• David Frazier's memoir of Vietnam, "Drafted!", is multilayered - from the days of war in the 60s to return visits as a photography - and as complex as the place itself.
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We’re ramping up a bit on social media.

We’ve been expanding our presence a bit on Goodreads, the excellent site for book lovers (and for authors). And on other social media media as well.

Some of this grows out of work on a new book by Randy Stapilus on book marketing, which should be out and about in a couple of months or so. More on that soon.

publishing

We’re trying something with one of our newer books, Eye on the Caribou by Chris Carlson, that we may be expanding elsewhere. It has to do with how the books are distributed.

Most of our print books (we do e-‘s as well, of course) are printed by CreateSpace, which offers a good and efficient deal and has the advantage of easy entry into the Amazon.com store (which makes sense since CS is owned by Amazon).

You’ll find downsides to everything, and one here is that many book stores don’t much care for Amazon and, hence, CreateSpace. And if they see a book was made at CS, some bookstores are much less likely to stock it. That seems to include Barnes & Noble, a store I’ve worked with fairly easily until I started using CreateSpace.

There are also usually options, however. In this case, that is IngramSpark, which like CreateSpace prints on demand and also has a corporate relationship – with Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the country and which services most book stores (and from which they routinely buy). IngramSpark is a little pricier than CreateSpace, but it also does good work, and printing a book through it means easy stocking in Ingram (much as CS does with Amazon).

So when Carlson pressed Barnes & Noble to stock copies of Eye of the Caribou, their response was: We will if we can get it through Ingram. So what we’re now doing, for Caribou at least, is using both CreateSpace and Ingram, which gives us very broad distribution.

There are more costs and is more work doing that. Still, we may do that with other titles. We’ll see how it goes.

publishing

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A Bookworks member has asked about targeted advertising strategies: what works (or doesn’t)?

Here’s the first in a series of posts we hope will help answer that question.

Targeted Advertising Strategies

Advertising of some kind or another is all around us, and many people develop strategies for tuning out much of it.  At least one web browser, Firefox, has a one-button tool allowing readers to crop out everything but the main core of text on a web page: Great for reading news stories, not so good for the advertisers who pay for space there.  In many ways, this is becoming a more challenging age for advertising.

Should indie authors nevertheless look seriously into advertising?

They should, although that doesn’t mean throwing money at whatever mass medium comes your way.  A great deal of advertising is wasted, but very carefully targeted advertising can help you sell your books.  Sometimes good ideas can come in unexpected places.

I’ve pondered, for example, the idea of using a billboard to sell a book – a very specific book that doesn’t yet exist.billboard

I live about an hour inland from Oregon’s highly popular ocean beaches.  Two highways leading there bear almost all the heavy traffic from the east, sometimes enough to create jams, as people head to the coast in search of something to do.

Suppose you had published a travel guide to the Oregon coast, and made it available on eBooks as well as print.  Now suppose you rented a billboard along one of those two highways advertising that book, offering an inexpensive, coast guide eBook available by wireless download to travelers right now, minutes in advance of arriving at the coast?  Might that sell enough copies to make a profit?

It might, because that billboard would be precisely targeting the exact audience of that particular book, at a moment when the subject is of great interest, and in a way that would allow immediate purchase.

One of the most important points about advertising (for books, but not only books) is to reach your specific audience, without wasting money reaching the masses of other people who aren’t and never will be your readers.

It can be done.

Facebook, for Example

Selection_412Indie novelist Mark Dawson, who is estimated to have sold more than 300,000 books, has done it.  He uses a number of marketing approaches but has doubled down especially on advertising in Facebook.  An article in Forbes reports that he spends substantial amounts daily on Facebook advertising for his books.  His advertising is so carefully targeted that he more than makes the money back while building a long-term reader base.  The precision of his advertising is the key: He has worked out in detail what his readers have in common, and sends his message to those people.

Dawson expanded his reach by using a feature in Facebook called “look-alike audiences.”  This allows him to submit an audience list to Facebook, which will find a second base of people whose attributes closely match those of the first.  It’s almost like replicating a highly responsive audience. The potential sizes of these audiences that Facebook can provide ranges up to the millions.  (As they get larger, of course, they also get more expensive.)

He has used that advertising strategy to help create a growing fan base, with which he keeps in close contact.

To use some of these advanced Facebook features, you first need to create a Facebook business account, which is separate from your individual account.  If you want to set up an author page, choose “Artist, Band or Public Figure” and if you want to set up a page for your book, select “Entertainment”.  From your account page, click “create ad” which takes you to an “ad manager” page.  The Facebook ads creation tools, also let you target (and test) your intended audience by location, interests, behaviors and demographics.  However, people who have used these features point out that either a considerable time or money, or both, is often needed to get good results.  Extensive market testing is equally important.  This may not be a form of advertising practical to newcomers, but is worth bearing in mind (and exploring further) for future possibilities, since Facebook is a vast potential pool of readers.

Other Places for Advertising

Not every form of useful and highly targeted advertising is as well-known or high tech.

One writer remarked in an online forum that, “I actually like placing ads in conference program books like Sleuthfest, Bouchercon, RavenCon (I write cross-genre so try to mix it up), horror conferences, etc.  Sometimes it’s difficult to determine the outcome since sales sometimes aren’t always the day or week the ad comes out, but for the nominal fee I think it’s worth it.  By nominal I’m talking under $250.”

Targeted advertising works differently for different kinds of books, of course.  I’ll be back soon with more on targeted advertising strategies for fiction and nonfiction books in Part Two of this series.

BookWorks columns

It’s been a busy year.

We started the year pushing through the new book on people in Idaho who have made a difference – the 100 Influential Idahoans 2015. It got a good deal of attention and kicked in nice sales, a good start to the year.

Next up we tried something new: A suggestion from Idaho Falls Post Register Publisher Roger Plothow to reprint letters to the editor that, for various reasons, the paper had declined to publish. The Unpublished made for very entertaining reading, and we hope to follow it up.

Chris Carlson’s Eye on the Caribou was a challenging and ambitious piece of work about the creation and passage of the Alaska Lands law in 1980, and its aftermath and effect on one miner in the state. In looking at the pluses and minuses both, it gave a nuanced view to some of the changes in land land in the country.

Scott Jorgensen’s On the Cusp of Chaos was a little more current – a personal view of Oregon in 2014 and 2015, inside and outside the Statehouse as changes in state government were underway.

A collection of my columns, Crossing the Snake, came in the fall, bringing together columns about Idaho spanning more than a decade – and all of it written from some distance away, in Oregon. It should say something at least about distance and perspective.

In the holiday season, Nathalie Hardy produced a fine Christmas e-book follow up to last year’s Raising the Hardy Boys. This one, Merry is Optional, hit the Amazon store in November.

For 2016? We have a batch of books readying for delivery. The first should be out in February.

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Writing a book is hard enough. Getting book reviews can drive an author to distraction.

One of our members, C.M. Huddleston, brought our attention to a frustration many authors share: “I have spent two days trying to market my books and get reviews. So far I feel my time has been wasted. Any ideas out there?” One of her books has been out for three months, the other for more than a year. The concern is practical, obtaining good reviews is one of the best ways to generate book sales.

There are pathways through the thicket.  I wrote about some good indie review sites, and some well-established reviewers as well, my October 30 post.  But there’s much more to cover in the area of reviews, and starting with this post, members of the BookWorks team will be talking about some of the ways and places for you to go after them.

HOW TO GET THOSE ELUSIVE BOOK REVIEWS

I’d like to start with Goodreads book reviews, which in some ways are simpler and more useful for authors than those at its corporate mothership, Amazon.com.

Goodreads reviews lack proximity to the actual “buy” pages that you get on Amazon, but Goodreads reviews are well worth the effort for other reasons.

It’s an enormous system, hosting more than 10 million reviews of an estimated 700,000 titles.  Those reviews are not limited in use to Goodreads, either.  They also are syndicated and referenced and show up at Google books, USA Today, the Los Angeles Public Library, WorldCat, Better World Books and other locations.

You can also display them on your own site, too.  Once you have a book in the Goodreads system, you can take advantage of the reviews in another unusual way, slapping a review widget on your website, or your book’s landing page.  Goodreads lets you designate a book (by its ISBN number), provide a header text for it (an example on their site provides “Goodreads reviews for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”), specify the size, and then post the Goodreads reviews – even new reviews as they come in, in real time.

Goodreads book reviews by Randy Stapilus for Bookworks.com
Goodreads logo

Goodreads said on its site, “With our community of avid readers, Goodreads can deliver quality reviews on a scale that no individual bookstore or service can match.  By providing added content on nearly every book page, your site becomes more engaging, entertaining and informative, guaranteeing your customers will stay on each page longer.”

Writer Michael Kozlowski in August listed GoodReads as one of the best book review places on the web, saying,  “There are millions of reviews and people buzzing about new books coming out.  It has a strong social media vibe, with some books generating thousands and thousands of comments.  GoodReads is basically the Facebook of books.”

GOODREADS BOOK REVIEWS vs. AMAZON BOOK REVIEWS

As on Amazon, the more reviews you get, the more visibility you get.  And, as on Amazon, there are “top reviewers” on Goodreads who can be worth contacting directly, and pitching your book for review, if you find one who matches with your subject area.

But the whole subject of getting reviews on Goodreads is a lot different than Amazon – in most ways simpler and with a lower bar to entry.

Goodreads links itself where it can to Facebook, and there’s some encouragement for cross-linkages through the two systems.  The site Appadvice notes that, “Once you have set up an account and connected your Facebook account to Goodreads, you can see which of your friends use the app.  You can also invite friends who you think would love the app as well.  This can be done with Facebook friends or even contacts you have stored on your device.  Your friends can easily find you too and send you requests to be added to your friend network.”

Goodreads’ policies on who is allowed to review a given book appear to be less restrictive than Amazon’s.  Even authors are allowed to post reviews of their own book (though many wisely pass on that).  You may encounter fewer review take-downs at Goodreads than at Amazon.

There are limits, which do help with reader credibility.  Goodread’s guidelines on reviews say, “Commercial reviews are not allowed and will be deleted.  If you received a free copy of the book, you are required to disclose that in your review in compliance with federal law.”

Amazon and Goodreads have distinctly different review results, maybe in part because of the ways the two are structured.  An academic study at McGill University released earlier this year found “Amazon reviews have characteristics indicating that review writers are trying to ‘sell’ the book, while Goodreads reviews tend to reflect the content-orientation of the platform.  The vocabulary of Goodreads reviews favors words that highlight attributes of books, or of the experience of reading; reviews tend to be shorter and more journalistic.”

On balance, Amazon reviews were reported to be a bit more effective in selling (or discouraging purchases) of books, but that may vary according to the type of buyer reading the review.

A wise author may seek out reviews in both places – and we’ll be back shortly with suggestions for getting reviews on Amazon.

BookWorks columns

Note the new book to the right by Nathalie Hardy – Merry is Optional, Christmas Chaos with the Hardy Boys.

If you liked Raising the Hardy Boys, Nathalie’s first collection of columns about motherhood, you’ll want to pick up on this one right away.

The new book is out in e-book (Kindle) format only, but easily ordered through Amazon.com. Click on the book cover and it will take you right there.

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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on Amazon.com are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.
romance

The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK Publishing.com earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”

BookWorks columns

Former Idaho 2nd District Judge John Bradbury read The Intermediary by Lin Tull Cannell, and offered this comment about it:

Lin Tull Cannell’s book, The Intermediary, William Craig among the Nez Perces, is a prodigiously documented, well written and much needed account of a man who played a pivotal role in the Nez Perce people’s struggle to keep their land and their traditions. As the beaver market collapsed in 1839 – 1840 mountain man Craig brought his Nez Perce wife Isabel and their children to the heart of Nez Perce country at Lapwai Creek.
Cannell describes the Indians’ complicated relationship with the missionaries that led to the killing of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Craig’s role during the treaty negotiations if 1855, the Cayuse and Yakima wars that followed and resulted in his eviction from Lapwai. Craig returns and continues his role as a true intermediary as the gold discovery in the Clearwater hastens the white migration into the Nez Perce reservation and forces a new treaty.
This is a balanced account of the era that ushered in the changes that forever altered the lives of the Nez Perce and of a man who finally gets credit for his role. It brings new and refreshing insight to the fate of the Nez Perce people and the cast of characters who were a part of it. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Inland Northwest.

author books

A pleasant morning in the Spokane area. Chris Carlson and I dropped into the brightly refurbished Davenport Hotel in downtown, breakfasting with Bert Caldwell, the editorial page editor of the Spokane Spokesman Review.

A string of stops followed, over at the Gallatin Group (Chris was a founder, and for years worked in the Spokane office), over to the Inlander alt-weekly (where editor and publisher Ted McGregor kindly spent a few minutes with us on deadline day), ad then to a new book shop in Coeur d’Alene, the Well-Read Moose, which is only about a year and a half old.

We’re heading south.

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Chris Carlson (Eye on the Caribou) and I (Crossing the Snake) hit spots in St. Maries and Coeur d’Alene on Monday, and we’ll be moving on to Spokane, Moscow and Lewiston Tuesday.

St. Maries was anchored by the PaperHouse, where we did a book signing and talked for a bit with Dan Hammes, publisher of the local Gazette Record (home base for Chris’ weekly columns, which also appear on Ridenbaugh Press). St. Maries seems to be hanging in there, keeping busy.

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Coeur d’Alene seems much more so, with loads of new or refashioned businesses, and a very busy downtown, well into the evening. We stopped first at Java on Sherman Street, there meeting a group of readers (many political activists) and joining up with Mike Blackbird (One Flaming Hour). We talked about our books and some some copies.

We also visited with Dave Oliveria of the Spokane Spokesman Review, talking about books and politics.

Tomorrow: Visits in Spokane and Moscow, and an event at Lewis Clark State College in Moscow. (top photo)

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