If you could magically do one thing to make the business end of writing easier for yourself, what would it be? (Having an assistant? Learning to use a program you have resisted? Having someone who could magically explain your royalty statement? Knowing for sure what promotion would work best for you?)
Let’s get a couple of the choices out of the way. If I had an assistant, I’d probably spend all my time telling him/her what to do (control freak much?). I generally don’t have a problem learning new software (I coded my old website from scratch, with an HTML For Dummies book), so I wouldn’t waste my wish on that. I don’t need someone to explain my royalty statement—I know what single digit numbers mean.
For my one wish, I think I would like to magically know what promotional/marketing/advertising efforts actually paid off, either by increasing book sales or bolstering my author “brand.” (You know, if I actually had a brand.)
Some wag once said that half of all marketing is effective. Unfortunately, no one knows which half that is.
There are hundreds (thousands?) of ways authors can promote their books, and increasingly, publishers are pressuring authors to try every last one of them (or so it seems). If you wanted, you could spend a lot of money and time marketing your books, but most of us authors have limited resources, so we’re always trying to find those options with the biggest bang for the buck.
Is social media effective? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Quora, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Flickr, and Periscope are just some of the social networking sites available to connect with readers and other writers. Does posting information about your books help sell them? Or would posting adorable cat videos be just as useful? (I’m partial to videos of various animals riding on the backs of turtles.) Your guess is as good as mine, although most people say that posting too often about your books is a definite no-no. But knowing what’s a go-go is a lot more difficult.
Social media is relatively inexpensive (in money, not time!), and it’s a good way to
procrastinate take a break from writing. In my experience, I’d have to say that social media is better at building awareness and fostering connections, than at generating direct sales.
What about different types of advertising? Pay-for-click advertising, on Goodreads, Facebook, Google Adwords, and other sites is a way to reach targeted individuals with a customized marketing message for a relatively low cost. But does it work? I’ve tried a few small campaigns without much luck.
Traditional advertising (print mags or newspapers) is another option, but it can be expensive. I was part of an advertising campaign for The Writer’s Center where my picture appeared on ads in Metro buses and a Metro subway platform (see picture). I don’t think it sold any books, but it was pretty cool!
Do personal appearances move the needle? Whether it’s at launch parties, library panels, bookstore signings, conferences, workshops, book clubs (hey, Skype counts, too!), there’s no better way to make a one-to-one (or one-to-few) connection with readers. But is it cost-effective? In the short term, it’s often not. But who knows what the cumulative effect might be? (They can be pretty fun, though, and fuel a writer’s ego.) Again, these types of activities probably do a lot more to raise awareness of an author than sell books.
Email newsletters? This can be a very effective way to reach interested readers, and the bigger the list, the better. I think. I think this might be a good way to promote. Maybe. But I’m not really sure.
Email blast services like BookBub, Book Gorilla, Fussy Librarian, EReader News Today, and dozens of similar services let you reach large numbers of people at one time, and depending on the service (and price), these can be very effective ways to actually sell books.
Especially BookBub. A few years ago, back when the prices were a little more reasonable and the competition less fierce, I managed to get a BookBub placement for a giveaway of FIRST TIME KILLER. In one day, I think I got 35,000 downloads! (People do love free books.) Now, even with the increased price and increased competition, I’ve seen a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests it’s still a valuable way to promote.
Giveaways, books or otherwise, in various places (Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, Facebook, wherever) are definitely good for one thing. Giving away books! Whether it gooses future book sales is hard to gauge.
There are many other ways to advertise and promote books: blogging (you’re being marketed to, right now!!), interviews (print, radio, TV), postcard mailings, swag (pens, mugs, t-shirts), sandwich boards, ads in convention programs, price cuts, bonus matter (offering a free story with every book sold, for instance), paid reviews—I could go on. If there’s a way to get a book promoted or an author mentioned, then there’s probably some desperate soul who’s tried it.
If anyone has a clue which ones work best, please let me—and everyone else—know! You’ll be our new best friend!