Monday, 28 April 2014

#Marketing: More important than #Writing?

To be honest I wonder if that has always been the case. There are many, many authors out there all clamouring to get their works in front of as many readers as possible. Sometimes if feels like there are more authors than readers on many of the social networks, and that's a pretty depressing situation if you are trying to persuade people to buy or even just read your books. The situation only seems to be getting worse as more people try their hand at self-publishing.

It seems that everyone and their dog has written a book and wants me to read it. The quality threshold enforced (to varying degrees!) by traditional publishers no longer applies and now it is a minefield for readers. Ratings and reviews can be, and often are, faked. This has led to a slightly distorted experience for both readers and authors. For example I've found that having a single good review is worse than having no reviews, as people seem to assume that the good review is just written by me. It went from a few sales per week to almost nothing at all as soon as the review was posted. (See more...) I suspect that potential readers assume that a single good review was probably posted by the author.

I know some readers simply won't bother with indie authors because they have been burnt in the past by poorly written or unedited work.

Marketing is a tricky and ever changing area that independent authors simply must learn if they want to sell books. Sadly it seems that charisma, marketing and salesmanship have become more important than the actual quality of writing. Just coming up with a good story and writing it well just aren't enough, if they ever were. It often appears that skill with social networking is vastly more important than any literary abilities.

I don't actually have statistics to back this up, but it certainly appears every month sees more and more budding authors entering the market and trying to sell their wares to a market which is simply not expanding as quickly. Standing out from the crowd keeps getting more difficult and simply writing better probably isn't going to make the difference.

If you want to sell your own books you either need to work extremely hard or have a lot of luck. I don't believe in relying on luck. Long before you publish your first novel, it is important to grow an online following on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and as many other suitable social networks as you have the time to work on. Especially at first your efforts will seem like a waste of time. Having a few dozen or even a few hundred followers is not going to make any difference. Ideally you want to be able to measure your social following in 1,000s or 10,000s.

If you post a link to your latest release on your profile/stream/feed don't expect 100% of those followers to immediately click on it. If you get 20% to click the link you are doing very well. Most people I've spoke too reckon than between 5% and 10% is much more usual if your followers have chosen to follow you because they are interested in your work. If you have gone on Facebook and joined posted "Follow Me!" messages in loads of the groups dedicated to building followings as fast as possible, then your click through rate is probably going to be closer to 0.5%.

Now factor in how many of those people will actually continue on to purchase the book (10% if your blurb is excellent and cover eye-catching) and even thousands of followers will only lead to a handful of sales. If you have followers measured in the 100,000s then decent sales will follow.

Of course it's not this simple. There are many factors that affect your sales, but if you have not thought through and prepared your means of promoting and marketing your novel, then just being an excellent book is not going to make it a best seller.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Finding your #Genre

When I originally set about writing novels, I thought the whole "genre" issue was no problem at all. My novels were going to be Science Fiction therefore I would place them squarely in the Science Fiction pigeon whole and everything would be fine.

Defining a Genre

Experience often complicates things or, at least, reveals more details and complexity than you saw at the beginning. Any Science Fiction author with a book or two behind them will tell you that there is a LOT more to it than that. First of all Sci Fi has a plethora of sub-genres, including Space Opera, Hard Sci Fi, Military Sci Fi, Steam Punk (and a range of other "Punks"), Apocalyptic,Post-apocalyptic, Time Travel, Dystopian and many, many more.

Some groups have made serious efforts to formalise the definitions of each of these, but most authors I've spoken too rarely find that their work falls into a single genre. Some authors manage to pick a key genre and a couple of sub-genres but others, like me, find their output really spans about half-a-dozen genres and various from book to book. This makes it extremely difficult for readers to categorise me.

Now I fully realise the importance of tying your work down to a genre as it makes it easier to market, easier to categorise when submitting it for reviews and book directories, and much easier when you come to talk to agents about it. They tend to prefer a clear cut genre for your work so they know how to pitch it and who to pitch it to. Your children's science fiction vampire romance book is going to be hard to sell no matter how good it is, as publishers won't know what to do with it.

How Do I Categorise My Own Books?

Astronomicon: The Beginning
My first book (Astronomicon: The Beginning) was basically classic sci-fi in style. The protagonists were sent to colonise a planet around another star system, things go wrong and they end up fighting to survive in a hostile environment. However this forms the introduction to a much bigger story of human development, politics, technology, space exploration and ultimately war. This now crosses into Space Opera territory.

The second half of the book strays much more into the politics behind the events of the first half, revealing the civil unrest in the mining colonies on Jupiter's moons and sweeping political changes back on Earth. Military action around Jupiter and an assassination on Earth show that there are much greater problems brewing for the human race as a whole. A hefty part of this could easily be categorised as Military Sci Fi.

Astronomicon: Distant Relatives
The second book in the series (Astronomicon: Distant Relatives) is more of an action thriller set within a science fiction setting. A first contact situation opens the story, but surprisingly that is soon overtaken by events of a more local nature. Again the story explores some of the politics involved, but also covers events back on the colony from the first book where a mini-war has broken out.

I find it a little depressing that some reviews have referred to this book as a bridging piece between the first book and the ongoing storylines. That was not intended, and the book features a ranges of large-scale  key events in the on going story. It is most certainly not a space filler, but I suppose being a bridge is necessary factor in not being the first or last book in a series. That doesn't stop it being an exciting and vital bridge.

Astronomicon: Those Left Behind
The third book (Astronomicon: Those Left Behind) is in many ways a different creature again. It mainly covers the lives of two characters: The ruler of an alien race desperately trying to salvage something in the face of imminent annihilation of his species, and an office worker striving to save the lives of his two children during an alien invasion.

This splits it equally between Military Sci Fi and Apocalyptic Sci Fi. Of course it still fits in with the ongoing Astronomicon storyline, so it's also Space Opera. Which is the main genre? I genuinely don't know.

So what genre am I?

If I had to place all my books (and myself as an Author) into a single category, I would have to make one up. I would call it "Human Science Fiction". Many readers have told me that they enjoy my books even though they don't usually like science fiction and I am convinced that is due to my books being about people. Events occur in a science fiction setting, sometimes driven by technology, sometimes aliens, sometimes even religion, but I tackle those events from the perspective of the people within the story. You see how bigger events affect the lives of people, how they adapt, the challenges they face, the humour, the emotion and fear. I don't write about a shiny future, ruled by computers and where the whole world is united (like Star Trek). I write human stories where people act according to their ideals, fears, greed, patriotism and emotions. This makes it much easier for everyone to relate and empathise with the characters, even if they don't normally "do" science fiction.