Recently, I received an invitation from someone looking for guests on their blog and I dutifully passed the information on to several lists. One of my friends emailed me back.
“Aren’t blogs dead?” she asked. “Can you honestly say that blogging has ever made a difference in sales?”
I had to give that one a bit of thought.
To be honest, I doubt seriously that doing the guest blog thing in and of itself has any real impact on sales--collectively, however, it is about brand recognition. If everywhere you turn, you see something with Nora Roberts printed on it; you might be tempted into checking it out or even buying it. If you decide it's not your thing, no big deal--but if you LOVE Nora Roberts, and you tell all your friends, and you buy all her books... well, that's how the loyal fan is created.
I think the biggest thing that has had an impact on my sales recently is a series of fortuitous events. Last November I released a story that had decent sales on the publisher's site. I was slow to get my website, twitter, FB, Goodreads, etc. in place but I finally did so. Last Christmas, I wrote a free story for a Goodreads M/M group challenge that was published as part of an anthology. For participating, I got to have one of my stories chosen for the group to read/discuss at a future date.
In the meantime, I kept writing.
The Goodreads M.M group grew steadily to over 3000 members. I had several stories accepted by my publisher with release dates in late June, early July. I also signed up to write a story for another Goodreads free anthology—which would start posting the stories in July. My slot in the Goodreads discussion list came up at the same time I had a new release, so I chose Raincheck as the story for the group to discuss. A few weeks later, my second free story was posted on Goodreads M/M Romance Group, and a few weeks after that, my novel Crying for the Moon was released.
Suddenly "Sarah Madison" is everywhere at the same time. Raincheck at one time was number twenty-six on Amazon in GBLT sales and number eight thousand in overall Kindle sales. Though is has since tumbled off the top 100 list, it is still selling quite well. I can live with that, for what is essentially a modern fairy tale, and a short novella to boot.
On the free Goodreads story, Surf’s Up, the comments are all very positive, with one person saying, “I loved this story and I'm going to go read all of your others!” When Crying for the Moon came out at the end of July, it rocketed to number eighteen on the Amazon GBLT list overnight. Within twelve hours of its launch on Kindle. All because a bunch of things came together at the right time. You might look at it as being lucky--but to a certain extent, like Noah, it required being willing to release doves from the Ark in search of dry land well before there was any expectation of there being any dry land.
When I blog, I have a different focus in mind. I follow certain people on twitter, etc, because a) they are celebrities b) they're funny c) they are funny celebrities that I want to know more about what they are doing and when they are doing it. When I blog, I try to be myself, but also entertaining and memorable. I want someone reading it to go, "Hey, I liked that. Sarah Madison. Where have I seen that name recently?" or "Huh, I guess I'll go check out her links."
I see the blogging--and subsequent interaction with the handful of people who respond--as the beginnings of online relationships that will grow as time passes. Once you've discussed the cat's health issues or the BF's car accident, just like on LJ, that person ceases to be a name and becomes someone you know. I have friends whose stories I read solely because they are friends--writing in genres/fandoms that don't interest me but they are a) good writers and b) friends so I read them.
I see some people whose self-promotion is boring and repetitive. The endless droning on about their book(s) makes me question the entertainment value. I just let my eyes glaze over as I scroll past their updates. But then you check out their sales and realize they must be doing something right. If nothing else other than through the sheer volume of self-promotion. I can't bring myself to do that. I have a hard time posting rankings or reviews as it is. But it does make people wonder what you are doing to be so successful and it makes them go check you out. And that is the very first step to selling anything.
I had a contact who was so off-putting during an online interaction that not only did I remove her from my lists, but I also pass over her books every time she has a new release. I would have remained neutral toward her work had she not been arrogant and dismissive--so I think a negative presence online is more harmful than no presence online.
I have another friend who is an entertaining writer but only posts once a year, and then bemoans the fact that no one seems to have noticed. It doesn't matter that her work is good--she is so rarely 'home' that no one is checking in with her blog to see what she's doing. I post to my own blog even if I think no one out there cares or is listening. People get a feel for who you are as a person based on what you talk about. I had one reader (after I'd bitched about my hair online and referred to myself with short hair as 'an angry hedgehog') ask me if I wrote the way I spoke--because she liked it. That's where I think blogging comes into play. You get to show a little of yourself and, if people identify with you, they are more likely to buy a title out of curiosity.
Keeping the reader depends on the story. Whether they like the kinds of tales you tell, the characters you write, etc. But I think it is all about getting people to take that first chance.
My mother has a thing about the fact that I am on the road a lot by myself and thinks I should carry a gun. I've tried for years to explain that if I am ever in a situation where a gun is needed, it's already too late. I prefer to take a German shepherd with me wherever I go so that people are more likely to leave me alone in the first place.
Blogging is the reverse of that. There are thousands of books to choose from every day. You need to do something to make someone pick up your book first.
I also recently wrote a blog spot called Shut Up and Write.
I do believe that an author's Primary Goal is to write first and promote second. We tend to get inundated with the "promote" message (because that is so much easier to do than to say, "Sit down and write for god's sake!") that we think it is the biggest part of the game. Not the biggest. But critical just the same.
I didn't think much about the blog spot until I googled myself for another reason and there it was. I had seven pages of mentions regarding "Sarah Madison" and "Raincheck" and after that, Google brought up older works as well. That's what you want when someone Googles your pen name. You want it to keep coming up.
This is the level of promotion I'm currently comfortable with--though next month, I am buying an ad for the latest release on one of the romance sites. Why? Because I see all the big names there, and the implication, as before, if you are seeing them everywhere, they must be good. I would hazard a guess that not all of these books are Grand Works of Art. But if the author is releasing new material frequently, the diehard fan will buy. So will the merely curious. However, all diehard fans started out as merely curious at one time.
Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a busy practice, a great boyfriend, a large dog, and an even bigger horse. She enjoys hiking along the Appalachian Trail with her German shepherd and competing her horse in the sport of combined training and eventing. Writing has become a passion that sometimes takes precedence over everything else. In fact, when she is in the middle of a chapter, she usually relies on the smoke detector to tell her when dinner is ready.
You can contact Sarah at email@example.com.
On the web at: http://www.sarahmadisonfiction.com
Latest releases Raincheck and Crying for the Moon are available on Dreamspinner Press.