The changed landscape of author promotions


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.”

Not anymore.

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?

flogger1As 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 shocked-faceback 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 pubookburning460blisher 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.


About Margie Church

Margie Church writes erotic romance novels with a strong suspense element, in keeping with her moniker: Romance with SASS (Suspense Angst Seductive Sizzle). Never expect the same thing twice in one of her books. She tackles subjects and conflicts that aren't typical in romances. Life is complicated. People are, too. Marrying those concepts makes her books fascinating. Margie was 2011 GLBT Author of the Year, and her book, Hard as Teak, was named 2011 GLBT Book of the Year at Loves Romances Café. She is well-known for her BDSM erotic romances as well. Margie lives in Minnesota, is married, and has two children. Some of her passions are music, biking, walking on moonlit nights, fishing, and making people laugh.
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14 Responses to The changed landscape of author promotions

  1. I wish I could say you’re the money, Margie, but then again, being an author has never been a “get rich quick” scheme. Nevertheless, everything you have to say is spot on. Truth is, there’s not as much difference between so-called traditional publishing and how self-publishing has evolved in the past few years. In both cases, the burden still falls on the author to promote and sell (keyword SELL) books. In some cases, a freebie can work well. For example, I just did a giveaway on the second book of a trilogy; that encouraged folks to actually buy the other two. But we timed it for same weekend the author was attending a conference. So while I don’t think freebies are going away anytime soon, I do think that authors have to see them as only part of a bigger picture that includes personal appearances advertising and other related events.

    • Exactly on the big picture comment. I know readers like series so discounting one can encourage people to buy the others. We can’t put our eggs in one basket. Even if it is Easter. Thanks for coming by my friend. Always appreciate your visits.

  2. do you have print copies of all your books to sell at events, Margie? As someone living in a country where few speak the language I write in and which is pretty much the European capital of internet piracy, I don’t see how I can get out of trying the social media, other than taking out ads in English language print media..

    • Welcome! I have a lot of them in print, David. Lots of reasons for that but certainly not because print sells well. If you’re with a small press, it only sells well at personal events or if people have the eBook and then want an autographed copy for their library. Of course you still must use social media – it may work much differently for you in a different country – and I still plan to use it, but I’ve relied on it too heavily. Keep in touch. Let me know what you’re trying and what works. Be patient. Nothing happens quickly!

  3. Great article, Margie. I’ve been in various aspects of the book business for about 20 years now. I was here when digital fiction first came on the scene and saw the rift between digital publishers and traditional publishers. Digital and small press were considered the wicked step children who would eventually just ‘go away and stop bothering us’.

    Digital publishing (small press) got its start because we’ve all been taught to write what we know, and what *we* want to read. We then submitted to the publishers who turned us away saying “No one wants to read that. It won’t sell.” This was mainly cross genre work, like vampire romance, werewolf romance, shifter romance, futuristic romance, sci fi romance, steampunk, etc, as well as erotica and erotic romance. Because traditional publishers turned those stories away, we now see these sub and cross genre stories on a lot of people’s must read lists. They’ve become standard reading in today’s market. And over the last, say, five years, traditional publishers have finally acknowledged that they were shooting themselves in the feet by not including digital books in their catalogs. The rift is still there.

    I mention this because the same thing is happening today between traditional publishing (I’m talking traditional and small press) and self publishing. Where digital publishers and small break-away presses became the indie publishers 20 years ago, self publishing authors today have grabbed the ‘indie’ moniker as if they invented it. In my years, especially the last 2-3 years, I’ve seen self publishing authors (SPAs) who have massive chips on their shoulders, for whatever reason. They’re going so right wing with their work that they’re actually becoming rude to the point of being mean to traditionally published authors (TPAs), and to those publishers as well. They’re creating bubbles around themselves with a ‘Publishers: Do Not Enter’ sign over the door, and wallpaper inside emblazoned with ‘I Don’t Need A Publisher; I’m Doing It Myself’ all over it.

    **I’m not saying self publishing shouldn’t happen or needs to change. I’m saying the attitude of those authors needs changing.**

    Part of SPAs strategy is to sell books as cheaply as possible to gain more readers. They’re *purposefully devaluing their work* in order to get readers to buy their stories over anyone elses, especially books published through any publishing house.

    This is a passive-aggressive stance which is seriously changing the overall market. And it’s changing how TPAs have to market their work. The normal outlets — blog hops, interviews, giveaways, social mediea, etc — are no longer working. Five years ago, I did guest blogs where dozens of people turned out and messages flew in the hundreds on some days. I did guest blogging all last week for my series. Not one person commented on any blog. Not even the blog hosts to welcome me to their sites!

    What does this have to do with marketing our work? It has everything to do with it. Where readers once just wanted great books to read, now they’re being pulled back and forth like a tug-of-war game between SPAs and TPAs. Where readers once flocked to blog interviews and giveaways, that trend has almost completely stopped.

    And because of the devaluing of work from SPAs, we’re also seeing new brands of authors and readers — the TPAs and their publishers being forced to lower the prices of their books to compete with SPAs, and the reader who now sees a market flooded with dollar books . . . and free books.

    Worse, a new breed of reader has developed — The Free Reader. This is the reader who refuses to buy books anymore. Not even the 99c books.

    So, how do we (TPAs) compete against these latest changes in the business? We can’t just close the door on SPAs and ignore that side of the business. But we can’t change it either. The more you tell someone what they’re doing is wrong, the more they want to do it.

    And how do we attract readers back to our guest spots on blogs, to participate in giveaways, and to buy our books, especially when the publisher has discounted them for a promotional period?

    If there’s an answer out there about how we can all get along and support each other (we’re all in the same business), I’d like to hear it. At this point, magic beans are looking attractive.

    • Kem, thanks for this insightful and valuable reply. I have a problem with giving my book away for free and then returning the price to its original point. A long time ago, I was buying ad space and the market i worked in crashed. Advertisers would slash prices like crazy just to keep clients on their roles and keep their magazines in print. The problem with that is when the market returned, I had no trouble telling that publisher I wouldn’t pay previous prices. An increase, yes, but full price no. I don’t mind a sale on my books but I never want to give them away again. And if you’re selling novels or even novellas (30k words) for $0.99 is that all you’re worth?

      I remember those blog parties – 300 emails an hour from guests who were having a blast. Yes, that’s gone. I don’t think ebooks are unreasonably priced. I think they’re competitive across the board and from platform to platform. They have to be. I can’t go hunting for the free reader. I’m not a free author. It’s a waste of my time. It’s like trying to sell a car to a homeless person. It’s not what they want or need.

      As for indi authors – just like those of us who started in digital, there’s plenty of room. We need to respect the journey. Respect the craft and do our best to produce the best product we can. We need to continually improve and learn. I’ve read books that went through “publishers” and the editing was horrible, the covers dreadful. Collectively we must agree that high standards are the only standards to reach for.

  4. Liz Borino says:

    I’m commenting not to prove you wrong, but to tell you you’re right. I’m struggling with the same thing.I think another option is to work within Amazon’s system, if we could ever learn it. Good luck with the more traditional approach!

  5. Brita Addams says:

    I agree with every word you said, Margie. So many people are selling books via social media and you are right about the free section of Amazon. I also worry about the number of books that are ground out, one after another, with little editing or care. I think they tend to reflect on others in a particular genre and readers kind of abandon all books in the genre for awhile.

    I don’t give away books much anymore at all. The physical books require the shipping and purchase and the return on investment isn’t commensurate with the expenditure.

    I wish you much luck with your efforts. I’ve also learned that attendance at conventions is a momentary high, but the expense compared to return is, again, not even close. I love meeting readers, there’s nothing like it, but as you said, as authors, we are in business.

    Much love my friend.

    • WE have to keep striving for high standards in eBook publishing otherwise traditional publishers will always look at us like we’re unworthy. So many of us are spectacular and doing things right to learn more, improve and share our tremendous talents with readers.

      You are dear to me as well.

  6. kdrose1 says:

    I am familiar with everything you are saying. I don’t have an answer. I, myself can’t do “in the field” work but I think that is a great opportunity for those who can. I know I’ve spoken with others about author events too, and conventions that I think authors are trying to attend when able. I’ve also read what I thought was good advise by another author who said that she never goes anywhere without a book and cards on her because opportunities arise all the time. One thing I was blown away by was the author who won the Pulitzer for poetry. He has 2, that’s right, 2 reviews for that book on Amazon ( both 5 stars). But he had tons of heavy hitter press and literary quotes for his book. I don’t know how one gets to that point though.

  7. KA Shott says:

    Margie you are right on. The industry is changing and authors, indie to midlist, must change their market strategies if profit is the goal. When you’re spending more than you’re receiving, not just in money but in energy and reader/author contact, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board just like you have. Thanks for the sage advice. As always, you are a writer’s advocate and in terms of writing…well…you’re just brilliant. Keep up the good fight!

    • thanks, Kim, I always appreciate your support. We each must decide WHY we write and if making money is important, we have to change. The thing is publishers are in it to make money too. So, self-pub if you don’t care if the book ever sells. But the rest of us have to take a business-like approach.

      much love,

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