Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Carolyn Crane method of book discoverability

One of the funniest things about this whole book promo thing that I think people forget is that writers are artists. We are artistic types. Whatever our day jobs, we have enough artistic bones in our bodies to drive us to writing books, which is not exactly the most lucrative use of a person's time. (Or, not lucrative in the way that the lottery is not lucrative.) And it can be lonely. But we do it! 

So, we’re a bunch of artists being put into the position of salespeople and marketers. Even me, I’m in advertising – you’d think I’d be good at selling, but I’m not, really. I’m not 'strategy' I'm a 'creative.' I just write what they tell me. (Describe this product in three lines. Give us ten funny headlines. Now go away.)

So with promo, I muddle through. I kind of love that we’re all muddling through. And now for a few thoughts on discoverability, the holy grail of writerly marketing.

Trading Cards

I had to laugh about Allison’s post on trading cards this week. I, too, have the most awesome trading cards ever!! What’s funny is, who wants trading cards? Mostly people who already like your books.

I worked so hard on these trading cards! (Want a set? I give them out free! Because I'm artistic like that. I send them anywhere at the moment. Email me at carolyn (at)

Personally, I’m much more comfortable doing art projects than selling anything. Which I think helpfully underlines the point I made above. Writers are generally artists. 

Also, note the amount of time I spend doing cartoony posts. I'm not a humor writer, though some books have funny parts. And I'm not writing cartoon books, so are my cartoons totally shitty promo and misleading?

That's a point I have discussed with a certain smart friend. Actually, when it comes to books, I dislike too much Funny. LOL. 

Discoverability: data!

I get most of my reader intelligence from myself, as I am a reader. I have two lists of books I’m thinking of buying. One is on my Goodreads to-read shelf, and another is a list in this little red book I keep at my desk, where I write ideas and things. What moves a book onto one of those lists, and what moves it from there to me actually buying it?

That is the ultimate mystery!!

As a reader, for me to move it to the buy category, one of three things needs to happen:
  1. It’s an auto-buy author for me.
  2. I’m in the mood for that exact kind of book and I read just one or two squeeing reviews from people I trust – that can result in an instant purchase. (this is especially true for dirty books! LOL)
  3. There has been such an accumulation of good reviews and buzz that I finally go for it. 

So, two of those methods are word of mouth. This is backed up by an interesting post on discoverability over at the Goodreads blog – 79% of Goodreads users discover books from friends offline, 69% from friend updates.

Also, they found searching is the top way a book gets added to a shelf. When a person does a direct search, it means they heard about it from somewhere else. Out on Goodreads, I think the update stream is really what gets me to add a book to a shelf. When people talk about a book, it either reminds me of it or sparks my interest.

Freebies and contests

Some authors and publishers hold contests and give away a boatload of ARCs and freebie copies to everyone on the planet as a way to generate buzz and reviews ahead of a release.

I am currently struggling with this as the October 30 release date for MR. REAL approaches. Is giving away tons an awesome idea? Or a way to radically decrease the pool of people who might buy it? Does it cheapen the book? Or help it blast off in a big way? Is the mass giveaway best for an unknown author? What about a new self-pubbed series from a moderately known author like me? 

If anybody has answers out there, let me know. Seriously!!

Write the best book

This is really comfortable advice for the artistic writer. It provides a sense of control – if you work hard enough, if you do those 5 extra drafts, if the book is awesome enough, it will be found. The cream rises to the top.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Without discoverability, a good book can languish. In fact, one meh book on a giant list of mediocre books tends to do better than one amazing book on a list of two. That’s something that’s been proven out there over and over. There are entire posts about it. Crank out more books! People say. You don’t have to make them perfect. Some writers are naturally high quality and fast, but I’m not. Plus, I have a day job.

When I see articles about how to write faster, I always read them. I want speed, AND to make the books perfect.

Because writing isn’t just about sales, it’s about putting something cool into the world. I think this is where the artistic and sales sides conflict for many writers. Quantity vs. quality. There’s a point where  you just can’t sacrifice quality for quantity. 

As an artist, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and feel like you’re doing something worth doing. I think most writers have a line in the sand on that. And I say, good. Let your inner artist stomp all over your inner salesperson! 


  1. Ha! I love this approach. Inner artist vs. salesperson smack down!

  2. I know some people say not to give away the book, since people will enter instead of buying it. However, that has not been my experience. It is difficult to measure since of course we can't really do things both ways, all other things being equal (because the market, your own notoriety as an author, etc, will always factor in).

    When I first came out with Keep Me Safe, I was completely unknown, had done no promo, wasn't on twitter, anything. It sold maybe 2 copies a day, which was discovery-only. Then it started getting recommended, I got a website and did a few things, and the pace started to pick up. It did well enough that I decided my next course of action should be its sequel, Trust in Me. So I'm writing that, I finish it and I think, hey, let me go ahead and do a giveaway of Keep Me Safe. So I go onto the BDSM goodreads group and just say hey, if anyone wants a copy of this, shoot me an email. Well, it turns out that at the same time as that, my book had been selected for the monthly group read. Wow! They of course said I could limit the number I gave away, which would have been fair all around, but I have a fetish for serendipity and just felt in my gut this was the right thing to do. I think I ended up giving away about 50 copies? Not sure. But basically, the book exploded.

    As a result of all those people talking about my book, reviewing my book (many not favorably, by the way, more on that later), it moved up the Amazon Erotica bestseller charts. Not sure how high it made it, definitely top 20, maybe top 10 at the highest (lowest?) Anyways, lists are fabulous, because they are self-perpetuating. People discover through those lists and thus keep it on, meaning more sales for me.

    Then I did come out with the sequel, Trust in Me, which presumably did better because of the success of Keep Me Safe. Additionally I did a 20-blog tour where I gave a copy away at each stop. I know this is discouraged, but I'm quite happy with sales.

    My thought process is that people who like to enter giveaways will enter virtually all giveaways, and don't often buy these books regardless of if they win. Whereas if you see a book and love it, the average reader will go ahead and buy without waiting to win. Plus, having your book out there with people reviewing and talking about it is ALWAYS the best thing for sales.

    The only downside to giveaways, especially on a mass scale, is reviews. Books that have been freebies at one time generally have lower reviews than those that weren't, because the people who pick them up are not the right readers. Even for very small purchases of $0.99, people will read the blurb, read the excerpt, check reviews. But for free? Just grab it, and no, they're not going to rate it generously because it was free or because that's not something they normally would have read :)

    Here's the other thing, if you don't give away a copy of your book on a blog tour, what are you giving away? It needs to be something, because it's incentive for the host to promote your post. It helps your host be a good, fun book blog, and they, in turn, help you. It doesn't matter if many of the readers don't enter the giveaway, you'll get retweeted, shared more if you have a giveaway of some sort. As you mentioned, swag is only fun if you're already a fan, and sometimes not even then. The other alternative is cash prizes, like a gift card to Amazon, but that can add up quickly depending on how many posts you do, and in the end people can use it to buy books that aren't yours. So you have people dropping comments on the post to win a gift card when they have no interest in your book - who is that helping?

    So yeah, this is all my very long essay on why an ebook is not the perfect giveaway, but in my opinion, it's the best one.

    1. Skye, I so appreciate this thoughtful response! I love hearing your story with Keep Me Safe and Trust in Me (Which was great, and I didn't even know it was a book #2 and not a #1) You make some really true blue points here, like that having your book out with people reviewing it and talking about it is always the best thing, no matter what. And, that is so interesting about the Goodreads synchronicity. And the LISTS!!

      I really do like your thinking about blog tours and giveaways, too. As for the people just entering to enter - I gave away tons of Mind Games and Double Cross, and I'd always be bummed when I thought somebody who didn't really care won, or you know, when I knew it would just be resold (I'm talking paper copies) but even then, thinking about what you're saying, the book was getting talked about, and it was something for the blogger to offer. So there was that!!!

  3. I love giveaways and they definitely draw my attention to books I wouldn't otherwise have considered, but really, the main thing that interests me about a book when I see a blog post on it is an excerpt. I've added quite a few books to my wish lists (and bought some of them) as a result of excerpts that I read through a blog posting. I'm talking here about books that I read the description on and thought "Meh", but then read an excerpt and thought "Wow". I tend to judge books on the description, however I know those are really hard to write, so I think the excerpt is one of the best ways to get readers interested in your book.

    1. Jen: I was thinking about excerpts just today. I'm not at all an excerpts girl, as a reader, because, if I read one and can't have the book instantly, I feel frustrated. (I guess I'm talking the long website excerpt here) But I'm like you - I love when blogs sample fave parts, allowing me to dip in and get a feel for the writing.

      This is good though, because I'm thinking now, there's no reason I can't both do a long excerpt on my own site, and the "pull out" types too, here and there.

      Out of curiosity, do you like when people tweet excerpts?

    2. jumping in on this one :) I use FB and I love it when authors post a small snippet! when it comes to guest posts on a blog I prefer smaller excerpts to long ones as well as shorter reviews because of the time it takes to read it. Long excerpts belong on the author's website and my favorite website feature of authors I read often is a coming soon page.

    3. I have to admit, I'm not on Twitter - I already have too many things that I spend time on during the day, so I've kind of stayed away from it. However, if I was on it, I think short little snippets would make for great tweets.

  4. As a reader who is not a writer, your "Why I Buy" list perfectly pegs it for me. The two other things that will push me one way or another-
    Well written reviews are important. They don't have to be positive reviews; they need to clearly explain the book and what they did or didn't like, so think about this while choosing your review sites).

    And, the absolute most important number one thing an author can have is a clear, well organized website, including excerpts (you said it @JenM). It always amazes me when I see authors who obviously spend hours on social media, gimicks like soundtracks, cards, etc., but who have horrible websites. In the past I have chosen one book over another because one author had a good website and I knew I would have a continued source of information if I liked her book. (And since Mind Games was awesome, that was definitely a winning choice.) Dear Author did a post on Dos and Don'ts for author sites a while back. It should be required reading.

    1. Liz, thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words on MG! And the reminder of the site needing to be solid (and for a girl to keep hers up to date). I think it's so hard, sometimes, to look at it from the point of view of the reader. But so important!! Every once in a while I go back to my own site with a new perspective and think, what was I thinking with this or that. Also, yes, I remember that DA post. It was really good.

  5. since you already have a fan base...I would send ARCs to reviewers that are big fans of your other series and that you have a great report with already. Readers follow bloggers that have the same tastes so you will be targeting the right crowd. They will be willing to go that extra mile to get your new series out there. Ask them to suggest other blogs that would be interested in reviewing or promoting your book (guest post, interview) for you to contact. I would definitely do give aways. readers like to get something tangible. If you do ebooks then give swag (bookmark/trading card/postcard) along with it.

    as to how many to send could flood the market with your first book, then make the second one harder to come by. This technique works great for drug dealers I would ask other authors that have tried the self pub thing for advice.

    now, you guys might be word whores, but I am a swag whore, especially trading cards. Since so many books are digital now, swag is the only way to have those incredible covers! I am a cover whore too. I would frame every one of them if I could...

    there is more pressure on authors to produce quicker because of ebook only publishing. readers can get books instantly and when they are done they want the next one, instantly! Self-pub authors can do this since they are in charge of everything. Trad published authors are on the time table of their publisher/editor/agent/printer/artist. Readers have become an inpatient bunch and have unrealistic expectations for how quickly an author can crank out a book.
    (you will be getting an email from me asking for some trading cards by the way )

    1. Sharon - I love giving those cards out. Definitely email me! Also, I'm really interested in your thinking on swag here. So, when giving an ebook prize, drop a bit of swag in the mail? I actually really like that, because it makes the prize more special than a 'here's the book' email.

      Smart to ask other authors. I've been watching what Shiloh Walker is doing with her new UF pen name - she's giving out tons, it seems, and she does have a fan base, though this is a new pen name for her. I need to look around and see who else at my general level has tried it. Hey, thanks for stopping by.

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