Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The best and the worst Rachel Abbot has ever done—as a smart author

Businesswoman, author and blogger Rachel Abbott is my latest victim guest contributor. We all know how smart she is: she sold off her business and now lives in bucolic paradise in central Italy.

The author of Only the Innocent, which has held #1 spot on Amazon for a well-deserved long time, Rachel has generously agreed to tell us about the best and the worst she has done in marketing her book.

And naturally, I've written a guest post on her blog, but you should only read that after reading this one.

The Best and the Worst of Marketing Only the Innocent

When I launched Only the Innocent back in November 2011, I had absolutely no idea at all what I was doing. I had this idea in my head that all I had to do was upload a Word document, get a cover designed and that’s it! Bob’s your Uncle—as we Brits say (for some reason that I have never fathomed). It means, for those who don’t know, “You’re all set.”

There were two things wrong with this assumption. I thought that:

• uploading a Word document would be good enough, and

• I could just sit back and wait for the sales to come in.

I’m not going to dwell on the Word document part of the process—that’s a whole other story. The sitting back and waiting for the sales is the crucial bit, and infinitely more interesting. My mistakes were based on false assumptions, and these are just some of them.

In the first week or two I had some good sales. But then I know quite a few people! Most of them, however, don’t actually have Kindles. They just bought my book because they know me, and downloaded it to their computers or phones.

Mistake number 1: Amazon is all about visibility. “Customers who bought X also bought Y” is incredibly valuable, because it begins to show your book to other readers. But my book was being bought by people who had never bought anything for the Kindle, and therefore there were no books to link it to. So within a week of launch, it was disappearing quickly into obscurity.

I knew that I was going to have to do some promotion myself. Again, I’m lucky because I know how to build a website, and I had already got a Twitter account (albeit with only nine followers). So now I knew what had to be done—but I had no idea how to go about it. Nine followers on Twitter? A great way to spread the word, but how could I increase those numbers? I didn’t know. What about reviews? Should I be asking for them, and if so, where from? I didn’t know.

Mistake number 2: Not preparing myself before launch by creating interest in my novel through social networking, blogging, or having an interesting and informative website. A quick impact at time of launch is brilliant, because while your book is still in the “New releases” list, it has increased visibility. So getting it up the charts at that point would have been a really good move, and relatively easy to achieve with some planning.

Once I had the bit between my teeth, I realised what a vast amount of information there was out on the Web for new authors. So many forums, websites, blogs—the list was endless. And so I spent endless hours surfing around … and going nowhere fast. Every day, I would find another 20 or 30 interesting sites, and each one of those led me somewhere else.

Mistake number 3: Mindless surfing—wasting hours finding out loads of stuff, but too much to absorb. Losing pages that seemed interesting because I had branched off somewhere else. Getting lost in all the information and not actually doing anything at all! All I did was poke around finding stuff out, and then did very little.

And then it hit me. I have spent my life running businesses—but I was treating this like a hobby, and a hobby that I wasn’t even very good at. I forced myself into business mode, and then I got it.

Getting it right: I created a plan and a schedule. I allowed myself a certain amount of time for just searching around, because there were so many nuggets of information and I wanted to learn everything I could. But I limited the time for each. And I created bookmark folders so that if I came across something that looked interesting, I could save a link where I would be able to find it later. All the folders had specific names: marketing, publishing, reviews, etc. Not rocket science!

I set out my priorities, made an action list, and allocated time to each priority. My marketing plan was seven pages long, and read like a proposal to senior management. I was 100 percent in business mode.

I identified my sales channels: Amazon; and via Smashwords, Apple, Nook and Kobo. What could I do to influence sales in each of these areas? I looked at how the sites worked and I prioritized. I saw Smashwords as more of a distributor than a sales channel in itself, and that may have been a mistake, but it gave me focus.

I identified my marketing channels: social networking, website, blog, forums. And for each of them, I decided which was most influential, and which I enjoyed the most (very important). Then I created my action plan for each.

I look at the plan now and realise that a lot of it worked out in a completely different way. Twitter is a classic example. I had allowed myself two hours to investigate ways of increasing my followers—and not just any followers, but people who buy books. And thereafter I had allowed myself ten minutes per day to tweet! I spend about ten times that on Twitter each day, because people talk to me and I talk back. I love it! But that’s okay. This is now, that was then.

So get yourself a plan. Monitor the success of each thing you try so that you are learning about what works and what doesn’t.

It worked for me—and I sincerely hope it works for you.

Now that you've read her post, check out her website, where she gives independent authors loads of great insight into the development and publishing of her books, and her blog. And don't forget to buy her book, Only the Innocent.


  1. I'm in a similar position, having uploaded two books to Amazon. It's all very well deciding that I have to publicise myself, but ultimately I can find very few places to do it unless I just leave messages in writers forums.

  2. I understand completely, Roger - I'm in the same place.

    I try to post to writers' forums, too, but as Lori Oster pointed out, we need to get to READERS, not writers.

  3. This was really helpful. The whole marketing thing seems really daunting, but I guess you tackle the elephant one bite at a time :-)

  4. Very interesting! That's exactly what I'm doing right now - trying to build my author platform so I can effectively market my books.
    So, I'm in your campaign group and I've tagged you on my blog! Stop by and visit and grab the questions I have for you! http://theresasmallsneed.blogspot.com ~Theresa Sneed, author of No Angel and its forthcoming prequel, From Heaven to Earth

  5. We're at the beginning of this road ourselves. So glad there are posts like these to help us out. We're in the process of generating interest right now with our daily flash fiction web serial. Wearing a creative and a business hat can be fun--but it sure is daunting!

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm not there yet, but it's good to know what to do once I am. Good luck with your sales and writing.

  7. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post - and thanks to Scott for making it happen. My blog aims to help indie authors who are going through the same process that I did (and I'm still doing) - so I hope it's useful.
    I noted Roger's comment about forums - I think that going into the Amazon and Goodreads forums was one of the best steps I've ever taken. Just a few people I chatted to (other authors) read my book, then started talking about it themselves. They may be writers - but what do we all love to do? Read! They are good friends, now, and have been a terrific source of support, so don't give up on it.

  8. What great advice, Rachel. My book releases in November, and I'm trying hard to figure out the most efficient way to market. Your mention of finding the readers on Twitter is interesting. Where IS the best place to find readers outside of our writing circle? Thanks!

  9. Thanks for the advice. I'm looking for any suggestions and possibilities at this point. My book came out in e-format on Jan. 6th and I am on a 3-month blog tour but then what? I have to figure out how to continue to promote my book.

  10. Great advice I agree, and you do have to treat and nurture the launch of a new book like any other launch of a new business or product - with great care and attention. I do like the ten-minute rule for Twitter, Rachel... although failing miserably at that so far...

  11. Just a word of advice? I'm not actively marketing my books beyond putting them on my blog and mentioning them on Twitter, so I don't have zillions in sales or anything, but here's my thought:

    Don't market to writers. Market to readers. Putting stuff on writers' forums doesn't help. Writers write. Readers read. And readers buy books.

    So instead of haunting writers' forums, create a blog and a twitter account and go out and find readers to engage in and write about interesting stuff (NOT WRITING!) -- write about the kinds of things your readers will want to read on your website.

    I write books about my life, and fiction books. My blogs are about those topics. I almost never talk about writing or read writers' blogs. I also almost never talk about my books. Instead, I just try to write an interesting blog and people find their way to me.

    1. Excellent advice, Briane. It's the simplest rule of marketing, isn't it? know your market. The hard part is finding those customers/readers.

  12. Thank you for sharing! You offer great advice here and very valid points! I've bookmarked this interview :)!

    Much success to you!!

  13. Terry Tyler8:26 AM

    I agree so much with what Briane said. For new followers, I go to a well known author who writes in roughly the same genre as I do. I then follow all her followers. Goodreads is marvellous for this too, because you can add as friends READERS, not just writers. As Briane said, if you actually interact with people because you have things in common, they're much more likely to be interested your books than if you keep shoving links in their faces. I've also joined an FB group for Kindle users - all readers, not authors. I joined it and I use it as a reader. I don't mention my books. As I've become more known on the group, though, a few other people have started to mention them. All this takes time, and getting a whole bunch of new readers doesn't happen overnight. Well, it did for you, Rachel, eventually, but doesn't for most of us, alas!

    The other thing is, of course, Amazon visibility, for which the free promotion was a marvellous thing - although it no longer guarantees the sort of after-promotion in-your-face visibility that it used to, it does help. People have heard your name. For more visibility, generally, though, you need constant new tags, your tags being agreed with, new reviews, new likes - and sales, of course! I totally agree with you, Rachel, about treating it as a business. I used to do the marketing for the last firm I worked for, and very successfully - it's only been very recently that I've started to apply the same ideas to my books!

    Sorry, this comment is probably as long as your article - which was very good, and interesting - thank you!

  14. This is some great insights from everybody. Now I have an idea of how to wrangle my expectations and approaches to self publishing. Preparing for my books debut is just as important as releasing it.

    Many thanks to everyone and best of luck!

  15. This was a very informative blog; a must read. Thanks for writing and sharing it.