Monday, June 30, 2008

Free Beer and BJ With Purchase

Got your attention now? Would you actually buy?

This blog post almost made me cry, because I can totally relate to it. Authors have come to me for advice for years about book promotion and what works (and fails), and there are times I feel at a loss because I am still looking for the magic combination myself. Now, when I search I must think of 100+ other authors and not just myself, but in reading Sammie's post I saw many familar tactics, and outcomes.

When Little Flowers and the Ronnie Lord mysteries were out, I did everything within my meager budget. Chats and promo loop mails, giveaways, postcards, etc. I sent books out and nobody reviewed them. The first publisher for Little Flowers was absolutely useless - I feel I can say that now - having warned me it looked unprofessional for an author to self-promote, then chiding me for doing nothing when the book failed.

I contacted Catholic media and mailing lists. I was the moderator of a large list of Catholic writers, all of whom cheered on the need for More. Good. Catholic. Fiction! We want these books! Couple hundred people on this many bought my book? Heh.

Once in a while a reporter would call for an interview, I'd respond, then I'd never hear back. I would nudge, to no answer, so I stopped before I started looking like a stalker. I sent a book to EWTN in hopes of getting on their Bookmark program, then was told they didn't do fiction. But they thanked me for the free book, which was placed in their private library to be read by nuns who never leave the property. Nice, if you just want that one book read. From a marketing standpoint, it would have made more sense to flush the book down the toilet and hope the pages spread out far and wide to attract attention.

Oh, and a few months later Bookmark featured a novelist. Sheesh.

I noticed in small press / eBook-dom that steamy was the way to go. I wrote steamy, doing moderately well at it based on various levels of promotion. Now some of the people who cheered on my Good. Catholic. Fiction! are upset with my change in writing habits. Well, where were all you people when the first books were for sale? Some still are for sale, and you're not buying. I won't argue theology here, and some might challenge that I'm better off giving away my talents for free for the good of His name, but free doesn't feed my child!

Even with the steamier stuff, I find there are hills to climb. As a publisher, I'm one of the privileged few who has access to our sales information (no, I'm not sharing). I watch for trends, see what our readers are buying, and try to use that data to steer the house in the right direction so that sales may rise. Once in a while I'll notice a book doing exceptionally well, and I'll ask the author for the magic combination:

"Sales are great! What are you doing to promote your book? I'd like to pass it along."

"Oh, gosh. I haven't had time to promote, I just sent an e-mail to my friends and family."

Yes, this actually happened. I can only conclude this author is friends with Delaware.

So imagine the frustration of hearing this. After you have spent all this money and invested time better spent writing promoting a book that nobody is buying, you hear another just sat back and watched sales climb, what do you do? Well, first you stop crying, I suppose. Then you ask yourself, should I spend more money? Should I do more conferences and chats and mailings and dance on street corners until the cops carry me away? Or should I just keep plugging away?

My vote is on the last option. Write the next book, and the next one, and the next one. Mix the genres up a bit and find the right one that resonates with readers. You might you can attract people to one book, then cross them over to your others. You can spend a small fortune on promotion, but ultimately it will be word of mouth that saves or sinks you. That, and focus. Find ONE primary avenue of promotion - a blog, a social network, whatever - and make that your second home. You may find if you stick to it long enough, you will build a following for yourself and your books.


Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Excellent post. And I think you have hit hte magic combination, just. Keep. Writing. That's the best promo of all.

jax said...

Great post! I hear you about time and cost..I've spent quite a lot in the past but what I've learned the most is that a strong online presence has gotten me noticed over a lot of ad purchases. I know that contests are great when it comes to getting new readers. I'm still looking for the magic answers ... less work, more sales! LOL

Gwen Hayes said...

I would never, as a reader, hang out in a yahoo loop and buy my books that as an author, I just don't see how that works either.

I firmly believe the best promo is a solid backlist and an easy to navigate website. Because when I find a story I like, the first thing I do is look that author up to see what else I can read by them.

evagale said...

Fantastic post.

Shelley Munro said...

Great post! I think a good website is necessary, and as Gwen says, a backlist. As a writer it's probably best to pick one or two things you really enjoy doing and also to write the next book.