Please welcome my guest, Jessica Freely!

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Hi, I’m m/m erotic romance author Jessica Freely and I’m guest blogging here today. Thank you, Victoria, for having me over!

I just had a new ebook, Rust Belt, come out last month, so the topic of promotion has been on my mind lately. You know promotion. We’re all supposed to do it, and most of us would rather not. We’re writers. We want to be writing the next book, not pestering innocent bystanders to buy the last one. And yet, you’ll hear it shouted from every rooftop, posted on every wall, and tweeted from every twa– uh, branch: Promotion is an absolute must if you want to be a successful writer these days.

“It’s easier than ever,” the promo mavens crow. And they’re right. Web 2.0 has expanded author promotional opportunities like a sun going nova (can you tell I have an sf background?) With Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, Goodreads, and LinkedIn, not to mention good old blogs, forums and Yahoo! Groups, you can spend your every waking hour networking and promoting your book. And that’s the problem. It’s all too easy to spread yourself across the interwebs in a thin, ineffectual layer, like inadequate frosting on a cake (don’t you hate that?) Promo gurus like Seth Goodin and Jeff Vandermeer are now counseling authors to pick one or two social networks and use them deeply to get the most bang for their buck.

Are there any other strategies for managing promotional activities to maximize effectiveness? Sure! My recent experience with the release of Rust Belt brought home to me how important timing can be, and how combining promotional activities can amplify the results from each. I’d like to share with you what I did, and when, and how it all worked out.

Rust Belt was scheduled to come out on Sept. 22. It’s my fourth book featuring the characters David and Seth, but my first time writing about them for my new publisher, Loose Id. So I wrote the book to stand alone. But as I put the word around that Rust Belt was coming out soon, I started hearing from readers who wanted to read the first two David and Seth short stories, but couldn’t find them. That’s because they went out of print about three months ago.

It seemed to me there was an opportunity here to reward the people who really wanted to read everything I’d written about David and Seth, and simultaneously, beat the drum for Rust Belt. I decided to make those first two short stories available for a limited time only as free downloads on my Yahoo! newsletter group.

A quick word about my newsletter group. I’m an adherent of Seth Goodin’s permission-based approach to marketing, and I subscribe to the 1,000 readers business model, which posits that in order to make a living, an author needs to cultivate a base of devoted readers who will want to buy everything she writes. 1,000 is an arbitrary number, but the point is, the number is finite, and attainable. Those are the two principles upon which I based my Yahoo! newsletter group. People have to sign up for it, so it is voluntary, and I respect my readers’ time by using it strictly for the purpose of announcing new fiction and author events. I look at newsletter group membership as a metric for my progress in cultivating that reader base I’m after.

So, about a week before Rust Belt came out, I uploaded the first story, “Hero,” onto my group’s file’s section. I then sent an announcement to the group that the file was available free for a limited time only, and that the second story, “Stay,” would go up the Friday before Rust Belt‘s release. I also contacted the readers who had written to me directly, and posted about the offer on my blog, my Twitter feed, and several m/m oriented LiveJournal communities and Yahoo! groups that I frequent. Response was solid. Newsletter memberships increased by about 40%.

I repeated the same process on the following Friday when “Stay” went up, and this time response was even stronger and I began to get some messages from people applying, that indicated word of mouth was starting to take place. At this point, I was very happy with my decision to make these stories available to my readers for free, and with my timing in doing so just prior to a related book coming out.

And then, I did a podcast interview with All Romance eBooks on the night before Rust Belt‘s release. This was a stroke of pure luck facilitated by quick action and a willingness to be adaptable. Prior to all of this free download jazz, All Romance eBooks had sent around a list of promo activities available gratis to authors with books for sale with them. One of them was a podcast interview and reading. It was not the most sought after of the opportunities available, so they had openings fairly soon, and I happen to love reading aloud and have a good voice for it. So I jumped at the opportunity and was fortunate that the timing worked out the way it did.

The interview went great (and of course one of the things we talked about was the free download offer), the reading was well received, and when I woke up the next morning, my email inbox was a solid wall of applications to join my newsletter. I was over the moon. Hits to my blog were off the charts on the day of my new release, and people who never would have heard of me otherwise were suddenly very interested in what I was doing, and, they had an opportunity to sample some of it for free.

Rust Belt was one of Loose Id’s best-sellers for the first two weeks of its life, and as for my newsletter memberships, those increased a hefty 550% from where I originally started. Without a doubt, a goodly portion of my success with this venture comes down to pure luck. The interview with All Romance eBooks coming when it did put everything into overdrive. But, even before that, I was experiencing good solid returns on my efforts. And I think there are a few key factors to that. One is timing. Putting the stories out just prior to a related new release created a nice feedback loop where the two events fed each other’s buzz. Staggering the two downloads increased my opportunities for promotion. And most importantly, the stories promoted the new book, and gave people a chance to essentially sample it for free.

Also, and I have no hard evidence for this, just a gut feeling, but I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well if I had simply given “Hero” and “Stay” away on my blog. Making the stories available only to my newsletter group added value to membership in that group, and it also required something of the person who wanted to download the free stories. I didn’t charge them, but they had to request membership, which by Yahoo’s rules requires they write me a note about why they want to join the group (and those notes are a wealth of useful feedback). They also had to provide me with their email address and, essentially, commit to accept announcements from me about new releases in the future. All of these elements combine to make the relationship between myself and the recipients of those free stories a reciprocal one. That’s a more enduring bond than just snagging something for free on some one’s website. And, I was braced for a bunch of people to join, download the stories, and then un-join, but interestingly enough, that hasn’t happened. With one exception, everyone who signed on to the newsletter during the time of my offer has stayed.

This experience has given me a lot of new insights into effective promotion. Maybe one of the most helpful and reassuring is the understanding that promo is not something you have to do, or should do, every day. Constantly flogging a book runs you the risk of becoming white noise. But shorter bursts of concentrated effort, combining different platforms (All Romance eBooks, Twitter, blog, newsletter group) and different events (interview, giveaway) can amplify the results and get you much stronger returns than any one of those things alone.

Incidentally, as of this writing, “Hero” and “Stay” are still up on my newsletter group, but only for a few more weeks. Pretty soon, I’ll have another opportunity to promote all of my David and Seth stories, and my newsletter group, when I announce that the free offer is coming to an end.

Thank you all for joining me today. I hope you’ve found something useful in my account, and, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks again, Vickie, for lending me your blog today!

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Thanks, Jessica! It was great to have you! (And she does have a wonderful speaking voice. I’d totally ask her to read me bedtime stories.)

Related Post: Online Promotion – Is It Worth It?.