houses, and who was willing to share detailed samples of the editing (redacted to ensure confidentiality) that she had provided to previous clients.

Our contract says that on Monday, April 28th she will begin reading my novel and on May 12th I will receive a 10 to 25 page evaluation and feedback letter that includes feedback about the writing, story, characters, market appeal and overall suggestions for improvement of my manuscript.  That same day I’m headed to the Oregon coast with my laptop for a week-long writing retreat. I expect I’ll have lots of work to do.