Calling All Self-Published Authors: Book Review Exchange

shutterstock_108685118One of the most powerful marketing tools that your book can have is one that doesn’t cost anything at all – honest reviews. It’s one of the first things that readers look for when they’re deciding whether a book is worth checking out. In particular, self-published novels need good reviews, because readers are trying to sift through hundreds of cheap – or free – books, many of which aren’t high quality.

The other value that I’ve found equally important from reviews is that it is a great way to get honest feedback about your book. Friends, family, and even beta readers are biased. Strangers can often provide insights that you’d never get otherwise. For example, reviews of The Conjurors Series have alerted me to the fact that I may be targeting the wrong audience for my story. I’d considered it YA fantasy, but readers think it is more appropriate for a younger audience. In the future, I’m going to promote it more heavily to middle grade readers.

I’d also like to get more reviews for the books in The Conjurors Series. To that end, I’m asking anyone who is interested in exchanging books to read and honestly review to reach out to me in the form below. I’ll read yours and provide reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other sites where you’re promoting your book, if you’ll do the same for me.

Advertisements

How to Promote Your Book on Goodreads

shutterstock_177667814As a self-published author and avid reader, one site that I can’t live without is Goodreads. It’s a social media site where readers can review books that they’ve read and find new books to check out. So when I began writing and promoting The Conjurors Series, I knew that it would be critical to have a presence as an author on this site. Similar sites, such as LibraryThing and Shelfari, are also great places to discover new authors or promote your books, but in my experience Goodreads is the most popular and easiest to navigate. Below you’ll find the tips I’ve found most helpful in maximizing this tool to promote my series.

Create an author page.
The first thing you should do as a self-published author on Goodreads is to look up your books and to identify them as yours. Goodreads makes it easy to then fill out information about yourself and your books. It’s a great way for fans to learn more about you. If they like your writing, it’s one of the first places they may look to see what else you’ve written. If you have a blog, you can also connect it to your Goodreads author page, which is another way to increase your readership.

Maximize your reviews on Goodreads.
It can be a hassle to recruit readers to write reviews for all of the different places your book is listed (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.) but it is definitely worth it to have a good collection of reviews on Goodreads. There are a ton of potential fans on Goodreads, as it is a go-to site for heavy readers. They want as much proof as possible that your book is worth checking out. Another benefit – whenever a reader identifies that they have finished your book, they are given the option to recommend it to other readers in their network. You can also solicit reviews by joining various groups on Goodreads. More about that in the next tip.

Join Goodreads groups that are relevant to your genre.
Joining Goodreads groups has several benefits. First, it gives you quick exposure to see what books in your genre are popular. I like to make sure that I’ve read all of the latest and greatest books in young adult fantasy, to stay on top of trends and see how other self-published authors in my genre are reaching fans. Second, it can be great place to solicit reviews or promote your book. Many groups have specific topic threads for authors. The two I’ve found most valuable are Making Connections YA Edition Group and How to Promote YOUR Book on Amazon.

Advertise on Goodreads.
Goodreads also offers a simple, highly targeted way to advertise to potential readers. I’m torn about whether or not a recommend this technique. On one hand, I love how I can target my ad to readers who are specifically interested in my genre, or even readers who have read works by other authors who are similar to me. That being said, I haven’t had a lot of luck with readers clicking on my ad. However, this isn’t a waste of money, because I pay for clicks. It means that a few times a week readers check out my book on Amazon because they’ve seen the ad on Goodreads, and a decent percentage of those clicks lead to sales. All in all, I’d say it doesn’t hurt to give it a test run and see how high your click through rate is.

Conduct a giveaway through Goodreads.
Goodreads also offers an easy way to have a giveaway (of physical copies of your book) that is promoted through their site. Although I haven’t yet conducted a Goodreads giveaway of my own, other self-published authors have said that this technique has been valuable. It’s a great way to get your name in front of new readers, and you can always follow up to give away an e-book version of your book with interested readers.

Have you discovered other techniques to maximize your presence on Goodreads?

How to Release (or Re-Release) Your First Self-Published Novel

Cover2When I originally published the first novel in The Conjurors Series in 2011, I had no concept of self publishing. It never occurred to me to promote my book. I simply used Amazon as an easy way for friends and relatives to download my book so I didn’t have to buy them a hard copy and mail it.

Two years later, self publishing had become a phenomenon, and my brother suggested that I market my novel and see what happened. But with a cover cobbled together using Microsoft clip art and no outside editing expertise, I wondered if my book was ready for public consumption. I’m very glad that I did some research and realized that for a self published author to be successful, she needs to have a polished product. A great story is at the core of any good book, but it’s hard to see through typos, horrific formatting, and a generic title that doesn’t provide any clues as to the content inside.

Below are some tips I would recommend any writer take before releasing a first novel or re-releasing an existing story.

  1. Invest in professional cover art. Unless you’re a graphic designer (or are close friends with one) this is a monetary investment that will pay off. It’s the first glimpse readers have of the quality of your work, and it needs to shine. I used Streetlight Graphics, and was thrilled with the quality of their work.
  2. Hire a professional editor to review your writing. I thought I had all of the expertise required to edit my own book – I was a double major in journalism and English in college, and part of my day job involves editing others’ writing. But I was astonished at how many nits my editor found in my writing. She also provided a much-needed sanity check to ensure that there weren’t any inconsistencies in the story. I worked with Shelley Holloway, and found her eye for detail was exactly what I needed.
  3. Evaluate the title of your book. I recommend searching Amazon books and using a search engine to see what pops up when you enter your title. I found that there were at least a dozen books with the title I had chosen, which would make it difficult for someone to search for.
  4. Write a blurb that’s as interesting as your novel. I was glad that I spent some time writing and having my editor review my book’s blurb as well. After your cover and title, it will make the biggest impact on whether or not readers choose to buy your book. For tips from successful authors who have done this well, check out this post.
  5. Create a web presence for yourself as an author. At the very least, have a Twitter and Facebook account that can keep fans, friends and family updated on everything you publish. This is also a valuable place to direct fans as your book attracts attention so they can hear about future works that you publish. I also recommend having a website with information about yourself and your books. A blog is great as well if you have the time. It’s an excellent way to network with other writers and communicate with your fan base.
  6. Consider releasing both an e-book and a physical copy of your book. Despite a slight learning curve when it comes to formatting for an e-book, there is no downside to making your book available in digital form. It’s free and is a great way for you to have giveaways without breaking the bank. At the same time, there is something powerful about a copy of your book that you can hold in your hands and bring to local libraries and stores to see if they are willing to display it.

So I’m proud to announce that I am re-releasing the first book in The Conjurors Series. It has a new title, The Society of Imaginary Friends (formerly Into the Dark), has been properly edited by an outside professional, and is rewritten with some of the knowledge I’ve gained in the years since I originally wrote it.

Below is a blurb about The Society of Imaginary Friends (available on Amazon):

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleBelief is a powerful magic.

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her.

Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible.

On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there.

But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course–one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

The second novel in the series, Knights of Light, will be released in early March. I’d love to hear what you think about my story, and I welcome any reviews!

How to Write a Great YA Fantasy or Sci-Fi Book Blurb

shutterstock_94921276It’s ironic, after writing thousands of words to create your novel, that a 100-200 word blurb pitching your baby to potential readers could completely stump you. But that’s exactly how I felt after writing the first two books of The Conjurors Series. I had a ridiculous number of blurb drafts that all seemed cheesy and didn’t do my story justice. So now, as I’m planning to re-release the first book in my series and the second book shortly after, I decided to examine the blurbs of some of my favorite YA fantasy and sci-fi novels.

I was surprised at just how many blurbs for great books didn’t hook me. In a way it was a relief to know that even the pros struggle with describing their masterpieces succinctly. But I did find a number of blurbs that were incredibly compelling, and I analyzed what was working in these cases. Below are the tips that I’ve gleaned from awesome YA fantasy and sci-fi book blurbs.

Tip #1: Echo the tone of your book in your blurb so readers get a sense of how you write.
Example: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor (Blurb: 170 words)
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Tip #2: Give readers an accurate sense of the plot of your story, especially if you have compelling but complicated setting or premise.
Example: Divergent, Veronica Roth (Blurb: 213 words)
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

Tip #3: Consider writing your blurb in first person (if your story is in first person) so readers can relate to your protagonist.
Example: Delirium, Lauren Oliver (Blurb: 125 words)
Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.

I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.

I want to get it over with.

It’s hard to be patient.

It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.

Still, I worry.

They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.

The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

Lauren Oliver astonished readers with her stunning debut, Before I Fall. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it “raw, emotional, and, at times, beautiful. An end as brave as it is heartbreaking.” Her much-awaited second novel fulfills her promise as an exceptionally talented and versatile writer.

Tip #4: Arouse readers’ curiosity with a compelling mystery.
Example: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs (Blurb: 155 words)
A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. 

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Tip #5: Draw readers into the romance in your story.
Example: Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Blurb: 113 words)
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. WhenLena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

Tip #6: Expose how high the stakes are for the protagonist.
Example: The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater (Blurb: 166 words)
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.
Some riders live.
Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition – the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.

Before I embark on the final draft of my blurbs, are there any other great tips that helped you pitch your story to readers?

Motivation vs. Inspiration

shutterstock_81172669For self-published writers, a lot of deadlines are self-imposed. This can be a blessing and a curse. It allows for flexibility, but it also enables us to procrastinate, since the only person we answer to is ourselves. Sometimes we’re waiting for inspiration to strike, but at least for me, I think that the real culprit is motivation. Do I have the energy, after a day of working my day job and a night with my adorable but rambunctious toddler, to sit down and write a couple thousand words? Or would I rather finish the Divergent trilogy? Perhaps if I had an editor breathing down my neck that would be the motivation I need to channel my inspiration and write.

However, motivation won’t be a problem for me in 2014. I have a unique deadline that is compelling me to finish writing the third book of The Conjurors Series. I’m having a baby in the middle of March. After my little bundle is here, I question whether, for at least a few months, coherent writing will be possible. So it’s up to me, right now, to admit that being pregnant is no excuse for slacking off. But having a newborn and a toddler might be a compelling reason to take a break in a few months.

Knowing that this deadline is coming has been both motivating and inspiring. It’s immovable, and every time my baby kicks inside me it’s a reminder that time is ticking by. But rather than feeling that the pressure of the deadline is leaving me blocked, I’m finding that my inspiration is there when I focus on it. I suspect it’s been there the whole time, and the only thing holding me back was finding the motivation to tap into it.

So once I land back on Earth and juggling two kids instead of one feels possible, I’m wondering how I can find the motivation to always chase after my goals this aggressively. I don’t think my husband would be on board with having babies every time I’m getting lazy with my writing.

What do you do to motivate yourself to adhere to your deadlines and keep writing when you’d rather be playing Candy Crush? Please tell me, because I’m going to need all the motivation I can find to write pretty soon!

The Best Time of Year to Release Your Self-Published Novel

Seasons

As a self-published author, deciding when to release your book can feel secondary to the bigger concerns of writing, editing, and marketing your masterpiece. And it certainly is. However, giving some thought to the best time of year to release your baby into the great, wide world can yield significant value in terms of sales. The first 6-8 months after you release your book is the time when to make the biggest splash, and timing it for a season that best suits your needs can help you maximize your profits in those months.

After researching how my fellow self-published authors have fared in selling books, below are the trends that I’ve noticed.

Spring
Spring is an average time of the year in terms of book sales for most self-published authors. However, it could be a great season for you as a self-published author if you choose to do heavy local promotion of your book during this time. Farmer’s markets and outdoor events can gather large crowds when the weather is at its best. Publishing and promoting your novel in the spring months could be a differentiator for you, especially if you are hoping to cultivate a local readership. For more tips on locally promoting your book, check out my post on the subject here.

Summer
The summer months are the slowest time when it comes to selling books in most genres. Whether it’s going on vacation for adults or getting through the grind of required summer reading for kids and young adults, readers simply don’t buy as many books as they do at other times of the year. Self-published authors shouldn’t be alarmed if they see a dip in sales in the summer. Depending on how often you publish, you could always delay your release until September, when book sales start to pick up.

Fall
After the slow months of summer, fall brings a welcome rejuvenation to selling books. Many readers buy seasonal books at this time, whether it’s spooky stories to get in the mood for Halloween or nonfiction cookbooks for Thanksgiving dinner. Personally, in the fall I find myself downloading Christmas stories for my e-reader to get me ready for the holiday season. If you have written something that ties in well to a seasonal activity, make sure to have your book ready on virtual shelves and heavily promoted in September and October.

Winter
The winter season is a great time for selling books. Before the holidays, many people purchase books as gifts. This can be a good time to sell hard copies of your book, since it’s harder to give an e-book as a present. After the holidays, readers are stocking up their e-readers with the stories they want to read in the new year.  And by the time February rolls around, romance authors often get a nice boost in readership. This is just speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the cold, wet weather also gives readers more time to search for and read books as well. This is an ideal time to get new readers hooked on your series.

The best option of all is to publish often. While there are seasonal fluctuations, successful self-published authors agree that publishing regularly is the key to a satisfied and growing fan base. If you can manage to publish 3-4 times a year, timing your releases based on seasonal fluctuations is secondary.

Do you have any successes or troubles that you think related to the time of year you published your book? If so, I’d love to hear what happened.

Waiting to Self-Publish

A couple of months ago I decided to accept that I needed an official cover artist, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Recently I also accepted that it was time to hire a professional editor as well. Coming to terms with spending the money was the first hurdle (along with accepting that I couldn’t do it all myself). But the second hurdle is the waiting.

The editor I’ve chosen is popular (with good reason) so I’ve had to put my plans for unrolling the rewritten first book in The Conjurors Series, along with the almost-finished second book until 2014. That means that the entire series might come out in the same year. It’s so hard to hold back my beautiful new cover and rewrites until I’m really ready to promote the series. It’s also hard to keep the momentum going to begin writing the third book in the series as well, which I planned to release in the late spring/early summer.

All newbie mistakes, I suspect. But it does leave me wondering what other surprises are in store for me in the beguiling world of self-publishing.

For those who have self-published a book, what unexpected hurdles did you run into?