Interview: R.C. Rutter on Marketing

R.C. Rutter was kind enough to visit us for a second round of questions. If you missed his first interview on Editing, check it out here. Please, welcome him back as he takes us through marketing strategies.

Last time you were here, you told us about your novel Cave of Forlorn available on Kindle and Lulu. What do you have planned for readers in the future?

Thanks for the opportunity Reena to return and offer more advice.  I am currently working on the sequel to Cave of Forlorn entitled “Shabb’s Revenge”.  A side project is also in the works that comprises short stories.  You might be wondering why I would write such a book.  It is all about marketing!  The more books you have available, the easier it is for readers to find you and I have several short stories that are already complete.  Plus it demonstrates that you are serious about your craft.

I will mention several web sites.  Please note that I am not affiliated with nor have any financial interest in any of these sites.  These are sites that I use to further my writing career.

Marketing: Big topic… When should authors start marketing their book?

If you think it is when the book is published, you have missed some great opportunities.  There are some reviewing sites that will not review a published book.  They require a five to six week advance copy of the book.  Their goal is to release their review the same time as the publishing date to maximize their impact.  Be prepared to send paperback copies of your book to reviewers.  Not everyone accepts ebooks.  I use www.lulu.com for POD (print-on-demand) and I like the quality.  Verify the text layout and covers (front/side/back) before sending out a copy.  There is no up-front cost.  Some of the other small printers require you to purchase a package with x amount of books for x amount of cost.

What are some organizations that review books?  I won’t mention them.  Selecting a book reviewer is a serious and personal decision.  You must do some research.  Do they review books in your genre?  I am not going to send my fantasy book to someone who reviews civil war history.  You must read their prior reviews.  Will they like your style of writing?  Have they reviewed similar authors?  Are they too hard on books?  Some reviewers have a scale of 1 to 5 but never award a 5.  The ideal is to have an impartial review.  Does the reviewer charge?  That is a dangerous area because their judgment might be swayed by their bank account.  There are many avid book readers that are willing to do this for free.  Don’t compromise your principles.

Do you have a web site?  Answering in the negative is NOT an option.  A web site is a single source for everything comprising your authoring world.  You will find yourself on blogs, book sites, social sites, etc.  You will need one location that references everything.  That way you can always refer a potential customer to an easy location.  From my web site, you can not only read about me, but you can buy my book from three different sources, view my photography and book covers, and keep up with the latest news about me.

Should you have more than one web site?  Some have an author web site and a book web site.  Are you looking to build an author brand or a book brand?  Perhaps both?  Let me caution you before it gets too overwhelming.  It takes quite a lot of time to promote your book.  It is not unheard of to work two hours a day doing promotion.

I always have business cards in my pocket so whenever the opportunity arises, I can refer people to my web site.  It has my name, web site, title of my published book, and title of my upcoming release.  www.vistaprint.com is my choice for business cards.  They are well-done professional cards for a very low cost.  On the back of the cards is a one-line advertisement for vistaprint.  I know a lot of people who use these.  When I am out with friends, I will often get introduced to strangers as “Allow me to introduce R.C., he is a published author.”  That is without any prompting on my part.  When I hear that, I am reaching into my pocket for a business card.  (I try not to self-promote too much as it can try the patience of friends).  I am a semi-pro photographer and if I am out in public, I will offer to take photos of people in the tourist areas.  I tell them to e-mail me and I will send them the picture for free (as I am handing them my business card!).  Yes, this has resulted in sales.

I hear the term branding often. What is it, and how does it play into marketing?

  • Harry Potter
  • Twilight
  • James Bond
  • Mark Twain

None of the above requires an explanation and all project an immediate image to you.  That is marketing a brand.  You become the sole source for that identity of location and characters.  Once the brand is established, it garners more attention.  Success in branding is accomplished by understanding the needs and wants of your readers.  Basically, you are writing for your customers.  Marketing is getting your product (book) in front of as many people as you can.  Branding is combining an identity with your marketing.

Your brand then resides within the world of your customers and they become fans.

Do release dates play a role in marketing? And if so, how?

There are review dates as discussed previously.  Traditional publishers send out a catalog several times per year.  If you miss their fall catalog, you would then be forced to wait a year to have your Christmas book available (for example).  With self-publishing, that is not a concern.  You can flex your timing.  Would you rather release a ghost story in the springtime or around Halloween?  A pirate book now or should you wait until the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie is released in 2012?  How about a vampire book?  Did you notice how many were released very quickly once Twilight became popular?

Simply telling readers to “buy my book” isn’t effective, so what kind of promo ideas are effective in reaching readers?

If I could just get Oprah Winfrey to hold up my book and say “Buy this!” I could retire.

You have to let people know your book is available.  I take every opportunity that comes my way to do an interview about being a published author.  Of course, www.reenajacobs.com and I have also interviewed with David Wisehart http://www.kindle-author.blogspot.com and I have been featured on www.bargainebooks.blogspot.com.  So we now have a cross-promotion situation.  I am promoting these very websites in my interviews; the interviews drive traffic to the sites which drive more people to view my books.

Google is very good at adding pages to its database.  If you do a search for “r.c. rutter cave of forlorn” without the quotes, you will see pages and pages of references to me.  Bear in mind that I only published my first book this past September.

I have lost count of how many friends and family members promised to buy my book once it was released.  I have heard this from other authors as well.  Simply telling people to buy your book is ineffective.  The best method is word of mouth – a recommendation from someone they know.  Your fans are your best marketing tool.

Some options are to join a site such as www.goodreads.com and promote your book with a book give-away or Amazon gift card.  A new idea I have seen recently is to have people “like” your page on www.facebook.com where a drawing is held for a prize from all the people who signed up.

There is not one size fits all scenario for this unfortunately.

How can an author use social media to their advantage?

I do a pre-announcement and post-announcement on my web sites for anything related to my life as an author.  I announce up-coming interviews, posted interviews, new reviews, etc.  I do this on www.facebook.com, www.rcrutter.com, www.lulu.com, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.com (message boards).  In between, I give updates on my writing progress and snippets of the storyline.  I have a master list of places to update so I don’t miss any.  It can be confusing at times keeping track of all your sites.

What are some of the cost considerations for marketing?

You will have to pay for a web site, business cards, paperback copies of your book, and a quality book cover.

Cost of the web site.  I use www.fatcow.com and their customer service has been excellent!  A high quality book cover is part of your marketing.  Expect to pay in the several hundreds of dollars.  This is your first impression and don’t overlook the readability of the thumbnail image.  Most readers will scroll through the list of books viewing thumbnails until one catches their eye.  If it is blurry or not readable, you might loose that sale.

You need to have printed books available for reviews and for purchase.  My book costs $14.00 to print.  As an author, I can purchase them a little bit cheaper but not by much.  So when I give away a book, I can feel it in the wallet.  I have to add $ when I ship the book to reviewers.  I have given away some as door prizes at social events but can’t really tell if that has made a difference.  It has generated talk about the book but I don’t know if that directly translated into sales.  Taking the book to a social function does allow me to carry it around.  You can spot the avid readers in the group.  They will make eye contact then do their best to ascertain the title of the book you are carrying.

What are some brief tips on obtaining book reviews?

Use www.google.com and www.facebook.com to search for book reviewers in your genre.  Read their specifications for submittal.  Read their prior reviews.  Ask about their expected completion and posting timeframe.  Use the message boards the various sites requesting reviews, again checking on their previous reviews.

Any final comments on marketing?

I was unprepared for how much time was involved in marketing.  Of course, this is occurring at the same time that I am writing the sequel.  It can be challenging at times but I feel it is definitely worth the effort.  I can now add “published author” to my name.  Once I sell the movie rights, I will add “Ferrari owner” to my name too J.

Thanks again for the opportunity Reena.  I really appreciate it!

For more information, where might folks find you?

www.rcrutter.com
Facebook
author@rcrutter.com

Thanks a bundle for sharing your tips with us, R.C.

Cave of the Forlorn is available at Amazon

Special (Guest) Post: Susan Bischoff ~ Never Too Late To Change

Hello, readers of Reena’s blog! If you don’t know me, I’m Susan Bischoff, author of Hush Money, which is the first story in my Talent Chronicles series. Recently, I did a series on my blog that was all about things I did which I thought helped me move up the charts more quickly than I ever expected. I got some nice feedback on those posts. Many people seemed to enjoy them, feel like they got stuff out of them, and were good enough to take the time to tell me so. Which is nice, because that’s what I’ll have to keep me warm when I’m COMPETING with those people for Kindle rank going forward. But it’s all good.

One of the things that struck me, though, were the messages I received in which people talked about getting very few sales. And I mean, very few sales. Now, I sort of think that life would be good if every indie with a decent command of their language could make at least 151 sales. This number is derived solely from a desire to stick it to Brad, by the way. These messages got me thinking about how part of what’s cool about being an indie is how we can experiment and make changes. We have limited resources, and, some would say, limited credibility. But we also have a lot of freedom, and can give our own work the kind of personal attention that someone else might not.

So what are the first things people see when they look at your book on one of your buy sites? Well, first, is it there? I deleted a rather long paragraph about availability, which I’m now going to shorten by saying that I think you need to put yourself into as many places as you can to avoid alienating shoppers. And at the least you should be on:

  • Amazon Kindle, preferably without DRM so that non-Kindle owners can buy you
  • Smashwords Premium, so that you can get into stores that deal directly with device owners like Sony and iBookstore, among others
  • B&N PubIt!, so that you can enhance your listing there (over what you can do through Smashwords), as the Nook is rising in popularity. If you need help, try Kait Nolan’s blog.

Ok, so availability issues aside, and focusing on Amazon, where the bulk of sales happen right now, what are customers seeing when they look at your listing?

  • Price
  • Cover art
  • Blurb
  • Sample

All of which you have control over, so yay! I’ve already talked about price and cover art, so I’m going to talk a little about the blurbs and the sample.

Smashwords allows you a 400 character blurb. Amazon allows, what, 2000? In some cases, it’s not a great idea to say 5 times as much just because you can. But since it’s so hard to craft that 400 character blurb and have it actually give the reader enough to go on, if you’re using the same blurb in both places, think about enhancing your Amazon listing with more information.

For me, a blurb isn’t a summary. It’s an enticement. It’s a commercial. You’ll want to give the reader an idea who the story is about and the conflict that character will face. This is not telling the whole story in a few paragraphs. If you can’t pull these bits out of the setup, or first 1/4 – 1/3 of the story, then maybe you need to think about how enticing your beginning actually is for the reader. And if you tell them too much about the story, why should they read the book?

In the blurb, you must put yourself in the position of someone who doesn’t know the story. You can be intriguing, but you can’t afford to be vague. For example, you have an exotic name for a tribe in your novel and you use the name in your blurb–because calling them by name decreases your character count. The readers is able to get from context that you’re talking about a group of people, but has no idea what that really means. Had you said, “the Spaghetti, a rival tribe with whom the Fusilli compete for precious resources…” the reader might have been better set up to understand your conflict when you talk about it.

Part of the enjoyment of reading is about discovery. You’ve written something that’s full of precious ideas that will delight the reader. They’re all awesomesauce. The blurb is not necessarily the place to talk about all the things the reader will discover. Pick a few things that will make the reader feel this experience will be unique and exciting, but if you’re having trouble writing a concise blurb, it may be because you’re trying to pack in too much information. That’s overselling.

I guess part of a successful blurb is a successful concept. What makes this book unique? That’s something you thought about before spending all your time writing this book, right? If it’s a vampire story, what makes it different from all the other vamp stories I’ve read and will stumble across this week? Why should I read this book? What will I get out of it? What is in here that will make this experience unique? The answers to those questions can provide you with an idea of how to craft an enticing blurb.

If you can’t answer those, then that might be a big part of your marketing dilemma. In a lot of ways, indies need to approach writing the same way people on the trad path do, because we all have the same customers. So when working on the initial concept for your book, part of your thinking should be about what makes this book different and why should people want to buy it.

If you keep your Amazon blurb short, you’ll have room for an excerpt of your writing. But this idea really works best if you can come up with something that works with your blurb to entice the reader. Something that really sparkles and shows off your talent (yeah, I just capitalized that and had to go back), without confusing the reader by dropping them into something they’re not yet equipped to appreciate. Remember, this goes back to putting yourself in the position of someone who knows nothing about your story.

Ok, a bit about the sample. You know you need to grab the reader early on. You may think that readers are more forgiving than editors, and some are. Some probably aren’t. At least editors get paid for reading what they choose. Readers pay for the privilege and then spend their precious free time on you. They expect a lot, and they should get a lot. You may think your story really gets going by page 10. Guess what? I’ve been watching my sampling habits lately. I tend to give you about three screens worth of text to hook me.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Basic command of language- are there a number of spelling/grammar errors in the first pages. Is the language itself easy to understand? Or am I going over this so much with the red pen in my head that I can’t attend to your story?
  • Voice- is important to me and it’s a matter of personal taste. I don’t usually enjoy a more “literary” tone. If there’s a lot of flowery language, if it feels overwritten to me, I’m probably not going to want to spend hours with that voice. Hyperbole is the kiss of death with me. And if there’s nothing unique at all in the author’s writing, then voice is a wash and they’ll have to impress me some other way. Can’t please everyone on voice, that’s just how it is. I’m sure, like, plenty of people are totally put off my writing voice. You just have to find yours and then really embrace it.
  • Action- This doesn’t have to be a shoot-out or bombing, but I prefer to start a story where something is happening. It’s harder to get into a story that starts with a long description of character or setting, or even backstory. Girl’s in a room. Don’t describe the girl, don’t describe the room, tell me what she’s doing. People tend to confuse the definition of “action” here. You don’t have to start in heavy drama or life-and-death crisis, but I often like to be dropped right into someone’s life– not into their resume or scrapbook.
  • Questions– For me, a good opening means I’ve got some questions. Questions that I’m going to need to answer by continuing to read your story. But there’s a fine line between a leaving a reader with questions and leaving them completely lost. It’s your job to draw a character in, and sometimes, the scent of the prize isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. In some stories I can see where an author is trying to hold back information in order to reveal it later on. And that’s not a bad strategy in itself. The problem comes when I’m not getting enough information to satisfy me Right Now.
  • Information- There should be a small prize for me in every “set.” Don’t take me to the train station unless you’re going to give me some bit of info that I could only get at the train station. And if the purpose of me going to the train station with your character now will be revealed to me later and make me so happy we went there, awesome! But Right Now, give me something for playing along. You’re a writer, so come up with something! Because one of the questions I should NOT be asking is: what was the point of that?

Are your opening pages interesting enough to hook a busy reader with thousands of choices? You have to be objective. If you’re a critique partner, one of the hardest things to tell someone is, “it’s not enough.” But it’s your job, because not being tough and objective before publishing results in disappointments later.

But it’s never too late to make changes.

Now if all this has made you so irritated with me that you just have to run out and read Hush Money to see how I did with today’s lesson, well, I’m here to make that easy for you with all the links below. If you’d like to be social, you can find a bunch of social site links on the About Me page of my website.

Be normal, invisible. Don’t get close to anyone. Kids with psychic abilities tend to mysteriously disappear when they get noticed. Joss has spent years trying to hide. Now she has an unasked-for best friend, who is the victim of an extortion plot by the school bully, who used to like Joss, who is best friends with her long-time crush, who is actually talking to her. Life just got more complicated.