Keeping Up Appearances

All the marketing advice in the self-published space states, that building a following and regular posting is essential. This creates an audience that might, just might read a book. To achieve such a following the marketeer (the author role has disappeared for now) has to use the various social media outlets and/or advertising paths to raise awareness.

Now alongside being a writer, the skills of social commentary have to be added. In addition, the writer has to become technically familiar with all the different outlets. These vary from a simple blog like this on WordPress to Twitter, PinIntrest, YouTube, Facebook, Google+Instagram, etc,etc. Then there are the sites like Amazon’s forums, Linkedin or Goodreads. I’m sure there are lots of how to books and site FAQs that can explain the best way of using a particular platform but who has time to read them!

If you are like me you will stumble through and try to figure out the best way to make use of the different functionality. You may link sites to each other as I do so that this blog appears on Linkedin and Goodreads whilst a link appears on Twitter.

Now that I have created a wonderful commentary even if limited to Twitters’ few words, which will enthral the world, people will flock to my site. As my latest offering goes viral the sales will naturally follow and soon I will have to hire a publicist, web-master etc. just to keep up. One tiny, tiny problem with this plan. The cat or dog or baby video, celebrity trending tweet, scandal or my own problem.

I simply do not have enough time in the day to read or watch all this stuff. At work I now have email, Intranet, extra-net, Instant Messaging, conferencing and a Facebook replacement called Yammer, occasionally I get some work done but normally only after responding to the email, and IM message asking why I haven’t responded to the Yammer comment.

At home when I should be writing the next chapter of my book I am reading Goodreads, occasional other blogs and trying to follow some Twitter and of course updating linked in writing and professional forums all in an attempt to get me noticed. To keep up the appearance of activity and interest in the hope that this will be reflected back. Then comes the killer blow. Nearly everyone I am in contact with is another author trying to do the same thing. Yes we are all readers too so we try and read and review and offer helpful comments.

Somewhere out there is a true reader that might write a glowing review. What? They write a review, but now they are a writer too. There are hundreds if not thousands of review blogs, all this writing and communicating all this social commentary and interaction is overwhelming. Yet this week I had one of the most pleasing and odd experiences a personal appearance at a book club. I talked to my readers! Whatever next direct social interaction the next thing you know people may use there electronic devices to phone someone. Now I need to get this published and word spread, it will go viral if I add sex or a picture of a kitten won’t it!

Kitten-prays

From http://catsinflats.com.au/adopting-kitten-cat/

 

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Sales Ranks and Writing

Are sales the bane of a self – pub writers life?

My books rank from 20,000 to over 400,000

Of course I was Number one in free thrillers once  now I’m 217,150 with that book in overall paid. I suppose that is not bad given the alleged million plus books available. Genre rankings are different again, but without getting into those which are further specified by Amazon location we all have to remember one thing. The ranking are driven by weightings and various algorithms which are known only to Amazon. This is not a problem it is after all their store they can sell and run what they like and rank results how they like. The number would be different for revenue in whichever currency rather than just sales. It will differ in Kindle, hardback, paperback and audio too.

To add to the analysis it of course does not include CreateSpeace, Lulu, Smashwords, iBooks, Nook etc. numbers or any authors selling stuff direct. Getting into the famous Amazon top 100 for anything is a start and we would all like to be there but does it really matter? We want high numbers of sales not just for the revenue (why give them away?) but for reviews and attention. We pay for meaningless advertisements and judge those on views and clicks which may or may not lead to sales. We blog – I’m doing it now, we Facebook, we twitter we hope for reviews from mainstream media. We comment on Goodreads and other web sites overall we try and get noticed.

Is this just some giant self-indulgent ego trip “look at me I’m a writer!” Why are so many people trying a creative element not just writing but music, video, arts including the massive increase in photography. Are we all deluded like the worst performers on a talent show or in a karaoke bar or is there something else going on?

The Internet has given us the opportunity, technology has expanded the tool set. The barriers to entry that traditional publishing upheld have been reduced, but a new hurdle sits in the way, competition. The professional element is hampered just as much as the semi-professional or gifted amateur. Competition for the writer is now not just another professional writer but thousands of amateurs and not so amateurs launching their own output onto the unsuspecting world.

Much of the output in all artistic forms may be considered to be rubbish by so called experts. The professional critics or the amateur ones bemoan the lack of standards whether its artistic brushwork, composition or a self-pub’s grammar. I bemoan the number of dog and cat videos plaguing YouTube. One thing for sure we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. The world has changed we are all going to have to lie with it unless some dystopian catastrophe changes the world. I don’t think any of us really want a world without the Internet digital music, photography or the other benefits no matter how much rubbish is attached.

Once upon a time stable lads bemoaned the introduction of the horseless carriage.  To quote a poet (who really can’t sing) the times they are a’ changin‘. We’ll all have to live with it no matter our sales rank.

HTML in Amazon’s Author Central

As I briefly blogged yesterday I have been playing or more accurately trying to play with my book descriptions on Amazon.  This follows several GoodReads forum discussions on marketing and how we as authors, can persuade you as readers, to buy our books.  The flat nature of a typical Amazon book description does not help to catch the eye of a passing potential buyer.  On one particular forum, here,  it lead to the author of a new book on the subject both promoting his book but also talking about how it was done.  I even became a test case for him and he has kindly shown on his blog where I ran into trouble, which we both then spent some detective work trying to sort out.

My experience shows up in screen shots on Marcus’ blog here.  You can get the full down and dirty in his book here which discusses the how to and gives practical examples.  This though is about the problems we overcame initially.

Problem One

I didn’t have the same lay out on my Amazon Author Central account as discussed in the book.  Following an exchange of Goodreads messages with Marcus I approached Amazon support and received a completely unhelpful response which told me what I already knew.  I had an Amazon.co.uk Author Central Account not an Amazon.com one.  What they didn’t tell me was that I could get a .com one just as easily.  Marcus told me that follwing an alternative suggestion, which I also couldn’t do, about noms de plume.

Problem One was then solved by creating an Amazon.com Author Central Account and claiming my books on sale in Amazon.com.

Problem Two

Each version of the book has its own details section, which are not pre-populated.  I was horrified to see for example that the hardback description for my first book An Agent’s Demise had no description despite the editions being linked.  Likewise my author profile for each edition was missing.  Several frustrating hours later all were populated.  There is also another section to fill in for Shelfari which also needs to be filled in but only on their site and again it doesn’t copy from editions so I haven’t finished doing that yet.  The screen shot below show the unfilled in sections but you have to go to Shelfari and open an account (you can use your Amazon author account) to fill this in and then it backfills – what a pain.

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 08.32.07Problem solved with a lot of copying and pasting

Problem Three

Now I can actually get round to doing the thing I went on Author Central to do, namely use some of the clever stuff to enhance my book description.  Now I’m not an HTML genius and my eyes aren’t as good as I wished they were, especially when I forget to wear my reading glasses.  Some parts seemed to work fine.  The formatting of text is fine.  My main problem was the more advanced elements like video and Amazon widgets.  I managed to get both working at one point but not formatted position wise.  When I adjusted they all stopped.  After some further action I have managed to get it all working, but you do have to be very careful and precise.  If you visit To The Survivors on Amazon.com, you can see all the elements working.

Problem solved after some fiddling and correcting my errors

Problem Four

Not really a problem but the process does take a lot of time, copying, editing, pasting, checking and then waiting for Amazon’s servers to deliver the new code because the Author Central platform doesn’t show you what it actually looks like.   You have to wait about 30 minutes for it to upgrade, then find out that something isn’t right, then check the sales site, then re-edit and start again.  If you think this will be a quick process then think again especially to do several books then get all the descriptions sorted.  Then there is the author profile which can also be adjusted…

Verdict

The techniques do work although they could be overdone if you are not careful.  From my personal design perspective the Amazon page is already crowded with Amazon stuff like recommendations OneClick and so on.  I’ll be experimenting further if I have time to get other changes made like font colours and so on.  I know it’s my errors, but I’m supposed to be working, or writing my next book, not playing with HTML code.  If Amazon were a little more forthcoming on the formatting of Product Descriptions then maybe we wouldn’t have to bother in the meantime give it a try.  Marcus’ book is not cheap but it is worth it.