Author Interview–Aila Stephens

Everyone loves to hear how a launch goes. Was it successful? How many books did they sell their first day? Their first week? How many page reads did they have if they were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited?

Book launches are exciting.
◊Cover reveal!
◊Excerpts!
◊Author interviews!
◊Blog tours!

But what about after? There is always going to be someone else who releases a book and our attention will be jerked away by a shiny new cover.

What happens after the launch? What happens months after the first week of sales? How does an author keep the momentum going?

I spoke with author Aila Stephens to find out. Listen in—maybe she’ll tell us all her secrets.

astericks

You launched Sex, Love, and Formalities, the companion to Sex, Love, and Technicalities in November of 2017. How did that launch go for you? Can you give us a quick rundown of what you did to prepare? You hosted a giveaway, as well, correct?

Sure! I drank a lot of coffee. I panicked a little…no, no. I mean, yes, I did those things, but really, I talked Formalities up on social media a little more than I did when I launched its’ predecessor. I had much better-looking bookmarks printed up, and I spent a little more time and money on the book trailer than I did for the first one. I love having a book trailer for my books. It’s mostly a total vanity thing, but they’re still fairly rare in the indie community. Giveaways are pretty hit or miss, I don’t think that’s a secret, but I look at them as a necessary evil.

I did have a giveaway. It’s no secret that giveaways are pretty hit or miss, and there’s never any rhyme or reason to how many participants you get, but this one had decent participation. I gave away two signed copies of my books along with coffee and tea, a mug, and even a nice shawl to throw over the shoulders as it was quickly turning wintertime.

That was a great giveaway! I was bummed I couldn’t enter. You also did a free book promo for book one during the launch of book two using some of your free days allowed to you in the KDP Select program. Can you explain how you promoted that, if you did? If I remember correctly, your stats for that free book were rather impressive.

I promoted using Twitter and my Facebook author page.

I am going to strangle myself for this, but I cannot for the life of me remember exactly how many free copies of Technicalities were downloaded during those days, but it was several hundred—maybe even closing in on a thousand. I’d tell you concretely, but apparently, Amazon won’t let me go back that far. Whatever it was, the top ranking I got on Amazon that day was #14, for Women’s Fictions > Crime, and I believe it was #20 for Women’s Fiction > Romance.

That’s fantastic! Did your free promotion for book one bolster sales for book two?

In the weeks following that free promotion, I did have several thousand “normalized pages” of Formalities being read on Kindle Unlimited, which was very nice.

…If only all those free books and KU pages led to reviews, right?

It’s hard to tell if the sales of Formalities since then have been directly related to that free promotion, though I suspect most are.

Did you find it easier to launch book two since it was a sequel?

I did. I had so many—so very many—mistakes I learned from with Technicalities. I think that’s kind of a great thing though, learning from one’s own mistakes. I made a few with Formalities which I hope to avoid with the next book, and I’m sure I’ll make some with it that I’ll try and avoid with the one after that…and so on and so forth.

What are you doing, four months after your launch, to keep sales going? And are your methods working?

Still drinking coffee, still panicking. Ha! No. It’s not in my nature to go for the hard-sell. I do share pictures of my covers from time to time on Instagram, though it’s fruitless. What I think has helped me the most to see continued sells and KU reads has been my blog. I didn’t have the best track record of consistently blogging, but after my launch, I decided to make blogging my second priority to writing more books. I blog every Monday and every other Thursday. I’m still trying to wean myself from blogging just to other writers and figuring out how the heck you blog for readers, but I digress.

At the end of every blog post I include a small, hopefully unobtrusive, advertisement I made for my books and I link it to them on Amazon. I have noticed that I usually sell something on Tuesdays and/or Fridays, and my KU pages have remained rather steady.

This is a comfortable way for me to garner attention to my books without me feeling like a spam-artist.

Again…if only those translated to reviews.

What have you learned from either of your books to help you launch and maintain momentum for your next book?

I want to give a little more time between finishing the book and launching the book. With this next one I want to seek out ARC reviewers on YouTube (which, honestly, excites me and kills me a little on the inside), and I also want to spread out smaller, but still impressive, giveaways. I am still researching some launch tactics, but these are the main ones I intend to employ this go-round.

Do you have any tips for those who are seeing declining sales after their launch?

I would ask them what they’re doing to keep putting it in front of people. Like I said, there isn’t a soul out there who can say I’ve sent them an auto-DM going, BUY MY BOOK!! But I endeavor to have a quality blog I drive traffic to several times a month, in the hopes that by the time someone gets to the bottom, they’re intrigued enough to take a look at my books.

You can’t publish a book and then expect people to find it without a little elbow grease.

Have you ruled out paying for ads or promotions?

Not at all! I just don’t want to do it for two books. Once my next book comes out, I’ll shell out a little money for advertising and see what comes of it. Three is by no means the magic number, but I will chalk it up to research, too. I can’t afford to be anything except financially prudent with this, but I’m excited to see what happens with it.

I’ve read the best advertisement to promote your work is to write another book. Do you believe this is true?

Absolutely. I wish I had the ability to write full-time so I could crank them out faster. I think in today’s world, we’re all so accustomed to instant-satisfaction that we don’t want to fall in love with a book or an author if they’re not producing anything else. It’d be like watching The Paradise on Netflix and falling in love with it only to learn they shucked it after two seasons. We binge-watch in this day and age, and readers binge-read. This is why there is so much advice out there saying book series are the moneymakers.

…says the girl writing a standalone book right now.

Think of Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is a priceless piece of American literature, but for the longest time—fifty-five years!—there was only one published out there by Ms. Lee. I don’t know how well that sort of publishing schedule would work in this day and age. 😉

I guess the secret is to write such a thought-provoking, moving book, that your book is mandatory reading in all schools! Thanks, Aila, for taking the time to chat with me!

Vania, thank you so much for sitting down with me again for such a lovely interview! I am always honored and humbled that someone of your talent and expertise has time for little ol’ me.

And to all of your amazing readers, thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me!

Love ya, mean it!  -Aila

Aila always makes me blush. I hope you enjoyed her interview and maybe learned a little something about how to keep the momentum after your launch from drifting away. Help keep her momentum up by downloading free copies of her books here (March 27 and 28) and give her Amazon profile a follow while you’re there. 🙂

Aila is leaving her mark all over the interwebs, and you can follow her Instagram account, Tweet with her on Twitter, like her Facebook author page, and definitely give her blog a peek. She’s in the middle of a wonderful writers’ resources series you don’t want to miss!

Thanks for reading!

 

Quotes taken from the websites in the photo captions, and photos taken from http://www.pixabay.com and http://www.unsplash.com. Graphics created with these photos in http://www.canva.com.

PitchWars: Should You Enter?

PitchWars is an annual writing contest where writers all over the world compete for the chance to be mentored by traditionally published authors. If you have a completed novel, you can enter. While mentors comb through entries, everyone involved in the contest spends about a month on Twitter making friends, talking about writing, and sharing their favorite GIFs.

Once picks are announced, mentors and mentees work together for two months on the mentee’s novel. After that, there’s an agent round where roughly fifty agents will read the entries and make requests for manuscripts that spark their interest.

Photo 1

Right? It’s an amazing opportunity to network and get your foot in the door with traditional publishing. The question is, should you enter?

Yes, I think every unpublished writer who wants to go traditional should try it once. I entered this past August and didn’t get a spot, but thought it was a very valuable experience. However, please save yourself some heartache and assume you will not win a spot. Getting into PitchWars is no easier than getting an agent from cold querying.

So why should you bother? As with everything in this bizarre universe of ours, it has its pluses and minuses.

Disadvantages

Seriously, the Odds Are Not in Your Favor

Ignoring duplicate entries, over 2800 people entered PitchWars in 2017. There were 180 spots. That’s a 0.6% acceptance rate. For context, Yale Fucking Law School has a 9.7% acceptance rate.

But let’s say you’re lucky enough to get in. As of July, PitchWars has almost 250 success stories. This means ~250 people have gotten agents out of the 385 mentees selected between 2013 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong, a 65% chance of getting an agent is HUGE, especially compared to the 1% cold query success rate rumor I keep hearing about. But it’s far from a guarantee.

Am I trying to shit on PitchWars? Absolutely not. But you need to go into this with wide-open eyes. You should have faith in yourself as a writer and your journey; your book will find a home (whether it’s with trad pub, self-pub, or small press). But it probably won’t be through PitchWars. PW is not a golden shortcut ticket to unlock the Gates of Traditional Publishing.

The Secret to Getting Picked Is a Goddamn Mystery

Photo 2

In addition to the numbers working against you, there is no real way to know why your manuscript does or doesn’t get picked. Some mentors give feedback, but most do not. Your book has to fit into a specific and subjective set of standards, which include…

  1. It has to be good. Good voice, solid plot, interesting characters, quality writing, etc. are essential.
  1. But it can’t be too good. *facepalm* I know. But if you’re going to work with a mentor for two months, they need to have a vision for what they can do to help you improve the book. Contest rules say to submit a “complete and polished” manuscript, but I would read this more as “complete and copyedited.” Your lump of clay needs to be good, but it still needs to be a lump of clay.
  1. It has to mesh with the mentor’s tastes. Before you submit your application, mentors will post wish lists about what kinds of stories they’re looking for, which is helpful, but look at their backlist too. Does anything about their work resonate with you? Their voice? Their subgenre? The tropes they use?
  1. But it can’t be too similar to the mentor’s body of work. If the mentor has a series about a talking squirrel who solves mysteries with a cynical school janitor, they probably won’t feel comfortable working with you on a book about a talking chipmunk who solves mysteries with a grumpy hotel maid.
  1. It has to be marketable. Mentors are more lenient about this than agents are, but it still has to be clear where your book will fit in the market.
  1. The mentor has to believe you can work together. Mentorship isn’t just about quality and marketability. It’s an interpersonal issue, too. Some mentors will stalk you on Twitter to see if you’ll be a good fit.
  1. Weird miscellaneous factors can decide your fate. Maybe your protagonist has the same name as their favorite niece. Maybe your book takes place in their hometown—which they HATE. As they always say, this business is subjective. Considering some mentors have hundreds of entries to wade through, it could be literally anything that puts your book in the “Yes” pile.

Not surprisingly, aside from #2, the reasons a mentor will accept or reject your work are similar to why an agent will or won’t request more pages. Once again, PW is not simpler or easier than cold querying an agent.

Social Media Is Hell

What makes PW such an event is the social media component of it on Twitter, but to be honest, I have conflicting feelings about that aspect. In the weeks leading up to the submission window opening, there are all kinds of Twitter games, encouraging you to get to know mentors and other PW hopefuls. Once the submission window closes, the Twitter party continues for another month…but it gets more intense.

The entire purpose of the PW Twitter community is for everyone to get worked into a literal frenzy. They want you to be excited and proud of your work, which is a nice thought, but it also sets up unrealistic expectations. Many mentors post teasers about entries they’re enjoying— there’s an entire hashtag for them. There are also endless posts telling you to stay positive because there’s always a chance you could win a spot. It was an exhausting rollercoaster.

At least with agents, you know to pray for the best but expect the worst. Cold querying is beautiful in its simplicity. I send out my package, note the expected response dates in a spreadsheet, and walk away. If I follow agents I’ve subbed to on social media, I don’t have to worry their posts will be hints about submissions they’re reading. Some agents do #tenqueries, but those posts include specific reasons for passing on or requesting more pages of a project. They don’t post cryptic messages about something they might pick.

So if you do enter PW, protect your space. Like all social media, PW Twitter can become too much. Don’t be afraid to block hashtags, mute certain accounts, or take a break.

Advantages – Why You Should Enter Anyway

 

Photo 3

I know, I raised a lot of issues with the contest, but I still think it’s worthwhile to enter at least once. Whether you’re new to the querying trenches or are a seasoned pro, PW has something to offer.

 If You Do Get Picked, It’s a Great Opportunity

It doesn’t hurt to buy a lottery ticket—just don’t gamble away all your money. Go in with low expectations, but if you do have the fortune of getting selected, the mentorship alone is an amazing opportunity. Not only are you getting free, in-depth help from a professional writer, but you’re also forming a connection with them. I often hear about mentors who still talk to and help their former mentees with their writing. Like with any other industry, you need connections to thrive. Mentorships are invaluable.

As I said earlier, the agent round may or may not yield fruit, but it does boost your chances.

You’ll Make New Friends and Expand Your Twitter Presence

While I wasn’t a fan of certain aspects of the PW hashtag, overall, I did enjoy the sense of camaraderie among entrants and mentors. If you participate in any of the games (e.g., GIF competitions) or interact with the hashtag, you’re bound to connect with other PW hopefuls. Some of these people will become followers, critique partners, and even friends. For some writers, PW has become as much a valued tradition as NaNoWriMo because of the unique community.

PitchWars is also a good excuse to post content and build your brand. Twitter is the most popular social media platform for us writer types, so if you’re looking to network, it’s the place to be. Many unpublished writers are using their growing platforms to build hype around their manuscripts by showing off novel aesthetics, character interviews, and memorable quotes. Taking advantage of the PW hashtag can help you with that.

You’ll Discover New Authors

Since mentors are wading through their slush piles for free, it’s nice to give back by reading their books. There are over a hundred PW mentors, so there is plenty of new content to discover. You might find your next favorite book or a new comp title to use in your query letter.

It’s Good Practice for Rejection

If you haven’t queried agents or publishers before…Welcome! PitchWars is a great way to rip off that first Band-Aid of rejection because there’s going to be tons of it, regardless of how you publish. Agents will reject you, publishers will rebuff you, and readers will scorn you. Get in the practice now with PitchWars. Rejections from faceless agents are way easier to digest after getting rejections from friendly mentors you bonded with.

It’s a Kick in the Pants

Most people don’t enter PitchWars because they simply happened to have a polished manuscript lying around. They prepare. Whether they just found out about PitchWars existed three weeks before the deadline or they’re a third-year PitchWars veteran, PW hopefuls haul ass. If you’re looking for motivation, the contest is a great stimulus for finishing your book and writing a query letter. Even if you don’t get a spot, you’re still way ahead of where you were before.

Photo 4

PitchWars will re-open in August 2018, but you can read this year’s winning entries here: www.pitchwars.org

nadia's logoNadia Diament writes sexy, funny things. You can ask her esoteric questions on Twitter here, check out her blog here, and read her stories here.

 

Five Reasons Why I’m Not Marketing My Books Right Now

As always in conversations about self-publishing, the subject of marketing your book comes up. I hosted a Twitter chat last week on Self-Publishing, and people wanted to talk more about marketing than anything else.

blogs-marketing-2646804_1920

I get this. I mean, we all want people to find our books; we write so people can read our work. But when people ask me what my plans are for marketing my books, I have to tell them, I have no immediate plans.

And here’s why.

  1. I don’t have enough content.
    You don’t need a marketing plan if you have no content. (Good grammar for a writer, huh?) Various numbers come up, but I follow @BadRedheadMedia‘s #bookmarketingchat on Twitter, and in one of her tweets, she said your career doesn’t start an upswing unless you have 6 to 10 books published. That seems like an impossibly high number, and when I first started in self-publishing, that number was 3 to 5. But with all the new writers publishing books, it’s harder and harder to make a name for yourself, and I believe that number will get higher as the market floods even more.
  2. I don’t want to throw money at one or two books.
    This kind of goes hand in hand with number one. I do have content, but not enough to warrant paying for any kind of marketing. Even if you were to stumble upon a plan that works and drew people to your book, after you draw those readers in, they’re done. They have no backlist to read through if they like your work. I’m too poor to start over every time I publish a new book. When you spend on an ad to market one book, you’re actually advertising your whole list.
  3. I genre-hopped.
    I wrote a Romantic Fantasy for my first go at publishing. I wrote it expressly to experiment with publishing, to get a feel for the process. On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton is two different novellas of the same story, one told from my male main character’s point of view, and one told from my main female character’s point of view. Summer Secrets is six novellas. The story is about six couples told in chronological order, and I published them together so readers would be forced to read them that way. These are Erotica and not my genre of choice. Since I’ve published those, I’ve settled into Contemporary Romance, full-length novels at that, and I don’t want to spend money on books that are not in my genre. When I market my books, I’ll market books that will be the foundation of my writing career. There is no point in marketing books in a genre I won’t write anymore.
  4. I’m researching how I want to market my book.
    I’m reading books right now on how to run Amazon ads, how to run successful Facebook Ads. I read a book on how to use Goodreads as an author. Marketing takes time and money—I don’t want to try these vendors without knowing what I’m doing. I talk to people who have tried various things and they say they don’t work, but they didn’t take the time to figure out how they work so they don’t waste money. It’s important to know what CPC (cost per click) is, what RT (not retweet, you tweeters) Read-Through means, and how to calculate ROI (Return on Investment, not a weird spelling of your sister’s boyfriend’s name). Knowing this stuff puts you ahead of the game, so you’re not wasting money on tactics that won’t work. Here’s a tip: If a person put together a class, say Mark Dawson and his Facebook Ads class, then that way of advertising is complicated and investing a few hours of your time to learn how it works and maybe learn some insider tips can only help you.
  5. I’m networking.
    Yes, networking is a part of marketing. When you hear that you should start networking a year before your book comes out, that’s not a lie. Some suggest even longer. You need to get to know book bloggers—be a blip on their radar as an acquaintance, even a friend, before you have a book to peddle. There is nothing more irritating than having someone introduce themselves to you for the sole reason to ask something of you. Follow them on Twitter, like their FB page. Wish them a nice day, or a great weekend. Listen to podcasts by successful indie authors, like their FB pages, follow them on Twitter, read their books. Become involved in the indie-publishing community. Everyone knows everyone in this business, and you want everyone to know you. I listen to The Sell More Books Show podcast, and Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen host. Bryan Cohen wrote a book, How to Write Sizzling Synopsis, which I bought to support him since I love the podcast. It’s a wonderful book, and I’ve written Don’t Run Away’s blurb with his tips. It took me 15 minutes. It was fabulous. One day I was listening to their podcast, and they had a guest, Michael Cooper. Coincidentally, I was reading his book about Facebook Ads, because someone in Brian D. Meeks’ Amazon Ads Facebook Group recommended it. I’m in his group because I read his Amazon Ads book, and he runs a Facebook group for his readers who want help with their ads. Funnily enough, it wasn’t that long ago he did a guest spot on Joanna Penn’s podcast, to talk about his book. Everyone knows everyone. I’m not suggesting you get to know people just to use them. But if you get to know them, even peripherally, (I tweet and blog about their books all the time; well I tweet and blog about any books I like all the time) then maybe one day when you cross paths, they’ll already have heard of you and will be more willing to help you out, by say, inviting you to be a guest on their podcast. Networking, letting relationships grow naturally, organically, takes a lot of time. Start before you’re desperate for publicity.

Those are my five reasons I’m not marketing right now. I’m writing books to have a decent backlist before I throw money at anything. When readers find me, I want them to ask, “Where has she been all my life?” not, “Oh. She only has one book out?” I’m learning how to market, where best to put money so I don’t waste it. As I do that, I’m getting to know the heavy-hitters in the indie publishing world. Even if you’re not so keen on getting to know them, you can at least study what they do in their careers, what makes them successful, so you can duplicate it.

How long will I “prepare” before I actually punch in my credit card number, or submit my book to a blogger?

It depends on how fast I can write.

Check with me next year.

I Googled “How many books does it take for an indie author to start their careers in 2017?” While I didn’t get a straight up answer, the Google spit out some interesting articles that you can read here and here.

Tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature

 

#SmutChat Aftermath

I held my first Twitter chat the other night. My emotions were all over the place.

The chat itself started off very slowly. It was only me, @DRWillisBooks, and @JewelELeonard at the beginning. @SpartaGus and @Alex_Micati joined in and helped out (thanks, guys!). Then @ceeleeolson and @KaelanRhy popped in as well as @erikafrose (thank you too! It was nice to see you!). After that, there were enough participants it didn’t sound like crickets, and as the chat went on more people joined in.

Yes, the first ten minute were very nerve-wracking, and I saw my whole Twitter chat future go down the drain. I imagined the worst-case scenario rather quickly, but it wasn’t necessary.

Though the chat was on the smaller side in terms of participants, it was my first, so that’s to be expected. I think everyone had a good time, nonetheless.

I understand if people were a bit leery—who really knows what a #smutchat could turn into— but my main goal is to keep it informative and classy. I want participants to have fun, and there were a few naughty jokes mixed in, which is fine as we are romance/erotica writers after all. I don’t see the harm in it as long as for the most part the chat maintains a rep as being informative and fun.

I was pleased to see people answering the questions long after chat closed for the evening, and my phone was blown up the next morning with notifications of people participating in the middle of (my) night and into the morning.

I will try my best to touch base with everyone individually, but I do hope that this chat takes off, and participants are happy to chat amongst themselves about the topics as well.

I was a bit disappointed not many jumped at the book giveaway, but that would have been caused by many things—people missing the tweet, or lack of interest in the book. Maybe people didn’t realize the giveaway is open to all countries. (My giveaways always will be.)

I had to work the next day, so I wasn’t able to answer all my notifications right away, but I will always try.

I think I will always announce the winner of the book and announce the date of the next chat at the same time—provided there is still a want for the chat.

I appreciate everyone who participated in my first chat, and I welcome feedback. Please DM me on Twitter or email me at vaniarheaultauthor@gmail.com.

Some things I learned and mistakes I made during my first Twitter chat, plus tips if you’re thinking of starting your own chat:

  1. Don’t panic if you get off to a slow start, but definitely have good friends to help get the traffic moving. Plus I did tweet about the chat almost once every day for two weeks before the chat. This will help keep the chat in people’s minds and give them a chance to schedule the time to participate.
  2. Figure out how you’re going to give your prize away beforehand. I set up a Rafflecopter account and tried the demo before I did my chat. I still made mistakes. When I tweeted about the giveaway and provided the link, I linked to my WordPress.com admin page for my website, not the actual website page. I think this may have caused people who use the WordPress software but are not actually part of WordPress blogging network to log in, which they wouldn’t be able to do. @drwillisbooks had this issue. I realized it in the middle of chat what I did and did eventually linked to the right page, but I may have missed a few people who wanted to enter and thought they couldn’t.
  3. When I announced the winner, I tweeted a screenshot of the Rafflecopter winner so everyone would know I just didn’t pick someone (this rules out favoritism). Rafflecopter adds personal information to the winner pick that shouldn’t be made available to the public. A kind person on Twitter called me out on it, and I took the tweet down. Luckily it had only been up for maybe 45 minutes so hopefully, no harm was done. I wasn’t impressed with Rafflecopter as a whole anyway, so I am going to look for another way to give my books away during chat.
  4. Keep a tab open for Notifications and the #smutchat hashtag. Hosting a chat was new to me, so sometimes even I forgot to add the hashtag to my tweets. Keeping both windows open allowed me to keep an eye on both sets of traffic.
  5. Be actively involved on Twitter and in the community you are a part of. Having friends who supported me definitely helped. I couldn’t have done it without them.
  6. Try to choose a night that does not host a lot of other chats. I researched a good night for chats, and chose Thursdays. I know nights may not always work for everyone, but you won’t please everyone so you need to choose a night that works best for you, as you are the host and moderator and need to focus on the chat.
  7. Be prepared to be online for longer than the chat. Late-comers started answering questions almost at the very end of the chat, which is perfectly fine, but if you want to give them a personal “hello, thanks for playing,” be prepared to be online for a lot longer. I may eventually call this the “chat after party” since I was online for 2 ½ hours for a one hour chat.
  8. Space out your questions. Sometimes I let too many minutes go by between questions. If you stick to a schedule this will keep the chat moving more easily as your participants will have a new question to answer. I don’t think it was too obvious, but sometimes I forgot to put up question because I was busy chatting.

And that is all the tips I have for now. I don’t know how the second chat will go, as I’ll be trying out a new giveaway mechanism, so there will be another learning curve. Overall, hosting the chat was fun, and I have questions already made up for many more. I hope you all join me!