Now that I’ve started this series, I’m inundated with choice. I’m seeing many things to try. I’m also seeing there’s much to consider in interpreting data.
After my first week of experimenting, sales have not changed. An inexpensive Facebook boost and a much more expensive press release at PRLeap have not led to more sales of The Chords of War. PRLeap did give me metrics: 977 page views. That means my press release was viewed 977 times, most likely from nearly 977 unique viewers. Still, if it did not lead to sales, it didn’t pay for itself. There were no Facebook likes.
One positive thing is that over 70 TV stations across the country put the press release on their websites. It doesn’t mean any station ran a story on it, but if someone went to a TV station’s webpage, he or she might see it. The release also appeared in 63 newspapers including, I was happy to see, the Mammoth Times, a newspaper near the ski resort that I skied at last week.
In PRLeap’s report, I could click on any TV station or newspaper’s link to see how my press release appeared there. The number of page views does NOT include clicks on those independent sites. That could mean hundreds of more views. I like the idea of being on all those sites. The trick is in whatever press release you do, make your headline and subhead so interesting that people who stumble onto your release MUST click to find out more. If I were an average reader on any of these websites and I had fifty press release titles to click on, would I click on ours?
Perhaps no sales occurred because being a finalist isn’t big enough news. Perhaps if the book wins any bigger awards, some of the 977 who saw this release might think, “Okay, now I have to buy it.”
There’s so much more to try in marketing. In fact, here’s a list of some of the things I’m working on:
- Pricing: While prices for printed books do not have a lot of wiggle room because the costs for printing and distribution can’t be lowered, there’s a lot of wiggle room in eBooks. Right now The Chords of War is priced at $8.99, which is a dollar cheaper than most eBooks from the big publishers. However, it’s a lot more than most indie publishers.
Our thought in the pricing of the eBook was two-fold. We had a lot of publishing costs—editors, proofreaders, and designers from the publishing industry (i.e. professionals)—as well publicity that we had to pay for. We also wanted to like a bargain compared to big publishers, who price their eBooks at $9.99 or higher.
Now, of course, we’re thinking we need to appear as a bigger bargain. We’re competing with eBooks at $2.99 and less. We will drop the price April 12 in conjunction with an ad.
- Kindle Nation Daily: This is one of the major ad channels for getting the word out for a bargain price. This is the ad we will try on April 12. Bookbub is even a bigger channel but more difficult to get in. Still, I will try that, too.
- Social Media: Twitter seems to work for President Trump—why not for book publishing? I’ve been a Twitter user for years and know firsthand that “Buy my book” has absolutely no effect. However, Twitter is a great platform for channeling people to blogs, such as this one. The number of unique users and page views are something that can be measured, and Twitter increases readers. There are MANY subtle variations in using Twitter. It’s worth exploring. I’m trying new things. There is also Instagram and Facebook to explore.
- Amazon: For small presses and independent and self-publishers, Amazon is the biggest and most important distributor. What most people don’t realize is that Amazon offers a lot to help new books find success—but only 30 days worth. There are things you can do to use this help to best advantage. Our first 30 days for The Chords of War were fabulous, but now that it’s past 30 days, Amazon with his secret algorithm is now merely a distributor for us, not a promoter. Therefore, all these other things we’re trying is to funnel sales toward Amazon and other eBook distributors. Also worth considering: advertising on Amazon.
- Ingram/Lightning Source: At White Whisker Books, we use Ingram/Lightning source to get our printed books out. When we started in late 2005, printed books were the only way to go. Print-on-demand (POD) changed the playing field for us in a hugely positive way. We didn’t have to do a big print run but merely have Lulu Books, then later Lightning Source, which was an arm of Ingram, the biggest book distributor in the country, print our books. Books would only be printed when a bookstore, Amazon, or an individual reader orders printed copies. It’s more expensive per unit than a big print run, but there is no waste.
- EBooks: When eBooks first start getting noticed and popular around 2007, many experts thought it would take over the publishing world. Perhaps eventually over 80% of books sold would be eBooks. When eBooks were about 6% of the market, we dove in, and soon our sales matched our printed book sales. Shortly afterward, our biggest profit came from eBooks. Now, years later, eBooks in the publishing world have settled in at about 25%. This is to say most people still read printed books. If you're at Target, Walmart, or Costco, you're not buying an eBook. Even though eBooks are only 25% of the market, it’s where we make most of our money.
We can’t compete with the big publishers on printed books for a variety of reasons. One is that we don’t have a sales force to go to over 4,000 bookstores across the country to oversee our books. The second reason is the biggest: returns. In order to get books into stores, Ingram (the distributor) needs permission to accept returns. If a bookstore can’t sell your book, it wants to return it for its money back. This can cripple and even bankrupt a small publisher, especially as we discovered that great reviews make bookstores order a book, but buyers don’t show up. Printing-on-demand (POD) costs four times what it costs per unit for a big print run. Big print runs and warehousing of books is what the big publishers do. Thus, we have to concede most of the print market to them.
However, now one can print hardback books on demand at Lightning Source (before it was only paperback). We tried going harbback for the first time with The Chords of War. Our thought was that libraries prefer hardbacks, and libraries don’t return books. The hardback version of The Chords of War is gorgeous because I’ve been using the same book designer for years, a woman who used to oversee design at St. Martin’s Press, a big publisher. Our books look as if a big publisher produced them.
There are other eBook platforms besides Kindle. There is Nook (Barnes and Noble), iBooks (Apple), Kobo, and Smashwords, an important outlet for eBook publishers. I’ll get into these in a future blog.
- Advertising: This is the single biggest question mark for small and self-publishers. How much money can you afford to shout about your book? How much “shout” will you get? Will advertising pay for itself? We’ve found usually not. The first place we’ll examine is Kindle Nation Daily, but the premiere place to use is Bookbub – if only you can get in. It’s tough. There are other places to consider, too, which will be in a future blog.
- Goodreads: This site is now owned by Amazon, but it’s a different platform and it’s worth exploring.
- Kindleboards Writers Café: This is where many authors, small publishers, and self-publishers go online to get ideas and even promote their books. The board changes so rapidly, it’s hard to use it as a place to promote, but it’s a great place for finding ideas and even asking questions. It’s worth a longer look in a future blog.
Other ideas will surely come up as this series continues. People may write in with suggestions by clicking on the Contact tab at this site. I’m working now on an article about Twitter.