Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Post by Billie Hinton and Dawn Deanna Wilson

Joe sez: If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative.

You can read Constance Phillips and Jenna Rutland and Joe Konrath talking about their paths to publication here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/guest-post-by-constance-phillips-and.html

You can read Ian Kezsbom talking about Fuzzbomb Publishing here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/guest-post-by-ian-kezsbom.html

You can read Gary Ponzo talk about first lines here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/guest-post-by-gary-ponzo.html

You can read Chris Everheart talking about technophobia here:

You can read about Joe Flynn talking about his publishing history here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/guest-post-by-joe-flynn.html

You can read Richard Stooker talking about bestsellers here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/guest-post-by-richard-stooker.html

You can read Nikki M. Pill talking about fear here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/guest-post-by-nikki-pill.html

Now here are Billie Hinton and Dawn Deanna Wilson...

To-may-to, To-mah-to - A discussion about categorizing your novel

BILLIE: Thank you to Tess Gerritsen for creating the Alzheimers fundraiser and to Joe for coming up with a way to make donating both fun and a marketing op. Its a real pleasure to be part of this huge group effort to do some good while talking about our books and the writing/publishing life.

DAWN: We are two North Carolina writers who met at a Weymouth writer residency (where there was a bit of suspense about who stole/ate Billie's chicken salad, but that's another story.) Since then, we have been able to support and encourage each other on this journey, sharing information on what works, what doesn't work, and tweaking things along the way.

BILLIE:  The real suspense was learning how to deal with the Weymouth ghost-in-residence! We had a great and productive time there. We also do some collaborating on a children's picture book series! But back to grown-up books and categories and genre questions. In 2010, I decided to e-publish claire-obscure, (available on Amazon for $3.99), my first novel that was represented by two agents, shopped by one, praised to the high heavens, but didnt sell. While it had been shopped as literary fiction, every editor who read it noted the strong element of psychological suspense. Every reader to that point said they'd "never read anything like it" - so from the beginning there was some question about how to position the book. I felt strongly that the book had an audience. So I decided to publish it myself.

Initially I listed claire-obscure as literary fiction. It sold, but it was slow. Early on in our self-publishing venture Dawn and I each earned what we called latte money.”  Which gradually turned into pizza money and then dinner out money. Around that time, I realized the response from readers had mostly to do with the suspense - and I changed the category to reflect that. Once I changed the category, Pixel of Ink picked it up a few times, downloads went wild, and sales increased. Suddenly, I was earning weekend getaway money and finally horse farm expenses money.

DAWN:  I have had two books traditionally published by small presses and while they did okay, sales eventually stagnated. I never considered self-publishing; as a former newspaper reporter, I knew that self-pubbed books went straight into "file 13" when they arrived in the newsroom, and I still carried that prejudice. Then Billie told me about ebooks and about this wonderfully wild and crazy guy named JA Konrath who was self publishing on Kindle...and succeeding.

When the rights to my second novel, Leaving the Comfort Cafe, (available on Amazon for $3.99), reverted back to me, I changed the cover and self-published on Kindle. I was thrilled just to see things moving again. I had originally pushed the book as literary/southern fiction, but I have found more success with it in the romance market. (Although it isn't a "bodice buster," a love story is a strong element of the novel.) Then Pixel of Ink picked up Cafe, and for a few brief, shining days, I outsold Nicholas Sparks. Suddenly, latte money turned into "I-can-afford-an-iPad-and-a-visit-to-Paris money."  Needless to say, I got the rights back from book #1 (Saint Jude) and put it on Kindle. I didn't even bother shopping my third novel, Ten Thousand New Year's Eves. I published it straight to Kindle.

BILLIE: The weekend Comfort Cafe went viral we were at my house watching numbers. It was crazy! But it became clear that certain genres had a lot more potential for that upward path to the top of the bestseller list. As a writer who had been thinking literary for years, I suddenly realized that part of my job as a self-publisher was to look closely at how my books were labeled and, ultimately, what the best audience really was.

As the first "real reader" reviews came in, it was clear that the high level of suspense paired with good writing and characterization were the most appreciated elements by readers. A smaller but significant number of people noted the erotic element as well.

Right before Christmas this past year sales began to slow down. I continue to find readers who love claire obscure (and Signs That Might Be Omens, book two in what is planned to be a quartet, also available on Amazon for $3.99). I'm in the process of taking yet another look at what I can do to better position my titles to get them into the hands of readers who will appreciate them. Another of my novels, The Meaning of Isolated Objects, ($3.99 on Amazon)) about a father-daughter mixed up with CIA intrigue, has one cross-over character. My brain started ticking along...

DAWN: Well, with Claire, I think it could fit easily into a number of categories. Your characters make cameos in other pieces, don't they?

BILLIE: Since all my adult novels live in the same world, and characters from one book often make cameo appearances in the others, Im starting to see the possibilities. There are three characters in claire-obscure who have their own trilogies, quartets, etc. as works in progress. Finn has the potential to go into thriller/horror. Bingham and Raoul will be solid thriller material. And I get to write about characters I know - but still have a lot of discovery to do in terms of their adventures. I'm starting to view these in-progress novels as retirement investments.

DAWN: You know, I've always liked that aspect, an Easter egg for the readers.  I don't think any of my characters lend themselves to my other books.  I can't see Blythe from Cafe appearing anywhere else unless there's spiked coffee involved. But it does open the door to other categories. Maybe one character's book is more thriller and another more erotica. You then have this tie-in for the reader.

BILLIE: Another thing we've learned is that sometimes the idea for tweaking the categories comes from seeing your book on Amazon best seller lists you haven't considered.

DAWN: One thing that surprised me was that Saint Jude, (available on Amazon for $3.99), which is about a teen with bipolar disorder, kept appearing on the top sales list for NONfiction. I have no idea why. I did NOT categorize it that way and it's clear in the description that it's fiction. Obviously, this is an example of when you would NOT change categories, but it demonstrates how KDP giveaways can lead to sales in unexpected categories.

BILLIE: Exactly. And it gives you information you can use for marketing purposes. Clearly, with St. Jude, readers are finding it when searching for books about bipolar disorder. Until I changed claire-obscure, a few readers were finding it in literary but really honing in on the suspense. Finally I got a clue and started looking at what the readers were saying.

DAWN : I think our books easily fall under literary fiction but I've not seen that label lend itself to sales like the genre labels.  I'm not sure why. Maybe readers hear literary fiction and think it is going to be a long, dense narrative like William " I don't need no stinking commas" Faulkner.

BILLIE: You recently tweaked the categories for Leaving the Comfort Cafe.

DAWN: Yeah, I narrowed it down to romantic comedy. I  felt the general romance category included soooooooo much, from sweet first love to erotica. I was getting lost in the shuffle.

BILLIE: Its a learning curve. Experimenting with each title, finding out how to best position it to find the most readers possible. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that it's not only okay, but necessary, to experiment. (We can thank Joe for that!)

Once again Im looking at genre, category, cover, and product description to see if tweaking these would better position claire-obscure to go bigger. And of course, working on getting the next titles out there.

Which reminds me. Your newest novel, Ten Thousand New Year's Eves, which is my favorite of your books so far, has been through some cover changes recently.

DAWN: Yeah, we're not going to get too much into discussion on covers here, because other posts have handled that so beautifully, emphasizing the importance of professional covers.

BILLIE: I think it's worth repeating that when a cover evokes a certain genre, it helps the book find its best readers.

DAWN: Like my covers for Ten Thousand New Year's Eves (available on Amazon for $3.99) that we are just going to call Dawn's Epic Fail. This is why I'm in the process of getting a cover professionally designed. This book is about dysfunctional people whose lives are intertwined, even though they do not realize it. Because it deals with windows into the lives of different people (and one bomb-sniffing dog), there are a bunch of genre elements, but no one that seems to have more sway than the other. The book is literary fiction, but I don't want to be locked into that category.

Cover one: Good things-- I like the yellow. Bad things-- I don't like the yellow.

BILLIE: I'm just one reader, but to me the book has to do with the whole six degrees of separation idea, and you manage to pull together a group of wildly disconnected characters and show us their quirks and how their paths connect in one very brief period of time. Tricky cover to create - when you first redesigned, you focused on the romantic angle.

DAWN: Yes, because like Cafe, there are some strong romantic themes. Which leads to my Epic Fail Cover #2 which I think makes it look like it all takes place in New York (it doesn't)  and gives an impression of the traditional rom com happy ending.

BILLIE: Aspects of the book are quite dark.

DAWN: Right. So until I do a redesign, I went to cover # 3. Which I'm not sure is a fail, but it captures more of the essence of the story than the the others. We will see.

BILLIE: The bottom line: Don't be afraid to experiment. Pay attention to what the readers are saying when they write reviews and emails. Look where the book is finding readers. It took a great review from Crime Book Beat to make me realize I could stop calling claire-obscure literary. Right now I'm considering re-doing the cover to reflect some of the eroticism. It's the same book it has always been. But in looking at what readers respond to when they read it, I'm positioning it to find more good readers.

DAWN: And if I may gush for a moment, Joe, we sincerely appreciate all you've done, not just your information, but giving back to charities, supporting other writers, etc.  Though we realize there are no more "JA Konrath Visits So Many Bookstores You Think He's in the Matrix" events, if you ever find yourself in in North Carolina, we will treat you to a beer with some of our latte money.

BILLIE: I think we can spring for beer AND pizza. If my new re-design goes viral maybe a trip to Paris?

DAWN: Let's stick to beer and pizza.

Billie Hinton writes novels for adults and children, nonfiction about the writing process and living with equines, as well as the occasional short story. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her husband, two teenagers, two horses, a painted pony, two miniature donkeys, six cats, and two Corgwn. She sees magic happen every single day.

Dawn Deanna Wilson writes YA and adult novels and short stories. She also illustrates children's books and has a small art studio in Eastern North Carolina. She drinks far too much coffee.

For more information, visit their author websites: www.billiehinton.com and www.dawndeannawilson.com

Joe sez: One of my cardinal rules when marketing is asking myself, "What makes me buy a book?"

This rule can and should be extended to searching for things to read. What keywords do you type into the search box on Amazon to find your genre? Do you use "customers also bought"? Do you use genre bestseller lists?

Besides the BISEC categories (how you list your ebooks on Kindle) what are some of the keywords you use in product descriptions to make sure you maximize your title's visibility?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. Let's pool our collective knowledge and learn from each other.