Goodreads Blog

Marketing Advice from Best-Selling Author S. Jae-Jones

Posted by Cynthia on May 10, 2017
Building anticipation for an unknown debut Young Adult author is not easy, unless you have an author as engaged with her audience as S. Jae-Jones. Readers started shelving her book, Wintersong, as early as April 2016, almost a year before its publication in February 2017. The author regularly shared creative content that showed she knew her audience (a make-up tutorial, anyone?), built her newsletter list, and leveraged her connections with other authors. Of course, all this built-up anticipation resulted in the book making the New York Times bestseller list.

We asked JJ to share some of her secrets of her marketing success.

Wintersong received an incredible amount of pre-publication buzz, and now more 50k people have it shelved at to-read. How did you manage that as a debut author?

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure how the pre-publication buzz happened or rather, how much I personally had a hand in it. I think buzz is a combination of luck, timing, and a commercial pitch. The luck portion is entirely out of your hands, but I do think you can affect the other two.

Having a commercial pitch is not necessarily about having a commercial IDEA; rather, it's finding a way to be able to succinctly relate the premise of your book in an engaging way that hints at a story to come. Easier said than done, I know, but there is a bit of a trick to it. For example, the basic pitch for Wintersong was about a young woman who journeys underground to rescue her sister from the clutches of the Goblin King. In one sentence, I have the protagonist, the setting, the stakes, and the antagonist.

I used to work in publishing, and my old boss used to ask me what the "handle" of a book was. The "handle" is a simple, straightforward, easy way to wrap your mind around a project, what you can pick up and carry with you. If you find it difficult to write a commercial pitch for your own book, maybe practice it for other books or movies that you love before settling on your own.

As for timing, some of that will be up to chance, but I don't think it hurts to start talking about your book as early as you can. I do think there can be instances of too fast, too soon, but getting the word out about your book via your social media channels (if you have them) is not a bad idea. Announce when your book goes up on Goodreads. Announce when it becomes available for preorder. Announce when you get a review. Talk about the writing or editing process.

There is a five-touchpoint theory of marketing in that a customer comes into contact with a product five times before making a decision about whether or not to buy. The earlier you start, the more time you have for readers to come in contact with your work.

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You have many authors, including Roshani Chokshi and Marie Lu, review the book ahead of publication. How did you get those other authors to review your books? Any advice for authors if they don’t have connections through a publisher?

Make friends. Friends will do you favors. They will also reach to other friends to ask for favors, and so and so forth until you realize you are at the center of an enormous web of connections, muahahahaha. ;-) I'm being facetious, but also in deadly earnest. How do you make friends? Well, that's a little harder to answer, but the best relationship are formed over shared misery, in my opinion. This means seek out other writer friends, either online or in person. There are Facebook groups of other writers or message boards where you can find critique partners if you're more comfortable building relationship via the internet, or you can attend conferences and author events if you have the time and funds.

The one caveat to this technique is that it takes time to build these relationships. In the cases of Marie Lu and Roshani Chokshi, I became friends with them either before their books sold, or before their books became published. Most of my writer friends who blurbed my book are actually my critique partners; they read everything I write before it's even the apple of my publisher's eye. As with the first answer, there is no simple, quick solution to success.

What’s your favorite thing to explore on Goodreads?

I love tracking my reading. On a personal level, it illuminates trends in what I seek out and why, plus it also sheds light on gaps. If I'm too heavy on one genre, then I will try and branch out. I use Goodreads much more as a personal tool than as a marketing one.

How do you engage with readers on Goodreads? How has that changed since you joined the Author Program?

I joined the Author Program straightaway. I found the "to-read" stats the most illuminating, because I could track spikes in interest. For example, there was a large spike in "to-read" adds after I revealed my cover via my newsletter. Another when Marie Lu reviewed it on Goodreads. Another when I did a blog interview. Those stats helped shape what I was doing promotion-wise before publication. I interact with readers by answering questions submitted to me via Goodreads, although I will admit that the closer I got to publication, the less time I had to interact.

How do you plan to keep the momentum going for Wintersong?

The old saying in publishing goes that nothing sells backlist like frontlist, so I am working on the sequel.

Next: Building a Marketing Timeline on Goodreads: Infographic

You might also like: Marketing Advice from Author Fred Van Lente

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Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Cynthia (last edited May 10, 2017 03:51PM) (new)

Cynthia Shannon Ash wrote: "Tl;dr she basically achieved this because she has connections in the publishing industry.

The thing about this is, most indie authors don't have these convenient connections and never will..."

Hi Ash! Thanks for your perspective. Here is an article about what some self-published writers have done to become successful. Though I think you'll find a lot of the advice overlaps (engaging with readers, sharing a love for reading, counting on others for support, building a mailing list, etc) I still hope it's helpful!

message 2: by M. (new)

M. Jones Ash, you make some very pertinent comments, and I'm 100% in agreement, though of course 'indie' does mean independent, which kinda says it all...

In my limited experience of self-publishing to date, with no money and little time, zero connections (and in my case as an introvert, no desire - and even less time - to sell myself online), success mostly boils down to luck.

But I do think you're right and Amazon, KDP, and, yes, Goodreads etc. could do more to help us out. I ran a Giveaway last year and I pretty much got zero reviews out of it. I think Goodreads, as a supposed community of readers as well as desperate writers, should enforce a 'get a copy, give a rating/review' policy.

It would be nice to see more help with promotions. As someone who publishes via CreateSpace/Amazon, Kindle freebies are all well and good, but I'd rather see ink on paper, and so would most people.

message 3: by John (new)

John Pellow Very fantastic and well written post.It,s extremely good and very helpful for me.

message 4: by Chantal (new)

Chantal Gadoury This was a great article, and I found it extremely helpful. I certainly know that S. Jae Jones is speaking the truth of connections and diligence (it's certainly not the first time I've heard this piece of advice. Thank you for sharing this!!

message 5: by Don (new)

Don Simkovich Whether or not a person has connections, the principles remain the same: be consistent in a marketing approach and build consistency in relationships with other authors, creating content for your blog, and book bloggers and reviewers. Most importantly, keep writing new stories whether short, novels, both.

message 6: by Erin (new)

Erin Sky Thanks for the post! Great interview! Book handles! =D

message 7: by Grea (last edited May 16, 2017 07:38PM) (new)

Grea Alexander Thanks for taking the time to share your insights, doll.


message 8: by Shinde (new)

Shinde M. wrote: "Ash, you make some very pertinent comments, and I'm 100% in agreement, though of course 'indie' does mean independent, which kinda says it all...

In my limited experience of self-publishing to dat..."

Totally agree with 'must review policy for Goodreads Giveaway winners.'
It needs to be enforced.

message 9: by Don (new)

Don Simkovich That's a good idea to encourage giveaway winners to do reviews. This is totally unsolicited but I'm using Joanna Penn's How to Market a Book as a reference. It contains in one place so many of the things I've read and seen in different places.

message 10: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Ahn As a newly formed indie author who has been around the business for twenty plus years, (with many well published author friends), the struggle is real. Even with contacts, it only goes so far. Heck, even with professional publishing, depending on your personality and where you fall in the popularity ladder, you may never get picked up again. I know an author who was in the Hugo discussion who just disappeared from the writing world because of publishing and marketing arena.

Point is, no matter if you are indie or published from the top 5 houses, your chances of 'making it' is substantially small. If that is why you write then...

Yes contacts help, putting yourself out there helps, and a good product really helps as it would in anything you might do outside of writing.

The tips in this article are annoyingly accurate for us introverts and cannot be diminished by where you fall on the publishing ladder. I wish I had the same go get attitude and knowledge of marketing before I made my "I might as well put my book up" decision (my most daily stress filled choice I made in a long time).

message 11: by Brian (new)

Brian Suiter The Recusants - Amazon Kindle Store. Give it a read and let me know you thought, would love to hear them.

message 12: by John (new)

John Connor Reading this article and the comments makes me realize we need a few tips on "Book Marketing Tips for Introvert Authors". I have a little help to give, but please know I'm NOT a best-seller.

Problem #1: Introverts suck at small talk
Problem #2: Introverts are embarrassed to talk about themselves
Problem #3: Introverts just want to go home after 1 minute of being a wallflower.

Relate? Me too.

What I'm going to suggest is going to make you go, "Are you inSANE?" But stick with me for a sec...

I'm going to say you host a reader party/book reading. Yes. You are going to host it, but not by yourself. One or two friends are going to do it with you. What?!? Just listen...

You are going to call your local library and find out about when they have their public meeting room available. NOT the closest library to where you live or your favorite one. (If this whole idea goes south, you don't want to walk through your library in shame, do you?)

Find out a date a month or so from now, and book the room. (It should be free -- you are talking about books and doing a reading. They may not let you sell your book at the event, but that's okay. You'll give out your website on the whiteboard or in a handout, and you'll have a clipboard for people to give you their email address. Bonus! You won't have to ask for anyone to buy your book, because you can't. But you will be getting the word out, and building your email list.)

Know how you hate walking into a room full of people and not know who to talk to or what to say? This will not be you, because you will be there when people arrive, and you will welcome them. You will be putting them at ease as they are wondering who to talk to or what to do. It turns the power dynamic around, because you are the host, and you are the expert.

The format can be anything book-related -- a discussion of the best ski-fi you've read, worst books, and then there will be a 10 minute session where you read from your book.

How about your friend, what will she do? In addition to helping you generally, she will be your "wing man"; she will casually mention your talent, and how much she likes your book, without you sounded conceited and talking about yourself. Pretty cool, huh? And it's not manipulative, because your friend does like your book, right? She will also MC/introduce you before you get up to read.

How do you get people to come to your event? Before you put a notice on your social media, you are going to individually invite people through email or Messenger.

Could be as simple as: "A couple of friends are hosting a discussion of new mystery writers, and I'm going to read from my upcoming book next Thursday night at Washington Library. It would be great if you could join us."

A few days before, put it on your social media, and again on the day of the event.

What if no one comes? There are no guarantees in life, and that might happen. But if you never host an event, it's a 100% guarantee no one will come. In my book "The Straitjacket of Perfectionism" there are strategies to push past unreasonable expectations of ourselves (see what I did there?), and some of the above comes from stuff I talk about in the book.

(And as for a book that I have nothing to do with, I highly recommend all introverts read "Quiet" by Susan Cain. Beautiful, well-researched and written, and I saw myself on every other page.)

John Connor

message 13: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Shannon John wrote: "Reading this article and the comments makes me realize we need a few tips on "Book Marketing Tips for Introvert Authors". I have a little help to give, but please know I'm NOT a best-seller."

This is a great idea, John! Thanks for sharing. And good point about providing advice for introverts. I'll see if I can figure out a full post about that. Stay tuned!

message 14: by Sarah (new)

Sarah L. I found your post very helpful, John! Thanks for the idea which I shall try out. I’m a “first time” author and am struggling to get my book known. The publication business is so much more complex than I first realized.

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