latest installment immediately will not feel they
should have waited for a better deal.
“After six months, I will start doing sales here
and there,” says Charles.
BookBub is her preferred platform for promoting sales, where
she lowers the usual $3.99 price down to 99 cents for a week. These
promotions typically generate sales of around 3,000 copies the
first day of the sale. But some books have seen bigger numbers,
as was the case for Better Off Dead in Deadwood, which sold more
than 4,000 copies and got up to #4 on Amazon’s e-book bestsellers.
“There are so many websites and blogs out there that have their
eyes on book deals that if you drop price, all at once they pick it
up and say, ‘Look: Ann’s got this book at 99 cents,’ and I’ll start
getting traffic,” says Charles. “Then BookBub comes out with
their amazing email list and it’s just boom.”
Charles has also used book giveaways as a major marketing
tool. She estimates having given away more than 250,000 e-book
copies during her self-publishing career.
“I would do 40,000 e-books in one day,” she says, most often
giving away the first in the Deadwood or Jackrabbit series to
interested readers as an incentive for them to buy the subsequent
installments. But she admits that recently, as book giveaways
have become more commonplace, she has moved away from them,
saying, “Unfortunately, now ‘free’ is associated with ‘junk.’”
In marketing workshops, Charles urges attendees to not just
follow what she or another successful author has done but under-
stand that the market is constantly changing. She says her success
came in part because she tapped into an e-book market as it was
on the rise and was not yet overcrowded.
“Times change, so you have to take a different path to do what
works now or a year from now,” she says.
She follows this advice herself, sitting down every December
to review her successes and shortcomings from the past year, assessing what might work better in the year to come. For example,
last year she determined that it was time to start aiming for
foreign markets and expanding into audiobooks.
“I’m always asking Facebook fans for their two cents—‘What
would make you want to buy this?’—and they help me understand
what readers are thinking and what they want,” says Charles.
Tapping into Fans
Charles cites her fans as the greatest source of her success, much
more so than promotions or release dates. She does not just ask
fans to buy the latest book, but makes them part of her sales and
marketing team. Every day for the first week or two after a book’s
release, Charles posts how the Amazon sales have been.
“I consider all my fans on Facebook my team, and we’re all
doing this together, and it takes all of us to make the book successful,” says Charles. “It’s not just me—I just write the books.”
She urges followers to help in whatever ways they are comfortable. This may include posting a review on Goodreads, asking a
local librarian to stock the books, or emailing friends to go out
and buy it.
“I say, ‘You don’t even have to give the book five stars, but if
you can just help me in whatever ways you are comfortable, I owe
you everything,’” says Charles.
Her Facebook page becomes a platform for what she calls
“teamwork and all this goodwill” as fans cheer on the books’
success, share on their own pages, and urge friends to order copies. Charles constantly thanks her fans for their help in an effort
to keep the connection strong and make sure her gratitude is felt.
This understanding of marketing came to Charles early. When
she determined that self-publishing was likely to bring more
success than continuing to try to convince publishers her books
could sell, she not only dove into writing, but studied up on
marketing. On maternity leave with her first daughter, Charles
spent her time at home taking marketing courses online.
“I looked and said, ‘Who is really successful as an author?’ and
a lot of times it was people with a marketing background, who
understood how to promote a book, how to talk to fans, and
interact,’” she says. “I had a lot of role models, not for their writ-
ing or their storytelling but for their marketing.”
Charles has her strongest following on Facebook, where she
has a personal and professional page, as well as a page titled
“Purple Door Saloon,” which is meant to be a place for fans to
interact with one another and share personal stories. But she also
keeps an active website and email list that is constantly updated.
She occasionally uses Twitter, but admits, “I really suck at it,
because I like to talk too much.”
Developing a World
Part of the Deadwood series’ early success came from the fact that
it’s set in a real city in South Dakota—a popular tourist attraction
and the setting of the acclaimed HBO series of the same title.
Charles, who spent a number of summers in the town while growing up (though she now lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest), thought it would make a great setting for the mystery
series she wanted to write—and would have a built-in audience.
Just as she sees fans as central to her writing, her first priority
in composing Nearly Departed in Deadwood was making sure the
locals liked it. She reached out to a dentist, a family friend who
worked at the bank, and others with advance reading copies. This
was not only to see if they liked it but to make sure the geographical details and history were right, even within the fictional world. They loved the books, and the town itself proved a
major booster of her work.
The region continues to support her, and Charles visits the city
at least once a year to see friends, hang out with the locals, and
hold signings at local businesses that support the books.
“They promote me like crazy,” says Charles. “There are a lot
of gift shops that carry the books, and sometimes I will go in and
see [that] there is a little handwritten note recommending it,
like, ‘This is a semi-local author and her stories are great!’” ■
Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist and the author of