When I got into this business five years ago, I truly enjoyed author promotions. I’ve spent my entire career in advertising and thought it was a fun way to meet readers. Publisher parties on review sites were great ways to learn the ropes and sell books. Granted, not every blog hop or book party netted sales, but readers interacted with me. I learned what they liked and didn’t like about my books. I got story ideas. I made friends. Yes, we had fun. I used to average over 300 hits a day on my blog even when I wasn’t “home.”
Today, readers don’t seem to be interested in commenting on a blog or any other post for a chance to win a book. I’ve held virtual blog tours and release parties, and attended many of them. I’m spending a lot of time and energy crafting great posts and no one is interacting with them. Many of us also are spending a significant amount of money on gift cards and prizes to coax readers to us. Is it really working?
As an author, I’m running a small business. For every $50 dollar gift card I give away, I need to sell enough books to make up for the expense. And that gift card can be used to buy books that aren’t mine and buy other things that have no direct connection to me. I’ll earn some goodwill, that’s for sure, but is that all I’m after as an author? I don’t think so.
I used to be able to correlate my twitter activity to sales. Now? Not so much. I recently had almost 200 re-tweets on a blog post and not one comment. I was giving away books. Didn’t matter. Now you could say well, that new book is a dud. You could be right. But all of them?
I was recently asked to donate books and swag for a convention I’m not attending. It’ll be great exposure for me, I was told. Step back for a minute and tell me how? I’m not attending. The person asking for the donations doesn’t know me or my work. Who is going to be there to hand out my swag and say, “This author is worth reading and here’s why.” What these donations do is make it wonderful for readers to get some fabulous prizes, and all the rest of the stuff ends up in the trash in their hotel room or at the airport. Before you go into shock about that comment I’ll tell you that I spent about 15 years working tradeshows. That’s how it is. The good stuff goes home, the rest is pitched.
What do I conclude?
Amazon has a monopoly on the eBook market and drives most readers there. Whether it’s the author or the publisher selling books at significantly discounted prices or giving them away for a prescribed time, it’s pretty easy for readers to get oodles of free books. With millions of eBooks available, countless are free. Readers don’t have to ever leave the “free” section. And if the book sucks, they have no investment to feel bad about.
In the past two years, I had data that said if you gave away your book you could reliably anticipate selling at least 10 percent of that volume in the coming quarter. Have any of you had that stellar performance? I haven’t. I had great give-away performance I’ll never recoup.
I can’t make someone buy my books. That’s not the point of this blog anyway. The point is that the tried and true promotional tools don’t work well for most of us anymore. If you’re with a big publisher that has a tremendous following, it could be quite different. I’ll be finding out soon. But for those with small and mid-sized presses or who are indi published, we have to be careful about where we spend our advertising dollars and promotional effort. It seems foolish for me to pay people to buy my books by giving away tons of prizes that don’t drive sales.
The ease of the Internet made me lazy. I won’t abandon social media, but I can’t rely on it to work hard for me. Readers have many choices and authors are constantly screaming their book messages at them. Myself included.
What can I do instead?
I’m going back to more grassroots efforts. I recently held a book release party at a pub. I had about 50 guests. I spent a few hundred bucks on hors devourers, had posters and rack cards made, gave away the three books I read from, gave away some fun prizes about following your dreams and had my print inventory for sale. We had a blast. I sold almost all of my print copies. The restaurant invited me to come back during their speed dating night. Patrons from the pub came in and bought books when the regular party ended. I made a profit. The power of personal selling paid off.
I’m going to conventions, signings and events where readers expect to buy something they like. They still might not buy my books but at least I’ll have a chance to talk about them and give them my card. I can give away things at these events but it’ll be more calculated.
I’m looking into ads in magazines and at websites that can provide reader data. I used to buy magazine ads for the companies I worked for. If the information isn’t available then I’m moving on. I’m going to look for opportunities to speak to book clubs, submit an article to the newspaper or lead a workshop or participate on a panel.
I’m also not going to give away my books as though they mean nothing to me. They mean everything to me.
Prove me wrong. Comment on this blog – authors, publishers, readers? Your comments are welcomed and encouraged as long as they are offered in a respectful manner.
Find all my books on Amazon, including my newest, Deep Enough to Bleed.