Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Now Somebody Scream

The Newbie's Guide To Publishing Book has been grabbed over 2000 times in the last two weeks. But you couldn't tell by looking at that blog entry, which (at the time of this writing) only has 18 comments.

While feedback is an indicator that people are tuning in, it isn't a precise one. Yet, as writers, we crave feedback on not only our stories, but on our blogs and MySpace and websites.

I'll assume, because you're reading my blog, that you're a writer, and that you'd welcome more feedback. Maybe you want to get comments on your blog. Maybe you want fan mail. Maybe you simply want to know that people are out there, even if they don't even respond.

First issue first, how can you tell people are tuning in?

For download tracking, I use http://www.bfnsoftware.com/, which is free. It requires a bit of HTML knowledge to set up, but once it's up and running you can leave it alone and let it do its thing.

For website and blog hits, I use http://www.statcounter.com/, also free. StatCounter is a great service that not only lets you track hits, both repeat and unique, but also tells you how long the visitor stayed, where they came from, what keywords they used to find you, what browser they viewed you on, and what country they're from, among other things.

For my emailing list, I use http://www.ymlp.com/, which is $160 a year. This allows people to sign up for or remove themselves from my newsletter list, and I can send out 9000 emails just by pressing a button. I've played with other bulk email senders, and found this one to be the best.

If people aren't hitting your site, aren't signing up for your newsletter, I've written extensively on how to drive traffic. Remember to offer free entertainment and information, make sure you have a lot of links going in and coming out, that your metatags are specific, and that you have your URL on your email signature, business cards, and on everything you publish.

But what if you want actual human interaction rather than just a hit counter? What if you want email and comments and feedback? Counters let you know people are tuning in, but actual responses are so much more encouraging.

I'm still not 100% sure why certain things get big responses and others don't. Some of my blog entries have over a hundred comments. Some, under a dozen. I started a second blog over a year ago called The Anonymous Publishing Vent Club, which allowed people in this business to let out steam and point fingers without naming names. I expected it to get a lot of traffic. It did, for a while, but it didn't get any contributors. With no one posting, traffic died.

But I have learned a few things about how to get responses. If you want someone in cyberspace to reach out and touch you, try the following:

Contests. I held writing contests for a few years, until it became too hard to keep up. But it did generate traffic, spawn links, get me mentioned by others, and get me a lot of email. If you're holding a contest, make sure it is for something people actually want. A cash prize works best.

Giveaways. This works even better than contests. Instead of having people jump through hoops to get a freebie, just give it to them. Between the contests and the freebies, I spend over a thousand dollars a year just in postage.

Newsletters. I don't abuse my newsletter list, only sending out one or two a year. Some writers send them out monthly. Some even weekly. I don't believe micro-updates are necessary, and more intrusive than welcome. What do you think?

Bulletins. For instant feedback, nothing beats a MySpace bulletin. Of course, only a small percentage of your friends will respond, so if you want a lot of responses you need a lot of friends.

Polls and Quizzes. I've posted a few quizzes on the Newbie's Blog, and just put a poll on my website because I was getting so many emails about the ending of my new Jack Daniels novel, Fuzzy Navel. People like to do more online than just read, and letting them interact and interface seems to get results.

Asking Questions. Seems obvious, but how often do you ask for readers to respond? If you want people to contact you, ask them to. Encourage this by soliciting their feedback with thoughtful questions, such as "How Many Newsletters Should an Author Send?" Seriously, I want your response on that. One or two a year? Three to eight a year? Once a month? Once a week?

Being Controversial. The blog post that receive the most comments are the ones where people disagree. I love it when people think I'm wrong. Conflict is interesting, and as long as it doesn't devolve into a flame war, differing opinions makes for great reading. Nothing heats up the blogosphere like taking sides on a hot issue.

Again, for any of these to work, you have to make sure that you're providing a good reason for people to visit you in the first place. So many agents and publishers tell authors to get a blog, and so many other tell them not to bother because they don't help. Both are right and wrong.

Online promotion will help, but only if you understand how it works, can set attainable goals, and are able to measure your effectiveness.

Of course, one of the best measures of effectiveness is feedback...

46 comments:

Jude said...

I always like when bloggers have links for del.icio.us (and others) to the bottom of posts -- it is one less step to tag and save the post for future reference. Plus it allows the blogger another measure of how users value their content.

Sera Phyn said...

To answer your "How many newsletters" question, I'd say it depends. Holly Lisle, for example, sends out weekly e-mails and I am always happy to hear from her because every e-mail offers something unique and interesting. She tells us about what she's working on, answers reader e-mails, offers advice for writers and many other things. She also uses the e-mails to advertise her writers courses, but it doesn't seem too much because of how much she's giving for free.

However, if an author is sending out weekly e-mails just to remind everyone that he or she is still out there, that would get annoying. I think the best thing to go by is how much do you have to say? If you can offer enough content to keep it interesting every week, then there will definitely be people who read it.

Lorraine_Bartlett said...

I apologize, Joe. I downloaded the book but haven't had time to really sit down and study any of it. Too busy promoting!

But seriously, it was extremely generous of you to share it with all of us.

Thank you!

Maria said...

Authors should send newsletters when they have news. Twice a year seems just about right, since you asked. I do not want weekly emails from any author that I can think of. (I do visit Holly Lisle's site and she has a wealth of info. She's a generous author and I love her books, but I still don't want emails once a week. She only sends them to people that sign up for them btw, so that isn't a complaint!)

As for feedback and hits...I posted an article on the squash vine borer worm on my website. I do post gardening articles now and then because I love gardening, but since I posted that article, I get 5 to 6 searchs a DAY. This seems rather miraculous to me, but obviously Joe, you are missing out. Real fame will apparently only be accorded to those that post about...worms.

Who knew????

Janet said...

I rarely sign up for newsletters, precisely because I don't want to be bombarded. Whether it's blogs or newsletters, I want it to be worth the time I put into reading it. So I would say, for an author, once a month maximum and only if you have something interesting to say. I don't expect my eventual readers to be interested in every tiny event in my writing life. And I'm not interested in that kind of detail about others either. Entertain me, challenge me, inform me; then I'll listen.

I read your blog...

Rick said...

Here's some feedback.

This blog is my favorite writing/publishing blog and is one of the few such blogs I have not unsubscribed from. I like it for the publishing and writing tips of course, but also for the style in which it's written. I like blogs, such as this one, that post infrequently (but regularly) but with high quality posts.

That said, don't expect to turn me into a customer of your books. I haven't read fiction since they made me do so in high school 25+ years ago. But rest assured I would send someone your way if I knew they liked your genre.

Regarding newsletters, I'm not a fan. Why not just put the info on the blog and make sure your blog allows for subscribing to RSS by email? There's lots of disagreement on this though (check out this recent post on problogger : http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/07/16/when-should-you-add-a-newsletter-to-your-blog/).

P.S. The Newbie's Guide To Publishing ebook sits on my desktop -- I'm just wondering when I'll get the time to read it.

Jamie Ford said...

I was one of the 2000. Plus I mentioned it to a few other writer friends...

A great resource, generously posted. Thanks again.

AstonWest said...

With a novella coming out in September, I need to learn a lot about driving traffic and the promotional train...yikes!

M. R. B. said...

I read your blog via RSS. I'm not sure how that shows up in your stats counters, or if it does.

Regarding feedback, like you said, it's unpredictable. I've had posts on technical subjects or downloads that were the no. 1 search result in Google, had huge amounts of visits or downloads, and nary a peep. I can only guess that what people were finding was working for them. I think more often people tend to comment when they find information they have a problem with.

I guess it's like public speaking. Even if nobody has any questions or comments, you can look out there (through your tracking utilities) and see that you do have an audience, and yeah, they seem to be paying attention.

As a reader, I do very little commenting because I do most of my reading through RSS, which means that I have to load a page up in my browser and fill out forms to say something. It's not really worth the effort just to say "Hey, nice work." Though I should probably say it more often, since everyone likes to be appreciated.

So: Nice work, JA Konrath. I enjoy your blog and read regularly, and it's what initially introduced me to your books. Thank you for the download too. You really impress me with how generous you are with your time and knowledge and I'm very grateful.

worldphotos4 said...

Joe, I'm the squirrel guy. You know what I'm talking about. I thought I wanted to be a writer at one time, but realized I'm a reader. I enjoy your blog, though I'm no longer trying to break-in. Good on you.

Basil Sands said...

JA,
Good point about the number comments vs. number of visitors. I have been podcasting a couple of audio thriller novels and a short story action series from my website for about 18 months. Due to the low response from listeners via comments and donations I assumed there wasn't a whole lot of listernship out there. Then Podiobooks.com switched the way their feed reports on the libsyn hosting agent and WHAMO! I suddenly discover that my files have been downloaded over 100,000 times. Only about 0.05 percent of my listeners actually commented, the rest just enjoyed the story and moved along.

I don't mind, being that they are obviously passing the word, but a bit of conversation would be nice.

Now if only I could convince an agent that the world likes my stuff...hmmm any ideas?

Basil Sands
www.basilsands.com

James Goodman, Author said...

Great post, Joe. I'm a horrible lurker. I check your blog often and read every new post, but I rarely comment. I'll try to remedy that for future offerings. :D

Robin Bayne said...

I have to agree on the "conflict" thing-- it really tends to bring out the lurkers on any blog.

Catherine J Gardner said...

I admit I am amazed that I get any comments at all.

Some good ideas here.

Fyreflixie said...

Hey there, just wanted to drop a quick thank you for the free e-book! I'm looking forward to reading it over the next little while and I anticipate it being hugely helpful.

Um, insofar as newsletters... I agree with sera phyn. If what you're sending out has substance and personality in it, it could come every week and I'd be happy to see it in my inbox to peruse while drinking a mug of tea. On the other hand, if it's just a newsletter being sent out for the sake of saying hi, well ... I don't even like when my mom calls with nothing to say, why would I want someone I don't even know in real life sending e-mails that say nothing?

Lisa said...

Good tips all. A couple that have worked for me -

Submit your blogs to admins of websites and media hosts who deal with similar topics. If one of them will link, you'll generate more traffic.

Don't over-promote your blog on forums but do make sure readers know it's available. If people think you're just there to push your own agenda, they'll shut down. If they think you're an active participant, they'll take a gander.

Make sure you enjoy what you write about. When it becomes a chore for you, it will feel like a chore to read.

Be faithful with posts. Leave your blog dormant and readers will tire of visiting.

Offer insights, tips, and useful material but shake it up. Offer a variety to keep readers coming back for something new.

Be funny if it comes natural to you. People like to laugh, and if you can make them smile, they'll have a positive response to your blog.

chocolab said...

One of the things that got me to Joes Blog, was the fact that from the start his site was pretty straight forward. I've said i'm blind, I won't keep going on about that, otherwise I think he'll use me in the next book he writes as some murder victim. :-) I remember being very surprised he had emailed me back, and every little comment about how well his site is, or an idea I've given him has been taken with politeness. As for the newsletters, I for one can't get enough of his writing style, he's very real. sorry Joe, I know you're reading this, I don't mean to talk as though you aren't. I wonder if you do write more newsletters if a contest can be done with just them. Maybe asking something like what was one of the things that killled Lorna Cork. I'll download that free ebook soon.

Martin said...

Yet another great post, Joe.

As far as how I found the blog the first time, it was Joe's books. I loved the humor and wanted to know more about the guy.

I'd like to say that's the only solution, but the fact is there's a lot of pricks out there with massive daily hits.

My tack is, like the song from the old Doris Day show, What will be will be. Do your thing for you, and if someone else enjoys it, more the better.

Jude Hardin said...

You can email me every day if you want to, Joe. ;)

J.D. Rhodes has some interesting thoughts about marketing and blogging here.

Jenna said...

I haven't posted a comment on the original post yet because I'm still reading the pdf. It's not exactly a short document... =)
Jenna's blog

Caryn Caldwell said...

Great hints here! Right now I don't have much leeway to add extra stat counters to my blog (my host forbids any use of javascript) but I already have a domain, and as soon as I have my own hosting I'll be adding stat counters. As for newsletters, I rarely sign up for them, and when I do it's because I want to know when an author has a new book coming out or if something major has happened. Otherwise, if I want more info I'll visit their blog (if they have one) or website. So, really, my preference is for contact only if something big is happening.

ben said...

Joe, here is my 4 Cents...yeah...it's worth more then 2.

For blogging, I just can't get enough of your posts. If you posted everyday, I would read them.

As for newsletter, I wouldn't mind a 4 times a year, or somewhere in that ballpark.

As for your books, I wished they came out monthly...(hint hint...keep them coming brother!)

Also...I've said this before, but please keep the writing tips coming more often...you have a great way to make people understand...Do I smell a newbies guide to writing?

Sherryl said...

I downloaded the e-book - thanks, Joe. I've read some already. You are extremely generous, and because I've been reading your blog for a while, I know there's going to be some great stuff in there.
I like your style and tone - no-nonsense and practical. Yes, you're also promoting your books, but it's the information on writing and publishing I like and value.

Frederick Smith said...

Thanks so much for the e-book! I downloaded it... and I also linked to it on my blog. You're awesome for sharing with us!
fs

Susie McCray's On the Scene said...

I think about four newsletters a year is a good amount.

I'm one of those 2000 people that downloaded the Newbie's Guide, I did a little review on my blog if you're interested.

To show my appreciation I have linked to your blog from my blog, to your website from my website, and you are my new MySpace BFF.

Basil Sands said...

I am about half way through your Newbies Guide...man is it long...but interesting. I have taken heart and been encouraged to try a few new avenues to getting published out of it too. Depression had started to settle it's mantle over me as, after four books and scores of rejections I am still only giving my stuff away as free podcasts and not getting publishers knocking my doors down. But then I read of your ten books before the doors came down and actually found that most encouraging word ringing in my ears...eventually.

So in other words...and many of them...thanks Joe.

Now back to trudging along the publication path... ;-)

Basil

Anonymous said...

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #33,278 in Books

After less than a month on shelves. Pretty sad.

JA Konrath said...

Pretty sad.

It sure is. But maybe someday you'll grow a pair and won't have to post anonymously. I doubt it, but hope springs eternal.

As for my rank, apparently you haven't read my posts about Amazon to understand what the numbers mean and how much of an impact they have on overall sales.

Thanks for watching my numbers so carefully, though. Perhaps someday you'll have a life and not have to worry so much about mine. :)

Basil Sands said...

Anonymous 4:18....

You got any books out there to compare with? Just curious...

sounds like jealousy brewing there...

Jules Viernes said...

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JA Konrath said...

Maybe it's time to start killing anonymous posts again...

gdtownshende said...

Newsletters? I've never subscribed to any newsletters put out by an author, but I'd say quarterly or semi-annually should be sufficient.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for watching my numbers so carefully, though. Perhaps someday you'll have a life and not have to worry so much about mine.

Yeah, it took up most of my day to glance over at Amazon and then mention it here.

Anonymous said...

But maybe someday you'll grow a pair and won't have to post anonymously. I doubt it, but hope springs eternal.

It occurs to me that you don't care about the truths I point out, you only want to know who I am. What's your point?

Jude Hardin said...

Maybe it's time to start killing anonymous posts again...

What? No trolls? No spam? How dare you!

I just went to Amazon and read the first chapter of Fuzzy Navel, and I think it's great. I'm totally hooked. The vast majority of customer reviews are five stars, which is way better than a certain NYT bestseller I happen to be reading at the moment. The book sure seems like a winner to me. I'm ordering my copy now. Maybe you should too, Mr. Anon.

Anonymous said...

It also occurs to me that you were right. I don't have testicles.

Anonymous said...

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #42,488 in Books, after less than a month on shelves.

I stand corrected. Endless self-promotion really does pay off.

Anonymous said...

And now your Amazon rank is #1,934,999.

But at least you probably bathe. I don't bathe. I don't see the need to. No one comes over anyway.

I'm very sad and lonely.

Maybe I'll go check your rank again, see if it changed.

JA Konrath said...

Yeah, I think I need to kill anonymous posts for a while...

Basil Sands said...

I bathe...but in buttermilk and cheese...that draws attention....

on the off day's I bathe in Kimchi...gotta wear plastic shorts on those days though...otherwise...oww.

Of course I have no ranking on Amazon at all...

Basil

Basil Sands said...

On a serious note though, I would have to say that any author who gets published by a recognized, real life publishing house via an agent or self or whatever has accomplished a major task...whether they are ranked at Amazon's #1 or #1.9 million.

Having been banging my head for nearly two years trying to get in print I have respect for Joe and all the rest. Someday I'll be joining that rank...
;-)
Basil

JA Konrath said...

Amazon numbers don't mean much, Basil.

That said, I'm pretty pleased with mine.

I've heard that Amazon accoutns for at most 10% of book sales. From my research, if your rank is above 100,000 you're selling a few copies a day.

So let's say a rank of 50,000 means the book is selling 3 books a day on Amazon. That's 30 books a day nationwide (as Amazon is only 10% of all sales), or about 200 a week.

If I've got five books on Amazon all ranked 100,000 or less, and they're each selling at 200 books a week, I'm selling 1000 books a week.

Assuming most of those are paperbacks, at a royalty rate of 8%, that's about $30,000 a year in royalties, which is money above and beyond advance dollars for new contracts.

Basil Sands said...

If your books are turning royalties, Then you've done what you set out to do.

If anony-whiner wants to make a point...get published and beat everyone else on the list, then they'll have a foundation on which to stand.

Me...I'm still stuck with giving my stuff away.

sarah pekkanen said...

Great post, as usual. As for newsletters, I love getting monthly newsletters from authors I like, but many of those authors don't blog. The tracking info is great for those of us just getting our websites together. thanks!

How Publishing Really Works said...

What a fabulous blog this is! If it's OK with you, I'll link to it from mine.

And now I'm off to download the PDF and spend my afternoon reading. Thank you!

Jane

James Simpson said...

Thanks for making a Newbie's Guide to Publishing available as a download, a wealth of information. Thank you very much,

James Simpson