Today on the blog I am featuring Dionne Lister who has had fantastic success as an independent author and has her finger on the pulse on what influences sales.
I first met Dionne Lister when she was part of a panel called ‘The Author as Everything’ that I was facilitating at Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2013. Dionne wrote a great post about this event that has some key points to consider so I highly recommend you read it.
Dionne has been writing since she was young and self publishing since 2012. When it comes to managing the process it would be fair to say she has loads of experience. Dionne has learnt a bit from trial and error so I thought it would be good to ask her some questions about her experience and why, after all of that, she started Booktastik.
Digireado: As an independent author, how important is professionalism when trying to achieve success?
Dionne Lister: Professionalism is the most important thing. Sure there are those who write a book, don’t have it edited and strike it big – but those are the rarities. A professional cover will help get the book noticed, and good writing and finishing off (editing, proofreading) will ensure more good reviews than bad, which will help the reader decide to buy your book when they click on the Amazon or iBooks page (or any of the retailers). I have all my covers done by professionals and my fantasy covers are amazing. I really believe that’s what caught the eye of Kate Forsyth who ended up asking me to speak on my first panel at the NSW Writers Centre.
“The authors who don’t take the professional approach will not build a reader base…” Dionne Lister
I’m an editor too, so I know the importance of having a good editor, and I would never, ever put a book out that has not been to her first. The authors who don’t take the professional approach will not build a reader base – they will sell a handful of books if they’re lucky. They are also the authors who give the whole of self-publishing a bad reputation.
Digireado: What did you do as a first-time author to market your book?
Lister: I started on Twitter a few months before I released my first book (Shadows of the Realm). Twitter led me to some incredible self-published authors who were not only great to chat to, but answered all the questions I had about where to upload my books, ISBNs, where to advertise etc. A lot of those authors I first connected with are people I would considered close friends now and we all help each other by sharing news about each others’ new releases and book sales on social media. One of those friends put me onto Bookbub—a paid advertising site, and it really boosted my sales and, therefore, my audience. I also attend events such as Supanova, and later this year I’ll be at Book Expo in Sydney – for both my books and Booktastik.
Digireado: What worked well for you at that time and what were the challenges?
Lister: A bit of everything worked well—social media and paid advertising. The important thing with social media is that you have to connect with people. Don’t go there and expect to tweet 20 times a day about your book with a link to Amazon but never talk to anyone. People will ignore you at the very least and unfollow you if you are super annoying. Social media is about making connections, and if you’re genuine, the sales will follow. Another challenge is time and budget. Social media takes time and the paid sites can cost a lot of money. I’ve wasted money trying things that didn’t work, but that’s part of the process (and where your author friends come in handy because they’ve been there before).
Digireado: Have you refined your approach to marketing as you’ve gone along?
Lister: Yes, definitely. You come to know what works and what doesn’t. Also, different things can work for different genres. For instance, there is a huge blog circuit that can boost romance sales, but there isn’t anything as effective for epic fantasy. You have to get to know the market in the genre you’re writing. I tend to stick to the things that have worked, although I’m not averse to trying something new because you never know when the next good marketing thing is here as the online world is constantly changing.
Digireado: How important is social media? And what works the best in helping sales?
Lister: Social media is THE most important thing to get started. The connections you build and information you gather from those connections are what will save you time and money in the long run, and they are the people who will help you spread the word about your books. The main channel that sells books for me is Twitter. Facebook is more of a place to socialise, especially since they changed the way things work and you have to pay for people to see your posts. I find their paid advertising hasn’t worked for me.
Digireado: How do you avoid spending too much time on social media? Surely it must be hard getting the balance correct between building rapport and relationships vs trying to get people to buy your books?
Lister: Hang on while I just check Facebook ;). It’s really hard to balance social media time with writing because I find I’m always drawn back to see what’s going on. I don’t find it hard at all spending time chatting to people I’ve just met because I’m a social person. Authors who don’t like interacting online, or with people, will find it very difficult. As time has gone on, I’ve naturally spent less time on there and more time doing what I’m supposed to be doing i.e. work and writing. It is a huge novelty when you first get on there. Some authors buy an app or program that restricts access to the Internet for a certain amount of time each day, but I haven’t done that. I tend to just pull myself off there when I have things to do – it’s not easy, but not impossible.
Digireado: I know you attend Supanova – is it important to find ‘offline’ events that suit your genre to help with book sales?
Lister: Definitely. And it’s a lot of fun to interact with readers face to face and sign books. I will admit that the majority of my sales are ebooks, but I always sell quite a few paperbacks when I do these events, and a reader is a reader. The more people you can reach by whatever means, the better.
Digireado: Tell us about Booktastik and why you identified this would be helpful for authors?
Lister: A couple of my author friends and I were lamenting a slow sales month and the fact that the company we had used for promotion in the past, now was too busy to accept our books. We were frustrated at the lack of effective marketing sites for authors, so I said “stuff this, I’ll do it myself.”
I think I must have been a total nutcase because it’s never as easy as you think it’s going to be. But, anyway, there is a demand for book-promotion services that isn’t being met, and there’s a reader demand for sites that take the pain out of choosing a good book for a cheap price. Readers can either visit our site to see our deals, or they can subscribe to our newsletter and pick the genres they like to read. When we have deals for those genres, we send out the email, and tweet the deals, and that’s it.
“There is a demand for book-promotion services that isn’t being met, and there’s a reader demand for sites that take the pain out of choosing a good book for a cheap price.”
We check books for quality – so anything with lots of typos and no editing won’t be featured. And we are very reasonably priced for authors, at $10 per feature. Just some background: I started planning the site in June 2013 and the site designer took about 3 months to do her thing, then it was another 2 months of coding. We finally went live at the end of January but had a few hiccups because the coders had done a bad job (the things you learn). Anyway, we’ve had steady growth in subscriber numbers and authors are advertising with us, so hopefully it will continue to grow.
Digireado: How many people have you got signed up to your newsletter and ebook specials? Have any publishers expressed interest?
Lister: We have just over 2000 subscribers (which is less than I would like) but numbers are increasing every day. We also have 300-500 visitors a day to the site. Authors, publicists and publishers can advertise with us and the criteria are: the book must be edited, the book must be at least 30% off to feature in our genre categories, and we feature New Releases that have been released within the last 2 months, and they don’t have to be on sale.
Digireado: Any success stories from Booktastik since you launched?
Lister: Unfortunately no major ones, but some of our free book features (in the Free book category) are getting well over 100 downloads. Depending on the genre and the price of the book, keeping in mind that 99 cents sells a lot better than $1.99-2.99, and genres such as romance and mystery have more subscribers than, say, poetry, authors can expect to sell anywhere from 1 book to 25 books. It’s important for us to keep increasing those numbers, because I want authors to sell books, so we spend money every day on marketing (being a new business much more money goes out than comes in lol).
Digireado: I like the way that Booktastik offers affordable options to authors to try, so good luck with the continued growth and success!
Lister: Thanks, and thanks for having me here today. It’s been fun answering the questions. Of course, if anyone has any other questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
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Anna Maguire, June 2014