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Are Newsletters On The Way Out?

The warning signs are everywhere. “Newsletter fatigue” is setting in among readers as authors (and well, pretty much every business on the internet) inundates their inboxes with special offers. Yet, authors are still being told by every marketing guru out there that a newsletter to your fans is a must. But how effective is it as a marketing strategy?

Gold Fever

I’ve heard the mantra since I got serious about becoming a published author years ago. “Your mailing list is gold. They are your fans. They want to hear from you.” I believe the essence of this is true, in theory. If someone signs up to be on your mailing list, they are agreeing to hear from you, right?

Not always.

Part of the problem is the sheer number of authors using this tactic has overwhelmed the market. It’s no longer new, or unique; pretty much every author has a newsletter sign up on their website for which they actively seek subscribers, promising freebies, exclusive content, and other goodies in exchange for their coveted email address. So the competition factor has forced authors to be more creative in enticing readers to sign up. Just liking your books seems to be the last reason readers sign up these days.

More Free Stuff!

Another common way to get readers to sign up is mass promotion, or cross-promotion. Promotional companies or groups of authors offer gift cards or other prizes to readers in exchange for signing up to the mailing lists of several authors listed on their promotion. This seems to work, and sounds like a great way for readers to find new authors. But when the main motivation for someone signing up is a prize, and not you as an author or your books, will they stick around and actually read your newsletter? Or will they opt out the first chance they get, or worse, put your emails into spam?

Speaking of Spam…

I have been getting occasional emails from authors I have never heard of, spamming me about their book. I couldn’t figure out how that was happening when I had not signed up for their newsletters. But today I saw a conversation on Facebook where another author received over sixty (!) unsolicited emails from other authors spamming about their books. The thread was long as others commented they, too have been inundated with unsolicited emails from authors. Somehow, author newsletter swaps are occurring and getting into email lists. These kinds of abuses are precisely why readers are getting fatigued.

Sending your email to someone who never asked for it is spam, plain and simple, whether you do it directly or through a co-opted swap. It is also illegal and likely against the Terms of Service of your email service provider.

Another reason you want your list to be comprised of engaged readers is the fact that maintaining a list can be costly. Most email services charge when you get to a certain number of contacts or send out a certain number of emails. Which is disheartening when you find the open rate is small compared to the number you are mailing out and paying for. Some authors go through periodically and delete contacts who don’t open the emails, but apparently some email platforms allow reading without fully opening, so they may be purging engaged readers. There is no definitive way to tell for sure if the newsletter is being read. So, rather than having tons of subscribers who may or may not care to be on your list, wouldn’t it be better in the long run to cultivate a list of readers who really do want to hear from you?

The Struggle Is Real

Email itself has become a necessary evil in our lives. It’s a struggle for many to keep up with. I have a friend whose little red dot on her phone says she has over six thousand unread emails! I’m sure she is not alone, and some of those unread emails may well be from some of her favorite authors. (I am one of those who obsessively clears my emails, so no red dots for me. But I still struggle with reading them all in a timely manner).

No doubt newsletters still work for many, but there are challenges. If you end up with a certain percentage of loyal readers who really do read and respond to your email newsletter, then it will be worth it. Just don’t engage in abusive practices, or expect miracles from your newsletter. It is just one tool in your marketing arsenal. Like anything else, it all boils down to discoverability and engagement.

When you find that, it truly is gold.

 

 

 

 

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Why I Love To Give Free Stuff

I’ve been giving stuff away lately, and I have to admit, it feels pretty good! And I’m not even concerned about getting anything back. That’s the best way to give, isn’t it? Pay it forward and all that. So when I give I try to do so with pure intentions and hope karma does the rest.

Free Works, Apparently

I was pleasantly surprised this month when I had my “free days” on Amazon. My first book, Unexplained, had almost four thousand downloads! I had run some promotions on social media and a few newsletters, and it seems to have paid off. All three of my Higher Elevation Series books are in Kindle Unlimited right now, and the sales and page reads have been better than I ever expected. The idea of giving away that many copies felt weird to me at first, but at least my books are out there, finding an audience. So I consider this a win.

I’ve also given away paperback copies, signed, of course. I ran Goodreads Giveaways, I gave away books through my Facebook Group, Renee Regent’s Readers. I gave away an Amazon gift card when I did a takeover on Facebook. This is nothing new, authors have been doing this and more for years, but I never realized how good it would feel to do it. I knew giving things away was a good business strategy, but it’s more than that. It’s something I actually look forward to. Even though it’s common now to hand out swag and free books, people still get excited about it, and for me, seeing their excitement is the fun part.

But Wait, There’s More!

All this giving away of goodies had me thinking, “What else can I give?” While looking through the statistics report of my blog for ideas, I decided to compile a free mini ebook. Or two. Well, I ended up with five, actually!

I’ve been blogging since 2013, and according to WordPress, I have over 2,400 followers. I’ve written over one hundred posts on various topics, some of which have been viewed thousands of times. I love blogging and have covered diverse topics over the years, so I compiled some of my most popular posts into mini ebooks by subject. They’re a quick, easy read, and I hope readers will find them fun and informative. Here’s a rundown:

Romance Novel Trends– a (sometimes humorous) look at the trends shaping Romance Novels today, from those ubiquitous “Ab Covers” to Seasoned Romance

Writing Tips on Marketing– the elusive Holy Grail of discoverability, and ways to find it

Writing Tips on Craft– Useful and practical information I’ve learned along the way. I put myself through the ringer so you don’t have to!

Supernatural/Metaphysical– curious about the Law of Attraction? Wondering if ghosts are real? Find out in this exploration of the unexplained, which often end up in my stories

From the Heart– In which I share stories from my real life experiences. There’s some humor, some heartbreak, and of course, love.

 

Whether you are a writer, a reader, or both, I hope you’ll find something interesting in these posts. They are available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers. If interested, you can sign up here.

There’s also a page on my website called “Free Reads”, where you can read the first chapter of Unexplained.

When it comes to giving, I feel like I’m just getting started. I have plenty of stories and blog posts still in my head, so don’t worry, there’s more to come. If you were one of the readers who downloaded or bought my books, or read them on KU these past few weeks, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

That’s the best gift anyone could give me.

 

 

 

Making Peace With Unfinished Stories

How many unfinished stories does the average author have?

I recently took inventory of all the stories I’ve written, and was surprised to find how many I had started and not finished. I have published three novels so far, so finishing a draft in general is not a problem for me. Some stories seem take hold of me and I can’t rest until they are done, and others, not so much. But that pile of unfinished manuscripts has been staring at me almost as hard as my TBR (to be read) pile, and it made me wonder if there was a common thread, a particular reason why those stories didn’t get finished. Was there something wrong, or is it normal to have a backlog of unfinished work?

The Consensus
I polled several authors, both traditionally and indie published, and their answers surprised me. Just as every author’s writing process is different, so is their approach to finishing drafts. Here’s what I found:

Some or none? A few authors said they always finish what they started, but the majority did have at least some unfinished drafts, with the average being around 4-5. One prolific author had twenty-four drafts set aside.

Plotter or pantser? Some voiced the thought that having unfinished stories may have to do with being a “plotter” or “pantser” style of writer, but I saw no discernable trends in that regard.

Will they go back and finish? Most planned to finish their stories at some point, but some chalked it up to learning their craft. Only one person reported they had deleted their old drafts. Several authors mentioned having gone back to old manuscripts and rewriting them into successful books. Personally, I agree with keeping everything─you never know what might work in the future and there could be gold in those old manuscripts.

Does it bother them? Having unfinished stories has been bothering me, so I asked if others felt the same. Again, it depended on the author’s perspective. A few said it bothered them to have the unfinished stories, but others said they kept their main focus on what they were currently working on and had no time or energy to worry about anything else.

Why didn’t you finish? Many reported they loved their unfinished stories but set them aside for more saleable projects. For example, they got a contract on an earlier work, or had to keep working on a series, got an idea for a currently popular genre, etc. You have to go where the money is! But some authors said that certain stories just won’t come together, no matter how much you love the premise or the characters. It doesn’t mean the story is hopeless, though. Ideas for the stalled story could still come at any time.

 

The Conclusion
This exercise did tell me a few things about myself as a writer. First, I’m not alone or abnormal. Not finishing a draft or not using a completed draft is a natural part of the business. As long as you keep working, keep moving forward, it’s all just your body of work.
Taking time to examine my unfinished stories helped me in other ways, too. I was able to discern the common themes running through my work, and see the development of my voice. I can see how I’ve progressed with plotting and character development.

So I’m not as worried now about those languishing drafts, but sometimes the characters of those unfinished works start prompting me to get back to “their” story. I feel so guilty─I have let them down! But I guess I’ll just have to make peace with the fact I may never finish them all, and that’s okay.

How many unfinished stories do you have? Does it bother you?

 

When It’s Time To Change Book Covers

Rebranding a book or a series is more common now than ever before. From Indie Authors to small presses to large publishing houses, changing the cover of a book is a marketing strategy which can breathe new life into sagging sales. It can also cause the book to appeal to a different audience, bringing in new readers. Some authors or publishers do this periodically, just to keep their product packaging fresh and on trend.

The Strategy
But there’s another reason you may want to change your book’s covers. While I loved the original covers of my Higher Elevation Series, once all three books were published I got some feedback indicating there was some confusion as to what genre they were. When you’re an indie author, you have to do the best research you can, and get as much feedback from readers and other authors as possible, to “test market” your covers and back cover copy before you publish. Which I did. But….

Sometimes this writing gig is all about trial and error. Which is true of many businesses. Having been an entrepreneur all my life, I can’t tell you how many flops I’ve had! But I’ve also had outrageous success, lucky breaks and then times when nothing special happened. So though it was disappointing to learn my covers weren’t “perfect” as they were, it was simply a business decision to change them. What I had chosen originally was doing fine, but it wasn’t exactly the best representation of my stories.

The Quest
So the quest for new covers began. I spent countless hours on stock photo sites and book cover sites, until I was about to go cross-eyed. If you have spent any time doing this, you know how frustrating it can be. I wanted to strike a balance between what I “saw” in my mind’s eye for the book covers, and what the cover designer, with her expertise, could do. I finally found Spellbound Cover Design, and together we came up with the brand new covers you see here, and on my website http://reneeregent.com  I also rewrote my cover copy, with the help of some author friends. There are a few professionals who write cover copy, or blurbs, and I hear they do a fabulous job. So it’s worth looking into, because blurbs are hard, right?

You can research and tweak these things forever, so at some point you just have to go with the best book packaging you can produce, and put it back out there. I think the look and feel of these new covers better represents the supernatural/mystery/suspense aspects of my books, without detracting from the romance. Plus the color really pops!

The Bottom Line
Your book’s covers may never be perfect, and what looks great today may not be so hot a few years from now. (“Bodice Rippers”, anyone?) So be open to the idea of changing your covers periodically. The bottom line is, no matter how much research you do, sometimes you don’t know how a book (your product) will be received until it’s out there in the world.

Authors- have you changed your book’s covers? Did it help?
Readers- do you notice when a book’s cover has been changed? Does it affect your decision to buy?

 

Facebook Groups- Why Authors Need One

If you have spent any time on Facebook lately, you may have noticed a proliferation of Groups. Groups on Facebook have evolved as a way for people with common interests to share information. They can be private and closed, or they can be open, but most require you to request admittance. Simply press the “+Join” button on the group’s page, and a member of the group will add you. (I have not heard about anyone being rejected and not added, so I’m not sure what happens in that case. If anyone knows, please share).

A Great Tool For Authors

Groups are a great tool for authors. If you don’t have your own group page just for your readers, set one up as soon as possible. It’s best if you can think of a catchy name that ties in to your books or your author brand, but if not, at least think of how it might look in a Facebook search. Mine is called, “Renee Regent’s Readers”, and I’d love for you to join us! Message me on Facebook and I’ll send an invite, or you can enter my name in the search bar, and it should come up. I’m showing this as an example, so authors can set up their group, and readers can find the authors they like. It’s a great way to interact with your followers or others interested in your books and to share news, ask for feedback, and do giveaways. I’ve already given away books and swag and plan to do much more in the future.

Why A Group Page?

But why have a reader group page when you have your Author page? The answer is visibility. When you post on your Author page, Facebook restricts how many people see it in their feed. They want you to boost your posts by paying for them. Unfortunately, even that doesn’t get maximum viewing, and several authors are saying they no longer use their pages as much as they used to since hardly anyone sees it. But in a group, all members get notifications when someone posts (it can be the author or administrator of the group, or a member). Thus they are more likely to be aware of posts when they occur, and you may have a higher rate of engagement.

How To Get Members To Join

Once you have set up your reader group, spread the word through all your social media channels, your newsletter, any place you have contacts. Some marketing groups, such as Love Kissed Author Promotions, will do a promotion for a minimal fee to help build your group. Ask other authors or join a few author groups and see what is working for them.

Group Etiquette

Facebook also has a way to add people to your group, by listing your friends next to an “Add” button, but don’t use that. It is considered rude to add someone to a group without asking first, so get their permission or invite them to ask to join your group. It’s a good idea to welcome new members when they join, and when you post, ask questions to get everyone to join in, or have members post their own pictures. Eye candy photos, pet photos, talk about favorite tropes, etc. You can be creative because it’s your group.

Keyword: Anything Goes

There are also many groups now focused on the business side of writing, especially marketing. You can ask questions to the group and get feedback, or simply share your own experiences. Some of the groups I’m in and monitor regularly are Love Kissed Author Promotions, Genre Crave Book Marketing, and Seasoned Romance. There are groups for every genre and subgenere, and every interest under the sun, really. Enter any keyword in the search bar and related groups will appear. It’s that easy.

So take advantage of Facebook groups now, while they are still free and unencumbered by ads. Oops! Did I say that out loud?

What Facebook Groups do you belong to?

 

 

Is Silver The New Grey? Older Heroes & Heroines in Fiction

There’s a growing trend in fiction, and it’s not grey, but almost. Silver is in, with older fictional heroes and heroines (not in their twenties) in romance novels, and even in some other genres, too. Which makes sense when statistics show a significant portion of readers who read books regularly are women, and over the age of fifty-five, as shown in this recent Book Bub study. Many readers enjoy stories with characters who are more like them, who have more life experience and are facing problems and challenges they can relate to.

Several social media pages or groups have emerged to provide a place for those interested in reading or writing romances featuring mature or “seasoned” main characters. For example, the “Seasoned Romance” group page on Facebook declares that it is a “place for readers and writers of love stories with heroes and heroines in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. Sex and love can get better with age. So let’s read, write, and talk about it!” They have already passed five hundred members as of this writing, proving there is interest in stories with older characters.

I am working on a new series featuring “seasoned” characters, so I did some research to find out what readers are responding to. Here’s what I found:

New York Times Bestselling Author Roxanne St. Claire features “silver fox” heroes in her popular Barefoot Bay Timeless Series. This series promises “plenty of laughs, a few tears, and a chance to fall for a man who’s lived and loved and knows exactly how to treat a woman. I promise you’ll break out a tissue or two with these emotional stories about three handsome, accomplished, and sexy men in their forties who kick off their shoes and fall in love again.” I agree there’s a certain appeal to a man who knows what he’s doing in the bedroom, and older guys usually do. Judging by the models on the covers of Roxanne’s books, they still look hot, too!

The blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a post discussing the appeal of older heroes and heroines. Here’s the link: http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/2017/04/rec-league-silver-foxes/   Scroll down to check the comments for recommendations from actual readers─there’s a ton of info here.

Even more proof that Seasoned Romance is now a thing─there will be a Vintage Love panel at this year’s RWA convention in Orlando in July, and also at next week’s (May 1-7) Romantic Times Convention in Atlanta. I will be attending RT, and attending the Vintage Love panel to take some notes. If anyone is going to the one at RWA, I’d love to share info with you! And if you are attending RT, let’s meetup.

Author Natasha Moore has a Silver Fox Series, with the tagline, “Love Can Happen At Any Age”. She also has a book in a multi-author collection of mature romances, entitled, Hot Silver Nights.”

Sometimes only one of the main characters is older, leading to complications due to age differences. It also plays into the fantasy of attracting younger partner. This list on Maryse’s Book Blog, from a few years ago, has several older woman/younger man books recommended by readers. The theme of an older man/younger woman has fans, too─as this list I found on Amazon shows: https://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/fullview/RQFUP0JV5QOEA

Heck, even Nora Roberts is on this list of Mature Romances on the Booklist Reader Blog, and of course Goodreads has a list of novels with Older Hero and Heroines (over 40).

Perhaps part of the appeal of older characters is they have more to offer─more experience, more connections, and thus they often have more at stake. They may have children or a business, something significant to lose, more so than perhaps a younger, twenty-something character. They also may have more emotional baggage, since they’ve been around; second chance romances or widows/widowers are a common trope with older characters.

I know diversity of characters is a hot topic these days, and rightfully so─fiction should reflect a wider view of the world than it sometimes does. And that includes characters of all races and origins, in the prime of their lives, who still have dreams, ambitions, and yes, hot sex!

This is one trend I can get behind, because for many of us it’s true that love, sex and romance do not belong only to the young. I’ve had some of the best sex and most romantic moments of my life after I turned forty, and I’m not done yet!

How about you? If you have any recommendations of books featuring older characters that you loved, let me know!

 

 

 

Five Tips For Handling The Book Promotion Phase

credit- Deposit Photos

You finally published your book, and holding it in your hands for the first time is such a thrill. Mission accomplished! Right?

Yes. You should enjoy it, savor it, and bask in the attention. Because the next phase of authorship, called The Promotion Train, is about to leave the station on the 13 ½ platform and you’d better be on it!

Promos, Promos, Everywhere!

Once you have your books in the marketplace, your work has just begun. Ideally, your promotion efforts  should begin way before your first book is published, but that’s a whole other post. If you are traditionally published, this may also apply to you, because most publishing houses won’t do all the promotion for you. Establishing your brand and connecting with readers is important, no; it’s crucial, for any author. But since I’m indie and that is where my experience lies, this post is slanted in that direction.

I was inspired to write this post because tonight, for the first time in months, I took a few minutes to sit on my deck with a glass of wine and just be (see it on Instagram, under Renee Regent). I actually relaxed.  I can’t even recall the last time I did that. Before I started writing to seriously pursue publication, I sat on my deck as often as I could. But writing a three book series for indie publication requires dedication, and a ton of time, and I am happy I accomplished that.

To Help You Navigate

I’m in the process now of learning what it takes to promote and sell those books and to gain readership. I’ve blogged for years, and have been active on social media, but having books published means switching gears in a few ways. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the possible ways to promote yourself and your books, so I wanted to mention a few things I have learned so far:

Take a breather now and then. You can’t do it all, all the time. If your stress level takes the fun out of writing, step back, even if it’s just a few hours, or a day. Being frazzled means you won’t be effective.

Don’t neglect your S.O. (significant other). Whether that is your husband, boyfriend, your best friend, your mother, or your cat or dog, remember to make time for them. Writing is a business, yes, and it requires your attention. But so does your support network, the ones who were there before you wrote the book and who will be there after your big success. Or your quiet retreat into retirement. In any case, don’t neglect your loved ones for the sake of promoting your book. The book is going to outlive all of you, anyway.

Research before you try. There is a proliferation now of groups for promotion and companies providing author services. Some are wonderful, some are predatory, and some are ineffective. Talk to other authors, read blogs, search keywords on Facebook. I belong to a Yahoo Group of authors who regularly discuss marketing they have tried. If you try something, don’t forget to let others know if it works or not. Pay it forward.

Remember everyone’s path is different. This is so easy to say, and not so easy to follow, but I believe it’s true. Just because another author seems to be on the fast track, or another seems to be doing everything wrong, the two can’t be compared. So many varied factors that play into an author’s success. Yes, there are trends and best practices to follow, and you should seek those out. But what works for one book or one author may not work for another. Remember, your path is your path, and no one else’s. Celebrate the successful and help to support everyone who is still finding their way.

Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t take success for granted. We all come to the writing table with different skill sets, and we all have something to learn. And the wheel goes round and round….

I’m so glad I took a moment to step back, because I was getting a bit frazzled. I love writing too much to give it up, but I don’t want it to drag me down, either. What about you? Have you felt overwhelmed with all the choices for promotion? How do you determine what to try?

Happy Writing!