31 March, 2017

"Cabover Cabaret": Behind the scenes of a marketing campaign

Afternoon, folks! First: apologies for the delay in this update, but it's a biggie, so I wanted it to be as informative as possible.

Recently a friend of mine asked what went into my marketing platforms, such as the one I did leading up to the release of Cabover Cabaret, so I thought I would transform our conversation into an informative "Behind the Scenes" look for your pleasure.

To begin with, I'll preface that I do most everything myself, so the financial cost for my marketing endeavors ultimately comes down to just my time. I'm the writer, artist, editor, layout editor, advertiser, promoter, so on and so forth. About the only thing I can't do myself is peer review, and for that I have wonderful connections via an online critiquing group that provides me the essential feedback I need to make my stories the best they can be.

First and foremost, though, I am my own agent. I'm responsible for setting everything up outside the actual writing in order to sell my product to the public. In this particular case, I had to set the deadline for myself a year in advance: I wanted to publish my next short story in February.

Plan ahead. Really far ahead.

Once that was decided, I created a calendar for myself as far as having the manuscript completed. Ideally, I can have a short story finished in the first quarter, out to peers for review during the second, revisions made during the third, and final beta test ran during the fourth. In the time that the short stories are out with my peers, I work on larger projects, like my novels, but also begin preparing things that I'll need for the marketing campaign.

Knowing what my story is about, I can begin gathering reference photos that'll help me create the cover art. In my case, I do it myself via an old, old, old version of Photoshop and my Wacom Intuos tablet. For others, though, they'd have to take this time to begin hunting for an artist, one who suits their tastes, style, and budget (I've heard good things about Fiverr, although I've not personally used their freelance services). The reason I start this so early is because I may find something else inspirational later that replaces my original idea.

Always give yourself time to do these things; I cannot stress this enough.

Throughout the second and third quarter, I don't necessarily do anything "hands on" with my marketing platform. This period is ideally just for writing, editing, peer review, revisions, rinse and repeat until the manuscript is polished and ready. Outside that, though, I do brainstorm about what kind of marketing campaign I want to set into motion. This time around for Cabover Cabaret, I chose to do a two-month-long advertisement via Twitter.

I didn't pay for official advertising, although another author might if that's within their budget. Instead, I wanted to do promotional cards for all of my currently available short stories in the Appalachian Dream Tales serial (i.e. a photo of the cover art, a tagline, and the place of purchase info), which meant I needed to not just advertise the individual works, but the series itself. I browsed Twitter using the hashtags I myself would be using for my campaign (things like #AmazonKindle #Ebook #Nook just to name a few), checked out other authors' designs and formatting, and used it as a starting point. I used my phone's camera and just took snapshots of scenery around where I live, and used that as the background for the Appalachian Dream Tales promo; this saved me from paying for stock photography, and built my personal stock for future endeavors.

Part of my media package for advertising.

Next, I set up basic promo cards using templates I'd made before, and swapped out what I needed.

A standard promo card.

As for preparing my various spiels for Twitter's character count limit, I just scripted multiple tags in Microsoft Word and checked the character count (with spaces) beforehand. Keep in mind, with hyperlinks, you have to fudge a bit, so I tried to shoot for 130 characters before adding the hyperlink to my website's publications page. Adjustments could always be made later during the actual scheduling, but having a ballparked figure was worth it.

Tagline prep for Twitter character count.

Anyway, I'd give myself a few days to pick at the taglines, creating a variety for each one so that I could swap them out. What I ended up with this time around were five promo cards with three taglines apiece. With those materials ready, I could start scheduling the promos on Twitter as far out as I wanted thanks to Tweetdeck's scheduling services.

Tweetdeck is your friend. All hail the Tweetdeck.

Before I did that, though, I built a personal calendar in Microsoft Excel, with days of the month and the hours in the day, so that I could map out staggered posting times to hit different demographics throughout my campaign. I did a simple twice-daily shift: 12AM and 12PM on day one, then 1AM and 1PM on day two, and continued that through to launch day, using a different promo card each time. This calendar also operated as a personal checklist for me when I did start scheduling, so it served a double purpose.

I chose to bold and change font colours as I completed scheduling.

For my supplemental campaign on Facebook, I wasn't limited by character count, so I had a lot more freedom. For that, I wanted the finished blurb for Cabover Cabaret, which I worked on with my online critiquing group. Just as with my manuscript, they helped shape the blurb, which was used officially on my website, Amazon, and Smashwords (which distributes to the other major ebook sites), and therefore any additional advertisement I did on Facebook to author-specific groups.

Just a handful of the groups I belong to on Facebook. Advertise with restraint.

There are many, many groups on Facebook dedicated to helping self-published authors promote their works, many of which can be genre specific. I recommend joining as many as you like, but to again formulate a posting plan. Keeping in mind that Facebook notifies group followers to new posts by default, you don't want to be That Person that posts five, six, seven times a day to multiple groups where, chances are, many of the same people are seeing you post. You're going to get ignored if you just blanket post without rhyme or reason.

In the case of Facebook, I look at how many groups my work could be posted to, then take them in small groupings and stagger my posts. For example, if I belong to nine applicable groups, then I'll post once to three groups the first day, once to the next three the second day, then once to the last three groups on the third day. Then I take a one-or-two-day break and start over with a different posting order. And, again, I do this during different times of the day to hit different demographics.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for the very reasons I just mentioned) Facebook does not allow scheduling posts to groups unless you are the admin of them, so this step will be labour intensive. I recommend setting phone reminders for yourself.

There are other social media platforms that you can advertise through, as well. Occasionally, I'll hit up Tumblr and G+, and I've been told other authors use Instagram and Pinterest. Again: don't flood these sites with advertisement, lest you get ignored as white noise. Be strategic about your advertising frequency to attract potential buyers.

All of this can be done in the months or weeks leading up to your launch date. For Cabover Cabaret, I focused on a two-month window, but for a larger novel, you could go longer. Just be sure your product will be absolutely ready come launch date.

I know this sounds like a lot of overwhelming work, but if you do it right, the preplanning and promotion cards that aren't platform specific can be reused across all of your social media, and for multiple events. All told, mine took maybe a week to put together. The only thing that was excessively time consuming was the cover art, and that's because I made the labour-intensive decision to include Christmas lights, which took a painstaking amount of time to hand draw, colour, and shade. But I won't complain—that cover is gorgeous to me.

Christmas lights were a "Never again" decision on my part.

In addition to this advertising endeavor, I did include a promotion in order to solicit sales. In the weeks leading up to Cabover Cabaret's release, I took a week apiece to offer free copies of the previously published Appalachian Dream Tales by creating coupons through Smashwords. This was by far the easiest step, as Smashwords has an automated system set up for each listing, so you set your price and they generate the coupon code.

Smashwords makes it easy. All hail the Smashwords.

I did quick blog posts for each of those, and shared the announcement via Twitter and Facebook as part of my marketing campaign.

As you reach the launch date, you'll start formatting your ebook (I use Scrivener, because they allow me to compile the work as an .epub or as a .mobi file for Smashwords and Amazon respectively). Now is the time to also consider retooling past works, too. If you're doing free ebook promotions to solicit sales, be sure to include a sneak peek at your soon-to-be-released story and update the files on Smashwords and Amazon as needed (Tip: it's always good to update your files regardless, because you should have an Other Works page that lists all of your publications). I added about 10-15% of Cabover Cabaret to my previous stories so that potential buyers could pick up a free preview of it along with their free copy of the other serials. Also, these files update for people who've previously purchased your ebook, so they can preview, as well.

Keep in mind that these promotions are going to help generate more sales on your newest product, so don't advertise them once and be done with it. Use a smaller scale marketing campaign to target Facebook and Twitter with links to the free copies and use the same tactics I listed before.

If and when you have everything formatted, you can set up pre-sale options on Amazon and Smashwords, and use your marketing to direct potential buyers to the respective links. Personally, I set up the direction to my website's publications page, then provide links to the top sites Smashwords distributes to (Nook, Kobo, iTunes, etc.) and Amazon. This way I can optimize character count on Twitter advertisements by not having to sweat each one individually.

Icons are hyperlinked to respective pages.

Also, the closer you get to your official launch date, you need to confirm with Amazon and Smashwords that your uploaded manuscript is the final copy for distribution (Amazon, if I remember correctly, forces you to confirm or they revoke your listing for failing to do so).

Something else to keep in mind at this point is: Smashwords and Amazon both will generate a link to your ebook on Goodreads, meaning your work will be listed twice. Now's the time to jump on Goodreads and manage the page so you can merge multiple copies of the same work, thereby making sure that any reviews left there are all in one place for others browsing the site.

Tiny and easily overlooked, but "Combine" is right in the middle.

In the final hours before your book launches, relax and coast. You did most all of this in advance and used your scheduling options to make sure everything else was automated. You're golden at this point, so enjoy the mental sigh of relief that comes with knowing the weight is off your shoulders. Then, if you've made arrangements for a launch party on launch day, get ready to tackle that beast, because it's a-whole-nother horse to wrangle.

Now, for those who want a more streamlined timeline of preparation, here's a short summary of what I described above.

1 Year out:
  • Save the Date. As ridiculous as it seems, picking a date a year in advance for an ebook launch is realistic. This creates built-in time for you to work with for those accidental issues that may come up.
  • Write. Again, a ridiculous point to make, but I am my own agent, and I must have a product to work with. If Writer Me doesn't write, Agent Me doesn't have anything to market.
  • Schedule checkpoints. For me, those are quarterly assessments of where I should be with my manuscript. First: write and complete draft. Second: peer review. Third: revise, revise, revise. Forth: peer beta and proof read.
  • Reference photos. Collecting references for a future cover art is essential, as it can help you communicate (through a composite) what you're shooting for. This way, if you're working with an artist, they can understand your vision and help you bring it to light. In my case, it's so I can keep the image fresh in my mind until I finally sit down to do the artwork.

6 months out:
  • Create a calendar. It's as simple as a Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheet to plot out your advertising slots for social media. Having this will make your work so much easier.
  • Check yourself. Follow up with your manuscript and make sure your product is on schedule for your intended publication date.
  • Start your art. For me it was literally starting my cover art in Photoshop, but for another author it may be soliciting the services of a freelance artist. Make sure you're giving yourself and them enough time to get your vision off the ground.

3 months out:
  • Manuscript makeover. This is getting into crunch time territory, so you want to make sure that any big revisions are getting dealt with. Coordinate with your peers to get the story where it needs to be.
  • Promotion cards. Any media that you're going to be using needs to be streamline and, if possible, Copy And Paste simple. A standard card that you can swap your covers and text on will save you days and days of labour.
  • Blurb. At this point you should know what the story is about, so start working with your peer group to shape your blurb into working order. Remember that things you may think essential could be confusing or uninteresting to folks who haven't read your story, yet, so listen to their advice if/when they tell you something is turning them off to the blurb.

1 month out:
  • Format your ebook. Now is the time to make sure everything is ready and formatted. Use your own devices to preview things in advance, because a poorly formatted ebook can and will scare away readers.
  • Freebies and coupons. Be sure you have redeemable coupon codes with expiration dates (Smashwords lets you set your window) for each work, and have those listed visibly on your website and social media platforms.
  • Activate pre-sale options. Smashwords and Amazon allow you to set up pre-sale periods for however long you need/want. Take advantage of this option, because the pre-sales will reflect on your rankings for the release date.

1 week out:
  • Confirm your listing. Amazon especially forces you to do this, so make sure your uploaded manuscript is your final copy intended for distribution.
  • Check Goodreads. Using two distributors (Amazon and Smashwords) will auto-generate two listings of your work. Merge the listings so everything is neat and clean.
  • Relax. Everything else is automated after you've scheduled and uploaded the necessary formats to Amazon and Smashwords, so enjoy the euphoria brought on by your accomplishment.

Launch day:

All that being said, this method is what worked best for me. Why? Because I tend to procrastinate, and setting mini-deadlines to meet (and "crunch for" at the "last minute" of each deadline) motivated me to keep up with everything in advance. I knew my habits so I built fail safes around them to compensate. For other self-published authors, the path may be different, and I encourage those of you to comment here and let myself and other readers know what worked for you.

At the end of the day, consider all this a starting point to help get you where you're going, and remember that where you're going is labour intensive down the self-publishing road. I wish anyone traveling this way the best of luck brought on by all their hard work ("Ganbare!" as the Japanese say).


In his first day on the job, Thomas Wilson learns the ins and outs of Discreet Movers, a company that caters to a certain type of clientele. His partner, Reggy Cazenove, not only knows the business, he's exactly the type they serve: a weretiger with enough centuries under his belt that he's been around the block and then some.

Speaking of blocks, their client of the hour lives in the suburbs of Arthurfield, WV, a known haven for blood magicians, shield maidens, water sprites, and—deadliest of all—the gods' servants on earth: Ladies. Between their missing client, eccentric neighbours, and a pizza delivery, Thomas is getting a crash course in the preternatural while it's up to Reggy to keep him safe.

The only hitch now: their missing client. So with only their wits and a lot of patience, Thomas and Reggy settle in for the strangest night of their lives . . ..

Release Date: 10 February 2017

Cabover Cabaret is available for purchase on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.


  1. Thank you for writing this up. I'm not sure I could follow your pattern exactly, but it's a great place to start.

  2. There's a lot of great info in here that I'll definitely come back to for my next release. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Well done. This is excellent information.



Ash Litton

Ash Litton is a writer and lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and all things fictional. She is the author of Thoroughbred, Evening Hallow, Comeuppance, and Cabover Cabaret, and works on other Appalachian Dream Tales between her ongoing novel projects. She's also written No Diet, No Surgery, No Sweat, an ebook chronicling her weight-loss journey.

When she's not writing, she's drawing, and when she's not doing either of those, she's dreaming up new projects to work on. Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Ash has always wondered what things lay hidden in the hills around her. She attended West Virginia University, where she studied the English language before returning home to her family in rural West Virginia.