Lindsay Buroker is a full-time independent author of fantasy novels. She self-published her first book in 2010, and now has over a dozen titles in the market. An early adopter of price promotions, Lindsay has worked with BookBub numerous times over the past two years, featuring both free and discounted titles. BookBub readers have downloaded over 15,000 copies of her free books, and purchased thousands of discounted copies. She’s generously shared some of her savvy digital marketing insights with us below:
BookBub: How did you decide to self-publish your work rather than trying to sign a deal with a traditional publisher? Have you found self-publishing to be enjoyable? Successful? Challenging?
Lindsay Buroker: I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to waiting for responses from agents and editors (I even get crabby if I have to stand in line for more than a minute at Starbucks), so I had two polished manuscripts sitting on my hard drive for a while before I — with great reluctance — started looking at agent information on the web. What I found wasn’t particularly inspiring (not many folks wanted fantasy, especially the secondary world adventures I like to write). But I stumbled across one website that had nothing to do with agents at all. It was J.A. Konrath’s blog on self-publishing. I don’t think I read more than three posts before realizing that the Kindle had finally made eBooks viable and that this would be perfect for me. No need to wait on anything except for an editor to take a pass and for an artist to design a cover. I had my first book up within four weeks.
I’ve definitely found self-publishing enjoyable, and the speediness of the process has been inspiring too. I’ve gotten my work out there more quickly than I ever could have done with traditional publishing, which meant I got feedback more quickly and built a fan base more quickly too. A year into the journey, I was able to turn this into the full-time job.
BB: You seem to be a very active member of the independent author community on forums and through your own blog. How has engaging with other authors changed or helped your own marketing strategy?
LB: The biggest thing I do is maintain my blog, where I talk about what’s working for me (and often for others) when it comes to marketing. It’s a topic I’m always interested in, of course, and I like sharing what I’m learning.
People always say not to blog for authors if you’re a writer of fiction […] but I’ve had quite a few opportunities come my way because I’m out there where people can find me, and I’m trying to help other writers. People have asked me to guest post on popular blogs, I’ve been invited to participate in group promotions, I got some loving at Kobo, and I would guess that someone at BookBub first plugged my free novel because they had stumbled across my site.
BB: One of your titles, The Emperor’s Edge, is a perma-free book. What’s the rationale behind offering this title for free, and do you still find perma-free to be an effective tool in your book promotions? If so, when would you recommend authors consider making a title perma-free?
LB: I originally made [The Emperor’s Edge] free in the hope that people would be more likely to check it out and buy the other books. That worked well, especially in the pre-Amazon Select days when there weren’t that many free eBooks available in the Kindle store. Though that’s changed, I find having a first book in a series free still works for me, especially when coupled with a promotion.
Marketing aside, I also like that people can try my work at no risk. Since libraries rarely carry eBooks by indie authors, this is sort of an alternative. I’ve gone on to make a couple of other shorter works free, just because.
Would I recommend it to other authors? If it’s the first book in a series, sure. If you’re like me and hate the hard sell, you may find it a lot easier to plug your freebie on Twitter, Facebook, etc. You’re not asking folks to plunk down money, just to take a look and, if it sounds like it’s for them, give it a try.
That said, I’ve seen plenty of people do well and sell lots of books without ever offering a free title. It’s just one more thing to try in the book-promotion world, if it suits your personality and goals.
BB: Do you typically combine your price promotions with broader marketing campaigns, such as blog tours or strategic discounts on your other titles? What do you think is the best way for authors to maximize their exposure while running a promotion?
LB: I haven’t had much luck with blog tours when I’ve tried them in the past. Buying ads on sites with a lot of readers is one of the most effective things I’ve done (I just wish there were more high-volume sites out there like that!), because getting so many downloads in a short period of time can lift you up in the charts where others will see the book. If you’re lucky enough to write in a genre with wide appeal, that may be all you need to take off (I haven’t been that lucky yet, but I’m able to keep my sales fairly stable from month to month, earning enough to pay for those Starbucks lattes and keep me writing).
As far as doing discounts on other titles at the same time as a sale on Book 1, Ed Robertson is the one who convinced me to try that. It can give a boost to sales ranking and visibility for those other titles as well as the one you specifically advertised. Also, it makes sense to discount the early books if you’re doing a sale and promotion of a later title, thus to grab those folks who might be interested but who haven’t read the earlier ones.
BB: Could you tell us about your most recent BookBub listing, which you discussed on your blog? What was the strategy behind promoting this title at this time? Would you be willing to share any of your results?
I talked about using a BookBub promotion as part of a sale/“price pulsing” strategy (I’m not sure if he was the first, but I’m going to credit David Gaughran for coining that term in his book, Let’s Get Visible).
I usually run advertisements on the early books in my series in the months when I’m not releasing anything new. In September, I put out a new novel, so I had a pretty good sales month, but by November, things were petering off, and I wasn’t ready to publish anything new yet, so… promotion time.
Since the first book in my Emperor’s Edge series is free and is the series starting point, it usually makes the most sense to advertise that one. The goal is always to get new people into the series, because naturally I don’t make any money from giving away books.
I ordered a BookBub ad, as I had done before, but wasn’t certain how effective it would be since some of the audience had already seen and downloaded the book. Also, you hear about people downloading freebies, then never getting around to trying them, especially these days with so many options available. I decided to lower the price on the second and third books in my series for a $0.99 sale at the same time as I advertised the first (those books are usually $4.95). I made sure to mention this in the product description for Book 1, figuring that people who downloaded the first and bought the next two would be more likely to check out the novels sooner than those who simply downloaded the first. Sales were good for the whole series for the rest of the month, and I sold a lot of copies of Books 2 & 3 when they were sale-priced.
BB: Over the past year, has the self-publishing marketplace evolved in any noticeable ways? What is your general feeling about the marketplace now?
LB: I think it’s matured and it’s getting harder to find those little tricks to game the system. I was never very good at that anyway, so I don’t mind. There are more books out there than ever, and the big publishers have gotten wise to price pulsing and some of the other strategies that used to give indies an edge. Some people say it’s a lot harder to get started and to make a name for yourself (I joke that I thought the same thing when I started in December 2010 — the easy money had been made, and I was coming in too late!).
That said, I’ve interviewed two authors this year who did great with their debut novels, one writing in historical romance and one writing in epic fantasy, so I know it’s still possible to come out of the starting blocks on fire.
Of course, not everyone kicks butt with their first book. I didn’t. I slowly and gradually built a fan base by writing and releasing more books that some people enjoyed. You don’t have to please everyone to do well as an author these days; you just have to please a core group of readers who will go on to become true fans. If you can do that, you can make a full-time job of this eventually.
BB: Anything else you’d like to share with fellow authors and book marketers would be great!
LB: Even though the marketplace may be more mature, I think there are still going to be lots of opportunities for those who keep their eyes open and pay attention. I’ve definitely had my international sales pick up in the last year, even in markets where English isn’t the first language (hello to my German fantasy readers!), so I’m keeping an eye on foreign markets. Some indie authors have already hired translators, so they can put out foreign-language versions of their works.
Writing good books — and letting people know about them — will always be the best strategy, but it doesn’t hurt to be an early adopter for a new marketing trend either. Even though I’m not a big forum participant, I usually pop into the Writers’ Café on the Kboards every day or two to keep abreast of what’s working for indie authors in this ever-changing digital marketplace. In the end, luck doesn’t hurt, but plenty of successful people will tell you that you make your own luck.
To find out more about Lindsay Buroker, you can visit her website at www.LindsayBuroker.com. The interview above was edited for length.
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