Jean Oram is a very successful indie author who is where I aspire to be – the first page of the Amazon search results for her genre! Her book Champagne and Lemon Drops is available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback http://amzn.com/B00BR3AT9G and she writes an excellent blog full of writing tips for authors here www.thehelpfulwriter.com.
Today she’s taken time out from writing her soon-to-be-released second novel, Whiskey and Gumdrops, to kindly give novice indie authors the secrets of her success!
Hi Jean, thank you so much for joining us today! You’re consistently on page 1 of Amazon’s search results for the contemporary romance and chick lit genres, which is a fantastic achievement! How did you do this and how long did it take?
Thank you for having me, Julie!
Honestly, I am not 100% sure how I ended up on the first page of those search results as it wasn’t an intentional, purposeful action on my part. As well, I am not sure how long it took (I see I’m not at the top as of writing this—only a week later). I actually didn’t realize I was coming up in such a nice position for Amazon’s search results for those two things until a publishing friend brought it to my attention about a month ago. When I did the search myself I assumed my book was simply up high on the search due to Amazon knowing I often searched for my book and so it was like—hey, let’s put this one on top for you since it’s something you are obviously interested in! (Amazon does do that kind of stuff sometimes. But in this case it might actually have been based on something besides my search habits.)
That said, I do have some ideas on how this all happened. First of all was the intentional use of keywords to help the visibility of my book. For example, you will see both ‘chick lit’ and ‘contemporary romance’ in Champagne and Lemon Drops’ subtitle (Champagne and Lemon Drops: A Blueberry Springs Chick Lit Contemporary Romance) as well as in the book description. Also, one of my categories is: FICTION > Romance > Contemporary. I can’t recall what my first keywords were when I first published my book, but I have a sneaking suspicion that those two were in there as well.
There are theories that the first keywords you use for your book impact its visibility more than changes you make later on (although those do help, too). The rumour has something about the newness of the book and that those keywords thrust it up higher in terms of visibility for its first few days thanks to Amazon giving your book a bit more love. It’s simply a theory a very smart publishing friend of mine is investigating, but I don’t fully understand it at this point. But it is definitely something to think about and to watch.
Champagne and Lemon Drops is free almost constantly on Amazon, and you write about how to make this happen here http://thehelpfulwriter.com/how-to-make-book-free Why did you decide to make Champagne and Lemon Drops free, given that it’s currently your only book (so isn’t hooking readers to buy the next one!)?
The longer answer is that Champagne and Lemon Drops was an experiment. I wasn’t sure whether I (and my writing) had what it took to ‘do this’ in what I felt might be a successful way. So, in a lot of ways it was/is part of a test. Part one was to see if I could get downloads and interest in my book—kind of make a name for myself a little bit. I believed that free would make it easy for me to get a good sampling of people. (I’ve always been taught to do what you love and that the money will follow. So this wasn’t about the money as much as experimenting with this book.)
Part one was also about learning the ropes in a way that wouldn’t freak me out as having a free book felt less risky in terms of changing things up, experimenting, and figuring out what might work. If I screwed up I would only be affecting the downloads and not my income.
Part two of my experiment is to release a paid book which I will be doing on November 1st.
And yes, it would have been ‘smarter’ to release two books (the free book and then the paid book) at once as I could have directed new (free book) readers straight to my paid book before they forgot about me. But I didn’t have the time to release two books at the same time and, for personal reasons, I felt as though I needed to make a move.
However, I do have a newsletter sign up in the back of my book and I have had several hundred people subscribe to my newsletter which is a way for them to stay in touch and find out about my next release. So I haven’t lost evvvverybody. ;)
The big thing takeaway here, I think, is to do what you can. Don’t sweat the rest of it. Work with purpose and determination. Educate yourself on marketing, algorithms, and do what you can. Books will be delayed. Real life will take you on a rollercoaster. Things happen. Put out the best that you can and at a pace that keeps you sane, and see what you can accomplish.
Do you do much physical marketing, or is everything online for you? What’s your favourite marketing strategy?
Honestly, I’m not even sure my in-laws know I’ve released a book. So in real life… I do pretty much no marketing. I do have business cards (you can see my card and get some tips on building your own here: http://thehelpfulwriter.com/author-business-cards-book-cards-and-general-author-swag/) that advertise my free book and I leave them places like coffee shops. As well, I plan to leave some of my print books out in the wild with BookCrossing.com.
I do spend marketing time online. My two big favourites right now are launch parties and free sites. I know other indie romance authors who do online launch parties and basically, together, we cross-promote each other. Plus, there are a lot of blogs, websites, etc., that will mention your free book for free. And don’t forget coupon sites!
But really, here’s the secret. Get a fabulous cover. Seriously. I contribute a TON of the downloads for Champagne and Lemon Drops to my cover. A good cover can cost you less than $100 (and don’t buy a predesigned cover if you are serious about publishing.) If your ebook costs $2.99 you will be bringing home around $2 for each book through most online vendors. (And yes, with a free book it can be hard to invest money in it but it pays off—sometimes literally in terms of out-of-territory sales (sometimes books aren’t free in some territories but people—bless their heart—buy it anyway.)
So the question is: Can you convince yourself that a GREAT professional cover won’t sell an extra 50 books? Because a really good cover WILL sell another 50 books which would cover the cost of a $100 cover. A good cover opens doors for reviews and features as well. Pay for a good cover. Or… launch with what you have and when you can afford it, get a good cover. People do judge you and your book’s contents by it!
And editing. Poor editing will kill you. Trust me. No, really. Trust me. For your book get lots of critiques and beta readers. Even a developmental editor if you can. THEN bring in a proofreader/line editor. It seems simple but it is amazing how much editor feedback can lead to changes which then introduce typos.
How do you balance marketing with writing? (I’m finding this quite hard at the moment, because my attention is so consumed with the marketing that I can’t ‘escape’ into my writing world!)
The first time you launch a book, pretty expect your world to be turned upside down for at least two weeks. Expect the unexpected. My book was pirated and competing against me on Amazon within 48 hours of it being published. That was flattering. It really was. It also ate my entire weekend (plus some) so I’m glad I hadn’t planned a big launch!
Expect everything to take longer than you expect.
Expect things to come up that you don’t even know about yet.
Personally, I work in ebbs and flows. I’ll list my book on free sites a ton and then forget for a month. I’ll write like crazy for a month and then need to switch gears and will do something else for a bit–marketing. The big thing is figuring out what works for you.
Is there anything you would do differently in the early days, if you could go back and change something?
Maybe I’d be not quite so hard on myself. Maybe even believe that I am doing okay!
But truthfully, the past year has been very difficult (my mother was very sick and passed away recently) and my indie journey has been a source of much-needed distraction, support, etc. When I needed ups, it provided it. So truly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the downs taught me important lessons. It’s been good.
What advice would you give to an unknown indie author who’s just released a book?
1) Don’t be afraid to change things like your keywords, your book description, your cover, and even your title (as well as the words in your book) if you think you could make an improvement. The thing with going indie is that you can keep tweaking and learning and adapting and changing as you go. (Just keep track of how your book does before and after so you have a baseline to compare against and see if the change improved or hindered your book’s journey.) In fact, always be changing. We are in the midst of a revolution! Nothing stays the same for more than a month or two at a time!
2) Read up on marketing. Listen to podcasts by Social Triggers (Derek Halpern) and Joanna Penn and watch Marie TV on YouTube. It’s free. And it is relevant, current info that is interesting and intriguing and will inspire you to take your own marketing to the next level. Marketing can be FUN!
3) Don’t panic. Panicking leads to doing stupid things you will regret less than 24 hours later.
4) Don’t launch a book when you are moving house. And don’t be afraid of a soft launch (where you don’t make a big deal or spend a ton of money) when you are starting out.
5) Don’t spend a ton of money on advertising unless you are VERY certain it will pay for itself in book sales. The amazing thing about indie publishing is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot!
6) Expect to be pirated. Think of it as free marketing by people who wouldn’t buy your book anyway. But if copies of your book show up on legitimate book vendors and you didn’t put it there report it. Immediately.
7) Make writing the next book a priority. That means write. Even if you have to do it in an ER or tire shop or with your two-year-old stuffing muffin down your shirt.
8) Always say yes.
9) Think about what you can do to help others and good things will happen.
10) Work with other authors.
11) Don’t forget to breathe. Both in AND out.
Jean Oram is a contemporary romance author whose first book Champagne and Lemon Drops is free! Her second book, Whiskey and Gumdrops, is due out November 1, 2013. You can find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jeanoramauthor) on Twitter (www.twitter.com/jeanoram) and on her website giving stuff away and being silly (www.jeanoram.com). She also provides weekly writing tips at www.thehelpfulwriter.com.
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