What in the World Is “Family Fiction”?

[Arrested Development]
Photo courtesy of Deadline | Hollywood

A while ago, I told you about a novel I had adapted from one of my old screenplays (see “Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times”). As I was writing the book, I thought my biggest challenge would be making a decent novel out of what is essentially a blueprint for a movie, which is what a screenplay is. The good news? I showed a recent draft to a few trusted friends, and the consensus is that the story works. Now for the bad news.

Finding Your Genre
Typically, when writing a novel you have pretty good idea about which genre you’re in. We’ve been trained to think this way, and it’s my view that this is mostly due to the influence of movies and television. What’s the first thing an agent asks you (after “Who are you again?”)—what is it? And they’re not talking about the story, my friend. No, they are asking whether it’s rom-com, horror, thriller, period, coming-of-age, etc. In other words, they want to know how to market it.

And here’s the thing—because we as writers are already trained, we will write according to these predefined genres, or categories. Of course, Amazon makes it easy too. When you publish your book, you are asked to select up to three categories. Here’s one—Fiction->Romance->Contemporary.

But what if your story doesn’t fall neatly into a pigeon hole?

Genre Benders
This is where I found myself after finishing my novel. And I will tell you in all honesty, this is precisely why I had struggled with the screenplay. In my mind, I had a great story, but it wasn’t targeted at a particular audience (kids, millennials, older adults, etc.). So, now what?

Well, I had a great conversation with my friend Melodie Ramone, who I interviewed recently. Melodie is not only a brilliant writer, but she knows the publishing world well—particularly when it comes to what publishers want from fiction. And what they want is apparently no different than what those pesky Hollywood agents want—they want to categorize the book so they can market it in the same tired way they do all the others that fall into your particular genre.

Sadly, my book is what Melodie calls a “genre bender.” And, bless her, she didn’t discourage me from publishing it. Sure, I’ll probably never get a literary agent to look at it, but who cares? I’m focused on indie publishing anyway. Of course, I still have to figure out how to market the damned thing, and that is still the problem.

Family Fiction
In researching genre-bending types of fiction, I ran across a term I wasn’t familiar with—family fiction. I tried looking it up, and guess what—there is no definition. I found items as diverse as “Christian fiction,” “family saga” and “domestic fiction.” In fact, there’s a site called FamilyFiction.com that appears to try and own the brand, categorizing itself as a purveyor of Christian fiction.

When I searched Amazon’s Kindle store, I found that “family fiction” is a recognized search term. The first book that popped up on the list at the time of this writing was The Doctor’s Unexpected Family by Kristen Ethridge. You got it—Christian fiction. The second was A Legacy of Secrets by Jean Reinhardt, which is listed as a family saga. Then there’s Alone by Holly Hook, which appears to be targeted to the YA/Sci-Fi/Fantasy crowd. I saw other titles with “family” in them, which unfortunately means that Mario Puzo’s The Family is included. Now, most people are aware that Amazon is great at leveraging big data, but the fact that Christian fiction-themed books appear alongside stories about La Cosa Nostra tells me that family fiction is not a true genre, at least as far as they’re concerned.

Alternatively, if you visit Goodreads, you’ll find a list of family fiction that features books as diverse as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle (which is part of her “A Wrinkle in Time” series). Now granted, the only reason the list contains these books is because readers shelved them that way, which tells me that readers themselves don’t really understand what family fiction is. They probably figure, hey, if it’s about a family, then it must be family fiction. So wait, could it be that simple?

Bringing It Home
Back to my story. My book is told mostly in the first person by a thirteen-year-old girl. But occasionally, I use third-person omniscient because there are important scenes that don’t include her but drive the other characters—her mother and father, for example.

I still haven’t figured out how I am going to market this thing, but Melodie gave me some great suggestions. I will keep you informed as to my progress. In the meantime, I would love to see some comments about what you consider to be family fiction.

Authors and Goodreads

Photo Courtesy of Chris Dunn
[Cracked Matador]Sometimes, it’s hard being an author and a marketer. We want to spend all our time on our passion, which is writing. But in order to create awareness for the purpose of gaining more readers, we also need to market ourselves. Yikes! And we do this typically on two main platforms—Twitter and Facebook. But there’s another platform we seem to gravitate toward, and that’s Goodreads.

Goodreads started out as an independent platform devoted to readers—people who love good books and want to discuss them with folks who share their interests. Some time ago, Amazon took notice of the large membership and decided to purchase them. Now, as a destination, not much has changed. You can still add books that you have read or want to read to your shelves. You can create lists, and you can join lively discussion groups. To me, Goodreads is like a gigantic online book club. Except you don’t meet at peoples’ houses, and there are no Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Readers vs. Authors
Here’s where things get interesting, though. Goodreads also allows authors to join and, further, to identify themselves as authors, with their own profiles. My guess is, Goodreads did this primarily so they could entice authors to purchase advertising. I’m not sure how effective that is, and after having participated in Goodreads as an author for the past two years or so (you can check out my profile here), I’ve come to a startling conclusion.

Authors should stay the hell away from Goodreads.

Now, I realize that some of you will be upset with me. What does this idiot mean, stay away? Okay, so I didn’t want you to take me literally—I was trying to make a point. What I actually meant was, in my opinion authors should not attempt to promote themselves in Goodreads. At all. It would be like me showing up at your Wednesday night book club meeting, hawking my horror-thriller novels to your unsuspecting guests and tippling the Merlot when you weren’t looking. First of all, I wasn’t invited. Secondly, how did I get a key to your house?

The Well-behaved Author
Goodreads should be a place for readers, not writers. I think authors should have the ability to maintain author profiles there, but it should be purely for the purpose of interacting with fans who want to ask us questions. Goodreads features a wonderful section in the author profile called “Ask the Author.” Readers can post their questions, and authors can reply. I’ve done this myself, and I really enjoy it. You can check out my Q&As here. And if readers want to know more about the kinds of books I write, they should visit my website.

Well, what about reviews? Authors read too, you know. And if I really like a book, I want to tell the world—just like any other reader. I see nothing wrong with authors posting reviews on Goodreads. I’m not even sure my reviews carry any more weight than some of the best book bloggers out there.

So, what do you think? Should authors be active participants in Goodreads?

Note: This video is hilarious, but it’s NSFW.

Taking Your Books to the World, One Click at a Time

[Taylor Ripp]

By Taylor Ripp

Guys, I just started using GeoRiot, and I am finding it to be a huge help for my book-marketing efforts. I’m aware that there are a number of other services out there that can localize your Amazon links, but these guys stand out for me. So I wanted to give them a chance to talk to you about the value of acting as a global marketer.

As an author, you want your works of literary art to be available to as many readers as possible. Luckily, we live in the age where the indie author has the ability to market to a global audience thanks to a little something called the Internet. However, many authors with an international following don’t realize that online storefronts like Amazon and iBooks are actually country and region specific, which means if your global readers are clicking on links to either ecosystem in order to purchase from your website or social media pages, you may be losing out on sales.

Why, you ask? If you’re not sending your readers to their native storefronts, they may be unable to finish the purchase due to language, currency, and for physical products shipping costs. For example, if a reader in Germany clicks on a link from your website to purchase your book on Amazon.com, you will be sending them to the Amazon US storefront where they will find your book, but in a foreign language and currency, and in a store where they probably don’t have an account. Those potential new fans who were about to purchase your book have been steered away due to a poor user experience. By linking users to the wrong storefront, you’ve given them a bad experience, missed out a book sale, and lost a new reader.

Before we go any further, let’s talk briefly about the world of Affiliate Marketing. If you’re not already signed up for Affiliate Programs like Amazon Associates and the iTunes Affiliate Program (for iBooks), that’s something else we highly recommend. As an affiliate, these stores will pay you commissions for any purchases made after clicking on one of your affiliated links. The cool part is even if you send your readers to buy your newest novel, and they purchase a brand new TV in the same session, you get a percentage from that TV too! Please note, however, that the Amazon Associates program is actually country-specific as well, so you’ll need to sign up for the different country’s affiliate programs separately in order to earn those commissions from around the world.

Ok, back to the issue at hand. We at GeoRiot call the geographic barriers between your readers and the item you’re promoting “The Purchasing Gap,” and now that I have you sufficiently worried, let’s talk about how to bridge it.

There are link management platforms out there (such as GeoRiot) that allow you to build a single link that automatically determines what country your readers are clicking from, directs them to their local storefront, and adds your affiliate ID. This increases the likelihood of your readers being able to purchase your books, and when they do, you earn you a commission for the sale.

In addition to solving The Purchasing Gap, a good link management platform will give you other tools to help your books conquer the world. GeoRiot allows you to set up Genius Links that allow you to configure overrides like automatically sending all clicks coming from iOS devices to purchase your eBook from iBooks, or clicks from Kindle devices to Amazon. Some even have reporting tools that allow you to more specifically cater your marketing efforts by showing you where in the world and from what devices your readers are clicking. These platforms can also allow you to create “vanity” or “shortened” links such as http://geni.us/MyBook that look much better than the long Amazon links.

Obviously, we’re biased towards our service, but if you’re not using some type of link management platform for your global marketing efforts, you’re missing out on potential sales, fans, and affiliate commissions. Using a specialized service like GeoRiot will make you a better marketer, increase your book sales, and help your chances of turning into the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

If you have any questions about The Purchasing Gap or just want to learn more about global marketing, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to help you become a better global marketer.

The Loneliness of the One-Armed Marketer

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Malone via Creative Commons
[One-Man Band]There’s a wonderful English film called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,’ released in 1962, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay. Yeah, so this post has nothing to do with that movie, but I was inspired by the title. The idea came to me while preparing to release the sequel to last year’s horror-thriller Tell Me When I’m Dead. And it all has to do with independent authors who don’t have enough time to market their work.

Not that I’m complaining.

Life is Good
I have been blessed with the ability to make a living. Not at writing, mind you. At least, not yet. But I do have a steady income that allows me to support my family. And that is truly something to be thankful for. When I’m not engaged in my profession or spending time with my family, though, I write. Not as fast as some, but I manage to crank out some work now and then.

And although everything is fine income-wise, you can’t just write a book, hit the publish button and move on to the next one. You have to market yourself and your work. Constantly. Otherwise no one will be able to find you in the sea of books out there—unless Oprah gets a copy somehow and offers up some free publicity. And the last time I checked, she wasn’t recommending books about zombies.

Good, Better, Best
So what’s a good way to get my name out there? Well, this website, of course. And Facebook. I created a Facebook page some time ago and I have built up a small but faithful group of followers. And I try not to pummel them with pleas to buy my book. That’s just cheesy.

I tried paying for Facebook ads, and that was a bust. It’s hard to draw a correlation between click-throughs and sales from Facebook, mainly because I don’t have access to the right analytics. But I never saw a real jump in sales when I ran my campaigns. I guess people would click through to the Amazon page, read the blurb, then bail. I tried targeting my ad appropriately, only going after people eighteen or older who like horror. Whatever …

What’s also effective is Goodreads. I have an author page over there too. I have run Goodreads campaigns in the past without a lot of success. But I did notice that I had slightly better sales than I did with Facebook. It makes sense, since Goodreads is about nothing but books.

Overall, a better approach is Twitter. And it’s free—unless you want to pay for sponsored tweets. Twitter is a great way to reach a lot of people through amplification. Here again, though, you shouldn’t only tweet things telling people why they should buy your book. You should offer up helpful links—or promote others’ books—in order to be a solid member of the community. That’s what I try to do. Have a look and see if you think I am behaving appropriately.

The best thing—the thing authors crave most—is word-of-mouth. That’s the best kind of advertising. People telling other people how good your book is and why they should buy it too. Remember Oprah? She is the empress of word-of-mouth. And people listen to her.

Did I Forget Anything?
I signed up for Pinterest, and for a while I was faithfully posting all kinds of pictures. Some people engaged with me there, but I never really saw the point of it all. My plan is to abandon Pinterest—and all the other social media sites I’ve signed up with over the years—and focus on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter. What about Google+? Sure, I use it. But I don’t feel like anyone ever really reads what people post there. I know I don’t. But, hey, if that’s where you like to hang out, you can easily find me there.

It’s lonely out here, let me tell you. I wish I had an intern. Too little time and too much untapped potential. But I do the best I can. We all do.

Macy’s or Wal-Mart—Which Are You?

By Khalid Muhammad

[Khalid Muhammad]In this second in an occasional series, Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules—Never an Easy Day at the Office, talks about something as important as writing your book—marketing it. Brand is crucial to an author’s success, and so is how you price your book. So who do you want to be?

Macy’s or Wal-Mart—which are you?

There is a reason that marketers get paid the big bucks—we know how to position and market your product for the highest return. There is also a reason that 99% of us hate to compete based on price—because the next guy that comes along at 10 cents cheaper is going to steal our customer. That is capitalism at its finest. It doesn’t matter if the product is better or not, if the price fits, the consumer will buy.

Why do they buy? Because you haven’t given them a reason to stay with your product, in this case your book. And therein lies the rub …

When we spend months writing our book, detached from family, losing sleep, and inhaling more caffeine and nicotine than our bodies know what to do with, we are doing it because we have a story to tell. We want the readers to be absorbed, engaged and interwoven into the words that we put on the page. We want them to escape into the lands that we create, feel the emotions of our characters, and savor the experience until our next book comes to market. So why do we price our books so low that real readers don’t touch them?

For most authors, they never think of the marketing side because they are too busy working on writing the actual book, which is much more important, nor do they have the capital to go out and hire someone to do the marketing for them. So they take on the task and find themselves competing for the Wal-Mart customer rather than catering to the Macy’s loyalists. Let’s stop for a second and talk about what that means.

I am a big fan of Wal-Mart. It’s a great place to shop, and wonderful people work there, but we all need to be clear—we don’t shop there because of the great quality, we shop there for the price. Because Wal-Mart buys in indecent quantity, they are able to offer a significantly lower price to the consumer so they don’t need to worry about quality. They just need to keep the shelves full. Now, look at Macy’s. They don’t care about price. They focus on quality and the experience of the consumer. The Macy’s shopper doesn’t spend their time waiting for the flyer, they just go and buy. Price is not the decision point for them, it’s quality and experience. So, you have to ask yourself, which one are you? Are you a price point or do you give the reader a fantastic experience? That’s a tough question because it affects your entire marketing strategy, book positioning, and sadly, your book sales. So let’s ask the question.

As an author, do you deliver a fantastic experience to the reader? Do you want to have loyal readers that send you emails, post on your Facebook page and hound you on twitter wanting to know when your next book will be out? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you need to think about the experience and forget the price.

Now, I’m not saying that you should jump your price to over $8 an e-book like the traditionally published authors, because you don’t carry the same expenses nor do you have a publisher that is hungry to generate obscene revenue from your hard work. This is your baby. This is your money and only you know how best to price it, so price it that way.

I know there are a bunch of authors out there who believe the best way to sell their books is to drop to a .99 price. But can I ask you a question—what do you think when you walk into a dollar store? Are you there because you want the best quality or are you there because you want to get some inexpensive things? Yeah, I thought so. The same applies to when you give something away for free. You got something for nothing, so what is it really worth to you? I should be clear this does not apply to the books you give away for reviews because that is also a marketing activity and good reviews sell books. But if the reviewer sees that the price of the book is below the price of a McDonald’s meal, they don’t take it with much value.

So I leave you this week with this question—as an author, are you Wal-Mart or Macy’s?

[Agency Rules Cover]

eBook
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
When people talk about Khalid Muhammad, they talk about an entrepreneur who has helped others build their dreams and businesses. They talk about a teacher, who is dedicated to his students, both inside and outside the classroom, and they return the dedication tenfold. Now, they talk about the author, who has written a fast-paced, action-packed spy thriller about Pakistan, the politics, the Army and terrorism.

Born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country.

You can find more information about Khalid and his novel at agencyrules.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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So You’re An Author

By Khalid Muhammad

[Khalid Muhammad]I am very pleased to welcome Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules—Never an Easy Day at the Office. In this occasional series, Khalid discusses what it means to be an indie author, responsibilities you didn’t even know you had, and tips on creating a powerful marketing presence. In this first article, Khalid covers the basics of the author platform.

So you’ve written your masterpiece – 90,000 plus words, formatted and cover designed, and you’re just getting ready to publish it to the world’s hungry eyes … when all of the sudden fear grasps you and you start to wonder, How will people know? and What if they don’t buy? Yes, we’ve all been there, whether traditional or self-published—that moment that makes us turn ghost white wondering how people are going to find out about our book. That moment when we realize that no matter what the publisher does to promote it, we will have to brand ourselves and market our books. Oh, the horror!

About a decade ago, before the social media and the Internet became like food for everyone, marketing a book would mean buying advertising space, getting on popular radio shows and begging local and regional newspapers for reviews of your book. That all changed with the digital generation, where with the right tools, you can spend very little and get huge results. That’s if you know how to use the right tools.

This new series is designed to help authors of all shapes and experience understand how to select and use the right tools to build their brand and market their books to the largest possible audience.

The Author Platform
Let’s start with the basics. There are things that you must have as an author in today’s digital world, if you even hope to achieve a modicum of success. Those things are:

  • An author website
  • A Facebook page for either your book or yourself as an author
  • A Twitter account
  • A Goodreads author account

I know, not rocket science right? Actually, it is. The four things above are essential to any author, not having any weakens your efforts and limits the access that potential readers have to your work. This is what I call the proverbial “author platform.” Each piece of the platform caters to specific groups of readers and all work closely together to deliver what we call in the marketing world a strong user experience, but I’ll go into that later.

Remember, as an author, you need to create an inviting place for potential readers to come and get to know you. You also have to take into account that the attention span of some readers has slimmed down to 30 seconds. Oh yeah, and some will want to read more about your writing before they buy your book since you’re not a recognized name. And there are hundreds of other things you must take into account about the characteristics of your potential audience than you realize that you can’t do on any single platform alone, which is why there are four parts.

The one thing that you need to focus the most on is your author website. This is the central nervous system of your entire marketing efforts. If done wrong, you will not achieve the success that you could potentially have. If done right, you will have a fantastic platform that will feed all of your other tools with content that engages and encourages readers to want to buy your book.

We will be covering each of these points in detail over the course of this series. My objective is to help you build the pieces that will showcase your work and drive traffic to sell your book. If you have questions, please do reach out to me in the comments here or via any of my social media pages, which are listed below.

[Agency Rules Cover]

eBook
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
When people talk about Khalid Muhammad, they talk about an entrepreneur who has helped others build their dreams and businesses. They talk about a teacher, who is dedicated to his students, both inside and outside the classroom, and they return the dedication tenfold. Now, they talk about the author, who has written a fast-paced, action-packed spy thriller about Pakistan, the politics, the Army and terrorism.

Born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country.

You can find more information about Khalid and his novel at agencyrules.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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