Technically it’s been four months since The Girl In Between book tour came to an end, but let’s just say I delayed this post in order to thoroughly examine the experience and let all of the resulting goodness seep in. And by goodness I mean actual sales and increased visibility. I’d post a snapshot of my sales prior to the tour, but since they were pretty much nonexistent, I won’t. Instead, here’s a snapshot of the first 90 days after the tour, which started on October 31st, the release day for The Girl In Between. Free downloads were steady and it’s been months since I’ve had a day where that number has been zero. As for paid sales, the red line barely moved throughout the three months following the tour, but because of the success I had in the weeks directly after, I definitely agree with the notion that it takes up to six months for something to climb up out of the bowels of Amazon. Here’s a snapshot of my sales and downloads since February: Much more consistent. My sales didn’t necessarily skyrocket in March, but to go from selling 0 copies a day for the past two years to selling 1-4 copies a day felt like the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. It had been an uphill battle every step of the way, but for the first time since starting this journey with The Things They Didn’t Bury back in 2012, I actually achieved some financial success! So what do I attribute to March’s significant turnaround in sales? Besides the countless maddening hours I spent writing over the past five years, the importance of which can’t be overstated, I took some strategic steps before, during and after the book tour towards treating my writing more like a business and less like a hobby.
Step 1: Write A Series
A lot of successful indie authors encourage newbies to publish a series because it allows for the first novel to be perma-free, which has HUGE promotional benefits, and it can build and retain a readership much quicker than standalone novels can. As an artist I thrive on structure, so once I came up with the ideas for my first three novels there was really no veering from them. I’ve never tried to write in the direction of trends, so even though I could certainly understand the benefits of writing a series, I just wasn’t ready to go down that road. Not to mention the fact that I hadn’t yet come up with an idea that could sustain a series. Personally, I never want to get into the habit of trying to write to what’s popular, because no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to please everyone. I needed those first three novels in order to grow as a writer and I’m glad that I devoted that time to writing what I wanted write and to learning the valuable lesson of FINISHING.
When I made the decision to turn The Girl In Between into a series I felt one hundred percent certain that I could see it through. What I didn’t know was whether or not it would be any good or make any sense or keep people’s interest or just be a big waste of time. Because I’d never written a series before, I decided to write the first draft of each novel back to back, and because of the way I’d scheduled the edits, I was able to publish them fairly close together. The Girl In Between was released on October 31st and The Boy In Her Dreams was published a month later at the end of September. Because I knew The Girl In Between would be perma-free I wanted all of the early purchasers to be able to get their hands on the sequel immediately if they were interested. Since I didn’t have a huge readership anxiously anticipating the release of either novel, this strategy didn’t necessarily have the kind of effect I thought it would. I didn’t take into consideration how long it would actually take for the first novel to gain steam. But I do still think that it’s a good strategy for anyone who already has some sort of an established readership because it helps create momentum.
Step 2: Plan a Blog Tour
I’ve planned blog tours before for my standalone novels but they never gained the kind of traction I’d hoped for. Having a series to promote this time around really allowed me to be extremely generous with giveaways and experiment with different price points. After spending countless hours trolling the internet for every young adult book blog I could find (the master list I’ve shared here) I started sending out emails–hundreds of them. It’s an excruciatingly slow and time consuming process but introducing yourself to internet strangers and asking them for help really is the only way to get it.
How to Plan a Blog Tour in 5 Easy Steps:
1. Prepare a Media Packet in email or word doc form containing the following promotional necessities: Book Cover, Blurb, Purchase Links, Social Media Links, Excerpt or Teasers, Coupon Codes for Giveaways, Author Bio, Author Photo, Newsletter Sign-up Info, etc.
2. Scour the internet for every book review blog you can find (Or just click here : ) I’ve done all the work for you)
3. Carefully read through their review policy and make sure your book is something they’ll enjoy before submitting a request. Also take into consideration their most popular or most requested (via their review policy) posts. Lots of bloggers prefer to post some kind of actual content along with their giveaways or book spotlights so be prepared to participate in an interview (some bloggers appreciate when you have pre-made questions and answers readily available) or guest post.
4. Construct a brief personalized email for each blog admin you’ll be submitting to -Use the blogger’s name in the salutation -Attach or include all your media information -Refer to their review policy in your pitch so they know you actually took the time to read it -Offer something FREE and of VALUE to their readers in exchange for being spotlighted on their blog -Thank them for everything they do for authors!
5. Wait. This is definitely the worst part. Now that I have three blog tours under my belt I can say with depressing certainty that only about 10% of the emails I send out actually get a reply and only about half of those bloggers actually follow through with a post. These numbers aren’t meant to discourage anyone but everyone who takes on the responsibility of planning their own blog tour should go into it with realistic expectations.
A blog tour can certainly increase your sales and visibility but it won’t necessarily make you an overnight sensation. What it will do is provide you with new opportunities to introduce yourself to readers who just might fall in love with your stories. And then tell their friends. Who will tell their friends. And that’s how careers are made.
Of course, I could have paid for the services of a tour host and saved myself the time and heartache of being rejected over and over and over and–you get it–but I believe there’s a lot of value in interacting with people personally. Many of the bloggers I reached out to had participated in tours in the past and over the years I’ve developed relationships with some of them that really mean a lot to me. When you’re an indie author, you don’t cultivate a massive amount of readers overnight, but it happens one at a time through emails and blog comments and social media interactions. That’s what makes them so long-lasting. That’s what makes them special. And the first step to cultivating relationships that last? Generosity. It’s also the first step to planning an amazing book tour.
Step 3: Be Generous
People love free stuff. They love contests and giveaways and the excitement and exclusivity that goes along with winning a prize. When I was approaching bloggers with my very first book I hadn’t yet learned the value of free and was afraid of giving away too many copies of my novels. Now I know that there is no such thing as giving away too much stuff.
The Girl In Between became perma-free the moment the sequel was published and I also put it up on Wattpad. Since then I’ve gotten over 800 reads and 10,000 downloads. It’s true that some people will download anything that’s free and my book may have gotten lost in their TBR pile never to be seen again, but it’s also true that some of those people actually read the free books they download and then go on to buy the sequel. My point is that you should never underestimate the power of FREE. Writing isn’t about making money, it’s about being read. And if you want people to read your books then you have to make it as easy for them as possible.
Bloggers especially, will be much more open to the idea of hosting you on their site if you’re willing to offer something to their readers in exchange. Some bloggers might ask for an exclusive excerpt or teaser or some might ask that you write a guest post about a topic of their choice. Usually if a blogger asks you for something specific it’s best to deliver what they want but I would suggest offering free e-books for their readers every chance you can. The goal of a blog tour is to create maximum exposure and find readers. This means getting the actual book in front of them by any means necessary. The best way to do that is to give them the book for free! So whether you’re planning a tour for your first novel or the final book in a series don’t be afraid to be generous. Don’t be afraid to give. Do it despite the possibility of receiving nothing in return. Do it because your story deserves to be read.
Step 4: Use Promo Sites
I’ve experimented with different promo sites in the past (all free) and I definitely recommend submitting to as many as possible and timing the promotions at various points throughout the tour. A few at the beginning, middle and end should help increase your downloads and boost your rank. If you have other books for sale you should also see a an uptick in paid sales as well. Taking another look at my free downloads during the TGIB book tour you can see that there were two days when they really skyrocketed. This surge in free downloads corresponds with two promo days. I usually submit my book for promotion through Author Marketing Club, but unfortunately not all of the participating sites let you know if your novel’s been accepted. Because of this I have no idea which sites are responsible for the major increase but I do know the tripling of my downloads was no coincidence. I’m currently experimenting with promo sites again for this series, the results of which I’ll try to share in a later blog post, but what I have concluded is that there’s really no good reason not to submit to these sites. They’re free, some offering guaranteed promotions for as little as $5, which means that you can increase your visibility–sometimes significantly–for just the price of a coffee. Not only that, but making your book visible to multiple audiences via multiple platforms is an important part of building your author brand. If I come across an interesting sounding book on Goodreads I may make mental note of it, but the odds of me remembering by payday to actually go purchase it are slim. Unless I just so happen to stumble across that same book on a review blog I frequent or on a pinterest board I follow or in a weekly email from a discount e-book website I subscribe to. The more opportunities you create for people to stumble across your work, the more likely they’ll be to purchase it.
Step 5: Keep Writing
Leading up to and after a new release it can be incredibly difficult not to spend your entire life tracking sales. In the beginning stages of your planning there will be a lot of things to juggle, and you’ll likely end up devoting more time to promotion than you do to your actual writing. For a short period of time this will be acceptable but eventually you’ll have to refocus your efforts on what’s actually important, which is not cyberstalking potential readers. Eventually you will have to accept the fact that you’ve done all you can and get back to work!
Sure, you could continue to tweak and experiment until your brain turns to mush, but like I said, making money is not the point here. Self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. Even if you do experience some miracle results from your first promotional experiment, those sales will eventually trickle downward, regardless of how high they once were. Which is why you should never measure your success in numbers in the first place. Your first priority should always be your work. Sales don’t sustain a career. Readers do. So if you want to turn writing into a career then you have to give your readers what they want–more books.
You can adopt every trick you’ve heard from every self-published author who claims to have figured out the secret to life-long literary success, but I promise you nothing will be as beneficial as having a strong backlist. Nothing you can measure will be as satisfying or sustaining as an email from a reader whose life was changed by your words. We all want to make a name for ourselves but the truth is there are no shortcuts. Not in life. Not in art. So if you want to be a writer, do the work. Don’t shy away from what’s difficult, embrace it. Don’t count, create.