Often Overlooked but Never Overvalued
In this month's writer's blog, we are covering recognition. This step is often overlooked but deserves your attention as a catalyst for sales.
Let's dive into each one - what they are, when to do them, and how to do each.
Endorsements (or testimonials) are the book blurbs that are either on the back and/or front cover, or inside of your book. They are comments from others supporting your book. Since prospective book buyers first look at the front and back covers of books, they will often scan your endorsements. You don't have to have a lot; frankly, they don't have to be from well-known experts, although that does help. A kind quote from others hailing the book's value, what they've learned, or how they've benefited is a great sales pitch on your book (and on your website).
How to cultivating endorsements? As you are writing the book, consider your genre. If you are writing fiction, your target endorsers may be fellow authors in that area or local or national papers or mags that review books. If you are writing nonfiction, seek authors or experts in that field. They don't have to be world-famous. Surf the internet, scan your genre on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Get your list early and start to make contact. Review their book on Amazon. Follow them on social media. Start to comment/ask questions. It will make it that much easier to ask for an endorsement if they actually recognize your name. Also, be sure to consider your friends and family network. Perhaps you know someone who is an author or professor or journalist. Maybe they know someone.
How to pitch for endorsements? I suggest reaching out to a dozen or more prospects. You can pay for endorsements and reviews, but I never have and don't think it's necessary. Send them an email sharing your project, how you know them, and how much you would appreciate an endorsement that you will guarantee will be in the book (if not on the cover, on an inside page toward the front that lists all endorsements). Include your title, table of contents, a sample chapter, and a link to your latest draft manuscript. Advise this is a draft and that you will happily send a complimentary book once published. Also, be sure to include some sample endorsements which they can choose from or modify if they prefer (yes, it's true - most endorsers won't actually read your book. It's a bit sad but that's the biz). Many authors do want to help fellow writers and like to get their name and work out to the public via mention in your book. Include some long shots (famous people), possibilities, and likelys.
When should I seek endorsements? After you have finished your draft and done one or two cursory edits yourself, then bundle up your email and send out your endorsements. You want to receive them to include in your cover and interior formatting and this could take a while. Once you send your pitch emails, give them a few weeks and send a follow up note appreciating their time. If you don't hear anything after that, then assume those won't happen.
How do I follow up? Once you publish, send them a free book with a thank you note. Include all your endorsers on your website and use their quotes in social media. It will help your marketing and they will appreciate the publicity too. Ask if them would like to be part of your book launch team (see our October writer's blog). I like to dedicate one or two of my website blogs each year to recognizing my endorsers and other book resources.
Reviews are ratings (1-5 stars) and comments from readers. Given 70% of all books are sold via Amazon, that is where they are most valuable. Just as you and I check out reviews when buying anything on Amazon, so do book buyers. Some say the magic number is 20-40 reviews to build your credibility and perhaps benefit you via the Amazon algorithm.
How do I get reviews? This is definitely easier said than done. Ask friends, family, fellow writing club members, and especially those who buy your book. You won't know who buys on Amazon, but for those books you sell at events or off your website, be sure to collect their email. Periodically, send a short, gentle note of appreciation for them buying the book. Share with them how reviews help get the word out. Include the link to your Amazon review page so it is quite easy. For those who provided an endorsement, ask them to please leave an Amazon review. They can simply copy their endorsement (which you will include in the email asking for a review) into Amazon. Simple. Less than 5 minutes.
Any warnings? Amazon does guard against family member reviews. Thus, reviews from your same address or Amazon account or with your same last name raise a flag. Also, be sure never to tell potential reviewers to leave you a 4- or 5-star review. If that gets back to Amazon, you may have issues. Merely ask them to leave an honest review.
So what's the big deal? It sounds simple. It is quite frustrating that reviews are so hard to come by. Even with links provided, most people just don't make the time. Do you leave reviews for books you read? But it is worth continuing to make the effort. One at a time, the reviews build and add credibility.
Any follow-up? Yes, often you can email those who leave Amazon reviews and express your appreciation. You may also use those reviews on your website as marketing material.
Book contests are another way to build credibility and enjoy some public recognition.
How do these contests work? Generally, you complete an application form and send a copy of your book (ebook or print depending on their rules) and a fee. Most have an annual deadline for submissions and will advise your status several months later. You may gain no recognition or you may be a finalist or winner, in which case they often will provide a review, some stickers for your book cover, a social media blurb they will issue and you may share, and sometimes they may invite you to a gala to celebrate all winners.
How do I find the contests? You can certainly just Google on book contests. There are many. Some more well-known ones include: Foreward Indies, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), National Indie Excellence Awards, Independent Publisher Book Awards, Nonfiction Authors Association, and Book Cover Designers Awards.
Words of wisdom? Typically hundreds or thousands apply for these contests. I would be selective of the contest(s) you apply for since it takes time and usually costs $75 to $200+ per contest. I typically apply for 3 per book. I consider the genre and scope, cost, and timing. Consider some smaller, perhaps local contests where you have a better chance of winning. A New York Times win is fantastic, but any win is a boost.
What's the timing of contests? If my book is going to publish in February, I'd love to have a chance to win a contest shortly thereafter to help with initial marketing. So if their deadline is the summer and they announce awards in the fall, it really doesn't help my initial marketing very much. Some do offer rolling contests - they will read and review your book within a month or two of submission and award you a gold/silver/bronze sticker (or none at all) shortly thereafter. Don't get your hopes up, but it is quite humbling (and a great marketing boost) to win.
Awards are similar to contests. They can be one and the same. But let's talk about "best seller" status here.
How do you get "best seller" status? It varies considerably. Each publication has different criteria based on sales. USA Today and New York Times are quite challenging to achieve. Amazon is quite different. Their criteria are something like this. You can claim "best seller" status simply by being the #1 seller in your category during a one-hour interval. So if you want that recognition, choose a narrow and less common category and try to get friends and family to buy your book at 2am on a Monday morning. Some marketing/PR companies will even help (and nearly guarantee Amazon best seller status) by triggering their global network to buy your book in that narrow window. You pay for that service, of course, but it may be worth it. I, personally, don't feel that manufacturing an Amazon best seller status is too scrupulous or worthwhile so I pass on this, but to each his/her own.
Keys to Success:
Develop your list of prospective endorsers early and cultivate as you can.
Consider possible awards and contests. Note their submission and award deadlines. Select a few and follow the rules to apply.
Always kindly ask for an Amazon review either when you sell a book or via an email about a month later.
Multipurpose your material. Use book excerpts, endorsements, reviews, and awards on your website & social media.
I will cover how to engage with prospective readers, both face-to-face and online, in September's post.
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