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17 PR & marketing tips for Kindle, iBook and ebook authors

Thanks to the latest Kindle (great piece of kit IMO) – app and hardware – and iBooks, eBooks are finally starting to take off in the same was as MP3s did a few years ago and we’re seeing great stories come out – of the likes of Amanda Hocking and Gordon Ferris, doing great sales digitally. You’ve got newcomers like Mike Howell and his technothrillers – and then there’s the early converts like Charlie Stross and Peter Watts who have been talking about the benefits of digital for years.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing – far from it. One area this is more notable than any other is in digital marketing and PR. And a recent online spat shows how dangerous it can get…

Jacqueline Howett brought out a book recently – The Greek Seaman – and it garnered some OK reviews (I haven’t read it – it doesn’t look like my kind of thing), but a review on Big Al’s site pointed out that while the story was decent, the editing of the book was awful. Typos and grammar issues made it really hard to stick with the flow of the story.

Jacqueline goes on the defensive and before attacking back. Then she becomes the attacked as people go after her and it leads to a bunch of negative reviews on the book’s Amazon site. The short version of all of this is here on the site of Douglas Jackson but the original review and comments are here.

In short, it’s car crash viewing for authors and wannabe’s. There’s also been a suggestion that this is all a stunt for attention, which is possible but I don’t think so.

I can see where Jacqueline is coming from – she’s hurt by the negative comment – and I can sympathise (one of my four books – Football Inc – once had the tagline at the end of the review in The Independent “This is a market and a place for a book like this, sadly this is not that book.”) but she was in the wrong to lash out like she did. Ridiculously so. She’s made herself look unprofessional and this has impacted on her work now with the negative reviews.

Anyway, mixing my author and PR hats, here are some tips for authors who want to put their books online…

  1. Don’t forget a good cover – yes, it’s all digital but in the online stores people can still see a cover and a good cover can sum up a book. It’s an opening picture worth 1000 words. Look at this for example by Brian Frey
    What does that tell you? It’s a book about cars and spaceships. And you’d be right. (It’s also not the final image that will be getting used, but you get the point.)
  2. If you’re writing purely to make money, stop here. The world doesn’t need what you’re writing. It needs writing with passion.
  3. Build up an audience in advance. Have a blog and a Twitter presence and develop your personal Facebook page to be appropriate too. Seek out people who may be interested in what you are writing about and build relationships – that way you are starting to be build brand ambassadors for yourself.
  4. Write in a language you can master the basics of. If English is not your first language, make sure you know it well enough to write a book. If you worry that you can’t, write the book in a short, sharp style – don’t try for flowery prose as that is where you will trip up.
  5. Proof, proof and proof your books. Get someone else to do it as well – don’t rely on computers – because once that book goes out there and is live, that is what you’ll be judged by. Write up a press release too and send that to interested parties. Or hire someone to do that for you.
  6. Send out advance review copies to sites who review copies of ebooks – and ebooks in the same category as yours. Go the extra mile and do something special for them – interviews, audio and so on.
  7. Have a couple of press pics handy that you can host on your site. As always, try and look attractive. Failing that, try and look human.
  8. Remember this: the book is not you. An attack on the book is not an attack on you personally. So don’t take it that way. Walk away from the keyboard and take deep breaths before posting any replies to people who are negative about your book.
  9. Similarly, don’t believe your own press either. If yet get good reviews, brilliant, but don’t start thinking you’re the next Rowling, King, Morrison or whoever.
  10. Handle it all with good grace and humour.
  11. Use Google Alerts to make sure that every time the book is mentioned/reviewed you can pop up and thank the reviewer/take some questions for their readership.
  12. Regardless of how the review turns out, when it appears, thank the reviewer for taking the time to review it. If they liked it, suggest similar works they may like. If they didn’t like it, find out why. Do you have something else you could send them?
  13. You can also ignore the reviewers if you want – Charlie Stross does – but you don’t have an audience so you should look to engage IMO.
  14. Resist the urge to snap at negative reviewers. The reviewer and his followers hold all the power here. At best you’ll come off looking daft but the worst-case scenario could have your writing career sabotaged by people if you piss them off.
  15. Let your local bookstores know about you, so that if they do nights around digital authors they know to invite you.
  16. Similarly, get in touch with your local press, pointing out how many people are doing this now and why you are doing it, what the book is about and so on.
  17. Remember that you are wanting to make a career out of this, not just a one-off, so it’s long-term relationship building.

I know there’s a strange combo of authors and PRs who read this blog, so what advice would you offer to wannabee digital authors?

  1. Anonymous

    What would you rather have? One hundred bad reviews or one good review? If you have one hundred, it proves someone bought your book, even if they didn’t like it. At least (hopefully) they read it. One of my early crime books was recently released on Kindle by my publisher (The Darkness of Bones) and without publicity reached the astronomical number 16 on and 43 on I was totally shocked, having been very sceptical of ebooks, to be honest. In the early days of writing, I read every review of my books, going over the words written. Some were good. Some not so good. The best advice my publisher gave me back then was to take the punches in the nose with the pats on the back. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it doesn’t necessary need to gel with your own (thank goodness). Once you put your work out there, and someone buys it, then stop moaning if they don’t like it. Move on. Hopefully, Jacqueline Howett can move on and not get bogged down on responding to her critics (distinctive from her fans). It’s time consuming, and makes you look petty. As a writer, she will need to quickly grow the skin of a rhino. As a footnote on Gordon Ferris. His book, The Hanging Shed was sent to me to be reviewed on New York Journal of Books. I knew within a few pages, this was something special. He richly deserves the accolades he is receiving.
    Lastly, thank you CM for a very informative article. This should be a must-read by any writer of ebooks (or paper).
    Sam Millar, author.

  2. Lisa Potter

    Useful how not to do it lesson for anyone replying to criticism on the internet, whether you’re an individual or a company.

    She could have come out of the whole thing better if she’d at least acknowledged the positive points of the original review. The old ‘positive-negative-positive’ sandwich would have worked well:

    Thanks for saying the good things about the story and saying how well parts of the descriptive text worked for you.

    I think you may have been looking at an older version, I realised that there were some formatting problems and issued a new version.

    Thanks again for taking the time to review the book, and mention it on your blog.

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