December 20, 2016

Book Marketing: How to Get Feedback — Guest: Jefferson Smith

Betta fish with text: How to Best Market Our Book

It’s often pointed out that marketing a book—including its cover, title, tagline, and blurb—to appeal to readers is a completely different skill set from writing a book. No matter how well we’re able to develop plots and three-dimensional characters, we might struggle when it comes to the writing of marketing.

*raises hand* Been there. Done that. Have the query-letter rejections to prove it. (I think my blurb-writing has improved over the years however, as this is a learn-able skill. *grin*)

If we’re traditionally published, we might have help from our agent, editor, or publisher in coming up with the right messaging for our story (or we might not). But if we’re self-published, we’re definitely on our own.

I’ve seen suggestions for us to get feedback on our title, cover, blurb, etc., but that can be tricky too. If we post on social media, we might get feedback from those who don’t read our genre and aren’t familiar with the norms. If we ask only our friends, we might get back-pats without any real feedback.

So I’m super-excited to share another resource for feedback on all those critical aspects of our writing. But first, let me introduce you to Jefferson Smith…

Jefferson is an indie author known for his Immerse or Die challenge on his blog. I wrote about Immerse or Die a couple of years ago in the context of how to make sure readers don’t close our book:

“Every day he chooses a self-published book to read while exercising on his treadmill. Each time a book forces him out of the story, that’s a strike. He gives each book three strikes—additional chances to not lose his attention again. At three strikes, the book is closed.

…I liked his approach because the number one piece of advice for story quality is:

Keep readers in the story.”

While his Immerse or Die program challenges self-published authors to up their storytelling game, his new program encourages authors to improve their marketing game. And today, he’s here to explain how it all works.

Please welcome Jefferson Smith! *smile*


Fighting to Get Our Best Marketing Ideas on the Page

Hi, I’m Jefferson Smith, fantasy author and host of the ImmerseOrDie Report, where every morning another indie book is subjected to my simple test: can it keep me immersed for the duration of my forty-minute morning walk?

Books that cause me to stumble along the way with editing or writing problems get written up in a report on my site, explaining what went wrong for me. But the books that survive for the full walk get something much better.

They get promoted.

The Benefits of Connecting Readers and Authors

I have an army of followers who track my reports, and many of them run out to buy any title that lasts the full forty minutes, because that doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. But there are other promotional activities as well.

Last year, I solicited short-story submissions from all the authors who had ever earned the Survivor badge. Then I threw those stories into a locked room with a handful of rabid critics. When they emerged, they handed me the 15 stories that they agreed were great, and together we published an anthology, called All These Shiny Worlds.

That collection, which we give away for free, has been on various Amazon Top Ten lists continuously for over six months, and has been downloaded thousands of times. The authors involved report big bumps in fan mail and in registrations to their email lists every time we promote the book. That has worked so well that we’re doing it again this year.

Or then there’s our StoryBundles. Every year I herd the winning authors together and select the best of their books to appear in a collection at StoryBundle.

In three short weeks, the mutual-cross promotion (plus the appeal of deep discounts) attract thousands of book lovers, who can buy the entire set of books for whatever price they want to pay. We’re doing one right now, so feel free to take a look at the kind of exposure those authors are getting.

The point of telling you all this is to show how powerful it has been whenever I’ve found ways to gather both readers and writers together, and then give them a way to engage each other for mutual benefit.

The secret to success, I think, is not about selling books; it’s about serving audiences. And ideally, mixing those audiences together to create emergent communities.

You’re Invited…

So now that I’ve explained my philosophy, I want to ask for your help, and Jami has graciously offered her blog audience as one of my potential recruiting grounds. See, I’m in the middle of rolling out another one of these “something for everybody” projects, and I need more people to help test it.

What is it? I’m glad you asked.

There are two interesting and unrelated problems in the indie book world:

  1. Authors often have trouble figuring out how to market their books.
  2. And readers often have trouble finding new books to read.

So I figured, why not put the two problems together and let each group help the other?

How Can We Get Feedback on Our Marketing?

One of the hardest parts of being an indie author is the uncertainty of how to market your books.

I don’t mean the question of where to buy advertising or which social media streams to engage with. I’m talking about the even more fundamental questions:

  • What title will appeal to readers?
  • What tagline really grabs?
  • Should my blurb emphasize the plot or the character arc?
  • Will a brightly colored cover draw more eyes? Or a high-contrast image?

These are the questions that can frizz our hair and put bags under our eyes. And the only way to answer them is to take a wild guess, put the book on the market, and then see what happens.

In my own publishing practice, I have struggled with these questions since my very first book. And as a reformed computer nerd, it has always seemed to me to be an easy problem to solve, but I couldn’t understand why nobody had built the obvious tool.

So I finally gave up waiting and built it myself. Er, well actually, it was more like I explained the idea to fellow programmer-cum-author Cliff Hall, and he built it. But the point is, the wait for that tool is now over.

Introducing PageFight!

It’s called PageFight!

Have a look at this screen shot. (Note from Jami: Newsletter readers, click through to see the images.)


Which book would you be more likely to investigate? Well, just click the thumbs up button on one of them and tell us. Once you do, we’ll show you another pair. And then another. Pretty easy, huh?

That’s the entire premise behind PageFight! Authors load a detail from one of their projects—say, a tagline they’re considering—and then PageFight will pair it up with other taglines in the same genre and let readers tell them which one appeals more.

Getting one reader opinion, or two, wouldn’t be any more useful than the opinions you’re already soliciting from your friends, but PageFight! doesn’t just stop at 1 or 2.

Hundreds of readers will give you their snap-judgement opinions. And when it comes to testing what will work on a bookstore shelf, it’s those snap judgments that are the most revealing.

Now, PageFight! isn’t limited to just taglines. At the moment, we support titles, blurbs, and cover art as well. Here’s what the cover battles look like.

PageFight covers

But notice something else about those books. On every matchup, whether it’s a title or cover or what, if the book has already been published, we include a link to the Amazon page. If a player is really interested in that book, they can jump out directly to the vendor page to investigate it further.

So PageFight! isn’t just a tool for authors—it’s also a discovery tool for readers. When was the last time you played a game that helped you find new books to love?

The Power of Connecting Readers & Authors

That’s the power of PageFight! Both readers and authors have a strong incentive to come to the site. And if we can get both groups coming back frequently, everybody stands to win from the collision.

We launched the site about two months ago, but we’re still in a beta-testing period. We’ve been adding authors and readers quietly, getting the system ready to scale up, and even though we know there’s still lots to do, the system is already providing value. Several authors have already reported having made decisions on their upcoming releases based on the data they gathered in PageFight!

But we don’t have many romance authors or readers in the system yet. So I’d like to invite anyone reading this article to come check it out. You can help by running through and judging a few matchups, or even just by telling a friend you know who might find the system fun or useful.

And before you get worried that this is some sleazy money grab, let me assure you that it is. I hope that users of PageFight! will see my books and fall in love with them, buying everything I’ve ever written.

But that’s the only way I benefit from the system, just like every other author who plays. After all, if it doesn’t work for me, why would you believe that it can work for you?

So for that reason, PageFight! is entirely free. No subscriptions. No fees. Not even any advertising on the site.

Come join us on PageFight!


Jefferson SmithJefferson Smith is a liar of the first order. He has lied to kings and queens; he has lied to hobos and urchins. He has lied to the mightiest of the mighty and to the lowest of the low. He is probably lying to you now.

But in every lie there is a grain of truth, and in every telling a bewitchment. So it should come as no surprise that Jefferson bends his talents to the one craft that reveres both the liar and the lie, weaving entire worlds out of falsity and invention, raveled up in strands of guile.

He is an author, and you will not find his equal in any other sphere. Or so he keeps telling us.

Web | Twitter | Google+ | Facebook


All These Shiny Worlds coverAbout All These Shiny Worlds:

What do you get when you ask 34 of today’s top indie authors to each submit a story and then ask a team of judges to scour that ore and pick out the gems? You get All These Shiny Worlds: A world of today, divided, black from white, good from evil, and held apart by the taste of a cookie. A world of griffons and glimmer bunnies, sassy llamas and the magic of beer. A world of contemplation and serenity, of service and devotion, ruled by a jewel and guarded by children. Plus 12 more, for a total of 15 worlds to explore.

From the brutal curators at comes this collection of indie short stories, each a distinct jewel forged in the fires of judgment, and all carrying one simple promise:

Guaranteed not to suck.

*psst* And it’s free!

Amazon | Kobo | Apple | Barnes & Noble


Thank you, Jeff! PageFight! is such an interesting idea, and I can’t wait to try it out.

If you’ve ever heard of the concept of “gamifying” an activity (turning it into a game), Jefferson’s PageFight! takes that approach and applies it to marketing. How cool is that?

Even better, we can test different ideas for our marketing to see which perform well. And then we get the bonus of connecting with readers too. A win-win for everyone! *smile*

Have you noticed that storytelling skills don’t always cross over to marketing-writing skills? Do you struggle with the writing we need to do to market our book? What aspect of marketing-writing do you struggle with the most? Do you think something like PageFight! might help? Do you have any questions for Jefferson?

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Dwane Knott

Pagefight seems a win-win for reader and author. Anything to expose readers to new authors and hopefully get them to test a new genre.

Scarlett West

A few weeks ago on a Facebook marketing group page, a bunch of authors were displaying their book covers for critiques from the other members. Like your article says, I’m a writer, and don’t know much about marketing, so reading their comments was very educational. I wished for an ongoing website/group where the focus was just what you talked about!

I am going to check out both Pagefight and Immerseordie as well. Thank you very much for sharing this article, to Jami for hosting you, and for your ongoing projects.

Btw, I know a bunch of romance Indie authors! I’m going to share this article with them so we can contribute to Pagefight and continue to learn.

Laurie Evans

Thanks for sharing! I’m going to check it out.


[…] Marketing can make some writers cry in frustration. Chris Syme discusses pain-free book marketing, Judith Briles has tips to make your book soar, and Jefferson Smith introduces PageFight!, a site to allow you to get marketing feedback and let readers discover your books. […]

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