Marketing for Muppets – Part 4

Subtitle: the ongoing chronicle of one muppet’s struggle with promoting. Yes, it’s still a struggle. Yes, I’m still a muppet when it comes to marketing.

In earlier instalments, I said I was going to try giving away one of my books as a means of building my mailing list. Well, this is what happened.

On 7th November 2017, I submitted my short dark fantasy novel The Elevator to Instafreebie. I had intended to make joining my mailing list mandatory in return for downloading the book, but Instafreebie cautioned against doing so and I listened. Readers could download the book and had the option, not requirement, of subscribing to my list. I mentioned the availability of the freebie on social media and sat back to see what happened.

You can probably guess. By 17th November, 16 people had taken advantage of the free book, but only two of them elected to join my mailing list (and one of them was already on it).

Hmm. My mailing list numbers, already pitifully low (as in, fewer than 20 subscribers—bless each and every one), had swollen by a grand total of one. I know that I hadn’t given it long, but clearly I already needed to rethink.

I changed the terms of the giveaway on Instafreebie to make it mandatory for readers to subscribe to my mailing list. This meant upgrading my account to the paid version. $20 a month was $20 more than I wanted to spend on building my mailing list, but I figured that it would be worth it, provided the tactic worked—I was still hung up on the idea that an independent author needs a large mailing list to stand any chance of being successful. Then I looked out for cross-promotions I could join.

When readers join my mailing list, I promise that I won’t share their e-mail addresses with anybody else; by the same token, I’m not interested in receiving e-mail addresses of people who haven’t specifically opted to subscribe to my list. So any promotion that involved authors exchanging lists was out.

I applied to join a promotion that ran in December. It consisted of a landing page containing details of all contributing authors’ books and links to where readers could obtain a free copy. I offered The Elevator and included the Instafreebie link. It worked quite well—I gained over 200 new subscribers.

Then I hit a slight snag. One of the conditions of taking part in the promotion was to send an e-mail to my list with details of the promotion. Fair enough, but I didn’t send the e-mail until quite a few days into the promotion, by which time my list had grown appreciably. So I sent an e-mail to readers who, in the main, had joined my list through a giveaway, to tell them about that giveaway. No wonder some readers promptly unsubscribed. Yeah, I’m a muppet with a capital M.

In January, I was ready to publish Jack’s Tale, the sequel to The Elevator. Seemed like a good time to test the value of having a mailing list. I uploaded the book for preorder and discounted the preorder price to $0.99. Then I sent an e-mail to my list with a link to the preorder. My list by then had 272 subscribers, of which 13 promptly unsubscribed. By the time Jack’s Tale was published a week later, it had a total of 17 preorders.

A month later, I was ready to publish the final book in The Elevator trilogy, The Lord of the Dance. I again discounted the preorder to $0.99 and e-mailed my list. The number of subscribers had by that point crept back up to 274. A week or so later, when the book was published, it had a grand total of 7 preorders.

Hmmm (once more with feeling). Quite honestly, I would have been disappointed with those numbers without a mailing list.

I persevered and joined a few more cross-promotions. As of now (early November 2018), my list has 589 subscribers. That’s a massive improvement on a year ago, but I’m nevertheless a little despondent. I can’t help but wonder whether giving away all those books and paying those monthly fees were worth it. The last promotion I joined was in September and I’ve resolved, for now, not to take part in another.

Around 750 copies of The Elevator were downloaded through these cross-promotions, but I have grown heartily fed up of giving the book away. Although the promotions have been useful in swelling the numbers on my list, which was the main reason for taking part, they seem to have done nothing at all for the book or sequels, which was the secondary reason. No reviews, little sell-through, no messages on Facebook or elsewhere from excited readers.

Of course, as I fully recognise, this could be because the first book isn’t grabbing readers sufficiently that they want to read the sequels. It’s certainly an unusual tale, not exactly mainstream, not a lot like anything else that’s out there. While some might view that as a book’s strength, perhaps it’s more likely to be its downfall.

It could also mean that since they acquired it for nothing, the book is sitting lost amidst hundreds of other books these readers acquired through other giveaways. Many of them might never get around to reading it. Gifting books as a promotional tactic, it seems to me, has reached saturation point.

This leads me to a proposition, an extremely subjective one, it has to be acknowledged:

Proposition 4: In my experience, the value of giving away books has diminished to the point where its worth as a marketing tool is, at best, doubtful.

I haven’t mailed my list about a new release since February. Mainly because I parted company with my publisher in March and spent the next few months revising and producing and releasing my own versions of my e-books and paperbacks, writing new stuff was forced to take a back seat. I’m also in the process of producing my first audiobook and starting up a proofreading business. It might be another few months before I’m ready to release something new.

It’s unlikely that much interest will be generated by my e-mail notifying subscribers of the new release. If anything, the unsubscribe rate will probably rocket since many subscribers will have forgotten they signed up and will have no idea who this strange person is e-mailing them. The experts say that it’s a good thing to have people unsubscribe if they were only there in the first place in expectation of receiving further free books. They say a list should be nurtured, meaning informative e-mails should be sent regularly so that you remain, if not at the forefront of your subscribers’ thoughts, at least visible to them. This comes back to the sort of person you are. If, like me, you can’t stand the thought of sending people e-mails unless it’s to tell them about a promotion or new release, not a lot of nurturing is likely to occur.

I’m well aware the vast majority of subscribers to my list are there because I offered them a free book. Most will have little or no knowledge of my work; most will be, at best, indifferent to my work because they’ve never read anything I’ve written. I’ve given them the expectation of receiving free books from me. Why the heck should I now expect them to part with a dollar to preorder my new release?

Okay, that question was largely rhetorical, but I’ll answer it anyway. I don’t expect them to buy my work. If most of them remain on my list on receiving my next e-mail, I’ll be grateful. Of course, that won’t stop me from hoping they’ll head on over to Amazon and put in their preorder, but I shan’t hold my breath. And that’s not a criticism of the subscribers who joined up through the promotions. I’m glad to have them on my list—it would remain pitifully small without them. It’s merely a recognition of the reality of the situation. And confirms my constant assertion.

When it comes to marketing, I’m a complete muppet.

That’s enough about mailing lists. Next time, I’ll talk about some other area of marketing I’m hopeless at. Or, who knows, there might be mention of something that actually seems to be working. Till Part 5…

Marketing for Muppets – Part 3

[First posted 20th October 2017]

In the last instalment of Marketing for Muppets I wrote that Part 3 probably wouldn’t appear until the New Year. Hmm, so much for foresight. As you’ll see if you read to the end, this wasn’t intended to be Part 3 but sort of morphed into it when the subject of marketing insisted on inserting itself firmly into the narrative like a persistent salesman and wouldn’t be shifted. But on with the post…

In one of the online forums I frequent, a perennial question posed to the indie author community who gather there is, “What does success mean to you?” I don’t normally involve myself in the ensuing threads, but when I saw the question posed yet again it got me thinking.

The answer, of course, will vary from author to author, depending on the reasons why they write and the stage they have reached in their careers.

The person with a deeply personal story they need to tell, or someone approaching their twilight years wanting to share their life story with family and close friends, may regard completing the work as success; selling it to the wider reading public may hold no appeal to them.

Contrast the writer with perhaps a dozen or more titles to their name. Success to them may mean nothing less than maintaining a four-figure monthly income from sales of their work.

Then there are the writers who seek validation, for whom only a deal with a traditional publisher will do. There are others who are willing to self-publish or publish through the small press, but for whom reaching the number one spot in their genre is the Holy Grail.

Whatever floats your boat.

I suspect for most writers the meaning of success is a fluid concept. When I first bundled together ten short stories and let them loose on Amazon with only a placeholder cover, short-term success to me meant one person who didn’t know me buying the collection.

However, in the back of my mind, where it had been nestling since my late twenties, was the desire to make a living from writing fiction. No matter how much my short-term concepts of success have shifted like sandbanks over the ensuing six years, that overarching goal has remained as constant as granite.

“May we give you a hefty wad, enough that you’ll never need work again, for the rights to make movies of your books, Sam?” Of course you may, and thank you very much. But back in the real world I’ll be happy if I can make a steady income, enough to give up the day job altogether and spend the remainder of my working life writing fiction.

If you’re a writer struggling to make your way in today’s over-saturated market, it might be worth taking a moment to consider what success means to you. If your answer is a little vague, like mine, it might help to formulate shorter-term goals, ones that can be more easily quantified in terms of words written, or sales numbers, or new subscribers to your mailing list; whatever works for you. Doing so can inform marketing tactics, ones that might help you reach those smaller goals on your way to the larger one.

This didn’t start out as a post about marketing. Its original title was The Meaning of Success, until I got this far and realised that it’s difficult to discuss success without touching upon marketing since, after all, in most cases one is likely to be the precursor of the other.

As I might have mentioned previously, I’m not good at promoting my own work. Useless. A muppet. Yet, it seems impossible to escape the bloody subject. I guess we have to suck it up and get on with it. And this is an opportune moment to state the third proposition I believe to be true about marketing:

Proposition 3: When a writer defines success to include any element based upon level of sales, marketing is inexorably linked to that success.

To try to achieve my measure of long-term success, I’ve broken down my aims into smaller, achievable ones. For instance, publish more works. With a Christmas-themed collection of horror stories coming out today, and the final two novels in a trilogy on course to be finished in time for January publication, that’s going okay. But it’s only one of my short-term aims.

Another one, the most pressing it feels right now, is to build my mailing list. It’s all well and good publishing new works, but without a sizeable body of readers willing to be informed about them and to help make them visible, they will quickly sink to the murky depths, rarely to be seen again.

Despite my misgivings about giving away work in return for signing up to a mailing list (see Marketing for Muppets – Part 2), I’m going to give it a go. Wish me luck. I shall report back in a future instalment.

[Update July 2018: My aim to publish more works went south in March when I split from my small press publisher and found myself revising and republishing 8 novels and 3 short story collections, plus producing 6 paperbacks, then having to rebuild my website from scratch. Still, I’ve almost finished adding my old blog posts and should be back on track to resume my WIP shortly.]

Marketing for Muppets – Part 2

[First posted 5th October 2017]

I posted Marketing for Muppets – Part 1 in July so thought it was about time for Part 2.

Quick recap: these posts are not, emphatically not, about me offering advice on how to market books. Why would I presume to offer anyone advice? I might have mentioned that I’m an absolute muppet when it comes to marketing. No, these posts are merely my observations, such as they are, on marketing and a chronicle of my attempts at becoming better at it. A little like a hen blogging about her efforts on learning to play the flute.

Since that first post, I have been on a two-week cruise around the Med, and very nice it was, too, thanks for asking, and posted six times here. You can see them by scrolling down but to save you the bother there were a couple about movie adaptations, one each on horror novels, science fiction novels and children’s books, and one about words that readers don’t know how to pronounce.

I said at the end of Part 1 that I’d report back on whether regular updating of my blog has any effect on sales. Well, nothing of note to report yet, but it’s still very early days to judge whether it’s an effective approach because, by its very nature of trying to slowly build an audience by providing (hopefully) interesting content, it’s a longer-term tactic. I shall keep at it and see what happens. If nothing else, I’m having a lot of fun writing the posts.

On, then, to other marketing tools writers can employ. More specifically, one tool in particular, regarded by many as the most important tool we have. High time for another principle:

Proposition 2: The received wisdom is that a mailing list is an indispensable marketing tool for authors.

When you buy advertising slots with marketing sites like BookBub, you are in effect paying to use their mailing list of thousands of readers to advertise your book. Not all those readers, even if they read in your genre, will necessarily be interested in your book. The idea of building your own list is that you have a way of reaching readers interested in your work without having to pay a premium or having to rely on third parties spreading the word about your latest release or promotion. In theory, it’s like having your own private BookBub without the expense.

I resisted setting up a mailing list for a long time, not because I didn’t think they are a good idea, but for a couple of other reasons. Firstly, I’m not a technophobe but find learning new applications vastly time consuming; I preferred to spend my limited spare time writing than sussing out Mailchimp and sorting out a PO box address. Secondly, with all the junk e-mail that keeps popping into everyone’s inboxes these days, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to receive e-mails from me. I wasn’t far wrong about that. Anyway, long story short, I eventually set up a mailing list in October 2016, with sign-up forms on my Facebook page and website. I included a link in my most recent release. We’re approaching the list’s first anniversary and so far I have fewer than twenty subscribers. (See? I told you I was absolutely pants at marketing.)

The thing with a mailing list is this: it’s all well and good having one, but how do you encourage readers to sign up for the bloody thing?

And isn’t that the whole marketing issue in a nutshell—it’s all well and good having published a book, but how do you encourage readers to read it? So, for me, creating a mailing list has merely created another layer of something to be mildly fretful and feel vaguely helpless about.

There are various methods for increasing the subscribers to your mailing list. These seem to be the main two:

—giving away free short stories, novellas or even novels in return for the donee subscribing to the list. Kudos to those who succeed with this method, but I have my doubts as to how effective it can be. Before you start thinking it, I’m not too much of a skinflint to give work away—I’ve given away thousands of copies of The Cleansing as a way of giving readers a cost-free entry into the Earth Haven trilogy. It’s that I wonder how likely it is that readers who sign up only to take advantage of a free offer are going to buy the next release. No doubt there are many readers on these lists who are genuinely into the authors’ works, but there must be many who aren’t. Still, perhaps it’s nevertheless worth going down this route to find readers who may become converts to your work.

—taking part in cross-promotions with other authors, which involve e-mailing readers on other authors’ lists. Again, good luck to those who find success with this method, but it’s not for me. The thought of sending promotional e-mails to readers who haven’t subscribed to my list makes me, like any form of cold-calling, shudder. Besides, I promise on my sign-up page never to share subscribers’ e-mail addresses with anyone. I also promise not to contact subscribers unless it’s to share news of a new release or promotion.

To date, I have sent one e-mail to my list. Just one. But, then, I’ve only had one release since October and no promotions of note. That will change soon when I’ve finished my current works-in-progress—the final part of a trilogy where only the first part has yet been published, and a quartet of dark Christmas stories. I intend to make available all new releases to subscribers at a discounted price (or, occasionally, as a gift) to express gratitude to them for their interest in my work and to reward them for their loyalty. In today’s world, the value of loyalty should never be underestimated.

But I urgently need to do something to build up my list. Despite my doubts, I have come to suspect that giving away the first instalment of the new trilogy in return for subscribing may be the way to go. I’m taking it out of Kindle Unlimited—its last day in KU is 5th November—to give me that option. If I decide to try that, I’ll report back in a later instalment.

Here endeth Part 2. Part 3 isn’t likely to be written until the New Year and I have no idea what it will be about—hopefully my successful efforts at building my mailing list and using it to effectively launch the forthcoming sequels—but I’m not holding my breath. And if that sounds negative, a little doomy and gloomy, it’s because that’s generally how I feel about my feeble promotional efforts. But that’s okay. I’m a determined bugger and if I never manage to make a full-time living from my writing, wholly or partly because of my woeful attempts at marketing, at least I’ll know I didn’t fail from lack of trying.

[Update July 2018: whether or not blogging regularly would be a good marketing tool became a moot point when my old website went kaput in February 2018. As for my mailing list, I have continued to try to grow it and I’ll report in a future post on how successful, or otherwise, my efforts have been.]

Marketing for Muppets – Part 1

[First posted 28th July 2017]

Before we go any further, I’d better explain the title. In the UK we use ‘muppet’ to describe someone who’s a little clueless about something. Here, I’m using it to describe someone who’s a little clueless about marketing, and that someone is me. (‘Numpty’ would do as well but, you know, alliteration.)

If you also consider yourself to be a little clueless about marketing, then well met, fellow muppet. Should, on the other hand, you feel you’re pretty clued in to marketing in all its multifarious forms, then you may quietly mock me. I won’t take offence.

As for ‘Part 1’, this leaves the door wide open for a sequel. It’s the blog equivalent of a cliffhanger, without the cliff or, er, the hanger, but you get the drift. I intend setting out what I know about marketing—shouldn’t take long—and following up later, or perhaps a few laters, with stuff I learn as I progress.

I’ve been an indie author—both self- and small press-published—for nearly five years. You’d think that by now I’d have developed at least some basic skills in marketing. You’d think. One of my excuses (yeah, I have more than one), and one that will be familiar to many, is that I’ve always had to fit writing around working a regular, full-time job. What with family commitments and the usual stuff life throws at us, I’ve never made time to try to get to grips with marketing, always preferring to make time for writing first.

But that’s about to change. As of last week I cut my hours in my day job in half, mainly to make more time to concentrate on writing but also to eliminate that ‘no time to learn’ excuse. Whilst most of my freed-up time will be spent writing, an hour or so each free afternoon will now be devoted to learning how to promote my books. I’m going to post about my experiences and what I find works for me as regularly as I can. And I have much to learn—this could turn into the blog equivalent of the Friday the Thirteenth movies.

Another thing I need to mention: now that I’ve cut my regular working hours, my income has also been halved. (I did suggest they carry on paying my full salary if I promised to work twice as hard when in the office, but they didn’t like the idea.) Money will therefore be tight and I am going to have to explore free or almost-free marketing techniques. No BookBub ads for me—no change there, then, but I won’t be applying any more.

I thought that as I go along, I’d state in bold any principles or theories that seem especially true based on my own observations and experience. This is an opportune time to mention the first:

Proposition 1: What works well for one author, won’t necessarily work well for another.

In case I haven’t already mentioned it, I’m rubbish at marketing. Utter pants. A complete muppet. I intend to change that, but I know that not every marketing method will suit the sort of person I am, the type of fiction I write or the time I have available to spend on promoting.

Some writers spend a lot of time engaging with readers and other writers on social media—these are the writing superheroes who can bend time to their will, making it stretch to enable them to write in addition to spending all that time on Goodreads or podcasting, or whatever; either that or they never sleep. Some do nothing but write, aiming to publish a book every month or so, coupled with a spurt of highly-targeted, paid adverts at launch time—these, too, possess superhuman powers: the ability to produce a 60,000-word novel every month. Most others, like me, fall somewhere along the broad spectrum in between.

I think that before we decide what marketing tactics might work for us, we need to decide what fits in with our lifestyles and character. For instance, being heavily active on social media neither appeals to me nor do I believe I’d be very good at it. I’m simply not someone who enjoys chatting at length to strangers; I firmly believe my time would be more profitably spent writing than attempting to portray myself as someone I’m not.

What, then, might work for me? Well, posting regularly on my website (and on my Goodreads blog) is something I’ve only done sporadically, but is something I enjoy and would like to do more regularly. So, first up, this is what I’m going to do: post once a week a piece that’s, broadly-speaking at least, writing-related, although I won’t be able to begin properly until late August since we’re escaping another typical British summer (a scorching week in June, when the unaccustomed heat makes us wilt like unwatered house plants, followed by a couple of months of grey skies and rain so heavy it makes your head throb) for the sunshine of the Med.

I don’t expect results, in as much as I expect them at all, in weeks. This seems to me a longer-term tactic but I will report back on the effect, if any, this has on my sales. At least one sequel, then. Oh, and of course it’s all well and good writing regular blog posts; it’s another thing altogether to get people to read them. And there are other mysteries to delve into, such as how to organically build a mailing list (yep, I have one; nope, it doesn’t have many subscribers), how to effectively use social media if we’re on the introverted side of sociable, and (this, for me, is a biggie and one of my other excuses for being rubbish at marketing) how to make potential readers aware of our books without making them, or us, feel that we’re shoving them into their faces.

Friday the Thirteenth meets Rocky it could be.