Friday, February 15, 2013

The Best Thing You Can Do to Support an Author

Books are like trees in a forest. I'll get to why in a second.
Most authors aren't privileged enough to be on The Tonight Show or have their books reviewed by the New York Times. No, the majority of authors, and there are a lot of them, rely on a limited budget from their publisher (if they're published) and/or their own promoting skills if they're self-published.

With enough hard work and determination, an author can convince a few hundred people to buy their book. Would you agree? Think about how many people you tried to convince to order candy bars from your kid's school last time. A few friends, neighbors, coworkers, that's about it, right? A hundred people if you were lucky. Authors are trying to do the same thing in a round about way.

Sure, a break here or there might increase sales of a book, but overall it is very difficult. My publisher once told me that the average sales for any book is 97 sales. That average takes into account the best sellers as well as the non-sellers. That's it. Ninety-seven. That's a pretty small number. About the same number as your candy bar sales, huh?

As an author, where do we go now? For authors, their books quickly become trees in a forest. It might very well be the best tree in that forest, but no one's buying because no one knows to even look for it. I've been fortunate to outsell the average, not bad for a nobody fireman such as myself. But, as with every author, I want to sell tens of thousands, not thousands.

So, how do authors get readers to see their books in the forest and then buy them? Can they get on TV to advertise it? It's tough, but the author might get a local news program to throw them a bone. I did, and it boosted sales for a few days, hardly lighting up the world. If you're published, how about using your publisher's resources? Yep, that'll help. Their reach might only be a little farther than yours though and maybe you'll sell another 1000 or more by using that advantage (small press), but that's probably about it. If publishers had more reach, they would be literally printing their own money. After all, when was the last time you've read a Stephen King book and thought, "I need to go see what other books are at DoubleDay?" Maybe, once in awhile, but I doubt often.

Author marketing  requires  the author to rely on luck and perseverance if they hope to sell a lot of books. It is about spreading the word to more than just the seven degrees of Douglas Brown's world. It's going to be difficult to say the least. It IS difficult. I mean, after all, how many trees do you think there are in that forest?

So the goal isn't to have your best friend buy 100 copies of your book (that wouldn't work anyway), it's to get your book seen by the largest number of readers. Whether those readers buy the book after they see it will depend on the quality of the book and whether it's something that interests them, but at least they’ve seen it. I know, I know, maybe my books have been seen and just don't interest anyone. I suppose that's possible, but I doubt it. I once saw a book on Amazon's best seller list that was titled, Everything I know about women (or something to that effect), and every page was blank. Funny? Yes. Good book? Hardly.

After telling you how dense the forest is and how impossible it will be to see an author's particular tree, let me tell you how Amazon helps to weed through that forest.

As a reader, how often do you finish a book that you absolutely love and rush to a computer to tell all of your friends on Facebook or twitter? Occasionally, I'm sure. And thanks, because that helps greatly. Now, how many times do you rush to your computer and write a review for that book? I'd bet rarely. I'll admit it, I don't either.

Here's the funny thing though. Because Amazon is overtaking the book selling world, they need a way to promote books. They need a way to guide you through the forest to a tree that might be right for you. One way they guide you is by sending you emails. As a result, obscure authors now have a chance at lighting up the world. It's still a long shot by every definition of the word, but it can be done.

Forget the Tonight Show and the New York Times, there's no shot at getting featured there for anyone not named Kardashian. Sure, getting that exposure would help incredibly, but it isn't likely without thousands of dollars and the proper connections. Here's the cool part. Amazon's metrics don't know if I'm Douglas Brown the firefighter/author or Honey Boo Boo. Amazon doesn't care either. As books sell, the rankings improve and more people buy the books. If my book was in Amazon's top 100, they wouldn't care who I was. Their automatic algorithms would try to sell my book as much as any other book.

So, the question becomes, "Why doesn't Amazon just push every book to their customers?" Well, simple. If you're a reader, how long would it take before you unsubscribed from their email list if they sent constant emails for every book of their millions and millions of books? Exactly.

That means they have to have a way of choosing the books that they promote. They're not going to choose a book that has no momentum because the gains wouldn't be high enough. How would they even know it wasn't a bunch of garbage that they just pushed on their customers anyway? Well, here's what Amazon has decided. They put their marketing muscle behind books that become hot. In order to decide what has become hot, they rely on their ranking and review system.

Book reviews provide exposure for otherwise unknown authors, so the more reviews, the more exposure, and the more books are sold, which leads to more reviews, more exp... Ok, you get the message. Slowly, the forest falls away and your particular tree is standing where everyone else can see.

Have you ever heard of ARC’s? They are advanced review copies of books. Publishers give them away before the book is released to garner interest in the title. Before ebooks, ARC’s cost a fortune and publishers had to be very picky with who they gave their books to. Ebooks and Amazon have leveled the playing field a bit and have allowed smaller publishers to give away more books in hopes that the beneficiaries of those freebies will leave reviews.

A New York Times review will get people to buy books, there is no doubt, but when The New York Times isn't an option, the only option left is a push through Amazon.

I realize if you know an author, you've heard about his/her book until you're ready to vomit. In fact, I probably have a bunch of vomiting friends right now. I get it. I'm also sure you've purchased their books and have tried to help them in any way possible and I can assure you that it has been greatly appreciated. But I ask you, have you left an Amazon review? You don't have to by any means. I'm just telling you how much that could help.

So, if you're reading this, then I've piqued your interest. Whether you're an author, a friend of an author, or just someone who wants to spread the word about your favorite book, here is the point of this blog. Spend a few minutes writing reviews on Amazon (and Goodreads, if you're a member) for books that you've enjoyed in the past. It doesn't have to be my book, just any book that you've enjoyed.

If you're an author, there are sites that can help you achieve the goal of more reviews. Of course, they can be expensive, as everything seems to be, but they might be worth a look. I’m trying right now. The idea of NetGalley is that their subscribers are there to find books to review on blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, and wherever else they want to leave reviews. In exchange for their reviews, they get to read books on the site for free. (They can be turned down by the publisher if they aren't established enough as a reviewer, but for little guys like us, I don't see any need to restrict.) Tamed is up on NetGalleyas we speak. I can't tell you whether it has generated any reviews yet, because it's only been up for two days, but I will tell you I am nearing 100 downloads of the book already. BTW, it isn't just reviewers, but librarians, educators, and book sellers as well.

I am hesitantly optimistic, as is my publisher, that this generates a lot of Amazon reviews. I'm currently at 38 reviews before this endeavor began and I'm hoping to hit at least 50 once it's over. You can go to Tamed's Amazon page if you'd like to see if it's working, but I'd suggest waiting at least a couple of weeks in order to give the reviewers time to do their thing. If you are a NetGalley subscriber, feel free to download my book on the top, right of this page or click this link. Just remember, please leave me a review when you're done. ;) Everyone else, what are you waiting for? Get to reviewing. Honest reviews are the best, regardless of how many stars you give. Now get out there and help Tamed stand out from the rest of the trees.




Friday, February 8, 2013

Epic Marketing Fail

Authors, learn from my marketing mistake. To everyone else who has a sadistic thirst to read about my failures, read away. Yeah, that's right. You heard me. If you're reading on and you're not an author, it must mean that you enjoy my pain. OK, I'm just kidding. Enjoy.

We all know you have to be careful in spending your marketing dollars. As I'm about to show you, there is a fine line between thinking outside the box and not being in the right market. If you get it right, the success could be monumental. If you get it wrong, it can waste a lot of money. But hey, high risk, high reward, right? I wish this was a blog telling you about how I thought outside the box and became an Amazon best seller, but alas this isn't that story. Instead, this might be as far from it as one can get.

I decided to try my luck at advertising, Tamed, in a large local radio market. As I did the research, I got a little excited at the possibilities. Sure, radio listeners and book readers don't appear to have a lot in common on the surface, but maybe they are just an untapped market since book marketing has become so stringent in how publishers can spend their money. At least, that's what I told myself. I listen to the radio and I like new books, so there has to be others out there who do as well. Outside the box, remember? Now, hold on before you ask me if I'm an idiot and say, "Everyone knows radio ads won't work for books." That idea was just the beginning of an evolving process. Please, read on.

We all understand that a potential customer taking the step from listening to the radio in their car, hearing an ad for something they'd like to try, and remembering that product long enough to find it on their computer when they get home and buy it is a pretty big step. So, with that in mind, maybe a radio ad wasn't the ideal place for my book.

My evolving idea turned to the radio station's online music feed. Hear me out for a second. This idea puts the product and how to get it into the same place--a single click away. No need for the buyer to remember the ad until he/she gets to a computer because he/she is already there.

Now, let's look at a few of the other potential obstacles. Would a listener of, say, rock music buy a werewolf book aimed at the late teen/young adult population? I'm not talking Twilight, but old-school, ferocious werewolves.  Before you say "no" remember for it to be a successful ad campaign for me it only needs to make my money back and get me some exposure. That's it. That was my entire goal. Make my money back and get my book into readers' hands. Of course, rock stations aren't the same clientele as advertising in a book store, but if the station had enough listeners, even a small percentage of click-throughs would accomplish my goal. Right?

With that idea, I picked out a popular rock station that I myself listen to quite often. The thought behind choosing a rock station was that if my book was a movie, I'm sure the ad would play on this very station because I hear ads for movies like Underworld and currently World War Z on the station all the time. I know there is a big difference between a movie and a book, but again I was thinking outside of the box.

And chewing bubblegum. I'll get to that in a second.

I contacted the marketing department of the station and talked with the salesperson about my idea. Knowing people have to see or hear a product on average of seven times before they actually buy it, I needed to overcome that hurdle with my deal. A single ad just wouldn't cut it. The salesperson agreed. She thought my idea was interesting and worth looking into, though not a common request. Hm. In hindsight, I wonder why. Of course it sounded good to her, she's a salesperson.

I asked her about listenership and was told the online feed had 60,000 unique listeners per month and 120,000-150,000  overall listeners per month (meaning listeners returned.) That sounded very promising. With my low goal in mind,  I only needed less than 1% of the listeners to actually be buyers.

Next, I wanted to know how we could make it easy for interested buyers to purchase my book without a bunch of extra steps. We agreed on having a picture of my book with a link on the screen while my ad played. Getting better, right? Think about it. I now have 60,000-150,000 listeners one click away from trying a $2.99 ebook, a $12.00 print copy, or even a $17.00 audio version.

Let's get back to the-hearing-about-a-product-seven-times thing. How do we hit those listeners with the ad more than seven times? Well, we worked out a deal. And because I have no secrets, here it is. For $250, I purchased 100, 30-second commercials that would be created by the radio station and ran over the course of three weeks. Thirty-three times per week. Now, that's what I'm talking about. I did the math. $250, need to sell about that many books to break even and voila, easy peasy. Even my lowest estimates made it worthwhile, if not entirely profitable. Just think of the exposure. Reviews alone on Amazon sell books because of Amazon's algorithms. BTW, if anyone ever wants to help an author, go review their books. It helps more than you could ever imagine. The reviews don't have to be glowing either, just honest. But that's a whole 'nother blog.

I was sold. The ad was created and the start date was set. I asked my publisher to measure any spike in sales which would be easy because my sales had slowed quite a bit as of late.

The ad began running. And running. And running. For three weeks. And you know what? I sold 100,000 books in that 3 weeks. Alright, now that you've gotten up off the floor, let me tell you the truth. I had a zero bump in sales. That's right. Zero. Zilch. Nada. In fact, just to further kick me in the groin, my sales continued going down during those weeks. Can you say, "major failure?"

You can attribute this marketing failure to many things, I'm sure. Did the ad suck? Was it too vague? Does the book's premise itself suck? (Though, I don't buy that one ;) Can radio listeners even read? *grins*

I actually don't think any one of those are the biggest reason for the failure, even if they played a part. The real reason the ad failed, IMO, was because it wasn't the right market. Duh. That's it. I was selling bubblegum in a denture-maker's market. The bubblegum might have been great, but no one hearing the ad cared. As I said at the beginning--there is a fine line between outside the box and not being the right market.

In hindsight, I'd say it kind of sucks outside of this box. And I gotta sell a lot of bubblegum to make up for that loss. When you get knocked down, I guess you gotta get back up and try again. In fact, I'm getting a new idea. I wonder how people in nursing homes would like my bubblegum ads. There are indeed a lot of old people and my sell-through numbers don't have to be a very high percentage. You know, I think it just might work.

Here's the ad for your amusement.