Tuesday 26 September 2023

Marketing My Writing: So far, a bust!

I'll start with the classic joke: Look at what I've done, and now do the exact opposite, the supposition being that what I'm doing is wrong. I published my first book on September 22, 2016, and so far, any efforts on my part to market my work has been a bust. Research had turned up an article claiming that indie authors earn on average about $500 a year, and I'd say that just about describes my situation. There are supposedly 2.2 million new books published each year in the world so over the past 7 years as of this writing, there have been 15.4 million of them and not one of my works has caught the interest of the public. ARC programs, paid reviews, book tours, advertising campaigns on social media either by myself or by companies with for-pay services, Amazon's own paid ads, none of these marketing methods has led to any substantial number of sales. Considering each one of my books has involved money out of my own pocket for beta reads, copy editing, and proofreading, I'm so far in the red that it's ridiculous. Never mind a profit, I'd be happy at this stage of the game just to break even.

I first noticed this in paying for book tours. In looking at the interactions of the various participants, it became clear to me the purpose of the tour was not my book, it was the tour. People interacted with each other. Comments were about the superficial of the tour, the book cover, the book blurb, what other people said or did, the host or hostess of the tour, etc., but it became clear nobody was buying the book and actually reading it.

Recently, I tried out Instagram and discovered the same phenomenon. I paid for two ad services: each of them posting about my book. Each post got around 15,000 likes which seems like a good thing but I note that I may have gotten only one or two sales. In other words, Instagram is about Instagram, liking a post, not about buying my book. Sidebar: I join Instagram, post about my books, and then my Inbox is flooded with messages from publicity services! In fact, most of my followers seem to be people wanting me to pay them money! Ha!

There's an old saying (with many variations): If you throw enough Jell-O at the wall, eventually something is going to stick. So far, I haven't gotten much to stick.

During the summer of 2023, wondering just what horrible thing I had been doing, I paid $200 for a one-hour session with a marketing consultant. He told me a number of mistakes I had made and convinced me to slap down another $800 for his services. I did precisely what he asked then redid my ad campaigns on Amazon. Results? A bust. No better than what I had done by myself. If I search for expertise in marketing, I can find all sorts of advice. However, I've now come to the conclusion that this advice is like throwing Jell-O. While I'm sure experts in marketing are better than me, I'm not sure that anything I've done so far has been totally wrong. My biggest problem as I see it is that I'm unknown, and nobody wants to take a chance on an unknown.

I wouldn't buy my book.
I've looked at how I select a book to read. First off, I don't have much time, and I don't want to waste it. Consequently, my selection process is aiming to guarantee that my choice is a good one. I'll pick a well-known author, one whose opus matches my taste. The book blurb will confirm whether the story will pique my interest. I can't say the cover art is a factor in my choice which contradicts some marketing experts who say the cover is everything.

In other words, I would never choose one of my own books. Maybe, just maybe if I was at the cottage on a rainy day with nothing better to do, I might look at the bookshelf and somewhat randomly choose a book I would otherwise never read. This is the humor of my marketing situation. I wouldn't buy my book but I'm trying to figure out how to get people interested in it. Ha, ha!

Amazon Ad Campaigns
Out of all the marketing endeavors, I think this one deserves special mention as it is built into the sales mechanism many of us use when publishing on Amazon.

After playing with this system for years, my conclusion is this: Amazon has a really good system for themselves. Despite my best efforts, I've never been in the black. While I do manage to get the occasional sale, for the most part I am spending far more than I'm earning. My impression is that Amazon has built themselves a guaranteed money maker while I am wildly throwing Jell-O around in a hope springs eternal manner and having nothing stick. There have been periods when I left the system turned off as it was merely sucking up money and giving me pretty much nothing in return. But every once in a while, I'd try out a new idea, a new book blurb, a new tag line, new keyword targeting, etc. but to no avail. As I mentioned above, I hired a marketing consultant who re-wrote all my book blurbs and my taglines but that still didn't work. Damn if I know what the trick is. But I repeat: The biggest thing I've got going against me is that I'm just another name and there are just so many choices out there, why would anybody take risk on a complete unknown?

The Literary Lottery
I jokingly use this term to describe being discovered. It's not the marketing campaign per se, not the book blurb, not the cover, not the placement of an ad on social media, it's the point of self-combustion when the book takes on a life of its own, and interest snowballs. It's like wining the (literary) lottery! The public keeps talking about the work, passing around their enthusiasm for it and inciting others to take a look.

By all expert accounts, 50 Shades of Grey was a poorly written book. I've read numerous reviews criticizing E. L. James as a writer but after now having passed 150 million copies of her novels, she must be laughing all the way to the bank. Go figure. As odd as it sounds, quality may not always be the key to success. However, there's no doubt in my mind that Ms. James did indeed win the literary lottery. Even if her work had had critical praise, she still could have remained unknown. The old saying goes: You can work very hard and still lose.

The Numbers Game
The other week I was discussing this idea with a friend, and she gave me some example numbers.

An ad is displayed 1,000 times. Maybe 10% of the readers or 100 people look at the ad. Out of that, maybe 10% or 10 people click to view the details. Out of that, maybe 10% or 1 person actually acts on the ad as in purchasing something.

Those numbers, however, express the concept but the actual numbers would be tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. Maybe even millions. And the percentages wouldn't be 10% but possibly 1% or even a percentage of a percent. In other words, if the ad is displayed enough times, even a 0.01% success rate could lead to sales.

I'm reminded of an old joke: A man walking down the street comes across a beggar who has a cup of pencils with a sign saying $1 million. The man chuckles and says, "You're not going to sell a lot of pencils at that price." The beggar responds, "I only have to sell one."

Shawn Warner strikes gold
This first-time author was sitting in a store, signing books when a passer-by filmed him and posted it on TikTok. It went viral and Warner's book shot up to become the number one seller on Amazon. He's now been interviewed on NBC's Today Show. (link to article) This is the type of out of the box marketing I've long suspected is what makes winning the literary lottery possible. I've jokingly said I need to go down to the city central square with a box of my books, take off all of my clothes and pass them out with the hope, before the police arrest me for indecent exposure, that the media would get wind of my story and write about it. I may spend the night behind bars but I would get publicity! Ha, ha!

Final Word
Since I was putting my name on the book, I wanted to make sure I didn't embarrass myself. I hired professional editorial help to ensure my work was in the best shape possible. I haven't exactly followed the same approach when it's come to marketing, although I have spent time researching the topic. Should I have turned more to experts? The definition of an expert: Somebody who knows just a little bit more than you.

I'm sure marketing people look at me like a sucker. My two Instagram marketers got 15,000 likes each on their ads, so in a way, they did live up to their promises. But those ads gave me no sales and in the end, sales are the only thing that counts.

Am I flailing? The supposedly made-up story of Thomas Edison has a journalist asking him to comment on his failure to invent the light bulb. Edison replies, "I haven't failed. I've merely come up with 999 ways to NOT make a light bulb."

I have concluded that marketing is not an exact science. It's very much hit and miss. But I am also convinced that my biggest stumbling block is that I am but a mere grain of sand on the beach of life. There is quite literally so much going on in the world, why would anybody take the time to look at my stuff? I go through the Amazon ad campaign statistics, studying CTR (Click-through Rate) and CPC (Cost-per-click), tweaking taglines and book blurbs while realizing the customer has a tsunami of information flying by their eyes, and I only have a millisecond to pique their curiosity. Fat chance.

My conclusion is that I continue with two possible roads to success.
  1. Eventually by sheer number of ads, something catches the public's eye.
  2. Something unusual happens like a TikTok video (or me naked), and that catches the public's eye.

Only time will tell. But I'm reminded of an author who described her approach by saying that she wasn't going to fuss too much about marketing; it would eventually take care of itself, and she was going back to writing her next novel.



my blog: I wrote a book. So what? - Oct 24/2021
I clicked on the Publish button on September 22, 2016. "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." I'm sitting here, five years later, realising, "So, what?"

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King - Dec 27/2010
Who on this planet doesn't know the name Stephen King? Born in 1947, this American author has written and published 49 novels including 5 nonfiction which have sold over 350 million copies. Of course, his fame has spread even further as a number of these books have been turned into successful films: Carrie, The Shining, It and Misery to name but a few.


Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

No comments: