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How Richard Bard, author of critically acclaimed bestselling action thriller series “Brainrush”, got noticed by Amazon's Thomas and Mercer.

08 Sep 2014

An interview with Richard Bard by Simon Denman

8 comments

Profile photo of author Richard Bard I first met Richard Bard about five years ago on the Harper-Collins writer community website, Authonomy. This was before either of us had published our first books. For me, reading Richard's draft manuscript was both an inspiration and a reality check - forcing me to confront how much I needed to raise my own game before unleashing my work on the world.

But the purpose of this interview is not to discuss Richard's writing, which is wonderful, or his books, all of which I thoroughly recommend (providing you have a strong heart capable of withstanding hours of sustained adrenaline-rush that is).
No, this interview is going to try to tempt him to reveal some of the marketing secrets he has learned along the way, for Richard is not only a great storyteller, but also a shrewd entrepreneur.

First of all, Richard, since I know you must be extremely busy preparing for the launch of your fourth book, I'd like to sincerely thank you for taking the time to share some of your marketing tips with all of us here at Readers in the Know.

Thank you for reaching out. I think you’re doing a great thing with this site. Readers these days are actively seeking good books at discounted prices, but it’s easy to get lost amongst the many disparate sites that post such opportunities, and since the deals are usually only available for a day or two, readers often miss out. Your site, on the other hand, lets them discover in advance where the next deal is going to pop up. It’s a terrific tool. Well done!

So Richard, are you prepared to give us some clues as to how many Kindles your 3 books have reached so far? You have thousands of reviews, so I'm guessing it must be a big number.

Unfortunately I’m not permitted to post exact numbers. I will say, however, that it’s in the hundreds of thousands. I’ve been very fortunate!

What proportion of your time is spent marketing your books as opposed to writing them?

Currently, I spend 90% of my time writing and 10% marketing, but it wasn’t always that way. I was well into my second book before I thought about marketing. At the time, my agent still hadn’t found a home for Brainrush (Book-1). Several editors were interested, but when they sent it up the ladder for approval, it was rejected because the book crossed genres. They didn’t know whether to market it as a thriller, action/adventure, or sci-fi. Some even argued it could also be YA. Eventually, I decided to publish independently, which meant the marketing was on me. So, I stopped writing for a few months and dove in. At that stage it was 50% marketing and 50% trying to figure out what the heck everyone else was doing - so 0% writing. It was a difficult time, but in the end it worked out. More on that later.

Obviously, to achieve the success you've had, it goes without saying that your books have to be good. So let's take that as a given and move to some of the marketing tactics you've found to be most successful, starting with the launch. You've now launched three books and we're all eagerly awaiting the fourth, so what advice do you have here?

Do something different. I tried a lot of different things when I first started. I spent thousands of dollars on ads and “hosted posts” on various blogs and websites. None of it did much good—because my ads got buried amongst thousands of others. I was a new author with a debut novel. Big deal! No one paid any attention. I needed to do something that would make my ad stand out, something that raised eyebrows. I considered offering the book for free, but everyone else was already doing that, and to be honest, it didn’t feel right at the time.

Ultimately, here’s what I did that worked:
I came up with a promo where readers who purchased my book for $2.99 got their choice of TWO current New York Times bestsellers—for FREE.
Read that again. It sounds too good to be true, right? But it was true. All a reader had to do was email me a proof of purchase, select the two FREE ebooks they wanted from a list on my website, and I purchased the books and sent them along. No tricks. No gimmicks. Word spread, and my book jumped up the charts. The lesson? Be different! Raise eyebrows!

If you’re scratching your head over the math of the deal, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Here's why:
Sale of Book-1 at $2.99 generated a royalty of about $2.10. The two FREE books cost me $0.99 each—there were many NYT bestsellers available at 99 cents at the time—leaving me with a profit of 12 cents per deal. But the real returns were MUCH bigger than that and I’ll explain how further on.

Is your impressive review count just a reflection of the huge number of readers, or do you have specific tips for earning these?

Good reviews are critical, especially for new authors. The more you have, the more comfortable it makes potential readers. In my case, I follow a simple rule: Answer every email from readers. When doing so, don’t come right out and ask for a review. But it’s okay to say things like, “I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and I hope you’ll tell your friends about it. If you’d like to leave a review on Amazon, here’s the link.”
In my experience, readers sincerely appreciate it when an author takes the time to send them a personalized reply. Many are happy to spread the word. So find reasons in your eyebrow-raising promotions to encourage readers to contact you.

I know you've run free and discount promotions in the past, which must have helped enormously in building your fan base. Do you still find such promos useful and if so, what are your tips for making best use of them now?

Yes, I’ve done a few FREE promotions through the Kindle Select program, and the response was high. But other than a one or two day surge in paid sales after the promotion expires, it’s difficult to track the true long-term benefit. I also wonder how many people downloaded my book for free but never read it? How many dozens, or even hundreds, of free books do you have cluttering up your own Kindle library? When you’re looking for your next read, do you scroll through that whole list, or do you first look through the books you paid for?
Discount promotions, on the other hand, make more sense to me—as long as you advertise the temporary discount in plenty of places - like Readers in the Know. Readers love discounts! So I'd say discount your book every few months.

Related to the last question, how has your strategy on book pricing evolved since you first started?

As I mentioned earlier, I started out with a price of $2.99. That didn’t work well on my debut novel, since I was a complete unknown. But after I coupled it with the 3-for-1 promo described above, the book climbed toward the top of the charts, and it held well there for a while. When it started to slide, I came up with an entirely different “crazy” promotion, dropping the price to 0.99 during the month preceding the release of my second book. I sold an average of 1,000 copies a day for several weeks. After that, I got picked up by Thomas & Mercer at Amazon publishing.

How much has changed since you were noticed by Amazon and taken on by their publishing arm, Thomas & Mercer?

It’s great working with a publisher, and the team at Thomas & Mercer is outstanding. Now they handle the marketing! Granted, they aren’t quite as “creative” as I have been with some of my promos, but they really know what they’re doing, and sales have been great. In the meantime, it has allowed me to focus on my writing. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

What has been your experience with advertising and what tips, if any, do you have here?

Only advertise for the purpose of supporting a specific promotion. Otherwise, it’s a waste. By the way, I had great success with Facebook ads during my initial promos. I also recommend EreaderNewsToday, BookBub, and KindleNationDaily.

How much do you use social media as an author and in what way?

I try to stay active on Twitter and Facebook, but I could do much better. Writer friends who commit to daily activity there see nice results.

I've noticed you're not exactly a prolific blogger - presumably because you've been too busy writing and selling books. So I'm interested to hear whether you still consider your website to be an important part of your overall marketing platform?

You’re right. Blogging’s not for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t absolutely depend on my website. It’s critical to have a solid website for readers to visit. It lends credibility, and provides readers with a sense of who you are. In my case, I also use secret landing pages there for each promotion.

Do you have any other marketing tips that we haven't yet covered?

Okay, I promised earlier to explain why one of my more successful promotions worked so well, despite the fact that I only made 12 cents on each book sold. Here’s the deal: A successful promotion drives a book up the charts. That makes it more discoverable by readers at large, many of whom will purchase the book outright without going through the promotion offered on your website. In my case, out of every 10 books sold, only 1 of those readers took advantage of the promo. More importantly, many of those who did participate reached out to me via email, or signed up for my newsletter, allowing us to stay in touch for future releases. For an author, there’s nothing better.

And last but not least, when can I get my hands on Brainrush 4?

I’m thrilled to report that I turned it over to my editor last weekend. Whew! Interestingly, I’m going to be Indie publishing this one. So stay tuned for an outlandish promotion!

We will, and thanks once again, Richard.

Comments:

C. Michael Lorion commented at 03:09 08 Sep 2014:

"Richard, thank you so much for sharing this information with us. When you ran the 3-for-1 promo, how/where did you advertise it, and did you have a limit as to how many NYT bestsellers you purchased and sent for free to people who bought your book for $2.99?"

Richard Bard commented at 05:09 08 Sep 2014:

"Hi Michael,
Thanks for your question. I advertised the promo on EreaderNewsToday, KindleNationDaily, and Facebook. The initial surge of sales came from the ENT post, then KND and FB kept it going. During the first week of the promo, I selected two specific NYT books for the offer, one of which was #3 or 4 on the BS list - BLIND FAITH, by CJ Lyons. When some readers mentioned they'd already read either of the books, I expanded the program to include several others. I set a time deadline rather than a quantity deadline. Ultimately, around 2,500 readers took advantage of the deal. One IMPORTANT POINT that I didn't mention in the post, is that this type of promo is very time intensive. There's no way to automate the process of replying to each email and then gifting two separate books. I had to solicit family help to keep up with it. But it was well worth it!"

Simon Denman commented at 07:09 08 Sep 2014:

"Wow, that really must have been a lot of work. Amazing result though! I've been trying to think if there would be a way to automate such a promo through Readers in the Know, but I don't think there is. You could certainly promote it here by selecting promo type "Giveaway" and then specifying the details, but you would still need to manually verify and send out the free ebooks to all those who applied."

C. Michael Lorion commented at 10:09 08 Sep 2014:

"Thanks, Richard, for that additional clarification. That's a tremendous help."

C. Michael Lorion commented at 10:09 08 Sep 2014:

"One other question, if I may. Does this mean that you gained 2,500 names for your mailing list? Oh, one more (I mean it this time). Getting 2,500 people to respond means you had to purchase 5,000 books at $0.99 each. Did you have a budget for this already in place? This seems like a promo that I would love to try, put that kind of money is not in my budget right now, and it doesn't seem to me that it would work if I waited for the royalty payments to come in before I purchase and send out the free books. Know what I mean? Thanks again for you free advice in this area, most helpful."

Richard Bard commented at 05:09 09 Sep 2014:

"Hey Michael,

Actually, I only added names to the mailing list if the reader responded "YES" to a second email I sent out asking if they would like to be added. More than half opted in. Regarding the budget - yes, I had to pay for everything up front, including the adds. Admittedly, it was an expensive proposition. Between that and the time commitment, it was a major endeavor. However, the point isn't to duplicate that particular promo, but rather to try to come up with something that will help you stand out. Get creative. Start off small. In the meantime, giveaways are always a great idea, and they don't cost anything up front. Plus, they create an opportunity to start a direct discourse between you and the readers. Best of luck, Michael!"

Carol Cooper commented at 09:09 09 Sep 2014:

"Inspiring interview and some fantastic advice! Thank you so much, Richard and Simon. I'm looking forward to reading Brainrush."

C. Michael Lorion commented at 11:09 09 Sep 2014:

"Thanks, Richard and Simon for this interview, and thank you Richard for kindly answering my questions. Best to you, too!"

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