Mystery Most Cozy is both a website and a Facebook page that’s a great forum to talk about cozy mysteries. Unlike a lot of other sites, it’s not cluttered up with a bunch of self-promotion. I’ve gotten a lot of great recommendations from them. Right now, they’re celebrating TEN YEARS with a series of author interviews, and I was lucky enough to be one of those authors — and yes, one lucky commenter will get the first two books in the Tripping Magazine mystery series (plus I’m going to slip in some other nice surprises). There’s a little more to it than commenting, actually. Here are the instructions.
Your most loyal readers are invested in you, the author.
Pre-internet, “you” consisted of your writing voice, an author photo, and the occasional interview. Now we have the option of engaging our readers with stories of our lives, our writing process, and the interesting things we learn during book research — all of it augmented with pictures, videos, and the opportunity for readers to have a conversation through comments.
This is where short stories have a serious promotional advantage over free books.
I want you to imagine two scenarios of reader engagement.
1) Free Book Offer
You give away your book for a certain period of time. The word goes out over FB, Twitter, through your blog, and if you’re lucky, an aggregator of free book offers. Readers looking for free books click the link to your book. The best of these people first read the description of your book and only acquire if it fits their preferred genre. The worst will read anything, and if it’s not to their taste, they may leave a crappy review on Amazon or B&N (this happens). Because they went directly to the book’s purchase page, there is no need for them to visit your website or learn more about you. If your ebook is being given away through a print publisher, there may not even be a hotlink to your website at the end of the ebook. If there is, it’s often unhandy to surf the Web on a dedicated ebook device.
2) Free Short Story Offer
You give away a short story, set in your series’ universe and with your characters, on your website. The word goes out as before, ideally with a photo that is larger than the average book-cover thumbnail. The reader goes to your website, sees a photo of you, sees the covers and titles of your other books in the sidebar or banner. Ideally, they begin reading the story immediately, because it doesn’t require a big time requirement. You include photos in the text that evoke the location, any featured animals, something that sets a mood. At the bottom, within the text, you include a personal note that says you hope they enjoyed it. They should feel free to pass it on. You encourage them to sign up for your email list, so they know when more free stories come out. Look, the email sign up box is right there on the right, see? And of course, if they liked the story universe, here are links to the first few chapters of your books, with links to buy at the end.
Unlike a temporary free book offer, your short story will always be free.
That blog post will work for you ad infinitum, not for a limited time. Along with other items on your website, that story is searchable, and contains key words that bring readers to your site through Google searches. If you want, you can put your books on sale when you promote a new short story, to sweeten the deal.
I want you to imagine that instead of selling books, we’re selling food.
Let’s say there were as many manufacturers of food products as there are authors, and they came out with new items as often as we come out with new books, and they gave them away for a week at grocery stores. What would happen?
People would never have to buy food again.
When you go to a grocery story, those food demo people aren’t giving away free dinners. No, they give away samples, and often a coupon to buy the full item at a discount.
We should stop giving whole dinners away. Get your readers to your website and give them a free sample. Engage them with photos, stories of your life, and links to free chapters of your other books. Give them the opportunity to buy a book on sale, if you want.
When enough authors give away books, people never have to buy books again.
This blog post is a follow up to My Plea to Self-Published Authors, which talks about ways short stories are better for readers as well as authors, and one author’s success with short stories. I hope you’ll consider passing these articles along, or writing your own post on the benefits of giving away short stories rather than whole books. If you do, send me a link to your post through my Contact Page, so I can pass it around.
Next time, I’ll talk about what Amazon could do to help us sell more books.
Even one day of pricing your ebook at $0.00, multiplied by countless authors, means readers never have to buy a book again.
Hey, I’ve given away books in the past. But then I discovered that, as a reader, I could find enough free ebooks on one Facebook page, in one genre, in one week, to meet my reading needs for the next year. Sure, some of them are dreck, but there are enough enjoyable books to keep my entire family happily reading for free. And this is not a good thing.
There has never been a better time to be an author, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.
The ebook is a revolution right up there with the printing press. For the first time, authors can market and sell directly to consumers. Now, I understand that we don’t have any control over whether Amazon gives our books away. But Amazon provides only a fraction of the freebies out there, and they do a lot of promoting of those authors, so that compensates. Let’s take Amazon off the table and discuss what we can control.
How can new self-published authors promote their work, if not with free stuff?
Write short stories set in your books’ universe, and give those away.
A good author friend of mine, Lynda Hilburn, has had tremendous success with this strategy. Every time she put out a free short story and notified the Kindle boards, all of her books got a bump in sales. She was making serious money on her self-published books – enough that a big-name agent took notice and got her a print offer she couldn’t refuse.
Free short stories instead of books benefit readers, too.
You can judge an author’s voice in the first couple of pages of a book, but you can’t judge their ability to tell a story until you read the whole thing — and readers often wish they had that time back. A short story lets readers know if they like an author in a fraction of the time.
Short stories can be placed outside the time frame of the author’s fictional universe. Let’s say I’m offered a free book, but it’s third in the series. That’s not an ideal situation. I’d prefer to sample the author without any spoilers for books one and two.
The lure of free is too strong.
When Amazon made their free Kindle reading app available, my purchases of books skyrocketed. But when everyone started giving books away in promtions, my purchases plummeted to the few authors I was determined to support. The lure of free books is too strong for most of us. We wind up reading books out of order, moving on to the next free thing instead of buying an author’s other books, and spending a lot of time half-heartedly reading full-length books, trying to decide if we like the story enough to keep going.
So that’s my plea. Give away a sample of your talent, then price the ebook such that readers don’t hesitate to buy — the cost of a nice cup of coffee seems to work well. And of course, giving one book away in a contest, or for charity, is a different thing.
Please spread the word.
The internet is huge. If even a fraction of authors continues to give their books away, we’re screwed. I hope you’ll share this post or write your own. Get the word out.
In body I may be at a conference in Vegas, but in spirit I’m on Lois Winston’s blog, Anastasia Pollack’s Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers, talking about how to construct a local legend. Comment there, and you could win a book! Come say “hi,” so I can continue to tap away on my smartphone while people smarter than me talk in the front of the room.
This is the first book in my favorite mystery series EVER, and you can get it free today (and remember, you don’t need a Kindle device, just download one of their free apps). If you’ve never read one of the Phryne Fisher books, I envy you. You have the whole series ahead of you. Enjoy!
If you’re a Facebook friend, you may have noticed me sharing a lot of posts by Must Read Mysteries. That’s because it’s a great source for ebook mysteries that are reasonably priced or free. Eventually, I got curious — who was behind Must Read Mysteries, how did they find all these great books, and what was the motivation behind this great service? So I sent a message. Here are the answers.
Who are you?
While on the internet I am a man of mystery, at home I am a husband, father of 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 16, and a life long reader of mysteries, especially hard boiled ones. My wife Stephanie, another mystery lover, also contributes to the page, particularly when it comes to the cozy mysteries.
How did you get into this?
One of our favorite things to do is to go to library book sales and find new mysteries to try and fill in some of the holes in our collection. Unfortunately we ended up with a small house bursting at the seams with 4 kids and thousands of books. So we bought a Kindle and started to supplement the income from our real jobs by selling old pulp paperbacks and lots of mysteries on eBay grouped by author, series, and theme. As eBay became less and less seller friendly (making the feedback system meaningless by not allowing sellers to leave negative feedback for buyers even when they did not pay, taking a 9% cut on the cost of shipping) we created our own site, mustreadmysteries.ecrater.com, to sell the used books. To try to drive traffic to it we created the Facebook page and slowly started building a following. Then last summer we were away from home for an extended period of time, and in order to keep the page active I started putting up Amazon links to mysteries I enjoyed or were bargains. It seemed to generate traffic, and Stephanie enlightened me that if I was going to throw up links that we might as well become an Amazon associate and make a few pennies when people actually bought the books. As a bonus it is fun to share the freebies we find with the people following the page. It is a bit like a treasure hunt. So that is what we did and that is how the page came to be what it is today. The income from the links gives us just enough money to feed our mystery reading habits, and now we have a Kindle that is as stuffed with books as our house used to be.
How you find all the books (unless that’s a trade secret)?
There are several ways, but the starting point is using Amazon’s rather robust and varied search and recommendation mechanisms. I also follow several blogs and keep an eye on favorite author’s pages to see when they have sales. More recently authors have started emailing or messaging me to alert me when they have a promotion coming up. I also have been getting ARCs and gifted Kindle books so that we can do reviews. We have been able to get to most of those, but do not guarantee a positive review.
What feedback have you gotten from fans?
The most common feedback is people thanking us for alerting them to books or series that they were not aware of. There are also several recommendations that keep popping up: 1) start doing B&N links for the Nook, 2) start a page focusing on science fiction/fantasy/paranormal books, and 3) start a blog with more detailed reviews, musings, recommendations, and perhaps having authors guest post about some of their favorite books from other authors. Those are good ideas that we will try to incorporate as time permits. We welcome feedback from the community because it helps us find new things that might be of interest to others and help us stay responsive to rapidly changing trends.
What are your opinions on the future of publishing?
The industry is changing rapidly and my opinions tend to change too. In general I am pretty much in the JA Konrath/Barry Eisler camp that the traditional publishing route does not make sense financially for many (though certainly not all) authors. I have found eye opening some of the very open financial pieces written by Konrath compared to similar pieces by a traditionally published authors like Jennifer Stanley/Ellery Adams. The big question now is what the impact of the KDP select plan where authors can have their book be free for 5 days out of 90 at Amazon. Are people going to expect to get everything free and hold off on making purchases? Might they end up with so many books on their Kindles that they stop buying? Libby Fischer Hellmann had an interesting blog post about this recently.
One thing I really like about ebooks is the way it is making short stories and novellas available that might not have otherwise seen the light of day. I know this is particularly true for the more hardboiled crime fiction. I have been having a bunch of fun reading through the shorter pieces from Nigel Bird, Ray Banks, Keith Rawson, Heath Lowrance, James Reasoner, Edward Grainger/David Cranmer, Patti Abbott, Thomas Pluck etc.
Another thing I think about is the change to the used book market. When we first started promoting lots of used books on the Facebook page, there were complaints from several authors that they would not be making royalties on the sales of used books. I think that used books are a great way of introducing readers to authors that they will later buy new, much like a library is, but as ebooks become more dominant this dynamic is going to change, and it should change in a way that authors are going to earn more royalties off of their back list, especially when the rights revert to them. Right now most back list ebook titles are priced too high, and people looking for inexpensive titles might still buy used books. But as prices go down and e-readers more popular people will buy the inexpensive e-books instead, which should mean more royalties for authors.
(After I read all that, I had another question.) Do the kids participate in the business in any way? And do you think it makes them aware of the possibilities of entrepreneurship?
My oldest daughter (16) has contributed a couple of recommendations (Dave Zeltersman’s Julius Katz mysteries for one) and is thinking of doing a similar page for music. So it has definite made her aware of the possibilities. If we do branch out with Sci Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal she would help with that. The 7 year old is a big reader (“How To Train Your Dragon” is current favorite) and the little ones (5 and 2) love having books and being read 2. The 7 year old has the kindle app loaded on his tablet, but it has to compete for time with Angry Birds.
I recently received an invitation to attend the Denver Chihuahua Meetup. Thank you, Jessica! Jessica found me through FB as an author, or maybe I found her as a Chi owner. Regardless, she won my heart forever by buying six of my books to give to friends. Seriously, I want to adopt this woman.
So on the Sunday after we got back from our vacation, I got my act mostly together and drove to Brighton, which has a lot of houses, horses and land, and not much else. To be fair, the horses and houses are both beautiful. The land was flat and covered with snow, so I can’t speak for it.
The Meetup was at Dianne’s house and was a potluck. I brought two bags of Lindor chocolate balls, because Angel Joe was putting up the tin backsplash in the kitchen. Or maybe he was installing drawer glides. Anyway, no cooking was going to happen, because he was busy doing other things, haha.
I got to Dianne’s house 15 minutes early and was met at the door by a sizable pack of Chihuahuas.
“Gosh, everyone must be very punctual,” I thought. Oh, no. Those dogs represented just three people’s pets. The main event was still to come, and before we were through, there were 45 dogs in that house. I’m not sure if that included the puppies in the stroller. Let me digress to say that I’m still thinking fondly of tiny Duke, a long-haired white morsel with black ears and a black patch on his back, who although the size of a dollar bill (and worth about 400 of them), gave me a doggy kiss on my fingers and sat on my lap observing the room.
You should marvel at my strength, ’cause I had a checkbook in my purse.
Speaking of licking, Chiahuahuas love to lick. They particularly love to lick your mouth and up your nose. Perhaps that’s why they’re reputed to be good for asthma. There’s no scientific evidence for that claim, but if you let them have their way, I’m pretty sure they’d rout out your sinuses. You can put on makeup for a Chihuahua Meetup, but you will leave with a pink, shiny nose.
Anyway, I made friends with every dog I could lay my eager hands on, and here are some of their names: Oscar (Jessica’s floofy boy), Tia (pure love), Moses (his hair color parted in the middle), Rhett Butler, Draco (a chubby, jolly redhead who is on a diet),
Angela (naked belly), Bonnie, Charlie (a girl described as “viscious” by the shelter, who only wanted to be in your lap), Poncho, Paco, Paulo (I think there was a Paulo), Iffy (seemed plenty okay to me), Olive Ann, Cricket, Ajax or Alex, Daisy (mom of the pups), Hershey, Lola (“my Queen”), Bobo, Benny and Bob. Violet was beautiful but skittish, in the manner of supermodels. I never got close to her. Harley had one eye, an underbite and a heart condition. He looked like a junkyard bulldog that shrunk in the wash, and was impossibly sweet.
I believe there were people there, too. Someone must have brought the Chihuahuas. I’m kidding. There were lovely people there.
Many of them mentioned a Chihuahua named Zoie who died two months ago. She was clearly much loved.
One of many things that fascinate me about Chihuahuas is how varied their colors, shapes and sizes are.
There were Chihuahuas who were related but looked nothing like each other. Humped backs, straight backs, rounded, bony like greyhounds,
long-haired, short-haired, hair so short the dog looked pink, rounded heads, curly tails,
straight tails, bushy tails when the rest of the dog was short-haired and sleek, stubby snouts, and long snouts like little crocodiles.
There were mixes, too, and one Chinese Chin who thought he was a Chihuahua.
Another thing that impresses is how well Chihuahuas get along. You have to wonder if they schooled like fish when they were in a more wild state. Several of these dogs had never been to a Meetup, some were rescues who hadn’t had much socialization, and it was wonderful to see them start playing with the other dogs. There were a few posturing contests by macho dogs, swiftly quashed by their owners. I would be interested to know how many breed Meetups there are. I’m having difficulty picturing a room full of bull terriers playing together, for example.
So that was my first experience with Chihuahuas en masse, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’m determined to get my hands on Violet.
Just a reminder that I have a free Christmas story available, ‘Twas the Chihuahua Before Christmas.
I downloaded it and uploaded it to my Kindle to read last night. It was such a delightful read. It was nice because it was like getting to laugh along with old friends since I loved these characters in the first novel.
It’s a great short story and I recommend it for people who enjoy reading mysteries, laughing and of course who have a love for dogs (especially Chihuahuas).
You can read the full review here. And you can find Nikki’s very active Facebook page here. I’m on there all the time, to get my fix of cute dog pictures. Bebe is my favorite on most days, but the others give her a run for her money, especially Monte.
And if you’d like to read ‘Twas the Chihuahua Before Christmas, just click the cover.
My guest blog post on Writer Crafts and Cuisine is up on Lois Winston’s site. I had a lot of fun with this tongue-in-cheek post. Not only will one commenter win a hardback copy of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, but I’ll throw in one of the mice and a coaster. Remember, you have to comment there, not here. Have fun!