#QuerySwap needs your help
No matter how good your novel is, no one is going to read it if they can’t find it. Marketing can seem like the most daunting task in self-publishing/indie publishing, but it doesn’t have to be. Author Megan Cutler takes us through the three easiest methods to increase your novel’s visibility and ultimately improve your sales.
A Beginner’s Guide to Promoting your Novel
In May of 2014, I decided to self-publish for the first time. It was terrifying. I knew how to write the book and format it, but there my knowledge ended. I did my research, started following other indie authors on twitter and tried to follow their examples. But I had no idea how much I had left to learn.
I did it anyway. Part of me knew that if I didn’t hit that publish button, I was never going to get serious. There would always be some excuse to put off all the learning I had to do. Perhaps there would be an excuse to keep flitting from project to project without ever finishing anything too. So I took the plunge.
I don’t regret that decision, but I do wish I could write a letter to my past self about everything I’ve learned since that day. The next best thing is sharing my knowledge with all of you!
Amazon Categories and Keywords
Once you have an awesome story, book cover, and blurb, you need to figure out how to list your book on Amazon. I’ve spent a lot of time pulling my hair out about categories and keywords and I feel like I’m just starting to get the hang of them.
First things first, you want to find out what category your book fits into. This is harder than it sounds. I was confident my first novel fit under Urban Fantasy, but after talking to other indies, I’ve come to the conclusion it fits better under Fantasy and Adventure. It’s important to know where your book fits because you’re going to want your cover composition to match the most popular covers in your genre. Otherwise, you won’t attract an audience, or you might attract the wrong audience (which could lead to negative reviews).
Readers use keywords to find your book. The trick is finding keywords that get a lot of results (meaning that they’re popular), but few enough results that your book will still rise to the top. The best place to start is Amazon’s guide to keywords; some categories require a specific keyword to get your book listed. After that, you want to make a list of all the terms that might apply to your book. Think about your settings, your character types and roles, your plot themes and your story tones. When you exhaust those, start thinking about what you would search if you were trying to find your book on Google.
With this list, you can start testing Amazon search results. Amazon’s autopopulation function is personalized, but you can still use search results to gauge how popular a search term is. If you hardly get any results, the term probably isn’t going to help people find your book. Likewise, if you get 40,000 results, your book might get lost in the hoard. Take some time determining the best search terms and use those. You can always adjust these later (in fact some people recommend shuffling keywords to reinvigorate sales), and remember that you aren’t limited to single words – you can use phrases.
Building a Newsletter and Street Team
Newsletters are hot right now. The fastest way to connect to your readers about new releases, after all, is having a straight line to their inbox. Many social media platform algorithms restrict the reach of your posts no matter how many followers you have, but nothing can prevent your readers from checking their email.
The best way to get a reader interested in your future work is to give them a taste of what you’ve already written. Many authors offer the first book of a series free to anyone who subscribes to their newsletter. Others will offer a novella that ties in with the series, but isn’t available anywhere else. What you choose to give to your subscribers will be largely based on what you have available – but again, you can always adjust it later.
You want to make your newsletter sign-up link prominent on your author website and your various social media platforms. If you can pin a post, you probably want to make your newsletter the pin. You can also use services like Instafreebie to attract new subscribers; while Instafreebie does charge $20 for direct newsletter integration, you can still use their service for free. Upload a preview of your book, or a short story, with a link to your newsletter sign-up in the front and back. You get a better subscriber rate if you pay, but the service is useful for spreading the word about your work either way. Another great way to grow your list is by doing newsletter swaps with other authors.
Once you have a subscriber base, you can use it to build your street team. This group will help promote your work by building buzz and posting reviews. How you communicate with your street team is up to you; many suggest creating a Facebook group. Start by putting a general call in your newsletter and see who’s interested. You can encourage people to join by offering incentives like review copies of your new releases or opportunities to serve as beta readers for your upcoming projects.
When you’re ready, you’ll want to start building buzz for your release at least a month in advance. Some people recommend starting as early as two months. There are lots of ways to build buzz around your work; you can release a teaser excerpt or the first chapter. You can do a cover reveal, and you can do a giveaway.
Whatever you decide to do, a blog tour is a good way to promote it. The basic idea behind a blog tour is that other authors will show your stuff to their readers, and you return the favor later. Lots of places will organize a blog tour for you for a fee, but you can put one together for yourself if you’re willing to make connections and arrangements.
First, you’ll want to approach authors about hosting your tour. It helps if you have previous connections to them, via social media or participation in other events. Always check the guidelines on the author’s site to make sure you know their guest post policy. You may want to offer to host the other authors on your blog while you’re on tour so the event becomes an exchange. Once you have the dates and places arranged, you want to write a unique post for each stop on the tour (repeat content ranks lower on search engines, so make sure you’ve got a lot of topics reserved for your tour).
If you’ve decided self-published, keep in mind that it’s never too late to implement a new strategy. Book covers, blurbs, and category settings can be tweaked as needed. Your newsletter subscribers will never complain about more free content. Keep meeting new authors and learning from them.
The most important thing is to keep writing. Many authors indicate their sales picked up after releasing several books, especially if they were a series.
Success doesn’t happen overnight so keep at it!
Novel Promotion Links:
(This link does have a product that it suggests using (kindle rocket), but the article is very useful on its own, and really helped me understand the process.)
Muse tamer, character wrangler, creator and destroyer of worlds, Megan Cutler writes the kind of science fiction and fantasy stories she has always enjoyed reading. She grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania and moved to Canada after marrying the love of her life. In 2013 she published her first book, Island of Lost Forevers, the beginning of the Mystical Island Trilogy. She spends her days honing her craft, trying to develop enough ice crystals in her blood to stop feeling the cold during Canadian winters and hoping to appease her characters enough that they will allow her to sleep.
Find Megan at
Island of Lost Forevers Purchase Link:
Many of the first chapters I see have inconsistent characters. A young woman who nearly has a panic attack walking down the stairs with her sleazy fiancé pulls a knife on him not two pages later? A clear example of the needs of the plot driving the character’s actions. This never works.
Characters must react in a similar, predictable pattern
Think about the people in your life. Who would you call when you need a cheerleader? Who would you call when you need a reality check? A shoulder to cry on? While people respond to situations differently, the same person will usually behave in a predictable pattern. A believable character must do the same.
Plan you characters to make them feel real
There are as many ways to plan characters as there are writers: character dossiers, POV essay, character trait sliding scales. I’ve seen an article using the Myers-Briggs personality test. You could even use a which Disney Princess are you chart. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you.
What you must have is a set of characteristics and a clear motivation.
What does my character want?
What is he/she willing to do to get it?
What personality faults are standing in his/her way?
What about discovery writers?
As a fellow panster, I often find my character’s personality seems to shift according to my mood. Some tips:
Have a character sheet handy as you draft. Fill in personality traits as you discover them. The simple act of writing them down will help you remember the next time.
Complete your first draft. Then, go back and fill in your character sheets. Keep this sheet handy for your first edit and reference it often.
My process is messy, but it works for me.
After I complete the draft, I do the first edit from back to front. You read that right. I edit my novels from the final scene and work my way back to the beginning. Why? Editing backwards forces me to consider one scene at a time. I also separate the POV’s, treating each as a separate story. This allows me to focus on one character arc and make sure the chain of causation for that character arc remains unbroken. (It also helps make the voice in the prose distinct.)
What does that mean?
A character arc is nothing more than the character’s journey of discovering and overcoming the personality faults that are preventing him/her from reaching their happiness goal. Every journey must have a logical progression. In other words, if you want a character to have panic attacks at the beginning of her story, and by the end you need her to be a confident fighter, you must show that change in personality through a logical progression of events.
In the movie Inside Out, Joy learns through a process of interactions with the other characters that Sadness is a critical component of mental health. At the beginning of the story, Joy believes that letting Reily feel sadness is harming her, but by the end, she is fighting for Sadness to return. Joy’s outlook has completely changed, but we believe this change because we see the individual events that shape Joy’s worldview.
A dynamic character arc must have a clear chain of causation.
For a reader to believe the changes in your character’s personality, you must show the reader what prompts that character’s change.
Define your character arc
Who is my character now?
Who does my character need to be?
What events will prompt that change?
Do I need a character arc?
Depends on what you are writing.
Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man, Hermione Granger, and other “Superman” type characters don’t have much change in their character arcs. So, if you are writing this type of action story, you will need a clearly defined set of personality traits, rather than a dynamic arc.
But if you are writing a second chance at love romance where the MC has to learn to trust again, the character arc is the entire story.
What to do now
If you have already written your draft, check your character’s reactions throughout
Do they still match?
Are changes prompted by meaningful events or plot convenience?
Does my character have/need a dynamic arc?
If you are in the planning stages
Try a few different methods of character building.
See which appeals to you.
Planning your characters will make them feel more real to your readers. By having consistent traits and/or well-defined arcs, your characters will be more believable, more relatable, and more memorable. Readers will connect with them and ultimately love them as much as you do.
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Breaking your plot chain will turn your novel into a series of random events
There are plenty of great articles about how to construct a good plot. Rising/falling action. Three act structure, etc. With the amount of information available, novice writers can easily get overwhelmed. So take a moment and put your spreadsheets, charts, and bubble diagrams aside. The most common problem I see in plotting is breaking the plot chain.
What is a plot chain?
For a plot to work, it has to be a sequence of related events set up like dominos.
The first event must cause then next one, and if any of the events are removed, the story stops.
Let’s take the movie Inside Out. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Not only because it’s a great movie, but it’s a textbook example of a perfectly constructed plot.) In this movie, the conflict between Joy and Sadness begins right away and is the catalyst for the first plot point. Their fight over the console is the cause for the loss of the core memories, which is the cause for them leaving headquarters, which is the cause their journey back. Every event in this chain is necessary for them to finally return to headquarters.
But what about subplots?
A subplot must relate to the main plot, i.e. it must either spin out from the main plot or (better) begin as a parallel and then tie in. For example, in Inside Out, the character Bing Bong begins as a subplot. His interaction with Sadness isn’t part of the main action. It exists to teach Joy an important lesson, becoming a part of her character arc. If that had been the end of Bing Bong’s story, it would have been ok, but Bing Bong’s subplot eventually ties into the main action at the movie’s climax, making the subplot critical to the main structure and enriching the story.
If a subplot does not relate to the main plot, it doesn’t belong in the story.
It’s fine to have twin plotlines, but they must interplay with each other. A strong character arc (like Joy’s) can also work like a separate plot. Her transformation in the story also follows a chain of causation. What makes it so effective is how her transformation alters the action plot, and how the action affects her character arc. These work as twin plots, but the interplay between them is what makes them effective. If Joy’s transformation didn’t affect her ability to solve her external problem, the story wouldn’t work.
How do I know if I have broken my chain?
The easiest way is to make a list
Plotters/architects should already have one as an outline, but pansters/discovery writers will need to do this step as part of their editing process. Once you have an outline/list, look for cause and effect. In order for the chain to continue the effect must be the cause for the next event.
Joy and Sadness disagree about what’s best for Riley
They fight over the console
They create a sad core memory
Joy tries to stop the new core memory from taking effect
Sadness tries to stop her.
The fight accidently sends Joy, Sadness, and all the core memories to long-term storage
Notice how the effect of the previous event is the cause for the next one. There is a clear chain of causation that leads us from the beginning of the movie to the inciting incident. The other parts of the story: the missing moving van, broccoli pizza, etc. all support the main action by giving context and explaining the reason for the climax of the first act: the formation of a sad core memory. Without the supporting action, we wouldn’t know why Reily is having a hard time in her new environment. These small subplots tie into the main plot. The first act works so well because the main plot chain is never broken.
Once you have your plot chain mapped out, you will easily see common plot problems:
- Plot holes
- Places where the action slows
- Subplots that don’t go anywhere
- Starting in the wrong place.
Once you have streamlined your plot, then you can go back and make sure the action continually rises, has strong pacing, and the plot points fall in the correct positions. (Now you can get your spreadsheets, charts, and markers back out.)
Don’t let a break in the action be the reason a reader puts your book down. Making sure you keep your plot chain intact will keep your reader engaged through your entire story. A good strong plot chain will keep a reader turning the pages. It will keep your characters focused on their goals and make them more compelling to your reader.
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