Blog by VONNIE DAVIS -- International, Award-Winning Romance Author: Adventurous...Humorous...Amorous.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Even though it's been nine months since my debut book, Storm's Interlude, came out, I still feel like a "newbie" in the publishing business. A baby with age spots and cellulite.

I find I'm floundering as to what kind of promotion works. How do I market and sell my book? Where do I find readers? I feel quite inept. Granted, I knew it would take time to make a name for myself as a romance author, but I was expecting to make more inroads into the readership market than I have.

But I'm haven't.                     

And it's not for lack of trying.

Experts say to build a brand. Initially I used "I write stories of the heart" as my brand slogan, but have since changed it to "Love: A single syllable with infinite emotion." My blog, website and business cards all contain roses. Is that enough? I mean, what constitues a brand? Different experts tell you different things. And what if your writing changes?

Or, what if, like me, you can't decide exactly what it is your write? I've written and contracted contemporary, historical and romantic suspense. Now I have a humorous paranormal that won't let me alone.

How do you brand yourself when you don't know what you're writing? Most writers wisely chose one sub-genre of romance, but not me. No. Not this ol' gal. She's got to see if she can write everything. How do I brand myself when I don't know who I am as a writer?

My agent said to create an online presence. Start a blog. As you can see, I've done that. I find I love hosting other writers, finding out about them as people and about their books. I feel I'm a little smarter now for reading what they have to say. You see, I love my online writer friends. They're the best. Intelligent. Creative. Fun.

And more supportive than my best pair of Spanx.


But are readers visiting my blog?

I don't mean to imply that writers aren't readers. We are. We buy a lot of books; I know I do.


Rarely does anyone other than other writers--delightful souls that they are--respond to my blogposts. How do I reach the readers? Does the average reader read blogs? I promote to facebook and twitter. Outside of a couple friends, no other readers drop by.

My agent said to create buzz by doing virtual blog tours. And I did. I scheduled so many blog visits, people got tired of hearing me prattle on. I mean, how many times do other writers want to read the same old excerpt? Yet, loyal, supportive souls that they are, they leave a comment. Rarely, rarely does a non-writer comment.

Agent Lady said to join facebook and twitter, which obviously I have. Again, most of my friends and tweet buddies are other writers. Join yahoo groups of romance readers, she said. Guess who I found? Other writers!!!

Do you see a theme here?

Where are the readers?

How do I reach them? How do I build a fan base? I'm at a loss. My sales are flat and it worries me. How do I generate interest in people I can't seem to reach?

How are you promoting yourselves? Where did you find your reader magnet? 'Cause I think mine's broken.


Mackenzie Crowne said...

*sitting beside you, Vonnie, leaning forward in my chair waiting for answers*

Storms Interlude is a fascinating and fun read. Shouldn't that be enough to draw readers? I would think so. I'm hoping readers find my stories as entertaining, but in the meantime, i'm trudging along. I'll be sure to share if anything occurs.

Nancy Jardine said...

I'm a bit shaken up by your honesty, here, Vonnie. I had imagined that your readership would have grown really well, by now, and that you'd had lots of sales for Storm's Interlude. Is the hope that when you/we have more to offer the customers (ie more books published) they'll come rolling in? I look forward to it!!!

Alison H. said...

Just who you didn't need to hear from--another writer! I am with you all the way on this, every word of it. I, too, have followed (mostly) the standard advice you mentioned with exactly the same results. If someone responds to your post with the perfect, and hitherto unknown, formula, please share!

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks, Mac. I suppose the question remains: how does a grandma in Virginia get a lady in Idaho or Alabama or Rhode Island to read her book? How do I spread the word? Clueless in Lynchburg.

Susan Macatee said...

I can't be much help to you, Vonnie, because I'm in the same boat as you. I have a website, a brand, a blog on which I post at least three times a week. I guest blog, I post regularly to reader's loops, have a page on Manic Readers and Amazon and recently joined Twitter. Not on Facebook, though. I did join some ning groups, but dropped out, because the group seemed to be composed of nothing but writers.

And, although I had several books come out over the past few years, my sales seem to be flat as well. Even with my new January release. My publisher says the best thing to do is keep writing and getting new books out there, so I'm trying my best. It does get discouraging, though, wondering if I'll ever find an audience.

Karyn Good said...

It's a very valid question, Vonnie. My first book releases in June and I'm looking for potential readers, too. So when reviewers or publishers do polls or ask how readers pick their books, it's interesting to hear the answers. We all know word of mouth sells book. But how do you get them to read the book in the first place. Goodreads and review sites also seem to be a place readers go to get book recommendations. Facebook and Twitter, of course, but not as much as you'd think.

Kristen Lamb talks about this all the time - getting beyond preaching to the choir, so to speak.

The thing is to make it happen.

Vonnie Davis said...

Oh, Nancy, you'd think so, wouldn't you? A few hundred, yes, And I suspect many of them were other writers. LOL But what is a few hundred in our industry? Not much, I'm afraid. I just don't know how to reach them.

Vonnie Davis said...

Alison, it's a real problem, isn't it? How do we grow an audience? I see women buying paperbacks in the supermarket and Walmart, etc. My books will never be sold there. I've gone to the local Barnes and Noble here in Lynchburg to see if I could get my books stocked there along with other VA writers or arrange a book signing. The woman looked down her nose at me and said they do NOT stock POD books. We have one large independant bookstore here, and the owner wants a 40% commission to sell my books, which means I'm losing money on everyone that goes out his door--still I might be gaining a follower. So I bite the bullet. I've appeared on our local TV station and sold ONE--count 'em--one book from that appearance. It's easy to get discouraged.

Vonnie Davis said...

I'm trying the same tactic, Susan. Writing like a fiend so I can get enough books out there to perhaps gain a following. I hope if they read one thing and like it, they'll check to see if I've written anything else. I'm writing both novels and novellas/shorts. I'm keeping my fingers crossed Rhonda's bit of advice at last year's WRP writers' retreat will work. She said for every "long" I write, I should be writing two "shorts." I seem to be at one short for every long, right now.

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks for the link, Karyn. I'm on my way now. I haven't taken the time to figure out how Goodreads works yet. I'm there, but not actively. My book has garnered top reviews at every review site, so far. But my sales seem to have flatlined. They're not growing as I'd hoped.

Lynne Marshall said...

Great reality check, Vonnie. Thanks for your honesty. Pardon, but this response is going to be long.

First off your new logline is fantastic: Love: A single syllable with infinite emotion. Yes! So much better than your first - because let's face it we ALL write stories from our hearts, yes?

Have you entered contests where the judges are readers? This might bring a few more readers to discover your wonderful voice.

So you've hit on the truth that no one wants to talk about. Most e-published authors sell less than a hundred books. There, I've said it. It's true. The key, from what I've heard, is to have many e-books each building on the other. Don't know, I'm not there yet.

Also so true about feeling only other authors are out there (and here at your blog) because there are a gazillion authors, and now with self-pubbing the pool is even bigger, so the odds of getting discovered are going down by the second. All those so-called readers loops we're all supposed to sign up for - well, they seem like a dumping ground for other authors. My 2 cents.

Here are a few more facts from Romance Writers Report - RWA's magazine.
(you can read the whole thing in the March RWR page 5)
41% of romance book buyers visit websites of authors, but 83% do not and will not follow an author on Twitter (Thank God, because I refuse to Twitter!) 70% also won't follow an author on Facebook.

Only 31% of romance readers read e-books - so that cuts down on our impact - right, because that means 69% aren't reading e-books.
Ebook buyers expect a cheaper price point and anything over $6.00 is too much.

See? You're doing everything everyone tells you to do, but discoverability is still the BIGGEST AND HARDEST part to break through.

Hugs to all of us who are taking our blinders off. The big six are still where it's at, but writing for a good e-publisher is like getting your graduate degree in publishing. sigh.

Andrea Downing said...

Oh, dear, Vonnie--does this resonate with me! My own debut book is coming out in August and I'm shivering in my (cowboy)boots here. But from what I've heard, first books are difficult sells unless you have a--bestseller! You need a backlist-- that is, the more books you write and that are 'out there' the better your overall sales become. Keep truckin' gal.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for the candid comments, everyone. We're all in this little boat trading books around when the giant cruise ship, full of readers is heading for the horizon. Ironically, we have much less time to read than most people because writing is so time consuming.

I'm determined to figure this out...we'll help each other get our books out there, I'm sure. Rolynn

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks, Lynne, I've read your comment twice. Great info in it. I know I have to keep plugging away. My agent wants to start quering larger pubs, but I love the respect and individual care I get at TWRP. I keep dragging my heels. Plus, I suppose there's a strong degree of fear in trying for a goal I doubt I'd attain. Plus, a larger pub would probably ask for prior sales figures. **slaps forehead**

When I step back and look at all I've accomplished in less than two years--one book pubbed, another book under contract along with two novellas and a third book two weeks away from the final "yay" or "nay"--I've accomplised a lot, writing wise. I'm just not selling as I'd hoped.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Hugs, Vonnie. I have been following all the advice on getting out there myself since my first story comes out in August. Since I don't have a cover yet and just got my first edits, I have a long ways to go. What I have been doing is carrying a large supply of cards with me and talk to everyone and give them a card. One thing I have going for me is that my stories are set where I live and people are interested when I mention this. I am knocked over when lots of people say they just got an e-reader and can't wait to read my story. I know a lot of it is probably lip service, but even if I touch a few, it is better than not getting out there. Another of my friends is highly visible, gives talks at libraries, women's clubs, goes to wineries, etc. For her it's working. What I've never understood is why we advertising to other authors. As an author I don't have as much time to read and just feel guilty not reading my friends' books. The expense of putting an ad on the back cover of RWA magazine dazzles me and I can't see it is worth it - wish somebody could explain it to me.

You keep on writing. You have a fantastic voice and great way with words.

Vonnie Davis said...

Andrea, that's what I'm hearing, too. You have to get multiple projects out there. Unfortunately, the self-promotion takes time away from the writing--and life, too.

A note: don't forget to schedule a blog date with me to promote your debut release. I have August wide open.

Vonnie Davis said...

Rolynn, it's a mystery, isn't it? I do what I'm told--or try, too, if I can figure it out. Yet where are the readers?

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks for your kind words, Paisley. I love writing, I truly do.

I ordered regular sized post cards from Vista Print (ladies, Vista Print is your friend). I put the bookcover on one side...moved it over in "advanced edits" and then with the 3/4 inch of white area remaining, I had them print the release date and where it could be ordered. On the back, I have my book blurb, a list of my books (both out and coming soon) and my website address. On some I have my QR code, too. (This costs me under $20. for 250. Another author here in Lynchburg ordered hers from a local printer and paid over $100.--Yikes!)

I pass these out everywhere. Restaurants, bookstores (yes, I have no shame), and craft shows. I'm overcoming my shyness.

Vonnie Davis said...

Paisley...OOPS!!! Senior moment. Don't forget to schedule a blogging date here in August to promote your book. We'll have fun.

Sheila Tenold said...

Hi, Vonnie. I can’t offer any answers. Wish I could. As someone who isn't under contract I still want to be that other person, a published author. Even with the promotional headaches and sales disappointments.
From everything I've read and heard no magic bullet exists to increase online sales. Luck and timing, two factors we have no control over, are sometimes key. You might not have your reader base yet, but you do have a cadre of caring fellow writers.

Vonnie Davis said...

Yes, I do, Sheila, and I'm blessed by so many wonderful, supportive writers. Sometimes I think about pulling away from the blogging, but then I'd miss the interaction. Thanks for stopping by. Make sure you let me know when that contract comes.

LaVerne Clark said...

Oh - I SO feel your pain Vonnie! Rest assured, you've sold way more than I have :) And it WILL get better with all the new books you've got coming out.

Before I was published, my goal was to BE published. I never gave a thought to how much money (or how little) I would earn. Now though, my focus is on making a living out of it and to treat writing as a job. I write novella-length (can't seem to write longer darn it!) and am aiming to write and submit 3-4 a year.

By the way - I've just completed a questionnaire for an author tour I'm doing - and one of the questions was, "What new writers have captured your attention?" I named two - and one was you! So your voice IS engaging I believe and WILL find readers. How can such a talent not? :)

Josie said...

Thanks for your candid post. I have no answers, and am just beginning to get my feet wet in this crazy publishing world.

Mona Risk said...

Vonnie, great post. I posted along the same lines sometime ago, and continuously discussed the subject with friends. You are a lucky one if you've sold a few hundreds. My winner of Editors&Preditors hardly reached two hundred books and the other not even 50! I tried blogging on my own blog, creating and participating in four others, paying ads, entering contests, getting glowing reviews, going on tours, chats, sending newsletters. I don't have an answer, except that I believe that perseverance is the key to success. and LUCK. One day it just happens for some people. Why? Who knows?

Mona Risk said...

More on the subject: after a few months, sales always tapered because those who plan to read the book already bought it. So maybe the secret is to keep publishing new books every few months.

Sofie Couch said...

Hiya Vonnie: One more voice chiming in here. Focus - narrow the niche - seems to be the thing I see repeatedly given as the best tact for building a readership. Like you, I enjoy writing a bit of everything, but I've had to drastically narrow my focus. I mean REALLY narrow. In addition to narrowing your focus, (developing your niche brand,) if you have a specific hobby - something that really floats your boat - then it floats somebody else's boat too. Develop a niche within a niche. So, you seem to have a lot of suspense in your writing... and you love roses. Are you a gardener? Ever thought of developing a niche suspense series within your hobby interest? What came to mind immediately, was the TV Series, Rosemary and Thyme - horticulturist sleuths, specializing in murders via garden variety poisons, etc. Your niche will be different, but that's the sort of thing. You reach your niche through facebook and twitter - other people with your same hobby - and specificially, co-hobbyists who enjoy suspense.

Okay, I'm hushing now. Off to tap into my own niche audience!

Vonnie Davis said...

LaVerne, how did I get so lucky to have you find me? Thanks for your support. Your listing me as a writer who's influenced you brought tears to my eyes. Thank you seems so inadequate.

Vonnie Davis said...

Josie, thanks for leaving a comment. Good luck to you in your future sales, hon.

Vonnie Davis said...

I see how hard you market your delightful books, Mona. I do believe succeeding in publishing involves a large degree of luck, talent and hard work. All you need is luck, Mona.

Vonnie Davis said...

Good advice, Sophie. So, I've got cowboys--contemporary and historical, suspense set in Paris and a paranormal in Scotland. **slaps forehead** How do I narrow that focus? Unless I say my stories are about yummy men. LOL That seems to be my unifying theme. Thanks for stopping by.

Joanne Stewart said...

Joining Mac with you on the bench. This June my book will have been out for two years, and the first year, I didn't have a clue, but I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. Facebook, Twitter. I didn't learn about blog tours unfortunately until about a year ago. Now, granted, I did a few things backwards along the way. I tend to learn things the hard way (by doing it wrong). I put all my eggs in one basket and waited too long for it to hatch. So I'm currently playing a bit of catch up, but...I don't know if I have any readers either. The visitors to my blog are usually other writers and the ONE review I have on Amazon...belongs to another writer. It's very depressing, really, and I feel like maybe I'm a little slow. I'm also an introvert, so most of this comes painfully for me. But I just keep writing, hoping one of these days, maybe God will have mercy on me and send me a reader. lol

Now, I'm off to read your responses to see what I can learn. My magnet's broken too. Here's to finding readers, Vonnie! :)

Vonnie Davis said...

This June why not have a two-year anniversary blog tour? I think that would be a cool idea. You know you're welcome here. I'm betting if you put the call out on TWRP loop, at least a week's worth of invites will roll in. We'll get the buzz goin' again--for the first time. Who says you can only have a blog tour at the time of release?

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Vonnie,

I am an expert at what not to do! I write both mystery and romance. I always thought I'd write one or the other, but I was offered contracts in both within a 3 month window. Who turns down contracts? Not me.

I have 3 romantic suspense books out from TWRP, with about 2 years between release dates (dates when mysteries released). I was all over MySpace when it was the rage, switched to Facebook, then added in Twitter and Goodreads. Did Ning, but like some others said, didn't seem to be making headway there. I'm on 80-something yahoo loops, in RWA (3 chapters), MWA, and SINC. I now attend fan conferences instead of writing conferences. I started a personal blog last year. Guess what? I'm apparently big in Russia and Brazil, for whatever that's worth.

I had rights reverted on another romance so I indie pubbed. Got on indie loops and marketed like crazy. Same results. Little squirts of buys here and there.

I took a long look at my efforts. I can't control who buys my books. I can keep writing high quality books and telling people about them. My sales are modest by big house standards, but I feel like they're okay. Could I survive on this income? No. Do I have to? No. Would I still like to make that big score? Sure.

But we are fighting an uphill battle without store distribution and bigtime marketing. Ask yourself why you are doing this. That's what I did.

I write because I love it. Will I become famous? Probably not, but that's not WHY I write. So I reduced my marketing to doing things I like. Blogging is fun. I FB occasionally, and just started an author page on FB. And I look for new opportunities within my writer groups, within local organizations and festivals. I look at myself as an entrepreneur and let it go at that.

Will one of my books eventually go viral? I sure hope so.

Now I'll slink back into my writer cave.


Jannine Gallant said...

I'm late to the party. Spent yesterday at my daughter's track meet. My sales have been the same as everyone else's, with two longs and three shorts on the market and another short out on Wed. In talking to a few local indie writers, it seems they publish more books than the small press authors do. With a few notable exceptions... The price point and ability to offer up a free book seems to be working for them. I just started a 3 novella series that I intend to publish myself, with other TWRP projects still in the line up. I'm hoping that diversifying will improve sales. I'll let you know the results once I have some to share. Thanks for a great discussion, Vonnie.

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks so much, Maggie, for sharing your experiences and the wise manner with which you've put everything into perspective. I, too, write mainly because I love it. And I love saying I'm a published author. **silly grin** I suppose over time my audience will grow.

Vonnie Davis said...

Hi Jannine. Track? We have a wall full of medals here in this house. Calvin's son was the MD state champ and MIT record holder in several events. Some have yet to be broken, even after nearly 20 years. My boys were into cross country, football and wrestling--big time.

I hope your foray into the "indie" world works for you. I'll be interested to hear. Calvin has a book he's getting ready to go indie with once he finishes his final edits. It's the Wild West of publishing, isn't it? Good luck, hon.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Wow, late like Jannine but loved this discussion - why? Misery loves company? I suppose. I can ditto all that's said above. I've recently been rethinking what the heck I'm doing. Yes, I've done all those things I'm supposed to do. I'm really sick of guest blogging - especially when no one shows up. I really just want to write. But then I consider is no one reads it - well - I'll be disappointed. I want to entertain people. Not sure where I'm going with this. But by the end of summer, I'm determined to come up with some sort of decision. Thanks for the candor, Vonnie.

Vonnie Davis said...

Brenda, it is a very real dilemma, isn't it? We writers are creative souls that want--NEED--to write. To expect us to morph into marketing wizards is a daunting proposition. Yet more and more pubs, according to my agent, want YOUR marketing plan submitted along with your manuscript. Yikes!! They also want to know how many times we blogged in the last year, so Agent Lady sent out an email for all her writers to keep tally on the number of blogs written, both on our personal blog and as a guest. This movement toward more emphasis on the business end of things over our soul-infused craft is disturbing.

desitheblonde said...

can a suggest contact tammi at nor and get on a blghop to proote the book get some arc reader i done some book and did blogs and the books went bonkers and the girl who wrote they were only begging and she got a lot of sale out of the book

desi the blonde at msn dot com

Anonymous said...

It takes time and hate to ay it, promoting. Like this week, I have a blog tour for a new release. Now I write mainly, paranormal,fantasy and science fiction romance. I make sure my signature says what kind of paranormal, fantasies and SF romances I write: Dark heroes and heroines with bite...sink your teeth into a romance by Sapphire Phelan today. That's all you can do, keep plugging on.

I guess if e all could afford pubicity person might be easier, but for those of us who can't, it's trial and error of what promoting works. Doing what might be cutting edge. It's starting to wokr for me. Just give it time, Vonnie.