5 Tips For Marketing Your Novel The Second Time Around
By Dan McGirt
We all love a good comeback story. A growing number of authors are reclaiming the rights to their out-of-print backlist titles--books that may have been first published years or even decades ago--and bringing those books back as ebooks or print-on-demand titles.
Some authors do it themselves, using tools like Amazon's Kindle Digital Platform and Smashwords. Others work through an agent, e-publisher, or small press. Either way, marketing an old book the second time around requires learning new skills and a new mindset--especially if your previous experience was letting your publisher do most of the work.
My fantasy novel Jason Cosmo was published as mass market paperback in 1989, followed by two sequels in the early 1990s. All vanished from bookstore shelves within a couple of years. After more than a decade away, I decided to resurrect and relaunch my Jason Cosmo series a couple of years ago.
Starting with steamy Gothic tale Dark Splendor in 1986, my mother, author Andrea Parnell, wrote ten romance novels published in the 80s and 90s before also moving away from writing. I've recently helped Mom relaunch her backlist as e-books too. She offers this take on what promoting her books was like back in the day:
"I traveled to conferences, writing workshops, book signings and other events to promote my books. Much of this travel was at my own expense. I created bookmarks, flyers, brochures, postcards, wrote articles for fanzines and took out ads in those same publications. Most of this was at my own expense. Fans sent self-addressed-stamped-envelopes (SASE) requesting the bookmark or other item I was giving away. All of this effort was geared to a three to six month make or break window for a mass market paperback. Keeping that book around and selling longer was largely up an author, many of whom, like me, who had little understanding of the book business or marketing."
Mom gets few SASEs in the mail these days--but her books are selling again, and so are mine. Here are five things we've learned about marketing your novel the second time around. (These points apply to new writers and new books too):
1. Your Readers Are Looking for You: If you've ever been published, then you still have fans out there. Make it easy for them to find you online. I put up my first website in 1999. My books had been out of print for several years. To my surprise, I soon started receiving emails from Loyal Readers asking when I would write another book! This inspired me to eventually relaunch my fantasy series--how could I say no? My Loyal Readers of yesteryear are the core audience for my new works--and my best ambassadors for finding new readers.
You don't have to devote significant time to online activities--your time is best spent writing your next book--but you should establish a basic presence. If blogs and social media are new to you, take your time and ease into it. I suggest starting with a website/blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. These three make for a powerful combination. You can get them all set up in a couple of hours at no cost, then read, experiment, and figure out how to use them. As your comfort level grows you will develop your own online style and build a following. Like any marketing activity, the more time and effort you put into it, the greater the results. A minimalist approach is fine if that is what suits you... but you must be online. Your readers are looking for you--let them find you.
2. The Ebook IS the Real Book: As survey results recently released by the American Association of Publishers (AAP) show, the market share of hardcover and paperback formats is shrinking, while the market share of ebooks grew more than 1200% from 2008 to 2010. Print still accounts for the vast majority of books sold—but if you're an author republishing your old novels for new readers, the smart move is to focus on ebook sales.
As a traditionally published print author--and as the owner of thousands of print books--it took me a while to wrap my head around this dramatic change in the nature of publishing. I spent most of 2009 preparing to publish my novel Hero Wanted using print-on-demand technology. As an afterthought, I also published as an ebook on Smashwords. I had no expectation anyone would actually pay for an ebook, so I gave it away for free. I was completely focused on the print book--what I considered the "real" book. I was only vaguely aware of something called the Kindle. The iPad was still a couple of years in the future.
Today, the print version of Hero Wanted sells a few copies each month through Amazon and other online stores. But most of my book sales are ebook sales. Not surprising--that same AAP survey found e-books are now 13.6% of the net revenue market share in Adult Fiction. The dynamics may be different for non-fiction, or if you're working with a traditional publisher--it is still true the vast majority of books sold are print. But the trend is clear. And for a do-it-yourself publisher of fiction, the trend is sparkling diamond crystal clear--lead with the ebook. The ebook is the real book now. Print is the afterthought. All of your marketing strategies and tactics should flow from that fact.
3. A Free Story Spurs Sales: A writer should not be reluctant to part with a story for free. Free pays. Readers appreciate it. A free story can serve as your introduction to new readers. If they like what they read, they'll buy your other work.
Mom mentioned that when Dark Splendor was originally published, her editor asked her to cut the first three chapters and start the action later. She still had the deleted chapters. I suggested she turn them into a novella--Dark Prelude--that we would give away for free. She was a little skeptical at first, but after she released Dark Prelude as a free lead-in, sales of Dark Splendor took off. Sales of her other titles perked up a bit too, but Dark Splendor has left them all behind, propelled by the free prequel.
Even for a book you wrote years ago, you may have deleted scenes you can repurpose into a freebie, or an idea for a short related story that introduces readers to your novel's characters and to your writing.
A word of caution: Be sure your free story is complete in itself, with a definite ending. Readers are not paying with money, but they are paying with their time and attention. If your free short story ties in to your novel, but leaves the reader hanging so she is forced to buy the book to get a resolution, that is likely to backfire. Readers don't like to be manipulated. Dark Prelude stands on its own--but it ends with an invitation for the reader to follow the characters she just met into Dark Splendor. A good many readers accept that invitation.
4. Word of Mouth Still Works: The Internet is an amazingly powerful tool for connecting with readers and letting the world know about your book. But the old-fashioned ways of getting the word out are still valuable too. This is from Andrea Parnell (aka Mom) again: "I made up business cards featuring the covers for my ebooks with sales and contact information on the back. Friends and family are kind enough to pass them along to others. I've gotten some sales from these and the opportunity to let people in my area know about my books and what I'm doing. Old-fashioned word of mouth is still effective."
You can still meet your readers in the real world too!
5. Everything Changes. Then Changes Again: As I mentioned above, over the last couple of years I shifted my thinking from focusing on selling print books, to focusing on ebooks. It seems like I'm adjusting my thinking every few weeks in response to new developments: Smashwords adding new distribution partners. Apple's entry into ebook-selling. Amazon shifting their ebook royalty split in response. Borders going belly up. Trying to learn from the success of DIY authors like John Locke, Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, and others.
Just when you've got your Facebook page perfected, Facebook scrambles the format of their site again. Google launches Google+, which means a whole new social media site to figure out--or ignore. You read that Amazon is proposing a "Netflix for books" and wonder how that will affect your own book. And Marketing Tips for Authors keeps pumping out new ideas to try!
It can feel overwhelming trying to keep up with all the changes in publishing. But this is a golden age for authors. If you are willing to seize the moment, learn some new skills, keep writing, and keep experimenting until you find the mix of marketing moves that works for you and resonates with your target readership, you can take charge of your own writing career and destiny to an extent authors of the past could only dream about. My final tip: Keep Writing, Keep Learning, and Keep At It!
Hero Wanted. His previous books include the original Jason Cosmo Non-Trilogy: Jason Cosmo, Royal Chaos and Dirty Work . His other published stories include Sarah Palin: Vampire Hunter. He writes the oft-neglected Apology Index blog, which covers public apologies. He is the founder and publisher of Trove Books LLC. Dan is a member of Novelists, Inc. and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. He was named 2006 Time Person of the Year (It's true! Look it up!)
Dark Splendor, Whispers at Midnight), Western (Delilah's Flame), and other historical and contemporary romances. Several of her books have been set in her home state of Georgia. Andrea has received both the Maggie and Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice awards for her writing, and is a member of Novelists, Inc. (NINC) and past president of the Georgia Authors Network. She is fond of cats, travel, overgrown gardens, and old houses with lots of crooks, crannies, and interesting shadows.
Tony Eldridge is the author of The Samson Effect, an action/adventure novel that Clive Cussler calls a "first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure." He is also the author of the Twitter marketing book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests. His new novel, The Lottery Ticket, was just recently released on Kindle.