BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 9: Contests and Awards

PART 9 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Contests and Awards

Apologies for the delay in publishing this blog entry. I have been at the beach for a couple weeks flexing some 3D artistic muscles while planning the next literary endeavour.

Fun in the sand aside, I had intended to write one last entry in this launch series about contests and awards. I’ve talked at length about how first-time authors need something to separate themselves from the pack. It is still crucial to get good reviews on all the major sites like Amazon and GoodReads, and some paid promotion is pretty important as well, but I’ve also put On Swift Wings into a number of contests.

Why Contests?

Contests are another way to identify and guarantee the legitimacy of your book. If you can get a reputable organization to award it some note of merit, your book immediately edges up a few notches in the to-read list of not-yet fans. I’ve come across a number of these, and I evaluated them based on what I could find online. Ultimately I entered a few of them and I’ve received some pretty good feedback (and a couple wins.)

Wins and Placements

The biggest win for On Swift Wings came in the ReaderViews Literary Awards. On Swift Wings won the best Western Canadian Fiction category as well as second place in the Humour/Satire category. That was a pretty cool win. It also reached the finals in the IndieReader discovery awards. In a couple weeks, I have one more contest drawing to a conclusion on September 1, but it would be pretty cool to pull another credit down to stick on the cover.

To that end, you’ll note that the updated cover has the awards and some 5-star seals affixed now. This is to help it be recognized and to stand out once more. I’m quite pleased with the new cover, as an aside, it is more representative of the book in general. And it is really cool to put a few commendations and awards on the cover to show off a bit.

Thick Skin

Not all contests will be winners. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you write, not everybody is going to love it. In my case, not everybody can even understand it. On Swift Wings was written in the unique style of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Swift is a very talented and well-known satirist, essayist, and novelist. I got feedback from the judge of one contest who absolutely hated the book. They didn’t understand the genre (essay), they didn’t understand the words, they hated the style, and they weren’t even familiar with Jonathan Swift or Gulliver’s Travels. That’s totally ok, if you’re putting anything artistic out there, it can be assured that not everybody will be your fan. It takes a thick skin to read some of the negative feedback to be sure, and contests are no different.

I’m really proud of the good words I’ve read about the book. Most of the negative stuff has either been things that I intentionally put into the book knowing that they wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, or the feedback has been unhelpful trolling, which doesn’t bother me except for the diminished average rating.

Launch Summary

I feel like every day I learn something new about the entire process. It has been, and continues to be a pretty incredible ride. I hope that the blog posts I’ve written will prove valuable to you, whether as an author or as a reader interested in knowing more about the adventure.

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If you haven’t yet, please give On Swift Wings a try. I’m very proud of it on a number of levels, and would love to hear what more people think. I’m working on a couple projects related to the book right now. I’ve still got “The Immortals” on the go, but it has taken a backseat while I’ve been working on a (not-so) secret project that I hope to be able to unveil and release in a few weeks. More to do, more to learn, more fun.

Thank you for reading my launch learnings, may your world always grow!

BW

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 7: Marketing

PART 7 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – MArketing

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Marketing. If you’re a reader, a supporter, or you’re thinking of publishing something yourself, read this one thoroughly. To anybody reading this, I would really love feedback. Marketing is an area where I started with no knowledge, like, basically zero, and now feel I know a solid 0.1%, and that might be wrong, so I’m a solid 0.1% plus or minus a full 1%. I’ve learned a lot, and it still isn’t working. I’d love to know if you know what I haven’t learned yet.

Launch

I’ve already spoken about my launch experience in my previous blog posts, so I’m not going to dwell on it here. Suffice to say, a good launch, with a launch team of friends to help spread the word is a great first step into book marketing.

“Good” Idea

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When I launched the book, I included one “good” idea. I put that in quotes because I don’t know that my good idea actually contributed to sales, but it makes me feel good nevertheless. I pledged 20% of all the revenue that I earn would be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. I was inspired by the story of Peter Pan, the royalties from which are even today a major source of funding for the Greater Ormond Street Hospital. Whether a good marketing idea or not, I’m not sure, but it makes me feel better to give something back to the community and the ACH is a most worthy cause.

Facebook Page

Another smart idea was to set up and promote my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/BW.Literature/
This page helped me get the word out in a more formal way, and it is a landing page for posts like this one. I was able to get 100 likes on the page from my friends and family, which was certainly helpful, and set up the platform for my first paid advertisements.

Advertising

I did try to advertise pretty quickly on Facebook. Clever company suggested that many people would see my post about the donation if I paid a few bucks. They did, but I don’t think it amounted to any sales. It got a lot of likes and a few shares. Also, I donated a dollar for every share of that first post. I was braced for my maximum of $500. I figured, if all you had to do was share one post from a friend to donate a dollar to the Children’s Hospital, most of my 500+ Facebook friends, and however-many LinkedIn contacts, and twelve Twitter followers would easily push it past that mark, and as a result, spread the word.

What I discovered was that even with an incentive, I was unable to spur a significant social media churn. I only got 79 shares, even with a Facebook ad running and showing the post to 3600 people around the world interested in Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift. There was some good feedback on the post that with 407 likes. At the point, I didn’t have a good mechanism for tracking sales and success, but it didn’t likely generate many readers. I certainly didn’t have 400 sales during that period. I also got my first troll through that post, something I had braced for, and honestly didn’t bother me, but I certainly remember his posts. (Thanks to Mike Brown for knocking him down a peg with a Taylor Swift meme.)

Homepage

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As I mentioned above, I didn’t really have a way to track the success or failure of my advertising, and beyond Facebook who proactively sought me out, I didn’t know what other ways to advertise. I paid IngramSpark to include me in their flyer, but I can’t even say for sure that my ad was ever published, me not being a bookstore/library who receives that flyer. I decided to set up a webpage (which is where you’re most certainly reading this.) This lets me see how many people are coming to check it out and from where they are coming. My original ads had the goal of directing people to my Facebook page, and the only metric that they were engaged was if they liked or shared a post.

Facebook is also limiting in that I really can only reach my friends and family that like the page. It is not particularly searchable, and advertising it doesn’t do much beyond itself. Furthermore, you can’t track sales, you can’t see how many people are viewing things, and you have very limited control on layout. This led me to explore setting up my own page. It costs a bit for the webspace, but it is a far more flexible design platform (on WordPress.)

I try to post here when I have some time. Keep things active and provide some engagement.

The blog

Somebody once said that the more I promote the book, the more confident people are that it is good quality. The blog is a way that I can share my thoughts on things publicly in a way that hopefully shows my confidence in the book. I’m reading it to my son right now and each time I read it I find myself surprised at how good it is. (In the gaps between when I read it, I question whether I did too much of something, or too little of something else, but then I read it again and feel a good sense of accomplishment. Anyway, the blog is a way for me to share thoughts and ideas, and hopefully get some feedback.

Goodreads

This will reveal how little I knew going in, but I didn’t know anything about GoodReads when I got started. Another good way to reach a lot of people. I did a giveaway of 100 eBooks several months ago. Originally I was hoping that I’d get at least 100 people that wanted it, and by the end I got 369 requests, which was cool. The real aim here was to get a bunch of reviews, unfortunately I only got a few. It cost $119US to run the giveaway, and I was, perhaps naively, hoping to get a dozen or more quality reviews. I think that of the 100 people who received a free copy of the book, I got 1 five-star, 1 four-star, and 1 three-star (who was also the only one to write actual comments.)

Facebook Posts and social media

I continue to try to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to share the book, to post blog entries etc. If there is one thing I learned on here, it is how valuable it is to have a circle of friends and family who are active and who like, comment, and share regularly. You can be pretty sure that the people who are closest to you will see all of your posts and they will likely read some or most of them, but if they don’t like/comment/share, it ends with them.

I’ll go into this a little deeper, because it may help to understand how these things work. If I post a blog entry, photo, etc. then maybe a dozen people will see it in their feed. I can pretty much identify them based on how often we comment/like each other’s posts. I don’t know the relative values, but if they share the post, their top 12 will see it as well. If all 12 of them like it, it will probably get served out to a wider audience of my friends. If all 12 of them comment on it, it will certainly be served and prioritized to a larger proportion of my friends. If a large number of those people like/comment, and share, then it will be served out to ever-increasing circles of people (see viral.)

People who aren’t trying to market something like a book or song may not realize just how important their support really is. Likes and comments are more than just about ego, they are huge algorithmic supports. Whether you like/comment on my stuff, if you have other friends that are trying to promote their business, this is a key way to do it.

If you just want to support them, despite not really being interested in their products, like their posts. If you’re willing, even better to comment, because then some of your friends may see that you commented on something, but definitely friends-in-common will see it. For maximum support, share the post as well. Social media thrives when posts are seen and commented, so those that gain the most engagement get priority.

Amazon advertising

I fiddled with some Amazon ads early as well. I poked a few keywords (like 5) and did some automatic targeting but didn’t see any serious benefits. What changed on this front was when I stumbled across Bryan Cohen. Early this year (and again as I’m writing these) Bryan set up a course on Amazon Advertising. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to watch even a fraction of the content, but what I learned has changed the way I approach Amazon ads. This year my ads have been served out to almost 750,000 people. I really ought to watch the entire series of his course, because I haven’t generated many sales yet, but I believe that had to do with a cover that wasn’t fit for purpose and fairly amateur salesmanship on my part.

I also stumbled into a good bit of feedback from my friend Lin He from a toastmasters event. She fed me an opportunity to speak about my book and I went into a spiel about Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift and then a little about my book. Her feedback was that I sold her on reading Gulliver’s Travels, but not necessarily On Swift Wings. When I reevaluated my advertising, I realized just how true that feedback really was. I started every sales pitch with a description of an entirely different book, and spent 80% of my time describing what I liked about it and why I wrote my re-imagination thereof. I should have been focusing on my book and its contents, and perhaps casually tossing out a reference to the original source material. Now I describe my book and ultimately reference Mr. Swift’s work in more of a passing style.

Google Advertising

I didn’t try google advertising for a long time. Dumb. When it finally dawned on me to give it a shot, I directed readers to my webpage who were interested in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, Online Books, Fantasy/Adventure, etc. I was able to drive a lot of traffic to my webpage and a few sales came out of that which was good. I didn’t yet have any decent metrics on my page, but I assumed that I was seeing positive response even if costs were outweighing sales for now.

Unfortunately, when I did get the metrics up several weeks later, it became apparent that a number of people (or bots) were clicking on the links, but they were generally spending less than two seconds on the webpage and almost never (0.05%) were clicking on any other links on the page.

I tried redesigning the page and focusing the ads, but nothing has worked well there so I’ve shut down my Google ads for now. I’d love some feedback from people who have tried to view my page, if somebody knows why people are bouncing so quick, I’d love to hear it.

Preview

Another idea I had was to make the preview of the book more widely available during the pandemic. Amazon allows readers to read a sample, I figured I could put a few chapters out there so that potential readers could see what they are in for if they buy the book. I haven’t had a lot of uptake on this. I can see who has read what chapter, and only in the past couple weeks have I seen anybody click past the first chapter, but I am seeing several, and a few sales from those people, which is great to see.

I have said before that the goal is to get as many people to read the book as possible. Making money would be a nice side benefit, but if a million people read the book and I earned a total of $10, that would be incredible. If you haven’t yet, read the preview and see what you think. Write some comments, start a conversation. Hopefully it gets you interested in the book. I know the style is a bit of an antique and the vocabulary is challenging, but if you can push through it, you’ll learn something, probably lots of things.

Another thing that one of my reader’s said was that they appreciated the dictionary feature on the kindle. Give it a try, I really think that a broad audience would enjoy the various parts of the book.

Unfortunately, I have to charge something for the book. If I make it free, there is no way for me to offset any advertising or marketing costs. Furthermore, if I chose to charge basically nothing, people would assume it was worth basically nothing, and they still wouldn’t read it. Please read it, please review it, please talk to me, please like/comment/share it!

Contests and reviews

One of the more successful avenues that I’ve taken is contests and reviews. I’ve submitted my book to several professional and paid review services as well as a few different contests. Many of these reviews are not able to post the review directly to Amazon, but I’m able to quote the reviews there. I’ve been quite pleased with the number of four and five star reviews. I have yet to have a professional reviewer deduct more than one star, and the reasons for that deduction have been remedied. Most reviewers have been very favourable towards the book. In addition to the ego stroke that positive reviews provide, it also grants some level of authority to the book, and connects with the reviewer’s readers. I’ve had reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Reader Views, OnlineBookClub, and a verdict from IndieReader.

I’ve also put the book into a few contests. I won the Reader Views Canada West region, placed second in the Reader Views “Humor/Satire” category, was a finalist in the IndieReader 2020 Discovery Awards, and I am waiting to see the results of the Readers’ Favorite on September 1. Similar to reviews, these lend a note of legitimacy and authority to the book, helping it to stand out from the literally hundreds of thousands of new books published each year independently.

For a while my book was leading on the OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year (popular vote), but a suspicious entry has blown past me (and everybody else) with 699 votes in the past two weeks (versus 280 for me in second place I’ve been amassing for six months. Last year’s winner had 325 votes, which was my target.) To be fair though, the book, “Wisdom” has the benefit of a 2/4 star official review driving it forward with a summary that reads: “boring, unoriginal, and unprofessionally edited.”

I’d love to get a few more votes on there, even if it seems first place is out of reach, I can still win the best Fiction. To vote, click here:

Vote for On Swift Wings – OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year

I really hope that this post was of value. I wonder how many of you will read right to the bottom of this long meandering post and like it, comment on it, and/or share it, having now a greater understanding of the relative importance. I would love it if you would read my book or even just give the preview a chance.

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Stay well and may your world always grow! (You know, once the end of the world is over.)

BW