Interview with Sadia Ash, author of Juniper Smoke
Interviewed by Beth Bruno: freelance book editor and author of Wild Tulips
BETH: Congratulations, Sadia, on the publication of your first novel.
You published a romance novel in 2016 called Juniper Smoke, first as an e-book and three months later in paperback. What marketing approaches have you used?
SADIA: The indie author world is becoming more crowded. There was a time you could publish on Kindle and see immediate results…but now with the oversaturation of indie publishing, it is becoming an extremely crowded place. So in order to stand out, especially in the romance genre, you have to be innovative.
Or, try. I have been stumbling around trying. I use various platforms to promote my debut novel, Juniper Smoke. Social media. Newsletters. Giveaways. A good website. I also placed Facebook paid ads.
BETH: Has most of your marketing been through social media?
SADIA: I mostly use Facebook for social media marketing and found romance reader groups to promote. There are a lot of romance groups, but there are also a lot of authors.
Social media marketing helps to raise brand awareness. You have to stand out. If you have an effective marketing plan…like uniform branding, professional cover, teasers, people register it in their minds and put it on their TBR (to be read) list.
On a side note, I mostly use Facebook. I barely ever use Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. I have heard Pinterest is effective for book marketing, too.
BETH: What were the results of these approaches in terms of actual and potential sales (clicks and email inquiries)? And what about offering a free ebook via Kindle Select?
SADIA: Well, I did end up getting a couple hundred e-books sold just in the first week of the launch date in July. In three months it got to a couple thousand. There were a lot of Kindle unlimited reads as well.
What I was surprised to find out was that my book was not read by my 2000 plus friends on Facebook but by people who were specifically interested in the genre I was writing in, namely Romance. So my real world contacts did not matter. You have to market to readers. The thing that works to make a book go viral is word of mouth by readers.
BETH: You offered free copies of the book. Tell us how that works and how many were requested.
SADIA: I have a street team–a group of Juniper Smoke fans–who spread the word, and they just organically happened. They were strangers to me, bloggers and super readers (some of them read a book a day) and got the ARC copies (Advanced Review Copy mobi file for kindles) and wrote a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Getting reviews on Amazon really helps to get your book noticed.
The ARC reviews helped. A month before the book came out, I sent out 8 and when they read it …I got a lot more interest from their blogger and reader friends and they ended up turning into 100 plus group. 40 posted their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads the day the book came out. Many of them bought the book as well.
The other thing that helped was doing giveaways. Giveaways don’t necessarily always help with sales but it gets you more likes on your Facebook page and TBRs on your Goodreads page.
BETH: You planned a two-day online Book Launch Party. Tell us what that is and how you set it up.
SADIA: We set up the online party on Facebook “Events” by word of mouth and had around 600 attendees. Around 20 big authors, including a few that were New York Times Best Sellers, attended for a half hour for a live chat with readers. The author schedule was posted for all to see. The guest authors talked about their books and did giveaways. For example, I would do a $10 giveaway for an Amazon gift card and ask people a question, such as, their favorite movie from a book, and then ask them to add my book to their Goodreads TBR list.
BETH: Throwing a party online to sell books strikes me as sheer genius! Did you invent this? If not, how did you learn about it?
SADIA: I learned about it when I attended different promotional parties online and did giveaways. Then I did my own party. The online book party came from the enthusiasm of the small but passionate Juniper Smoke fan group who invited all their friends to the party.
BETH: Tell us how the public responded.
SADIA: Readers were very responsive to the party as we made it unique by using bright and iconic graphics. Big readers love getting freebies because they spend so much money on books! They also like interacting with their favorite authors and discovering new ones. Authors get stuck in their own fictional character world and so they like engaging readers.
BETH: Did you have to pay your guest authors to participate?
SADIA: No, absolutely not. It is just a world of collaboration. I also attend other people’s events and do giveaways for their promotion. I think it was good for the authors; they all got a boost as parties help them go up in ranking on Amazon.
BETH: How did you handle the giveaways?
SADIA: So with giveaways we do a Google doc, which makes it easy for people to enter their information and then we can send an ebook or a physical copy to be mailed to their houses.
BETH: What elements of the party produced the best response?
SADIA: There are some star authors and logically their posts got the most response. But readers really enjoy talking about books and what interests them and it is about engaging them in a fun way that involves them.
When you launched the paperback version, you set a low price ($2.99). Now that you have generated a “buzz” about Juniper Smoke, and the number of people who have heard about it and bought it has grown, how will you keep the growth going after you raise your prices?
After I did the $2.99, I made the book free for 5 days right before the paperback came out on October 15th. Currently, I am doing a five day free ebook promotion through Amazon, which is only allowed if you are on KDP.
This helps to get the book in as many hands as possible. Juniper Smoke’s paperback is pricy because it is a 650-page book. I made the price as low as Createspace will allow. I’m going to keep the ebook at $0.99 to get it more traction.
BETH: Do you plan to expand sales via print media, TV and live book talks, and bookstores?
SADIA: I am slowly getting there. I will be speaking at a few local libraries and talking about the missing voice of women in male dominated media like television and film. I ask if the lack of female stories in Hollywood is driving women to their own corners in writing and reading chick-lit?
Only 12% of protagonists in top-grossing films are women. This is not a new phenomenon. I trace the beginnings of females in novels–from S Richardson’s Pamela, jump to Austen, the Brontë sisters, Woolf’s A Room of her Own to now. Not welcome in traditional creative spaces, women created their own spaces and industries. My upcoming historical novel–about the lack of women artists in museums–ties it all together.
Using your own work experience is a good way to sell more books at a local level. For bookstores, I think I need to sell a few more paperbacks before I get traction there. That is a plan for next year. I have been invited to a few book signings but right now with me living on the West Coast it’s hard to travel to the places that I’ve been invited.
BETH: What attention-getting approaches do you plan for these more traditional venues?
SADIA: So, I got a book trailer made with a professional digital graphic designer. It was really well done. A company called Cinespots will be marketing my book, as they thought it had potential. My book trailer will be playing in 180 theaters Across America. Here is the teaser and trailer. (Link)
Juniper Smoke is part of a series. Will you again offer free or reduced prices for the next book in the series? Why or why not?
SADIA: Yes, Juniper Smoke, part 1 & 2 are published together, which is why it’s such a big book. Getting your book out there on reduced prices and free is a good way to expand your reading audience. When part 3 and 4 come out I can offer 1 and 2 for free again. That way they can help drive up sales of the other parts.
BETH: What advice do you have for authors who take on the challenges of doing their own marketing? For some, this is a daunting undertaking. But we all know that learning how to build readership these days is something that authors alone or authors and their publishers do together. If authors are unwilling to take on at least part of this responsibility, their published books are likely to remain in obscurity.
SADIA: Authors are hermits. We like being in our writing caves. We revel in the writing part but we hate the marketing part because the writing part is challenging enough.
–The best way to sell more books is to write more. And write well.
–Marketing begins at writing. And writing is like swimming–the more you do it the better you get. The better your manuscript is, the more likely it is to be picked up by more readers. Don’t rush out and publish your first manuscript. Unless you are a master writer, which is rare, your first manuscript is not going to be perfect. I disposed of three WIP’s (works in progress) to finally write a romance novel that I was somewhat satisfied with.
–On the flip side, nothing sells your book more than writing lots of novels. Especially in the romance genre–because romance readers are voracious readers. There are many writers who write really fast and they get a lot more attention, especially those who turn out a book every 2 or 3 months. I wish I could be that fast. I am more of a plodder, plus I take a lot of time editing and rewriting.
–It’s important to get books professionally edited with an editor like you, Beth.
–I really recommend a quality professional cover. Unless you are a brilliant graphic artist, don’t do a DIY cover. Nothing kills a book launch as much as a badly self-made cover. There are several cover artists who are extremely talented and very reasonable. There are also Facebook groups that do premade covers that are even more reasonable. The cover is the first step to marketing.
–A good way to promote books are different reader book groups on Facebook. Post teasers, engage readers and be polite. Talk, but also listen. Pace yourself and never spam.
–Asking bloggers to read your book is a good strategy as well. The worst that can happen is they can say no.
–Enrolling in Kindle Unlimited helps to get your book read. I get a lot of reads from Kindle unlimited.
–Making a book trailer helps and I got a professional video done.
–Connect with other authors and join author groups online and join conversations about marketing.
–If you can, join a writing conference of professional writers. I attended RWA (Romance Writers of America) and it helped me make a lot of contacts.
George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
Being a newbie author is a painstaking slow marathon, not a sprint. So hang in there.
Beth Bruno is an experienced writer and editor who likes to talk book publishing with her authors.