IBPA Roundtable: Revelations from Readers: Part 3

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April 2014
by Judith Appelbaum
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A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Today’s abundance—or is it overabundance—of data includes everything from “big data,” through the kinds of data that Linda Carlson reports on in this issue, to “anecdata.”

“Big data,” often defined as data that exceeds the processing capacity of conventional database systems, is “eminently feasible for even the small garage startups, who can cheaply rent server time in the cloud,” according to What Is Big Data? An Introduction to the Big Data Landscape by Edd Dumbill.

And “anecdata”—defined as anecdotal information presented and/or perceived as more than that—is available, of course, to all of us. But the term is pejorative, often on the grounds that anecdotal information is incomplete, impressionistic, only a small part of the picture.

Those who sneer, though, seem often to forget, or not to notice, that the same could be said of data sets they rely on. Take survey results, for example, which apparently don’t take account of how and to what extent the population of people who respond to surveys differs from the population of people who don’t. Or take counts of U.S. “book industry” sales that don’t include sales by countless self-publishers and—even more significantly—don’t include most sales that midsized and smaller publishers make directly to customers such as nonbook distributors, nonbook retailers, businesses, associations, religious bodies, and readers.

Anecdata or not, information readers provide can help publishers understand who and where their readers are and what those readers want and need, as evidenced by the reports in parts 1 and 2 of this series and the reports below. And responses from readers are also powerful sources of validation. When a reader tells you, “I’ve reached my goal, thanks to your book,” or “My daughter and I love reading this book together,” or “It was such a comfort to discover that someone else understood my experience,” you have data that says you’re succeeding, no matter what sets of numbers may say.

Many thanks to every IBPA member who shared revelations from readers for this series.

Judith Appelbaum


Helping with Health

Life has been good to me, so after nearly 10 years of research and collecting more than 50 stories about the insidious effects of gluten, I am driven to share the information in my new book, Toxic Staple: How Gluten May Be Wrecking Your Health—and What You Can Do About It! Toxic Staple is designed to empower readers to recognize that their ill health may be linked to gluten and that embracing a gluten-free lifestyle could lead them to find better health, energy, and longevity. It provides points to discuss with one’s doctor about many of the 300-plus symptoms and ailments linked to gluten and offers cutting-edge testing information to help detect gluten sensitivity.

Although many endorsements suggest doctors should be reading Toxic Staple, I wrote it for the people who are so sick and tired of being sick and tired. Up to 30 percent (and perhaps more) of the population may be gluten intolerant. Feedback has been wonderful.

I am reaching out to the celiac/gluten sensitivity national, state, and local organizations, and to organizations that support other chronic health issues since it is amazing what disappears or gets miles better when gluten, and sometimes dairy, are eliminated from one’s diet. I am happy to respond to emails, have tried reaching out to people on TV or in the community with serious ailments that could be linked to gluten, and am using a blog, a Toxic Staple YouTube video, and other social media.

What I have learned is that patients still need to become advocates for their own health. The more common symptoms of celiac disease are finally being recognized by mainstream medicine, but the serious blood, bone, autoimmune, cancer, neurological/cerebral, muscular, skin, and organ/glandular issues are not on too many radar screens, which is why I wrote the book.

In short, my main goal is to educate the public about the hazards of consuming gluten. Yes, I have a smile on my face when I know someone finally gets it or they want to share Toxic Staple with someone they care about. I am thrilled to have gotten through to them. I have accomplished the job I set out to do, and they in turn will hopefully spread the word to others when they see their health begin to improve.

Anne Sarkisian – Max Health Press – toxicstaple.com

The Greatest Gift

I have learned so much from my readers. Hearing the squeal of a child who has just discovered another stowaway frog hidden in my book is magical. When I look down and see a child curled up in her mother’s arms as they read my book, I say to myself, My work here is complete. This has been a good book signing.

Then I realize the greatest gift. It is the silent reader standing next to my table with tears in her eyes. She leaves quickly, only to return minutes later and whisper, “Thank you for writing this book. I feel as though you have written it for me.” She buys four copies of Love from a Star and then shares her story. I autograph books for her sisters and mom. I too am close to tears. She smiles. She leaves with books in hand and a message that she is loved. She is not alone. There is a star watching over her.

As I pack up my books and head home, I count my blessings. I am grateful for words that have brought joy and comfort to so many of my readers. I am blessed. I love them all.

Katherine Gazzetta – Frog House Press, LLC – froghousepress.com

Gleaning Email Addresses

Authors, publishers, and others recognize that information on their readers is important. What they seem to miss is the value of email addresses of people they have met personally. It is detailed work (but essential) to put those addresses into a contact list that can be categorized. Doing so lets any marketer target email blasts to readers with specific interests.

I’ve long collected the emails the old-fashioned way (which works well for the self-published authors among us). I glean addresses one by one as I go about my daily business and put them into an Excel file (though Word works, too). It takes persistence, but if we keep at it, we have a list that is far more valuable than more general lists or lists we buy or borrow from others.

Lists of email addresses can be very basic or very fine-tuned. Example: I have lists of people interested in my poetry, lists of authors who have loved The Frugal Book Promoter and other books of mine in the How to Do It Frugally series for writers, and lists of business people who have purchased my How to Do It Frugally series for retailers. I even have lists of readers who live in Utah, where my first novel was set, and as it turned out, I used it this year when I spoke at the Southern Utah Festival of Books.

The most valuable names and addresses on my lists are the ones I’ve collected from my own email boxes, from the teaching I do and the conferences I speak at. They let me reach the peeps I’ve been in personal contact with—the people who are for-sure already loyal. Anyone can create lists like this—even the IT-challenged.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson – The Frugal Book Promoter – budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo

Targeting by Title

I’m a real outlier as far as authors go (from what I can tell). My muse is fickle, and she has inspired me to write thrillers, speculative fiction (sci-fi), illustrated storybooks, and other harder-to-classify works (mystic junkyard lit?). My novel, The Ragnarök Conspiracy, came out under the Seventh Street Books imprint at Prometheus Books, and my other novels have come from my own company.

For each novel, I seek to reach out to those interested in the genre it fits best. On an indie budget, I try to maximize the use of social media and targeted ads.

As a relatively unknown author, I am mostly trying to create an audience. I find that giveaways on Goodreads and Amazon Kindle are a great way to get novels in the hands of people who wouldn’t normally drop money on a strange name. In many cases I get feedback that helps me learn what seems to interest readers in my works. Of course, my sample size is small, so it’s hard to know how general that feedback might be.

I also find Amazon’s ranking in conjunction with its classification system informative. For example, my sci-fi novel Reader did extremely well (#1 free) in the “metaphysical” science fiction category on giveaway. I had not anticipated this, but now I see that the novel touches many existential questions in a speculative fiction setting. This informs the way I present the novel and has encouraged me to give free rein to that aspect of it in forthcoming books in the Daughter of Time series.

In contrast, my thriller Extraordinary Retribution did well in the terrorism and espionage subcategories of thrillers (hitting #1 in both during the giveaway), but this was not surprising at all; it confirmed my picture of the audience that might be interested in that novel.

I am very open to contacts and respond immediately (which is possible when you’re one of the not-so-famous!). Usually readers make contact via social media or email. I have a Website for all my books that has undergone several iterations and is now product centered and highly visual. The site provides my contact information. I also use an author Facebook page, a Twitter account, Tumblr, and more, posting about book-related things but also about a lot of other things that interest me (politics, science, humor). And I post book-related information to my Goodreads blog, which for all purposes is my blog. Initially I had a blog that stimulated low Web traffic and few interactions although the time investment was large, so I abandoned that in favor of my more streamlined Website experience.

As for what I’ve learned from the interactions—mostly how varied readers’ responses are to my work. I find it most rewarding to learn that readers experienced the work in an emotional and intellectual manner that mirrors my own state when writing it. Then I feel I have communicated effectively. Tolkien said that he wrote Lord of the Rings to create a “story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” That is the best statement I know of to describe what I do and why I do it.

Erec Stebbins – Twice Pi Press – erecstebbins.com

Time-Tested Tactics

I do what I’ve always done, although finding potential customers is now both easier and more difficult: easier because of the Internet, and more difficult because I’ve expanded into additional fields. Although I haven’t followed my own advice, I strongly recommend staying in one field, or in two book categories at most. Addressing more than one field is a challenge.

I began with technical books on parachutes and popular books on skydiving. Then I expanded into popular books on hang gliding. Technical books on parachutes were sold to individuals directly as well as through skydiving outlets such as parachute stores, parachute clubs, skydiving centers, and the U.S. Parachute Association for resale to members.

Popular books were sold the same way but also through bookstores.

In the ’70s we dealt with several book wholesalers. In the mid-’80s, we sold through Publishers Group West. They became a distributor by adding sales reps that visited and sold to stores.

Selling into the skydiving and hang gliding fields was easy because I was very active in both sports. Back in the ’70s, I would check the magazines, newsletters, and other sources for addresses of individuals and potential dealers.

Today, since finding potential customers is easier because of Google and the Internet, I am extremely active in the social media. I maintain lists of forums/groups on sites including on LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Facebook on:

  • Book writing/publishing for my books on those subjects
  • International speaking for my Global Speakers NewsBrief
  • Stem cell transplants for my new book on that subject (sometimes authors search for new topics to write about; occasionally a subject is unexpectedly thrust upon us; for me, Chromosome 19 Trisomy was not an ordeal; it was an adventure and an opportunity).

I also have a list of blogs for these categories, now that bloggers are the new reviewers. They welcome participation from book authors as we are “prestige contributors.” When you choose them wisely, all their subscribers/readers/followers are just as focused on your subject as you are.

This is targeted “rifle shot” promotion, as opposed to general “shotgun blast” promotion.

Very inexpensive and efficient.

One day, I received a call from a customer. He said, “I’m a chiropractor, and I recognize that while chiropractors are good at what they do, they are not good at running their offices. But I have solved that challenge. I have just finished a book called How to Run Your Chiropractic Office.”

“Sounds good,” I said, and I said to myself: “Now here is an author who can look into the mirror and see a reflection of his customer. He knows who the customer is, what the customer needs, and (most important) where the customer is.”

Then the doctor went on. “I have a packaging idea I would like to run past you.” I leaned back in my chair and listened. The caller said: “Once I sell this book to all the chiropractors, I’ll go through the manuscript with search-and-replace and change the word chiropractor to dentist and sell the same book to all the dentists. Next, I’ll sell to all the medical doctors. Isn’t that a great plan?”

“No,” I said. “It sounds great, but it’s a terrible idea. First off, it will not be all that easy to sell your peers. It will take reviews in your e-zines, displays at your conventions, lots of email and telephone calls. Finally, word-of-mouth from one doctor to another will sell the book.

“Do you really want to learn all about dentists—read their e-zines, join their associations, and attend their conventions? You don’t have time for that.

“What you should do is publish this book. Then do the advanced book, then the office forms book and then the little books chiropractors give to their patients. You want to become known as the publisher for the chiropractic industry.”

New customers have to be bought; existing customers are free. Anyone who has ever been in sales will tell us, it is far easier to sell an additional product to an existing customer than it is to find a new customer. Stay in one field and keep adding products until you own it. Next: Combine your products into a “Power Pack,” a higher-priced package.

Book publishing companies are like a wheel with several spokes. Today, we have an individual Website with a unique URL for each new book. Each site is single subject, single book. I answer all my email. My office manager runs the Global Ebook Awards, including answering questions by telephone and on the Website. We push three newsletters out to subscribers (you need some way to keep your followers aware of your products and services).

Recently, I was speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa. Just before I climbed onto the stage, a gentleman approached me. He said: “Dan, I attended your program in Durban last week. It was fabulous. I needed more. So I drove all night to get here. And, by the way, thank you for the Amazon idea.”

I replied, “Which Amazon idea?”

“You told us to log on to Amazon.com, to look up five or six books as close to what we have in mind as possible. You told us to ask ourselves, If someone were to buy this particular book, would that person be interested in the book I am thinking of writing?

“I did what you said. I found a half-dozen books that were very close to what I have in mind, but not the same. What else I discovered was fascinating. I found out who the authors were and the date the books were written. I noted the sales rankings and a number of stars. Amazon easily showed me what books in this category were selling for. But most valuable were the reviews.

“I discovered what people liked about these books and what disappointed them. Reader reviewers told me what they wanted in those books and what they didn’t want. Now I know how to target my book because they told me what to put in and what to leave out.”

Dan Poynter – Para Publishing – ParaPublishing.com

Adding Audiences

I am a new author of a YA thriller called The Riddle of Prague. The book has crossover appeal, so I am delighted to hear from fans who are in their 70s as well as from teenagers. I love my readers, and my story definitely reflects their input. In fact, The Riddle of Prague started out as a thriller for adults with a different title and a heroine, Hana Silna, who was in her early 30s.

I had a few friends read my manuscript. Two of them had teenage daughters who got their hands on it and read it very quickly. They both responded so enthusiastically to the characters and the story that I started to think I should gear the book to a younger audience. Hana Silna is now 18 years old, and one of her potential love interests from the original version has a teenage son who makes a more suitable love interest for Hana.

Also, because many grownup mystery lovers have described the book as a good mystery, I am now comfortably targeting that audience, too.

Although I am still learning how best to communicate with readers and prospective readers, I have found Websites such as GreatBooksGreatDeals and Kindleboards effective. Activity there tends to be a one-way conversation, though. I would love more of an opportunity to engage with readers directly.

– Laura DeBruce – Quicksilver Legacy Books – theriddleofprague.com

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