Failure to Launch
I've been talking about launching a new brand but do Indie Authors launch brands or do we tend to launch books? For us, the product is the book or series of books. The brand is us, our Authorial Voice or our style of storytelling. I'll be half of you reading don't even know how to define your Author Brand, let alone having launched it at one point. I, myself, have still not launched my SciFi pen name's brand. I launched my Webbiegrrl brand years ago and could probably benefit from a relaunch, maybe when I get ready to start releasing my Romantic Suspense books. Why do so many of us fail to launch? I think it's fairly easy: the way to launch is with publicity, PR, and that times an enormous commitment of time and effort. It's worth it but it's something most of us Indie Authors neglect, as though self-promotion (rather than shelf-promotion) is unfathomable.
So how exactly do you launch a brand? First of all, you must have products available, so it's difficult to launch a brand before you've released any books--not impossible, difficult. Second, your product line must form a cohesive brand "position." If you aren't sure how to do that, please review my positioning series. Once you have a product line and a firm definition of your Author Brand clear in your mind, you need to launch a publicity campaign. This involves getting other people in other communities to talk about you. Authors talking about authors is all fine and well, but you need real press coverage--outside the book world where consumers actually exist.
The Good, The Bad, The Useless
In addition, it must be good press coverage, not just a passing mention.There's also a belief among some who are inexperienced in marketing that "any press is good press." This is a false statement. Period. No exceptions. There's good press, bad press and useless press. Each of the 3 kinds serves up a different result. They are definitely not all equal.
One single stroke of bad publicity can kill your brand. If you've had any good press at all to that point, the bad publicity can completely destroy any benefits you might've gleaned. The point of publicity is to establish or strengthen your position, so if the press you get undermines your branding efforts, it has hurt you. If your brand is going to be known for tabloid drama, flame wars and other activities with negative connotations, then yes, bad publicity is good for you. Otherwise, the only good press is ... good press.
What about that in-between kind, the "useless" publicity? What's that referring to exactly? I'll explain with an example from the category of energy drinks. Let's say a consumer magazine runs a story on energy drinks and either fails to mention Red Bull at all (as though it doesn't exist) or mentions it in passing--as one of many "equal" brands. Red Bull is the leading brand, the #1 brand in the category, and not just in the USA. Red Bull actually started out in Austria. It's now the #1 brand of energy drink in the world. The world.
So the effect of an omission to mention Red Bull's leadership in this hypothetical article? It will weaken Red Bull's leadership position. Without even having a bad thing said about them, the mere fact nothing was said will have a negative effect.
Why? The next time someone hears Red Bull's ads self-proclaming they're the #1 energy drink in the world--despite that being the truth--the consumer will think of the article or story that ranked them as "one of many" and wonder Are they really #1? Then why didn't that article mention them?
The kind of publicity that fails to endorse Red Bull's leadership position, that makes them "one of many," actually weakens Red Bull's deliberate efforts to establish itself as a "leader" in the category of energy drinks. That "useless" PR actually turns out to be "bad press" after all.
Publicity & The Indie Author
So how does that kind of situation translate to Digital Publishing? It's a fairly glaring and direct line, actually. Ever heard the term "bestselling author"? Yeah, of course, you have! In fact, you've probably heard it (or if you're an Indie Author, used it) so often, the term no longer holds real meaning for you.
Unless or until an author's "bestselling" status is proclaimed by an unbiased third party--not you, not your publisher, not the New York Times (grin) and not a reviewer you've paid to review your book, unless or until then, the term "bestseller" holds zero positive power nowadays. It can even become a negative if your potential readers think you've applied it to yourself -- unjustifiably -- or paid for the ranking. Remember, the definition of a brand is as follows:
It's all about the power to influence the consumer. If your brand does not influence the consumer's thoughts in a positive way, your brand has no power. You cannot name yourself the "best" without credentials to back up the claim. In a future blog, I'll talk more about building credentials but for now, let's just say that the trick is to get others to call you names ^)^ The real trick is to get the right others to do it.
Targetting Your Publicity
Instead of "targetting your marketing," you should be targetting your publicity. Direct your publicity efforts to where you can get press coverage that will count. Go to the consumers you want to reach and figure out what press they listen to--they all listen to someone at some point. Even people who "don't watch the news" have a "source" for learning about what's going on in their world. Find out what that is and target it for placement of your press release or request an interview there.
Here's an example from my own situation--the one and only trial I've done with publicity that worked. As you'll have heard me mention here before, I wrote a Jewish Inspirational Romantic Comedy called Coming Home (Dicky's Story) or as I like to call it, Dicky's Story, for short. I wrote this years ago and decided to use it as a vehicle for learning the Digital Publishing industry.
I've invested very little effort into actually selling Dicky's Story; however, in the first 18 months the book was out, it moved just over 3000 copies. Yes, there were some giveaways (when it was free or deeply discounted) but 3000+ downloads is still 3000+ downloads. The key for me is that I hardly promoted Dicky's Story. I didn't send out any press releases and for the first 12 months I didn't even tweet about it. I tweeted links to here, this blog, where I have the book mentioned, but that was it.
I keep meaning to write to Jewish community outlets but even with my neglecting taking an active role in publicizing Dicky's Story to the targetted media, I've used the existing Christian inspirational fiction audiences on Goodreads and other reader sites. In the last 6-8 months, I've started to make mention of Dicky's Story to Christian fiction audiences and voila copies move.
I really do need to get off my duff and write to the Jewish magazines and Jewish community networks. I think my fellow Jews would be even more interested in Dicky's Story than are the Bible-based Christians! There are 6.5 million Jews in the USA and another million or so in the predominantly English-language countries of Canada, the UK and Australia. If only 1% of them bought a copy of Dicky's Story, I'd have a 7-figure income from that one book. Just by targetting my publicity efforts more directly.
Free Giveaways Are Not Promotions
No matter what you say about it, giving books away for free is not "promotion," it's a giveaway. There's a distinct difference. Amazon has (mis)used the term "promotion" to make Indie Authors think that offering your book for free is a publicity activity. It's not. I know this from the experience I had with my SciFi books.
Since I had an opportunity to "launch" a new series under a new name, I decided to experiment with what Amazon was telling people to do and I scheduled giveaways, tweeted sales offers, posted on Goodreads, did all of the things people do to move books on Amazon via KDP Select--except enrolling in the Select program. I did it myself using the rest of the internet. I saw the same exact spikes KDP Select authors see--and the same falloff immediately after the free giveaway ended.
So how is it that Dicky's Story moved (both free and for pay, about a 50/50 split) whereas the SciFi books didn't? They all have great reviews so that's not it. I did build a bit of buzz for the initial launch of the first Phoenician Series book (Conditioned Response) and the launch of that book did exceedingly well, moving more copies in the first 30 days than in the year since but there was an other difference. Then when I was giving away When Minds Collide, it moved a few thousand copies in the first 3 months but stopped moving when I started charging a meager 99 cents for it.
In other words, the free stuff moved but did not drive sales. This is what a lot of KDP Select enrolled authors are finding out the hard way. I'm here to tell you, from my own experience, I know what the problem is and it's not the price or the freebie offers. It's the marketing strategy. The Phoenician Series is a brand and instead of launching it, I launched the books, just like Amazon advises its KDP Select authors to do. After all, Amazon sells books, not brands--or rather, they sell their own brand, not ours.
Launching a Brand, Relaunching a Book
Here's how using publicity works, even when you're using a previously-launched book. I'll give you an example from traditional publishing. Anita Diamant wrote The Red Tent which launched in paperback and fizzled overnight, selling only a fraction of the first print run and not even coming close to paying out her advance on it. She was a new, first-time author and it looked like she was going nowhere fast.
Her publisher was about to pulp the book and offered Diamant the chance to purchase her own books at a reduced price (which is what they did in the old days when a book failed to produce numbers; it was a method of an author paying off an advance they were unable to sell through). With a flash of insightful brilliance, Diamant suggested that instead of selling her the leftover books, they send copies to rabbis.
See, the topic of her story was the fictionalized life of Dinah, sister to Joseph of the many-colored coat fame. It was a story of Biblical fiction that would be immedidately popular in the religious Jewish community once Jewish leaders started endorsing it. They got the books--free giveaways--and then endorsed it to their congregants and the book--and Diamant--became a bestseller "overnight." Obviously, it wasn't overnight at all, it was after a terrible failure--a failure to launch. Her success came immediately following a correctly-applied bit of publicity as an author of Jewish Women's Fiction (that's a much-underused but pre-existing category and one in which new titles can succeed with ease if you're looking for a new category in which to write).
So what do you do if your subject matter is too general--or you write about zombies or vampires or some other topic that doesn't have a convenient real-life community spokesperson (like a rabbi) to whom you can send a free copy? The answer is to send a free copy of your book (or at least a press release about it) to a Keystone Placement and be sure your press describes your brand at least as much if not more than the book. You need to have blurbage on the book, sure, but you need to use the book as a vehicle for introducing your brand.
Next week, I'll look at the personal element of starting a publicity campaign and tomorrow, I'll have a new Tuesday Tip for you. I hope to see you then!
Thanks for stopping by!