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June 2015

By now many of you know that I began my career as a self-published author, and that one of the reasons (if not the reason) my first novel (Perfect on Paper) got picked up by a publisher was because of all the grass-roots marketing I did to get it noticed. (Click here to check out my webinar explaining exactly what I did.)


One key component of my marketing campaign was to apply for awards. I knew that with awards comes credibility, and I was right! Perfect on Paper won almost all the awards for which I applied. That helped open doors to organizations such as book clubs, which led to more positive reviews, which led to speaking engagements, which helped open more doors, etc. That's the thing about marketing - it's all about getting one thing to lead to another. You never know what's going to work, so you have to keep trying a lot of things.


While some of the awards Perfect on Paper won are no longer around, here are some still available to indie authors:


National Indie Excellence Book Awards


Independent Publisher Book Awards


USA Best Book Awards


eLit Book Awards


Global eBook Awards


This article lists some more.


Applying for awards takes time (and sometimes money, depending on whether or not there's an entry fee), but I can say from personal experience that if you win, it's worth it! And even if you don't win, going through the process of applying for an award is a good experience because it shows you the importance of presenting your work in the best light, from the description and cover design to the manuscript itself.


You can also use the materials you prepare for an award application for other marketing purposes, such as reaching out to book clubs, newsletters, alumni magazines, etc. Now get applying!


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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at


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Using Book Awards to Market

Book Marketing Is a Numbers Game

3,715 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, marketing, author, writing, book_awards, promotions

Tick. Tock. That is the sound of suspense. In real life, deadlines are points on the calendar that are, more often than not, sources of anxiety. As an example, April 15 is a "taxing" day for a lot of Americans. It's a race against the clock that many don't look forward to running. In the suspense novel, a time-sensitive plot device is almost imperative. The reader is drawn deeper into the story as each tick of the imaginary clock sounds out on the page.


Here are four tips to writing a "race against the clock" thriller:

  1. The deadline should be clear. Don't be ambiguous. Readers have to feel time running out. That can only happen if they know the time frame that your characters are dealing with.

  2. Give the readers a sense of where the story is in relation to the deadline from chapter to chapter. Be careful that you're not too on-the-nose with your references to how much time is left. It can feel like you're spoon-feeding your readers. Find a way to let them feel the pressure of another hour or day passing without resolution.

  3. Make the consequences for not meeting the deadline clear. If readers know the price of failure, they will feel more invested in the story.

  4. Your characters should have to suffer personally for their pursuit to meet the deadline. They should be so desperate that they will step outside of their normal behavior to beat the clock. It has to mean that much to them.


Writing a story with a time-sensitive plot device is a blast. If you do your job right, it can be a blast for your readers as well.


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Elements of a Page-turner

Mystery, Thriller, or Suspense?

2,511 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, triller

I know this is a blog in which we usually talk about writing novels, but allow me to use a movie as an example to illustrate my point that stories don't always need a twist to be entertaining. Imagine if you will, there are three astronauts on a mission to the moon, but their spacecraft is damaged en route, and not only does the mission have to be scrubbed, but the chances of getting the astronauts home safely are slim to none. Now stop imagining it because you don't have to. It actually happened, and Hollywood made a movie about it.


Think about it. While what happened on the Apollo 13 mission to the moon was enthralling, it was a well-known story that had been recounted in great detail in books and the media. How did they make something so well documented seem like a story that had never been told?


They focused on character. We got to know the folks at mission control. We got to know the families of the astronauts, and they even humanized the larger-than-life characters of the astronauts themselves to make them more relatable. They took the known events of the failed mission and built the tension around the actions and reactions of the folks involved. As an audience, we weren't wondering what would happen. We were wondering how it would happen. It is a tale without a twist, but it is a tale full of suspense. That is a neat trick.


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Defining Characters through Action, Not Description

Character Development Lessons from Breaking Bad

2,862 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, author, self-publishing, writers, writing, characters, character_development, author_tips, author_advice, authro

A few weeks ago I received a nice email from a reader of my blog named Tanja. She had recently self-published a book and had a brief, specific question for me about contacting reviewers. (I appreciated that because I get a lot of emails that simply ask "How should I market my book?")


She and I chatted a bit, and she asked if I would have a look at the first few pages of her book on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature. In our conversation she had mentioned that she planned to buy some of my books, so I figured I would check out hers in return. However, I immediately noticed some big grammatical errors, so I stopped reading. I was hesitant to tell her, but I decided to be honest.


Her response? She was extremely gracious and appreciative. She explained that she'd had the entire manuscript professionally edited except for the initial pages I'd read, which she had tweaked slightly and forgotten to send back to the editor. She said she would correct the mistakes immediately.


My response? I told her I wanted to write a blog post about her response.


The last time I encountered a similar situation, the (many) errors I encountered were in the author's bio on Amazon. However, when I pointed them out and explained that they made me wary of reading his book, his less-than-gracious reply was along the lines of "no one reads author bios anyway." Thus my joy at this recent experience.


I hope you will check out Tanja's book, Heroes and Heroines, Stories of Love. I think she deserves a little love herself for allowing me to use her errors as the basis for this post. That takes courage!


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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at


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Why Grammar Matters

When YOU'RE Writing Marketing Materials, Be Careful with YOUR Grammar

2,984 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, books, editing, author, writing

Welcome to the wonderful world of the author pitch, that tool in your brand-building arsenal where you get to talk about yourself in a glowing and weighty manner. I know, yuck, right? There are enough megalomaniacs out there tooting their own horns on social media. We don't need to add one more braggart to the mix, right? No, we certainly don't, but when you're a brand, you have to present your credentials. So, obviously the answer is to present your indie publishing achievements humbly and with palpable reluctance, right?


As it turns out, that's not the correct approach either. According to a Harvard study, the humblebrag - an attempt to tout one's own achievements using self-deprecation as a way to hide the fact that you are trying to draw attention to your accomplishments - is an ineffective tool to build a brand. The social media citizenry has caught on to the tactic, they see it for what it is and they are not amused. In fact, it could do more harm to your brand than good.


The study suggests that outright bragging is more acceptable than the humble, awe-shucks, announcement. Personally, I'm not comfortable with boasting about my achievements even though it is the preferable approach. Fortunately, there is a middle ground. There is the gracious method where you present your accomplishments to enhance your brand and make your author pitch pitch-worthy. Be straightforward with a touch of just how thankful you are for the acknowledgment.


As an example, which sounds better?


  • I don't know how, but I've managed to win a lot of awards here and there.

  • I've won a lot of awards.

  • I'm grateful to have received numerous awards over the years.


I think most people are drawn to gracious winners, so in my mind the third option, the one that features gratitude, is a way to work achievements into your author pitch without alienating friends, fans and followers.


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Zen and the Author Brand

Be Authentic to Build Your Brand

6,226 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, marketing, author, writing, promotions, author_pitch

You own real estate. Even if you don't own a home or land, you have a place that you can call your own. That place is your author platform; those virtual areas online where you spend your time building your brand, and a blog or website are more than likely part of your brand portfolio.


If you do maintain a blog or website (or both), you essentially have parcels of virtual space that you can use strategically. Each page on the Internet can be divided into areas of worth, and the currency we're dealing with here is attention. Where do visitors direct most of their attention when they visit a website or blog? Here are two key pieces of information to keep in mind that researchers have discovered as far as how people view webpages:


  1. The left side of the page gets more attention than the right.

  2. The top of the page does not have greater value than the bottom of the page. In fact, one company ran a test by placing their "call to action" button on the upper right of the screen on one version of their website, and then they created a second version of their website with the "call to action" button on the bottom left of the page. The bottom left version got significantly more clicks than the top right.


You want to place your essential piece of information on the left side of the page, top or bottom, it doesn't particularly matter. For someone building an author brand in today's hyper-interactive world, your most important piece of information is your contact information. How are your readers and fans going to be able to reach out to you and create a virtual relationship with you? How can they become an active part of your community? Whether you use Twitter, Facebook, e-mail or other as your primary communication tool, make sure the contact information for that tool holds a prominent place on your blog or website.


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.




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The Three Planks of Your Author Platform

An Active Author Brand

3,117 Views 9 Comments Permalink Tags: author, biography, branding, social_media, author_brand, author_advice, contact_information

In last week's post, Book Marketing Is a Numbers Game, I discussed how important it is to cast a wide net when reaching out to people and organizations about your book. Today I'd like to address the difference a personal touch can make once you've established contact with an individual who has agreed to help you in some way.


Several weeks ago I received a donation request from a woman I consider a casual friend. She was entering a bike race for charity, so I chipped in some money. A day or so later I received an e-mail from her and was excited to catch up a bit because I hadn't seen her in over a year. However, when I opened the message I was disappointed to realize it was a short, generic thank-you for my support. There was nothing personal in the message. And you know what? It made me feel a little used. Maybe that's childish on my part, but it's how I felt, and most likely I won't donate to her event next year.


Whenever I receive a message from someone about my books, whether it's to let me know one will be featured in a newsletter, book club, review, etc., or just to tell me they've enjoyed reading them, I make a point of replying with a personal note. (If you've ever contacted me through my website, you will know this is true.) It's important to me that my fans know how much I value their support, and that's hard to do with a generic auto-reply.


Keep this in mind as you approach your book marketing. It's completely fine to use stock copy about your book, but personalizing the messages even a little bit will make a big difference to the recipient. If you respect and appreciate people, people will respect and appreciate you back!


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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at


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The Power of a Personal Connection

Remember to Say Thank You

2,898 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, books, marketing, author, writing


Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jun 15, 2015

We all want to sneak up on a reader, to give them an unexpected turn in a tale that leaves them floored, emotionally spent and elated all at once. It's what's known as a twist in the publishing biz, and it's a target that is hard to hit.


There's no magic formula for setting up a plot to end in a twist. The most obvious piece of advice I've received over the years is to avoid just that, the obvious. But, as I have learned writing and rewriting book after book, it's not that simple. Writing a twist takes a great deal of finesse. Here are some general rules of thumb to observe as you construct your grand twist.


  1. It can't come out of the blue: You can't expect your readers to accept the unexpected unless there's a logical path that has been secretly leading them to that conclusion. Revealing Bill as the killer only works if he has had some role in the story other than the killer. If Bill only shows up in the last chapter to claim the mantel of murderer, that's not much of a twist. If Bill plays a minor role and makes frequent innocuous appearances throughout the story, casting him as the killer could be a welcomed surprise.

  2. Temper the foreshadowing: Making it obvious that the perpetrator possesses special knowledge that only a skilled outdoorsman would know is fine, but referring to someone's role as an Eagle Scout as nonessential information to their role in the story is a dead giveaway that he will, in the end, be the guilty party. Some foreshadowing is necessary, but too much dilutes your twist.

  3. Avoid the obvious: I know I just said it's not that simple, and it's not, but avoiding the obvious is still a piece of the "twist" puzzle. As you develop your plot, come up with the most obvious ending to your story. Write it down. Keep it near your computer. Read it every day as a reminder of the route you don't want to take.

  4. Some people won't see it coming, others will: You aren't going to surprise everyone, and you'll most likely hear from either extreme of the twist spectrum. People who were totally surprised will be eager to seek you out and let you know. Unfortunately, people who weren't surprised at all will do the same thing. People love to be surprised almost as much as they love to be right.


Twists are lovely little story devices. The best way to master the art of the unexpected is to read as much as you can and write even more.


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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A Satisfactory Ending

When Writing, Don't Outsmart Yourself

3,582 Views 16 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, unexpected_turn, foreshadowing

The Author Press Kit

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jun 10, 2015

The media - that entity that exists to bring the public news and information has grown in scope and membership over the years. It's no surprise that technology has drastically changed what we consider to be media. The term used to be reserved for an elite few that dominated the airwaves and print domain. Now, anyone with a computer and access to the internet has a chance to be a major voice in the media.


As much as things have changed, things have remained relatively unchanged in one aspect. When you're an author looking for media coverage, you need to eliminate the leg work for members of the media, and direct them to a ready-made press kit that gives them all the information they need. Here is a list of five plus one items for your online press kit. I call it a five plus one because five of the items are essential, while the plus one is a bonus item that is bound to capture the media's attention, if done right.



  1. Press release for the book: There are a number of tutorials online that show you how to write a press release, but if it's something you don't want to take on yourself, you can always find a press release writing service.
  2. Sample chapter: It doesn't have to be your first chapter. It should be your strongest bit of writing.
  3. One-sentence pitch: If you can sum up your book in one concise sentence, I think you'll find that it will be your strongest selling tool.
  4. Author bio: Make it relevant to your role as a writer. If you don't have a lot of writing experience, demonstrate your writing talent by coming up with a unique and clever bio that will put a smile on the reader's face. My first bio simply said, "R.W. Ridley lives in Charleston, SC with his beautiful wife, a hyperactive dog, three arrogant cats, and one ugly mortgage." I got a lot of great responses to that particular bio.
  5. Author Photo & Book Cover Image: Make sure that both your author photo and your book cover are professional-grade in quality. The media will judge you by the appearance of both.



Plus One - Video Pitch: Today's online media craves video content. If you are comfortable in front of the camera, clean yourself up and record a media pitch. Talk about the book and yourself, and show them that you've got personality. If you're not comfortable in front of the camera, practice, practice, practice until you are. It will make your life that much easier in an online world increasingly driven by video content.



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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.





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Build Your Brand with Video Readings

Lights, Camera, Smile!

9,401 Views 4 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, author, self-publishing, promotion, video, writers, publishing, writing, pitch, press_release, promotions, social_media, marketing_ideas, marketing_strategy

I often say that it's important to make it easy for people to help you promote your book. One great way to do that is to offer to send them a free copy! I know that sounds obvious, but given how many emails I receive from indie authors asking me to review their books without offering to send me one, I think it is worth repeating. (I've also said many times here that I don't review books, so now I'm wondering if anyone is actually reading my blog. Hmm....)


Anyhow, when reaching out to people/organizations with news about your book, offering to send a copy isn't required, but I highly recommend it. You never know what might happen if the right person reads your book - and loves it!


Some examples:


  • Alumni magazine of your alma mater
  • Regional alumni clubs of your alma mater (and their newsletters and book clubs)
  • Fraternity/sorority national magazine
  • Fraternity/sorority regional alumni clubs (and their newsletters and book clubs)
  • Local newspapers
  • Other book club organizers ( is a great way to find them)


While "gifting" a book to an e-reader is possible, I much prefer sending a signed physical copy along with an old-fashioned note. This way the recipient's experience is much more personal. And who doesn't love receiving a package in the mail? Note: when sending books from the post office, be sure to request the book postage rate. It's much cheaper that way.


In my personal experience, it's much easier to ignore a book on my e-reader than one on my desk or nightstand. Plus, a signed book is special, period. So there's another reason to go the old-fashioned route if I hadn't already convinced you.


Now get signing - and sending!


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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at


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Watch for Errors in Marketing Materials

How to Help the Author in Your Life

12,791 Views 7 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, marketing, author, writing, promotions

In our world as novelists, we create collections of events, plots, subplots, and conflicts. We lay out a complicated track of incidences that send the reader in many different directions simultaneously. If done right, it really is a magical journey. Think about it. Entire worlds exist in a gathering of words that you've created. There's no weight or material substance to your world of words, but it somehow exists, first in your mind and then in the readers' mind.


As creator of this inner-world, you have an unwritten obligation to give your readers what may be the most essential part of a story, resolution. Resolution is the aftermath of the main conflict of your story. What did the final "showdown" resolve? In my estimation, there are two types of resolution and two elements of your story that must be resolved.


The Two Types of Resolution:

  1. The Definitive Resolution: Before you type those two little words, "The End," you bring your story to a very definitive end. There are no unanswered questions. You know who did it, and you know why they did.

  2. The Open Ending: As a writer, you're less concerned about answering the unanswered and more concerned with giving the reader ownership of the story's resolution. Or maybe you're leaving the door open to a sequel. The conflict ends, but not all issues are settled.


The Two Elements to Resolve:

  1. The Main Plot: Your story has been driven in a certain direction by the plot. It's why your main characters did what they did and said what they said. Each chapter builds toward a conflict that essentially defines your plot and gives it depth. What comes after that conflict is your plot resolved.

  2. The Subplots: Throughout your story, you've sprinkled in subplots to give your characters depth and your story the appearance of real-life chaos. At various points, a number of those subplots will need to have some sort of resolution in order to give them more weight.


Resolving a story is one of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel, but when you get it right, there is no better feeling.


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Writing with a Partner

I vs. Me

5,251 Views 3 Comments Permalink

The results from your beta readers are in, and now you're faced with what to do with all the constructive feedback you've received. Keep in mind: just because it's constructive doesn't mean it should be implemented. It simply means it's a thoughtful opinion. Ultimately, you have to decide whether it's a valid opinion.



If you followed my suggestion of creating a questionnaire where beta readers could provide anonymous feedback, a lot of the guess work can be eliminated from which path to take. I created a rating system for various aspects of the story that I specifically wanted addressed. That rating system was your basic 1-5 scoring, with one being the lowest score. In addition, the beta readers were given the opportunity to leave a specific comment for each aspect of the story they were asked to evaluate. If any portion collectively scored a three or lower, I went to the comments and looked for a consensus opinion. If it was there, the fix was easy. If it wasn't, the fix wasn't as easy, but I still knew I had a rewrite ahead of me. If readers weren't getting what I was trying to say, they weren't getting it. The problem was mine, not theirs.



Now, there were points of contention for some readers that were countered with points of praise from others. That's when your gut becomes your guide. You have to decide, as the artist, if you hit the mark. For me, some of the criticism I received had less to do with the story and more to do with the reader's personal feelings about a topic. In that case, I didn't make changes. My job isn't to make everyone happy. Sometimes my job is to make people uncomfortable.



In those close races where your gut is telling you one thing, but your beta readers are telling you another, go with your gut. In the end, it's your story, and your author name is going to be attached to it. Do what the artist in you tells you to do.



-Richard Contributors/RidleyHeadshot_blog.jpg

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

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2,739 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: books, authors, author, blogging, writing, promotions, writing_tips, author_advice

I recently read a novel in which multiple people winked at the protagonist in the opening pages. I found this quite odd. When was the last time someone winked at you? When was the last time more than one person winked at you? I don't think anyone has ever winked at me.


As I read on, the winking continued, and soon it was joined by a lot of giggling, which also jumped out at me because everyone in the story was an adult, and I don't know many adults who giggle. But on it went, and by the end of the book I was so tired of the winking and the giggling that I had my Kindle count how many times each appeared in the book.


The tally? There were 35 winks and 44 giggles in a story that takes place over a few weeks. That's a lot of winking and giggling­, especially in a book that I don't think was supposed to be funny.


Here's the takeaway: When writing an entire book, it's impossible not to repeat some common gestures or actions (e.g., smiled, walked, nodded), but when the gestures are the kind you don't encounter very often in real life, overusing them can distract your readers from the story. That's unfortunately what happened with the novel in question. I tried to enjoy the plot, I really did, but all that winking and giggling was hard to ignore, and as a result I did a lot of eye rolling. I love a good eye roll, but I try not to include more than one or two in a book so as not to dilute the effect.


I'll forever remember that novel as the wink and giggle book. Maybe you will remember this post as the wink and giggle blog. If it helps you to be more careful about overusing those kinds of actions in your own work, then great!


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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at


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Writing Tip: Use Contractions in Dialogue

Use Adverbs Sparingly, Especially in Dialogue

5,567 Views 9 Comments Permalink

By now you've rolled through the stages of marketing, and you're taking a little breather. The book is out there. The word is out there. The momentum is out there. Your break from the release madness should last a good healthy day or two.


Once you've had time to unwind and give your mind a little respite from the organized chaos, it's time to evaluate your performance as a marketer. A release postmortem does not allow you to go back in time and redo some of the things you got wrong, but it does allow you to be better prepared for your next book release. It can also give you a better handle on the second round of a marketing push for a book you've previously released.


Give yourself a rating of 1-5 on the stages of marketing (one being the lowest score). Remember what we've done to this point:


  1. Marketing journal - You mapped your journey as you walked it, or maybe you tried, but time just wouldn't permit. If you kept up with your marketing journal, the postmortem is going to be a breeze. If you haven't, your self-evaluation is going to require some guess work and a lot of soul-searching.

  2. Outreach - Which third-party bloggers and reviewers were most receptive to your outreach strategy? Who gave you a piece of their platform to make your case or voice your opinion? Which one had the liveliest community that engaged with you the most?

  3. Proof giveaway - What kind of response did you get from your proof giveaway? Did you do enough to engage your friends and followers? Could you have structured the giveaway differently to make it more exciting and fun for your community?

  4. Release Date - Did you do your due diligence in picking a release date that made the most marketing sense for your book? How was the buildup to the release date? Did you do enough to engage your "volunteer sales force"?

Be brutal in your assessment. If you're unsure about a rating, skew low. When something works, you'll know it. The postmortem doesn't end here. It's an ongoing effort that will last for weeks. As you hear from readers in the future, don't be afraid to ask them where they heard about your book. Information is power, and that power will help you sell more books in the future.


-Richard Contributors/RidleyHeadshot_blog.jpg

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

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Mingle Marketing

Avoid this Marketing No-No

2,438 Views 1 Comments Permalink