Book Marketing Tactic: Engage readers in a survey

One of the things sales and marketing folks know is that getting a potential customer engaged on ANY level is a win. If you can get someone to accept a free sample, it’s a starting point. Even getting someone to open an envelope to check out a coupon is one step forward, because once they have taken the time to do that, they will want to make good on that investment and use the coupon. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them a question.

Which door will you choose?
Using a survey to engage potential readers

Imagine for a moment that someone walks by you in the bookstore. You say, “Hey, buddy, you looking for a good book?”

His eyes light up a little, and he nods. “Got any recommendations?”

“What kind of story do you like? Adventure, romance, mystery?”

“Adventure!” he says.

“Okay,” you reply, leaning closer. “Adventure on the high seas, or above the clouds in an airship? Outer space or on horseback?”

He stares into the distance for a moment. “Airship.”

“You’ve got it!” You pull a stack of books out and say, “One last question: Stand alone book or a trilogy?”

He grabs the stack of three with the matching cover designs and BAM. You’ve made a sale.

A real-life example from Orbit books


I get emails from Orbit, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group, and one of them was an invitation to take this survey. It is short, fun and to the point. You answer just 3-4 questions and it selects a book to recommend to you. For the impatient, the “Show me everything” button leads to a list of all the books available (not nearly as fun as taking the survey, but it’s good way to cater to other personality types rather than losing them completely).

During the survey you may experience the following feelings, as a consumer:

  • Enjoyment of the entertaining questions and answers (they are fun, not boring)
  • Delighted surprise as you consider questions you may not have even thought to ask yourself (“How much world-building do you enjoy?”)
  • A sense of control over your own destiny
  • Anticipation and curiosity as you wait to see what will be recommended (why would they ask, “Are you afraid of heights?”)

Why it works

What makes this survey an effective book marketing tactic?

The positive emotional experience during the survey offers the potential reader a subliminal promise: “You will enjoy the book, too!” You invited them, they accepted, and they enjoyed themselves. They begin to trust you as a reliable source for entertainment.


What better time for someone to read your book blurb and decide to buy? They are already mildly stimulated and happy from the mini-adventure of selecting the sort of story they want to experience. If they need a little extra push, there are some more fun promises on the results page, hints about the type of story and what the reader may expect to enjoy. In the example above, there’s a strong female protagonist, a high body count, some magic, demons and fresh themes for the genre.

Check out the survey yourself. Imagine partnering with a select group of other authors whose books provide enough variety (within the overall umbrella of speculative fiction) that you could provide some fun questions and help readers pick something they’re in the mood for. Or, if the books you have authored are of sufficient variety and numbers, you could populate the recommendations entirely with your own work.

Have you seen other fun book marketing tactics that you’d like to try? Tell us about them in the comments!

Winter Hiatus and PDF of Author Marketing Self-Assessment Analysis

The holidays and post-NaNoWriMo daze are upon us. Give yourself a break, relax with family and friends. Or if this is the time when you finally get quiet to yourself to write or plan for the coming year, browse through the posts you’ve been too busy to participate on and drop some comments on the blog or do the assignments.

Gifts from me to you

My first gift to you is to remove two weekly items from your inbox for the rest of December. I’ll be suspending posts until after the New Year.

self-assessment-analysis-pdf-thumbnailMeanwhile, for your convenience and as a bonus gift, here’s a link to download a printable version of the full author marketing self-assessment analysis (a 10-page PDF). Reading it in three separate posts is nice when you want bite-sized chunks, but printing it out for offline reading or future reference is handy, too.

A season of joy… and hope!

May all the hope and joy and peace of the season be yours.

And come December 18… I hope we all will enjoy the awakening of the Force! (Please, please, please be a good movie!)


Author Marketing Journey: Assessment Quiz Analysis – Part 3

Concluding our series on the author marketing and publishing journey, we examine the answers to quiz questions 5-8. If you missed the original 8-point assessment quiz or Part 1 and Part 2, take a moment to review them. This post is most useful if you use it to analyze your answers to the quiz.

Once more, I treat you to quotes from Miles Vorkosigan, the protagonist of Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Miles is a master strategist, but too impulsive for his own good. His most brilliant strategies tend to arise out of the need to escape some ridiculous trouble he thrust himself into.


5. Completed work next steps

If you took the quiz, you know what you need to do with your finished piece. What are you waiting for? If you have something finished, take the next step. Hint: Usually, that means showing it to someone. Whether you need a critique partner, a beta reader, an editor, an agent, publisher, book cover, etc, get it. If there’s a decision that must be made (where to submit it, whether or not to self-publish, etc), make it. Move forward.

6. Overall career next steps

The strategies listed above may have given you some insight to where you are and what to focus on next. Also check your answer from the quiz: what did you think you most needed to do next? Put it into context by framing it in a timeline. What do you want to accomplish by the end of the coming year? What about the next three years? Five? Research proves that writing down and scheduling goals makes them more likely to be achieved. Having a written plan can be as simple as:

This coming year: Finish my novel. Write three short stories. Submit something to at least six places for publication (or if self-publishing, publish at least one item somewhere).

3 years: Have at least 5 published works out. Have a solid author brand. All my tools in place to build my platform. Have 2-3 authors friends who are committed to sharing the journey together and encouraging each other. Have 3-5 influencers that I’m building relationships with.

Don’t over-complicate it. But do write it down. And as you come across articles that give you insight about next steps or specific strategies and tactics to use, jot them down. Keep it all in a folder, and review it at least quarterly, if not monthly. [Star Wars voice:] Stay on target, stay on target…

7. Greatest obstacles

We all have things that get in the way of where we want to go. Remember, you are the hero of your story. What do heroes do? Sit around and let obstacles stop them? Nope! I guarantee there is an answer out there.

Tackle your top three problems head-on (lack of time? feeling overwhelmed? don’t know what to do next? etc). Schedule time every week (even if it’s just 10 minutes) to explore solutions. There are great blogs out there dealing with any topic you can imagine. Even if your obstacle isn’t something you can change (you might have a chronic illness or limited time, etc), there are things you can do to move forward. Find solutions. Do them. It might not be easy — but it is that simple.

Stay encouraged: even if your progress is slow, celebrate each step forward. I’ve said it before and I’ll never stop: Find friends that will encourage you, inform you, support you. Sometimes it takes years to find the right friends: so start now and never give up searching. Which leads us to the final piece:

the-vor-game-bujold-quote-future-subordinate8. Greatest assets

Besides your work itself, your greatest assets are people. There are three types of relationships we focus on here:

  • Fellow writers (both those who are in a similar place on the author journey and those who are ahead of you)
  • Mentors (teachers, editors, agents, other voices of wisdom in your life)
  • Influencers (readers and those who influence readers)

The quiz asked you to list three people or groups that you have in your corner. Cultivate those relationships. If you don’t have three, go out and find them. Ideally, build relationships with people in each group listed above.

A writer’s group, a Facebook group, and fellow writer friends will provide mutual encouragement, ideas and accountability. Mentors can be people you know, but may also be voices of wisdom and insight that you find online or in writing how-to books. Gurus like James Scott Bell, Seth Godin, Kristen Lamb, Steven Pressfield — anybody whose teaching on how to write and market your books resonates with you. Read their work and do it. Repost their articles and ask them questions on social media. They may not be close, personal friends but your writing journey can be propelled by their insights if you pro-actively apply their advice.

In today’s highly connected world, publishing involves relationships above all. This is true of nearly all kinds of business and marketing now. You don’t have to be an extrovert to have good relationships. But remember that any good relationship does need attention to stay healthy. Seeing your writing tasks through the lens of relationship can be enlightening. Writing drafts = a relationship with the characters, with your beta readers, with your critique partners. Marketing = a relationship with fellow authors and your readers and their influencers. Your body of work = a relationship with the world and the generations to come. Food for thought, eh?

The traditional ways people practice relationships are being challenged and reshaped by the technology we have today. How does one have a relationship with 10,000 of one’s greatest fans (Twitter) or 500 of one’s closest friends (Facebook)? Find what works for you, but most of all: Never underestimate the power of relationship.


This 3-part series (originally drafted as a monster 2,800+ word post) has turned into a master resource that you can use and re-use over time. Bookmark it, pin it, print it out — share it with your spec fic writer friends. Review these eight areas of your author business regularly. Point yourself in the right direction, and gun it.

Or walk it.

Just move forward. That’s the thing.

And now my brain is echoing with that gem from Firefly’s “The Message” episode: “When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that… you find someone to carry you…” Here’s to the #SpecFicCollective community, and our commitment to running, crawling… and carrying each other. 


To which I might add: Don’t make me shoot you to finally get you where you’re trying to go.

Author Marketing Journey: Assessment Quiz Analysis – Part 2

Continuing our series on the author marketing and publishing journey, we examine the answers to quiz questions 3-4. If you missed the original 8-point assessment quiz or Part 1, take a moment to review them. This post is most helpful if you use it to analyze your answers to the quiz and get ideas for what to focus your efforts on right here, right now.

Also continuing to share my love for Miles Vorkosigan and his universe…

3. Type of work

Mostly short stories – If your finished works are mostly short stories, but you’d like to write novels, put some effort towards finishing that first novel. However, there’s a new opportunity available to authors who love the short story form: today’s publishing landscape is wide open for those who want to make (or supplement) a career with short fiction. Today’s mobile readers want stories-to-go, so you could publish with flash fiction magazines, and/or sell your own anthologies of short fiction. In other words, if you like the short story form, don’t feel like a second-class citizen. You don’t have to write a novel. There’s a global shortage (in my opinion) of truly great short fiction authors. This could be your time to shine.

Mostly novellas – The novella is a sweet spot in today’s publishing landscape. Readers love it because it’s a quick injection of entertainment, perfect for their busy lives. Most readers are content to pay the same amount for a good novella as they do for a cheaply-priced novel. There are opportunities available for wider recognition if you target a well-known contest (although contests aren’t always your best bet) or partner with some other authors to create a collection of works that would please readers in your genre (a boxed set, a bundle, an anthology, etc). That said, you might consider taking the leap and writing a full-fledged novel.

Mostly novels – If you have focused primarily on novels, consider supplementing this work with some short stories or novellas. Novels take longer to put together, even if you are quick and prolific. Putting out shorter works (whether as a reward for joining your mailing list, for sale, or as freebies to your loyal followers) in between releases of your novels will keep your name in front of your audience. They also provide entry points for new readers. A proven strategy is to use free short stories to introduce readers to the characters and setting of your novels; the reader that gets hooked on your hero in a short story is likely to click “buy” on the novel. Especially if you link to the novel at the end of the story.

4. Upcoming releases

If you did the 8-question quiz, you have a list of your works-in-progress (WIPs). Now look at each one and consider the following:

  • What is unique about the setting of the story? When writing speculative fiction, the story world is half (or more) of the appeal of any given story. Think about the futurescape of The Fifth Element and Bladerunner. Remember the fantasyscape of Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland. The wonder of Niven’s Ringworld and Pratchett’s Discworld.
  • What are the engaging aspects of your character’s personalities? What are their day jobs? What is the trouble they become embroiled in?
  • What themes or premise does your story explore?

Take each of the above, and think about ways to intrigue people with glimpses of your upcoming release(s). People joke about movie trailers that start with “In a world where…” but it’s an effective way to intrigue people. If you have art skills, you could draw things related to your story (characters, places, creatures, etc). If you don’t, you could browse Deviantart or Pinterest and find things similar to your world or characters.

People relate to others with similar jobs and are intrigued by others with exotic jobs. If your hero is a coffee shop barista, talk about the drink he invented; if she’s an aspiring actress, start casting her in upcoming movies; if he’s a hunter of monsters that stalk the night, tell us his favorite monster-free vacation spots or pet peeves about night-stalking. If she struggles with PTSD or nightmares or back trouble, share articles on the topic.

Tip: Sometimes we get story-blindness and don’t see the cool things about our own characters and stories. Find a creative friend (they don’t even have to be a writer, just someone with great ideas who enjoys movies or stories) and brainstorm with them. Tell them about your story and show them the above ideas and get their feedback; two brains are better than one! If you have a writer’s group, do this together. 5-10 minutes for each author, around the room, and you’ll have a ton of ideas!

Bonus fun: Check out this compilation of trailer voice-overs by the late Don LaFontaine, often credited with being the voice of modern American movie trailers.

To Be Continued… Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel.


Author Marketing Journey: Assessment Quiz Analysis – Part 1

Last week we posted an 8-question quiz to help you assess where you are in your author journey. The publishing landscape is complex and ever-changing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In fact, when I finished drafting the quiz analysis, the post was almost 3,000 words long! That’s a lot for one sitting. (If only I could have added that to my NaNoWriMo wordcount. *le sigh*)

So I’ve broken the quiz analysis into three posts. Once you’ve got your list of answers from the quiz, analyze them with the suggestions in these posts to determine your primary focus for where you are right here, right now.

Forward momentum + right direction = Win

During this series, we’re going to take some inspiration from Miles Vorkosigan. He is the master of forward momentum. What this means is that I don’t have any gorgeous movie photos to share with you, so I’m going to use book covers and quotes. It may look a little like advertisements, and yes, I actually link to the books on Amazon. But it’s not some nefarious scheme to fund this blog via referral micro-payments (ha!) or to make any authors feel left out because I’m not quoting their books (wait your turn!). It’s simply because this is my blog and Miles is my favorite protagonist of all time (so far), and because I hope you’ll enjoy the quotes.

The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

1. Publication status

Unpublished – Your number one goal is to WRITE. This may seem obvious, but as you probably know by now, it’s easy to get distracted. Depending on how much time you have available, you may add 1) developing your author brand and 2) networking with other authors and influencers in your genre(s) to your plate. But do not add anything else unless you are actually writing on a consistent basis. And when I say “write”, I mean:

  • write a novel
  • write short stories, flash fiction, screenplays, graphic novel scripts, etc
  • read books in your genre and analyze them (notice your favorite parts, think about how the plot works and why you enjoy the characters)
  • copy your favorite passages of books in your genre (your brain will absorb the writing differently when you type it out than when you read it)
  • read books on the writing craft; actually DO the exercises in them
  • attend writing classes, workshops, conferences
  • participate in a writing group, online or offline; critique others and be critiqued
  • if your goal is traditional or indie publishing, learn and practice writing queries and proposals and such
  • submit your work: to agents, to publishers, to beta readers, to contests, to magazines, to anthologies, etc
  • in other words, grow your skills by both study and practice

Self-published / Indie press published / Traditionally published/ Magazine published – Once you are published, it’s very important that whomever reads your work can connect with you and that you (ideally) collect their email addresses for future marketing efforts. The number one thing: get a website of your own. Even if it’s only one page, that’s enough to share your author brand and connect with your reader. Choose your social media account(s) and maintain at least a nominal presence. This is the same across all forms of publishing. I’m always disappointed when I read a great piece of flash fiction in a magazine and the author doesn’t have a website or social media account. There’s no way for me to read more of their work.

2. Number of published works

This is, perhaps, the most influential factor when an author is deciding where to spend his or her time. The recommendations below are based on the shared experiences of many, many veteran writers who are navigating the unexplored regions of the modern publishing ‘verse. Names who have come from all walks of publishing: Bob Mayer, Dean Wesley Smith, Seth Godin, Joanna Penn, Sean Platt, JA Konrath, Michael Hyatt, CJ Lyons, Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki and many, many more. Feel free to do your own reading and develop your own plan. But if we sat down to coffee, you and I, this is what I’d tell you.warriors-apprentice-bujold-quote-cry-on-breasts

1-2 published works – KEEP WRITING (see “Unpublished” above). You have something out, and that’s great. But you need more momentum. Develop your author brand, but stay focused on getting more work published. Finish your trilogy. Put out a novella, some short stories. Build your resume. The goal is that when a reader finds you and likes your work, they will have enough to read that they can transition from reader to fan.

3-5 published works – SHIFT SOME FOCUS TOWARDS YOUR AUTHOR BRAND. Spend at least 20% of your “writing career time” figuring out your brand, getting some copy written about yourself and your books, developing visual materials that reflect your brand, interacting on social media with the intention of building that brand and gathering followers. Network with other authors, especially those whose audiences are compatible with yours. KEEP WRITING. You still need more published before you look like an established author with a body of work, so don’t stop writing. Spend 80% of your time continuing to produce your work.

6-10 published works – GET SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR AUTHOR BRAND. Get that brand/platform thing figured out. If you’ve been putting it off, stop procrastinating. You need a brand, you need an online presence that reflects it across multiple social media outposts, and you need to identify and put into play some strategies for 1) bringing in traffic likely to be your target audience and 2) converting that traffic into loyal followers and 3) moving those followers to buy your books and become raving fans that do your marketing for you.

10+ published works – REST ON YOUR LAURELS. You heard me, your work here is done. OF COURSE I’M KIDDING, SILLY! Did you know, there are authors who published over 500 books in their career? Isaac Asimov, for one! If you are enjoying what you’re doing, keep doing it. However, I would recommend thinking hard about where you want to go from here. Do you love the writing process best? Or do you want to spend more time getting to know your readership and enjoying relationships with people who love your work? Look at your body of work so far and decide what you would like to add to the collection. More of the same? Or shifting gears towards something you’ve always wanted to write but hesitated to try? Decide some career goals (measured financially, by number of books sold, or by numbers of books written, or some other factor — you pick!) and go for them. If you are going to continue to write, then all of the above items mentioned for people with fewer published works applies to you, too. If you don’t already have an author brand, online presence, etc, get that done.

BONUS TIP: 3+ published works & overwhelmed by marketing – If you don’t understand online marketing and feel overwhelmed and confused when you try to research it on your own, MAKE FRIENDS with some people who “get it” and who have the ability to point you in the right direction. When I say “make friends”, I mean anything from reading their blog and commenting with your questions to actually inviting them out to coffee if you live nearby. Don’t be a pest, but step out boldly and ask some questions. Then DO something they recommend. Thinking about marketing never does a thing. DOING it — trying something, seeing how it goes, trying something else (or more likely, doing the same thing consistently for a year or two) — is what gets results.

To Be Continued… Next week!