My name is Russell Newquist. I am a software engineer, a martial artist, an author, an editor, a businessman and a blogger. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science, but I'm technically a high school dropout. I also think that everything in this paragraph is pretty close to meaningless. I work for a really great small company in Huntsville, Alabama building really cool software. I'm the owner and head instructor of Madison Martial Arts Academy, which I opened in 2013 less to make money and more because I just really enjoy a good martial arts workout with friends. I'm the editor in chief of Silver Empire and also one of the published authors there. And, of course, there is this blog - and all of its predecessors. There's no particular reason you should trust anything I say any more than any other source. So read it, read other stuff, and think for your damn self - if our society hasn't yet over-educated you to the point that you've forgotten how.
There are no men like me. There is only me.
Our Kickstarter campaign for Lyonesse not only met its goal, we very nearly doubled it. We had a plan going in, and we executed it. Still, we could have done several things better. Here’s an analysis of what we did well – and some thoughts on what we could have done better.
First and foremost, Lyonesse’s success never relied on Kickstarter. Our business model is royalty based, not fixed fee. And our projected operational costs are extremely low (and we have some experience doing this sort of thing, so we trust those numbers). We can fund the operational costs out of pocket more or less indefinitely. That’s why we’re giving the Kickstarter proceeds almost entirely to our authors.
If our campaign had failed, we still could have launched Lyonesse. We could have launched without it altogether. We chose to run a campaign not for funding reasons but for marketing reasons – and I firmly believe that’s the true value of Kickstarter. If you have a strong enough brand – and strong enough reach – to raise huge amounts of money via a crowd funding campaign… you can probably raise that money relatively easily in other ways, too.
Our campaign was definitely successful from a marketing standpoint. First, we signed up enough subscribers to make it worthwhile. We reached a large number of people we wouldn’t have otherwise reached. We got substantial signal boost from certain quarters. People are now beginning to take the project quite seriously.
It’s time for a moment of perfect candor. Although we didn’t need the money to launch the project, I would have preferred to raise even more than we did. We’re giving almost all of that money straight to our authors – and they’re fantastic authors who have written amazing stories and they deserve even more than we’ve paid them. But we did an honest assessment of our current fan base and reach and set a goal based on that. We had very high confidence that we could meet our goal.
Because we view crowd funding as a marketing tool, and not a fundraising tool, it was absolutely crucial that we meet our goal. We wanted (and still want!) the public at large to view this project as successful. But even if you don’t look at it that way, meeting your goal is important. Other crowd funding companies are different, but Kickstarter won’t pay you a single cent if you don’t meet your goal.
Warning: you must also set a goal that is enough to meet your needs. We’re lucky. Most publishing gigs these day pay absolute shit to authors. In the long run, we hope to pay them quite a bit more than this. But for now, the bar we had to clear to keep them happy was pretty low. If you’re relying on crowd funding to cover all of your startup costs, however, you’re going to need to ensure that your goal is realistic for that.
You must balance these competing issues. If your audience and reach isn’t enough for you to raise the amount you actually need for your project… it may be time to rethink it.
Get it on your social media. Tell all your friends about it. Send it to your e-mail list. Tell strangers about it. Use everything at your disposal. Marketing your campaign is absolutely critical.
We talked about our campaign on social media a lot. I talked about it on this blog a lot. Quite a few of our friends talked it up and spread the word. Chris Lansdown had me on his YouTube channel. Get the word out.
Hands down the number one problem nearly all small business owners face is that their customers don’t know they exist. And they’ll continue not knowing until you tell them.
We did OK at this. But it’s the area where we could have had the most improvement. There are several avenues of marketing that I didn’t pursue, and more that I didn’t pursue as aggressively as I could or should have. All I can say is that this is a game I’m still learning.
Do the things we didn’t do: enlist more influencers to talk about your project. Get good artwork – and lots of it – for promotion. Consider paying for ads.
We’ve been building our audience at Silver Empire for two years now. It’s still rather small – but it’s far larger than it was at the beginning. Two years ago we couldn’t have run this campaign successfully. But a few days ago we nearly doubled our goal. Timing is everything. Don’t be impatient. Run your campaign when you’re ready to run it.
I wish you the best of luck in your own crowd funding endeavors. It’s a great tool, and it opens up many possibilities. I can’t wait to see what you do with yours!
When I launched “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” as a standalone eBook on Wednesday, I didn’t expect it to go all the way to #1 in its category. But I did plan out the launch ahead of time, applying all the lessons I’ve learned from previous book launches. I did expect a strong launch this time, and it didn’t disappoint!
Since many fellow authors follow this blog, today I will peel back the veil a bit. I’d like to show my friends exactly how I did it. A fellow business owner and I once mused that he and I could do the exact same marketing and it might work for one of us and not the other. Marketing is like that. Even so, hopefully you can put at least some of these tips to use.
The first thing to realize is that this successful book launch didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s been quite a long time in the making. I’ve spent the last year and a half or so helping other authors launch their own books. I’ve left reviews on quite a few books now. I made sure to put those reviews here on this blog, on Amazon, and on GoodReads. I have used social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, to help boost the signal of marketing attempts for several other authors. The upshot is, when it came time to ask for a favor in return, they were ready to do it.
More on that in a minute.
The second most important thing I did was pick the proper categories on Amazon. Some categories are really tough. Others are easy. “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” is a short story, so Amazon helped me automatically her by lumping it into the “Short Reads” parent category. Pro tip: this is one of the easiest categories to reach #1 in. People don’t buy as many short stories as they do novels, so you simply don’t have to move as many units to make it to number one. Take advantage of this. It’s not cheating – it’s just knowing the game. I also used Amazon’s recommended keyword selections to ensure proper subcategory placement. That allowed me to get the story placed in a very specific subcategory, which again made it easier to rise to the top.
Category selection is absolutely critical – don’t neglect it in your book launch.
The third major thing I did was enroll it in KDP Select and set it to have a few days free, beginning the day after launch.
Why the day after? Because you can’t schedule free days until the book is actually live. Also, I picked the launch date and the free days carefully. Today is Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael and the other Archangels. Since my hero, Peter Bishop, wields the flaming sword of St. Michael the Archangel himself, this seemed like a great day to go free. But I wanted some time for buildup, so I didn’t want just one free day. I went for three – the day before, Michaelmas itself, and the day after.
Due to the way Amazon’s sales ranking works, your best bet for rising to the top of a category is to move a lot of books very close to launch day. Therefore, I scheduled the book launch to coincide with this for maximum effect. The algorithm takes sales history into account – so if you’ve got a long history of no sales and then a sudden burst, your sales rank gain is limited. But if you have no prior sales history, then the algorithm works only with the sudden burst. Boom, you get a great ranking.
Get your friends to help – but make it easy for them!
Remember earlier when I said that I had a lot of author friends who were happy to help? I made use of them – and many of my other friends, too. I also made it super easy for them to help. All I asked for was two very small favors. First – and easiest – I asked them to drop by Amazon yesterday morning and pick up a copy of the book. Remember, though, that I’d already made it free. So I’d asked my friends to please pick up a FREE COPY of my book. Hard, right? I got a huge response from all of them, and it really helped.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that that accounts for all of the units moved. It doesn’t. It’s not even a quarter of yesterday’s units – and none of today’s. They helped boost it up the ranks and get seen. My other marketing work, took over from there. But I digress.
The second favor I asked for was reviews – and I made this one easy, too. I asked those who had already read the story to please take a moment to leave an Amazon review of it. This particular story had already been published before in the anthology Make Death Proud to Take Us, and many of my friends had read it. Now, getting reviews from people – even friends – is like pulling teeth. (Yes, this might be a not-so-subtle hint to my friends who have not yet left reviews on any of my works!) I knew I wouldn’t get many – but I did get a small handful. Thank you so much to those who did leave reviews – I love you for it!
Announce it everywhere!
I blasted the announcement all over social media. My Twitter feed, in particular, had a lot more “marketing tweets” in it than I usually like to go for. But I wanted the word out, and it worked.
But the catch here is that I’ve spent all summer carefully building my Twitter audience. I definitely could have done better with an even wider reach, but I have enough of a following now to make an impact – especially when I’m giving something away for free! Also, I’ve spent the summer building relationships on Twitter. So I had several friends retweeting me throughout the day. Some of those friends have much bigger audiences than I do. To each and every one of you who gave me a signal boost yesterday, thank you!
Last but not least, I made use of the Amazon Giveaway in a way I never had before. This time, I made a giveaway for Make Death Proud to Take Us, which also included the short story “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” But in the message for those who didn’t win, I left a note and a link to the free version of the story. I set the giveaway to make people follow me on Twitter… but my goal wasn’t Twitter followers at all. I wanted people to pick up the free story.
How well did that work? I’d estimate that about 1 in 15 to 1 in 20 giveaway entrants went on to pick up the free story. Frankly, a lot of giveaway entrants aren’t interested in your books at all. They just enter every giveaway they see. So the percentage wasn’t huge, but it was enough to help move a few more copies.
I’ll give a more detailed report on the aftermath after there’s been some. The best I can say today is that copies are still moving, albeit at a far lower rate than yesterday. I didn’t hold the number one slot for very long – the current occupant is tenacious. But I’ve sat at number 2 for almost 24 hours now (barring the brief stint at #1). The story has also held on well at #6 in its secondary category, and is still within the top 100 in at least two other categories. That’s going to continue to bring it a lot of visibility it wouldn’t otherwise have had.
If you don’t have a copy yet, stop by Amazon and pick one up. If you did pick it up, read it. I think it’s the best work I’ve yet published. And if you’ve read it, please do leave it an honest review on Amazon. Amazon reviews are the lifeblood of independent authors – help a friend out! Even something as simple as, “I liked it – 5 stars!” is a major boost.
If you liked it, you can find the second Peter Bishop story in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire. That one gets much deeper into the actual world of Peter Bishop. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for my upcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. It’s not technically part of the Tales of Peter Bishop series, but he does guest star in it… and it also happens to contain his origin story. I’m also nearly finished with the next Peter Bishop short story, “Dinner Party.” Imagine Peter – a good Catholic boy – meeting his fiance’s very Baptist parents. Keep in mind that until now, Faith has been a very bad Baptist girl. Hilarity ensues. Plus, there’s a werewolf.
OK, let’s just be blunt – for the purposes of this post, “social media” means Facebook and Twitter. And let’s be even more blunt – don’t even bother with paid advertising on Twitter. Save your money, flush it down the drain, or – if you really must do something with it – send it my way. It’ll do you more good. At least I will say something nice about you for it!
I’ve worked with paid tweets on Twitter over three businesses now. It’s not so much that the results have been poor. It’s that the results have been nonexistent. That’s right: zero, zilch, nada – not a damn thing. Morgon and I experimented a fair amount with them and nothing worked at all.
With that said… I do think that someone with a larger Twitter following could see something from it. Even then, however, I suspect that the ROI would be atrocious. The short answer with Twitter is simple. Don’t waste your money.
Paid advertising on Facebook, on the other hand, has provided results. The ROI is not fantastic, but it’s been better than some other advertising we’ve done. The thing about Facebook’s paid advertising, however, is that you have to be smart about how you use it.
The main reason I think Facebook is more successful than Twitter on this front is because Facebook gives you – the user – far more control. Facebook actually gives you a lot of options. Too many options, in some ways. But what really makes it usable is the controls they give you for ad targeting. Specifically, Facebook gives you three kinds of control that Twitter simply doesn’t.
First, Facebook lets you target ads locally – not just locally, but hyper-locally. I can target ads to a country, state, or city. Nice, right? Or I can target one particular zip code. Or I can even give it a specific address and a radius around that address. For a local business this is phenomenal. I’ve seen research that shows that, on average, 80% of martial arts students pick a dojo within 3 miles of their home. So when I advertise my dojo on Facebook, I target that advertising to a three mile radius of the actual facility. It means I’m not wasting money on ads hitting people a continent away who would never possibly become students anyway. Hyper-local advertising is great.
Second, Facebook lets me specifically target ads to people who have already liked my page. Bonus: it gives me access to a secondary target group: people who are friends with people who have liked my page. This works great for boosted posts on Facebook. Fans of the page like the post early. Then their friends see it in their feed – and Facebook shows them that their friends have already liked the post and/or the page. It does this by name – you get a nice little marker “Russell Newquist and 8 others liked this post.” Preselection is extremely useful in marketing.
Third, Facebook has a lot of information about its users – and it lets you use that in ad targeting. For example, if I’m advertising a youth martial arts class, I can specifically target that ad to Facebook users who are parents. You can target ads in many other ways as well: age, gender, relationship status, language. I’ve had less luck targeting people by “interests,” but the feature is there.
These are just a few ways that I’ve used Facebook’s paid advertising successfully. There’s a lot there to work with – and someone smarter than me can probably make better use of it. I’ve also found that I get far better results for my dojo than I get for my books. However, I suspect that much of that comes from not having yet figured out how to maximize the available features for book sales.
Twitter has some middling location targeting features, and some middling user targeting features. But in the end, it has nothing like this. One partial reason is because Twitter simply doesn’t have this kind of information on its users in the same way that Facebook does. But another reason is that they’re not using what they have anywhere near as well. Is it any wonder Twitter’s stock price continues tanking?