My Thoughts on the Results of My Marketing Survey

Last week, I sent PMs to published authors on Mythic Scribes and posted a request on my blog.  Today, I’m going over my takeaways from the results.  Check out my blog tomorrow for my preliminary marketing plan. 

On the importance of marketing:

Unless you already are a big name author, it is incumbent upon you, and you alone, to make yourself a success.  Even if you have a publisher, they’re probably not going to do much more that send out review copies.

Being a professional writer in today’s environment means you need to know as much about marketing as you do about writing.

Unfortunately, I am not a marketing guy, and there do not seem to exist any easy strategies that are guaranteed to lead to success.  All I can do is experiment.  When I publish Power of the Mages, I intend to chronicle my results, with actual numbers, here on this blog. 

Regarding specific marketing techniques:

Blog Tour – I can certainly see how getting on blogs help, but I don’t know that trying to shoehorn blogs into a certain day to build momentum is worth the effort.  My theory is: get on as many blogs as you can, however you can, whenever you can.

Book Signing – I have a lot of questions about book signings as a self published author with POD books.  Does this work?  Do you buy a bunch of books in advance in the hopes of selling them?

Truthfully, until recently, my strategies didn’t consider hard copies of books except for the most minimal extent possible.  I’ve had a couple of people tell me, however, that paper copies sale better than I would have expected. 

If you’ve had experiences with this, please share.  These same comments go for book fairs.

Advertising (where and how much?) – I think that most of us aren’t prepared to sink the kind of capital into our book as would be required for a truly national campaign.  However, it seems reasonable to experiment with the small quantities of money that it takes to run on Adwords and Facebook.

From the results of the survey, it certainly sounds like most people do not even make their money back on the deal.  My question then is: is it possible to do a big enough blitz to raise your book’s profile to the top ten in its category?  If so, the extra momentum might make it worth it.

Adwords seemed to have come across as the best bet based on these authors.  I’ve read elsewhere that advertising on Goodreads is cost effective.  I’d also like to hear about it if anyone had any success or tried Craigslist.

Blogging – I feel more strongly every day that blogging is not worth the effort as far as time cost vs. benefit goes.  It does make you feel that you’re doing something, though.

Twitter – I was gratified to find that the surveyed authors had so low an opinion of Twitter because I have no desire to try to learn how to use it.

Facebook – I think that the results of the survey indicate that Facebook was useful in communicating to your friends and family that you have a book out but that it wasn’t great at attracting new readers. 

Search Engine Optimization – I have some hope of using SEO techniques on Amazon to draw readers to my book page.  I don’t think this will result in my selling millions of books or anything, but I think that the time cost vs. benefit is probably okay.

Getting your book reviewed by book bloggers – The responses tell me two things: 1. This is a good thing to do. 2. This is a difficult thing to do.  I’ve heard rates of 20-25% success in getting reviews.  I think this data is old and that the success rate is now much lower.

Getting your book reviewed by Amazon top reviewers – I think an important source of potential reviewers are people who reviewed similar books.  The top reviewers are inundated by requests.  Someone who happened to post a review about a friend’s book may be flattered that you want them to do yours.

Short stories as promotional materials – I’ve heard it said that an email list is the most important marketing tool that you can develop.  I have some plans to use a novelette to help develop that list.  I’ll keep you posted in the coming months.

Regarding expectations:

I read that a handful of self published authors make 75% of the money.  From browsing forums, this certainly seems to be the case.  Most people are barely going to make their money back and will never recoup a tiny portion of their time cost.

That being said, some people do make it.  It’s not out of the question to sell 10,000 books in a year.  The market is there.  The readers are there.  You just have to reach them.

I tend to oscillate between thinking that it’s hopeless and that it’s possible.  We’ll see.  I’ll post my actual sales numbers on this blog to give you a better idea.

On what you can do to increase your sales:

I think there are methods to improve your sales.  Advertising and getting reviews on the right blogs seem to be the most surefire methods.  Whether either succeeds on a cost to benefit basis is up for debate.

It seems true that sales feed sales.  The more books you move, the more Amazon will help you move more books by making it more visible.

Is making a huge gamble and putting thousands of dollars into advertising the way to go?  I don’t know, and I’m not willing to risk it until I have more books out than just the one.

Regarding self publishing versus traditional:

The traditionally published respondents gave me a lot to think about.  I’m committed to going it alone for my first book, but I do like some of the advantages that publishers give.  For my next series, I’m seriously considering at least making a couple of submissions.

A few closing thoughts:

The number one takeaway I got from the respondents was to not let marketing eat too much into production of your next book.  Writing goals come first.

Have realistic expectations.  Do not get discouraged as your books languish with next to no sales.  Rarely does someone break out with a single book.  Keep writing.

Have a marketing plan ready at your launch.  Devote some money to advertising up front.

 

Results of My Marketing Survey for Published Authors

Last week, I sent PMs to published authors on Mythic Scribes and posted a request on my blog.  Before I get to the results, let me say a huge thank you to the respondents.  They took time out of their lives to try to help the rest of us.  Check out my blog tomorrow for my analysis of the responses and on Wednesday for my preliminary marketing plan. 

Now, on with the show:

When you published your novel, what did you do for your launch?   Did you have a marketing plan?

Eleven authors responded to my questions.  Two had some kind of plan.  Five became more active on social media.  Three did nothing more than told the people they knew.  One had a launch event at a festival.

Of the two with plans, one sent out press releases, posted flyers at local businesses, pursued book reviewers, and explored social media.  The other’s publisher sent out review copies, and the author advertised in a national, relevant magazine.

Which of the following have you tried?  For those you have tried, please rate your perception of the technique’s effectiveness on a scale of 1 – 10 (one being “didn’t work” and 10 being “awesome”).

Blog Tour – 8 (only one has tried it)

Book Signing – 6 (4,5,9)

Advertising (where and how much?) – 5(One author tried Adwords, Facebook, and Twitter.  Only Adwords resulted in any sales, and he rated it a 7.  Another rated Adwords as a 3.  Another author spend $3000 on a national magazine and rated the results a 10.  The final author who responded on this one rated giving out flyers a 4.) 

Blogging – 3.6 (1,2,2,2,5,6,7)

Twitter – 3 (2,2,4,4)

Facebook – 4.4 (1,3,3,4,5,7,8)

Search Engine Optimization – 1 (only one has tried it)

Getting your book reviewed by book bloggers – 4.5 (1,4,5,8 – Two authors stated how difficult it is to get reviews and a third said that no one would agree to do one.)

Getting your book reviewed by Amazon top reviewers – (none tried it)

Conventions/Book Fairs – 5.7 (1,7,9 – One author said it’s worth it but expensive.)

Short stories as promotional materials – 5.8 (3.5,8)

Describe the arc of your sales figures.  Did it start big and taper off?  Have you seen a steady increase?  Have you seen steady sales with spikes?

Most of the authors describe the following: A big spike followed by a leveling off with more spikes when something happens like a mention on a big site or a marketing push.  The remainder says that the books basically didn’t sale at all.

If you’ve seen spikes in your sales or anything that led to steady growth, to what do you attribute that growth?

Five authors report no spikes.  Two indicate growth and spikes by releasing new work.  Three say that advertising results in spikes and/or growth, though one states that the size of the spike is orders of magnitude lower than the push used to get it.  The final author attributes spikes to random occurrences.

Are you traditionally or self published?  If traditional, did you see any marketing advantage?  Please describe.

Eight of the respondents are self published. 

The three traditionally published authors list the following advantages: bookstores are more likely to stock your book, ability to attend events as an author where self published authors are not invited, proper editing process, reviews by library catalogues, and translations done by the publisher.

Do you promote other author works on your site in exchange for the same?  Have you solicited comment from established authors to advertise on your book cover or book website?  With what results?

Four authors simply said “no.”  Three post links on their blogs or Facebook pages.  The rest expressed concern over the practice of exchanges.

What advice, from a marketing standpoint, would you give fellow authors who are about to publish their work?

For this one, I’m just going to give you the responses word for word:

– It takes time, do not expect miracles. The promotion is time consuming and can be soul consuming, be careful it does not eat into your writing time and fun. However it is worth it but do not let it overtake you.

– Don’t.  Rather, don’t worry too much about it. For beginning authors (which I still very much am) the primary focus should be on writing more. We need to add to our body of work. Beyond that, try to get mention by book bloggers or other reviewers, get on podcasts and get otherwise involved in the community through your own blog and/or social media (I quite enjoy Twitter now that I’ve been using it awhile).

We must understand that it can be hard to get people to A) Hear about us and B) Want to use some of their precious time taking a chance on us. Furthermore, if we annoy people on Step A by marketing in aggravating ways, we hurt our chances at step B. Take it slow and keep writing, so that when you do manage – by chance or design – to hook a new reader, you have more and more to give them and keep them hooked. If you can offer enough quality material, they’ll go tell friends about it so they can share their enjoyment.

David Robison (Dreamhand on these forums, founder of the Roundtable Podcast) called this “a literary gravity.” When we are just one small rock flying through space, any attempt we make to get noticed is hampered by how small we are (one little book!). But once we’ve written three, or five, or ten novels? Then people start noticing our gravity themselves.
When just starting out, marketing should not be a high priority. Your efforts will be hampered simply because you don’t have enough out there. Wait until you have more to offer, then worry about spreading the word.

– If you can afford it, try to have a strong marketing plan in place to coincide with your release. Best case scenario is to break into the top list at Amazon (even if just for a few hours) so that your popularity can feed itself.

– Keep at it. It’s a tough job, and you aren’t going to get anywhere without working at it. And enjoy the small victories.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty annoyed with the lack of information Amazon provides self-published authors. They certainly know whether a novel was purchased following a visit from a blog, a tweet, a Facebook, or anywhere else on the Internet. They should share, so we have a better idea what works and what doesn’t.

– Look at it for the long haul, unless you’re with one of the major houses, which will only get your books on the shelves for 6 or 8 weeks. With them, you’ll do a lot more prep work prior to release. I would say always be professional, in person, online, with all communications and contacts. The more works you have published, the easier it is to attract readers.

– Paid advertising seems to me to be most effective; of course, I haven’t tried any heavy marketing in the free areas, just announcements of the book and various milestones via social media.

– Know your target market and try to raise your own profile within their world. The extracurricular writing has been a great deal of hard work but looks like it’s about to start paying off.

Also, if you 100% believe in your ability – be fearless. If you don’t…just keep writing for fun until the day you suddenly realise you’ve improved out of sight and have a great idea for a new story.

– “Marketing will take a lot more time and effort than you probably think it will.”

– Advice: maybe marketing needs a wider variety of methods together, to multiply each other more.

– Be sincere. Just be yourself. That is what I do. I don’t like to be aggressive in marketing. But that doesn’t mean my way is the best way.

Be patient. That your books don’t get a lot of attention in the first weeks, doesn’t mean that it is a failure.

But maybe that is something that is true in the Netherlands. The competition in the UK and America is much bigger, so maybe there are different ‘rules’ there.

I think if you truly believe in what you are doing, you have a big chance to be successful. (But that also has a lot to do with how you define success.)

– Since I write books that are never going to be popular, the only advice I can give is to develop your craft *before* publishing, and edit, edit, edit. I’m not a marketer and generally ignore the most popular advice, most of which is ineffective anyway.

Interesting Blog Post Analyzing ebook Pricing

Bonus Friday night post for you:

I was doing a little bit of web surfing about marketing ebooks on Amazon and came across a useful blog.  After reading a few articles, I realized that I recognized the name from Mythic Scribes.  Pretty cool.

Check out this article.  Kevin does a statistical analysis of the top 200 best selling SciFi books on Amazon, looking at whether they’re indie or traditional and at the prices.  It’s good info!

Even better, he examines fantasy here.

In this article, he advocates that you do basically no marketing until you have enough books out to make the effort worth it.  In a way, I can kind of see his point.  From a time versus benefit standpoint, marketing a single book seems like a waste of time compared to doing the same thing for multiple books.  Combine that with the fact that there are few “one book breakouts,” and he makes a compelling argument.

On the other hand, I do have some counterpoints:

1. The trend seems to be that books experience a burst of sales upon release.  It seems like the expected curve for the self published author goes: Big spike at release -> Drop off to almost nothing -> Rising to some relatively steady level over time -> Growth with the release of new books

It seems like trying to capitalize on that initial burst is a good thing.  If you can expend a bit of effort and take that book into the Amazon Top Ten for its category, you’ll get a bunch of sales that you otherwise never would have had a chance to get.

2. Every customer you get today is a strong potential sale for a future book.  Thus it seems to make sense to try to reach as many customers as possible now.

3. It seems like it would be a soul crushing experience to have your book, that you worked so hard on and put so many hours into, giving you almost no tangible benefits.

If You Want to Sell Your Book, Don’t Do a Blog Like Mine

That’s the message of this blog post.  The author’s main point: writers shouldn’t blog about writing.

Seeing as how I do blog about writing, you’d probably think that I disagree with the premise.  I do but not for the reason that you expect.

The author seems to feel that blogging is a great way to sell books, just not blogs about writing.  I take the contrary view.  Blogs, unless you’re already established, are horrible for selling books.  First, it takes a long, long, long time and a lot of effort to develop a following.  Second, once you do get droves of people reading your blog, converting them to buyers is notoriously difficult.  If this blog results in the sell of ten of my books that I wouldn’t have sold otherwise, I’ll be shocked.

Why, then, am I doing this?  I’m glad you asked.

1. It’s fun.

2. It’s great experience.  If I ever do make it big, blogging is essential.  This is a learning process.

3. I’m making connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise made.

4. I think that this blog, eventually, can be of use to people who are in my position of wanting to self publish and market their book.  I started it as a blog about writing.  I can see that the purpose is probably going to shift to more about publishing and marketing.  I have a long road ahead of me in the next six to eight months as I get ready to do both those things.  I’ll document the lessons that I learn here to provide a road map to the people who come after me.

 

If You’ve Published a Book, I’d Appreciate You Responding to These Marketing Questions

I’m working on a blog post about marketing books.  My concept is to ask authors the questions below and compile the results.  If you’re willing to participate, please respond with your answers either in the comments below or email them to me at author@brianwfoster.com.

  1. When you published your novel, what did you do for your launch?   Did you have a marketing plan?
  2. Which of the following have you tried?  For those you have tried, please rate your perception of the technique’s effectiveness on a scale of 1 – 10 (one being “didn’t work” and 10 being “awesome”). 
    1. Blog Tour
    2. Book Signing
    3. Advertising (where and how much?)
    4. Blogging
    5. Twitter
    6. Facebook
    7. Search Engine Optimization
    8. Getting your book reviewed by book bloggers
    9. Getting your book reviewed by Amazon top reviewers
    10. Conventions/Book Fairs
  3. Describe the arc of your sales figures.  Did it start big and taper off?  Have you seen a steady increase?  Have you seen steady sales with spikes?
  4. If you’ve seen spikes in your sales or anything that led to steady growth, to what do you attribute that growth?
  5. Are you traditionally or self published?  If traditional, did you see any marketing advantage?  Please describe.
  6. Do you promote other author works on your site in exchange for the same?  have you solicited comment from established authors to advertise on your book cover or book website?  With what results?
  7. What advice, from a marketing standpoint, would you give fellow authors who are about to publish their work?

The Ethics of Marketing

Great news!  We have a guest blogger today.  JC Farnham, the blogmaster extraordinaire from Supercritical – The Alchemy of Writing, has written an excellent post for us.

Being in a similar self-publishing situation as Brian, I’d like to talk further about something mentioned on the Ethics of Marketing a few days ago. As a graduate of marketing, I thought it might be particularly useful for me to add my thoughts on the subject to provide a different point of view for the followers of this blog.

First, a bit of technical background.

Marketing Ethics is a strangely tricky subject, as I discovered during the aforementioned course. Even for an official governing body to make a ruling on an incident is oddly difficult. To this end each case is often settled on the merits of that case alone. On occasion a precedent is set to which judges are compelled to act but, only when these pre-set rules come into question, can that be done. People have to make mistakes.

We are in a position today where the market is in flux, more so than in the past (though it remains to be seen, it may be settling)—particularly with the advent of new and easier self-publishing routes. Previous rulings on matters of ethics have to be transferred to fit these new cases. Now, I’m not a lawyer, but research, logic and experience from my degree modules tell me that things are always somewhat uncertain. This is probably why we find an awful lot of stories coming out about fake or dishonest reviews and such similar devious situations. Unfortunately it’s easy to cheat, tempting perhaps… thankfully our industry tends to police itself. To wit, when an incident comes to light, people tend to stop buying those products—the books go without saying of course, but people also stop buying into the brand itself, the author.

It regularly falls to the individual to discriminate between what is right and what it wrong. Don’t make it hard on yourself. If you are looking to publish, you probably aren’t looking to do it just once. You need to acquire a kind of staying power, and that doesn’t come from a good campaign for one book. Be a brand to be believed in.

I particularly find the subject of reviews interesting. It has been shown time and time again that people typically use reviews as a way to inform their decision making processes. While I don’t like to think I rely solely on the opinions of others when it comes to choosing on which books to spend my limited funds, I’m well aware that if a product has more reviews I’m more likely to take the risk of buying…

Regardless of what those reviews said.

Now like Brian showed in his post, it’s easy for a rather crafty author to get this glowing reviews. I would like to go on record saying that, any review is better than no review. People seem to worry that bad review could mean the end of their income, and though that is a warranted worry, if you have a professional quality product all exposure is good exposure. One only has to read about Lady Gaga to realise that. My point is that all reviews carry weight. One may want more glowing reviews than bad, but the fact one has either shows your product is engaging. The problem comes when you do something off and you can’t shake it. The United Colours of Beneton come to mind with their increasingly morally grey advertising campaigns (I’m not sure how showing pictures of dying men helps them sell their services, but each to their own…). It makes people wary of striking up a dialogue with them. Controversy certainly helps garner some kind of interest it seems, but it’s usually best not to be that kind of brand… That should go without saying. Common sense.

To ask people to provide you with favourable reviews therefore is rather dishonest and it doesn’t show you, the brand, in a good light to do so. Strive for honest reviews.

If you “trade reviews” with fellow authors, you have to expect an “unfavourable” review or two, but that never stopped anyone. Meyer and her Twilight fans care little who tries to trash them. Paolini didn’t (and doesn’t) worry about what people thought of his writing in the early days. He published his novels, caught the hearts of his readers and fought to improve with each succeeding book. Their success isn’t based on ensuring the only reviews they have are favourable. Their success is based on firstly having a product that speaks to their target audience, and secondly on being a brand to be believed in.

Let’s summarise. Don’t worry too much about your reviews or your critics. You shouldn’t need to pick and choose. You’re bound to get some harsh ones, some weightless, uninformed but ultimately good ones, some almost-too-perfect ones… but all that matters is getting those reviews (that’s another subject altogether of course). Unless you’ve found the winning formula of pleasing everyone (and let’s face it, there probably isn’t such a formula) there will always be someone who didn’t engage well with your story. It happens. Everyone is different and entitled to their opinion.

Things being uncertain in self-publishing is not an excuse to bend or break the rules. There are precedents, albeit ones previously related to traditional publishing, but, if you get found out, it will come back to haunt you. Even if you don’t let to progress to court level, bad stigma is exceedingly tough to shake.

It’s difficult to name names on those who did this badly, but here’s an example that should relate well to the subject of stigma effecting opinion. It remains to be seen whether J.K. Rowling enjoys success with her adult fiction (for the price set financial security should damn well be certain however many units she shifts…). She is known for being a children’s author, a good one at that, but one never the less. She has a stigma, good or bad, attached to her. “Can she really transfer the same skills over to adult fiction?”, “Will it be worth it?”, etc. Only time will tell. The great thing is she’s trying none the less.

Let your work stand up for itself without being pushed alone with the more “glowing kind of solicited reviews”. I hope you catch my meaning there. If not here it is, spelt out:

Don’t force the good reviews. It’s not worth it and people will be suspicious of such complete praise.

That being said, word of mouth buzz is ridiculously efficient. Get people talking about you and you might well find your sales rising rapidly. China Mieville seems to have managed this on the strength of his imagination alone. He’s often tipped as being tremendously creative and a truly remarkable talent, and that reputation whether you personally think it’s earned not (I do, but who am I) allows him to sell to people who would be otherwise unsure of his subject matter. You have to pick up his fiction to find out, and therein lays the trick.

Achieving this means getting your brand out there. Whatever you decide that means for you. Reviews are a must, as are many other marketing tools, but remember to reach your target customers where they hang out, and do it honestly, and with really weight behind you. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than your words seeming hollow whether you mean it or not, or for that matter falling on deaf ears.

Review of Make a Killing on Kindle

If you want to be a successful, self published author, you need two things.  I’m not talking about lightning strikes, people like the author of 50 Shades, who somehow wrote the right thing at the right time.  I’m talking about having a realistic shot of making a decent amount of money to supplement your income or, possibly, even to replace your day job.  So, what are those two things?

  1. A quality product – My blog is mainly about trying to make you a better writer, and you’re going to have to spend a lot of time to get to a level where you produce something worth selling.  Once people get to that point, though, a lot of them put their book on Amazon and expect to become millionaires.  What happens?  They sell about 10 copies, maybe one or two of those are to people they don’t know.  You also need:
  2. A marketing plan – You need a systematic approach to getting your book before the public.  There are millions of books out there.  How is someone supposed to find yours?

That’s the purpose of this post.  I’ve researched a lot of books on marketing ebooks, and this is the one that caught my attention.  I’ll read a few more on the subject before finalizing my plan, but here’s my first review on the subject.

Make A Killing On Kindle (Without Blogging, Facebook Or Twitter). The Guerilla Marketer’s Guide To Selling Ebooks On Amazon  by Michael Alvear

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: It’s well written for the most part.  The author does his best to make the material entertaining and pretty much succeeds.  It’s a fast read and crams a lot of useful information in a short space. 

In Chapter 1, Mr. Alvear explains why blogging and social media is a waste of time unless you’re already a successful author.  This viewpoint is contrary to most of the advice out there and really drew my attention.  I’ve always had a problem with the concept of social media.  It’s like: Step 1 – spend a lot of time and effort to build a devoted following; Step 2 – ?????; Step 3 – profit.  I think that converting your “followers” to “buyers” isn’t all that easy.  The author makes much the same point.

In Chapter 2, he tells you how to come up with a title for your book.  Quite frankly, I don’t think this is all that relevant for a fiction author, though he tries to make it so.  There are a lot of resources out there with tips on how to come up with a title, and I’m not sure this chapter is worth the price.

In Chapter 3, Mr. Alvear goes on at length about the importance of your cover.  The main takeaway: hire a professional? 

Chapter 4, in my opinion, is where the book proves its value.  He’s all about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Before reading this book, I knew it was something that I needed to research, but I had no ideas other than that.  The author provides what seems to me to be great advice on how to do SEO.  If it works half as well as the author seems to suggest, it gives me hope that my book can be some kind of success.

In Chapter 5, he illustrates how important choosing the right category for your book is and goes into detail on how to do it.

Be careful about Chapter 6.  Mr. Alvear suggests a method that is against Amazon’s TOS.

In Chapter 7, the author tells you how to write a great description of your book that both entices customers and brings the search bots to your book.  I found the tips helpful.

Apparently, it’s difficult to use HTML tags to make your book page stand out.  He tells you how to add italics and make things bold in Chapter 8.  Presumably, this is useful information.  I didn’t really get any idea of what he thought you should do with the information, though.

Chapter 9 covered the “look inside” feature, and Chapter 10 covered pricing strategies.  I didn’t find either one all that great.

In Chapter 11, Mr. Alvear discusses the importance of reviews.  I found the first part of the chapter informative.  However, I have some problems with his ethics in the rest of his advice.

Chapters 12 and 13 go into detail about your author page and using your first book to sell future books respectively.  I found both okay but not all that earth-shattering.

Chapter 14 is truly interesting.  The author did a statistical analysis based on his sales figures versus his Amazon ranking.  He’s published a table correlating the two.  Mr. Alvear then goes into detail on how and why to use the data.  This is a huge value add.

Bottom Line: Should you buy this book?  That decision logically is based on whether the increased sales you get from his techniques will outweigh the cost of the book and the time-opportunity cost involved with reading it.  My inclination is to say buy it.  I can’t say that his methods will increase sales because I haven’t experienced this yet, but they pass the smell test for me.