On Marketing and Promoting Your Work

I am a member of a few writers groups and follow a few writers’ blogs, and have been for the last several years. One of the more serious questions facing writers (new, old or middle-aged, experienced or beginner, it makes no matter) is just how in the heck do you make money as a writer?

How do you get your book in front of a potential reader when it isn’t on a bookshelf in a bookstore, or on a web page on an internet book retailer’s web site? And if it is on a bookshelf, or on a web page, how do you get that reader to pay any attention to YOUR book instead of the several thousands of other books within his (or her) reach?

It’s called marketing and promotion, boys and girls. And if you ever hope to become a ‘successful’ writer, you’d better put down your pencil and writing pad and start doing some serious research. “Marketing” generates interest in your product; “Promotion” encourages the buyer to invest in (you and) your product.

Billboards and television spots generate interest; 50% discounts encourage sales.

I’m not suggesting you spend your rent money on a billboard; one billboard probably wouldn’t do you much good, anyway.

It’s a sad fact that that in today’s economy, selling paperback books is a tough row to hoe. I’ve got three novels available in paper at www.amazon.com, and haven’t seen more than one or two sales a month in the last year. On the other hand, I have four novels available in the Kindle format, and they are selling very well, thank you.

Publishing the paper version of a 320 page novel runs around $1200.00 (not including cover art), and if you have it professionally edited, you need to add another $650.00 to $750.00 to that cost. Let’s round that cost up to $2000.00 to see your book through the publishing process if you self-publish. That, and about a year of your time invested in writing and editing. If you price your work at $15.00 per copy and sell them all yourself, you have to move about 134 copies to recover your money.

Well, that’s not entirely true, because you will probably have pay your publisher around $5.00 per copy for those 134 copies before he will even print them for you. And then you have to pay to have them shipped to you, and then you will have to rent a booth at several community fairs, and sit through many, many ‘book signings’ over the course of the next year or two, just to sell all of those paper copies.

If it costs you $6.00 to print each copy and another $1.00 to ship each copy to you, you only make $8.00 on each sale (less the costs for gas and booth/lot rental or up to 50% of your gross for a ‘book signing’ at a well-known book store ((some won’t charge at all, others charge even more)).

So, in the end, it will mean selling well over 300 copies by yourself before you even recoup your initial investment. And if you put any into independent bookstore on consignment, your return will be about %50 on each copy, but it will take months for them to sell. Not a great business plan for someone who wants to earn a living, is it?

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done that, and more, to sell my books over the years. I truly enjoyed the book signings and community fairs (when I wasn’t bored to tears and depressed to considering suicide as store customers pointedly ignored my smile and outstretched hand) and met lots of interesting people. But you should not ever hope to get more than pocket money at the end of the day. Even more important than the money, you will get your book into the hands of people who will read them, and you will learn the basics of promoting yourself and your books to people who have never met you.

You will also meet other authors, and make life-long friends. And you will learn a great deal about what it takes to be an author if you listen to what they have to say. Contact your local paper and get them to publish an interview with you or a review of your latest book. Contact a local indie bookstore and share the cost of publishing a notice for a book signing.

Local sales is one very important way to market your work. You won’t get rich that way – you may never get rich as a writer – but it is something every writer should do for what they can gain from such experience.

The big problem is that your audience is so very small; so small that your return on your investment must be even smaller.

To make more from your investment in time and money, you need to reach a larger audience. Much, much larger.

And you have to cut your production cost per copy.

One of the questions I see all too often on writers groups is “Has Kindle ever helped anybody?” It may be a come-on for an editing service or someone who has a ‘secret’ he’s trying to market, but it could be an earnestly asked question from a beginner. So, here’s an honest answer, earnestly given: “Hell, yes.”

I need to back up just a little bit before we deal with any details. You, as a writer, have to market yourself and your book. Give yourself thirty seconds and name your five favorite authors. Got them all laid out in your mind, yet?

Now name a book title for each of them. Bet it took you more than thirty seconds for each author. THAT is why you have to market yourself, first and foremost. Readers remember authors; then they remember titles. You have to market yourself, and then promote your books.

Establish a web site and a blog and other create a presence on other social media sites. Take your time, and do it right. You don’t need a lot of money for any of this as long as you are willing to learn the how and why behind leasing a domain name, setting up a web site, working with SEO and staking out a blog on WordPress. You can probably get away with an author’s FB page instead of a web site, at first.

It takes time; it may take a few years to establish yourself as an independent, self-published author readers want to invest their time and money with.

You’ve written your novel or novels, you’ve seen to the editing and cover art, and you don’t owe a single penny to an agent or a publishing house. But now you have one novel or even a few novels out and you want to see some return on your investment. You know you’re an author, and you want to build on what you have achieved.

So far, in building your reputation as an author, you have been engaged in creating a Brand (see my earlier post on Creating a Brand) and in ‘marketing’. You have created interest in your work, and readers have expressed interest in what you have written (in paperback and in eBook format), produced some nice reviews for you on Amazon or B&N or Sony, and even bought additional novels you’ve written. You are encouraged, and you have a right to be.

“Promotion” requires a bit of focus. In fact, it’s all about focus. Decide on a section of your market and invest your time and money (not a lot – a few hundred dollars well-spent will show a marked increase in sales) into that section. You might focus on increasing paperback sales on-line, or in face-to-face sales at local community events, or owners of Sony eBook readers, the B&N Nook or the Kindle. But to begin with, FOCUS on ONE of those markets.

Once you have established a promotion method that works in one of those markets, you can easily adapt it for the others, but you will find it much easier to figure out the how and the why while there is only one set of hoops to jump through.

That is what I have been doing for the last year; I have in fact focused on increasing my Kindle sales. I will not comment on the current ‘share war’ between Smashwords et al vs Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing other than to say that ‘As Above so Below’. Meaning, as the big boys (Traditional Publishing, Smashwords, Sony, B&N et al fight Amazon for market share, you compete with EVERY OTHER AUTHOR for every last penny in the readers pockets.

Got it, yet? Let me make it even easier for you; when you engage in business, you go to war. You can be as polite as you wish, as gentle and kind and giving as you wish, but you are competing with me and every other author for the dollars and cents in every reader’s pocket. Every book you sell puts money in YOUR pocket; that is money that will not show up in MY bank account.

Before you begin to question my motives or the validity of what I say here (or my parentage or morals), let’s get a few numbers out in the sunshine; there are approximately sixty million (that’s 60,000,000) books in print today. In 2012, a rough estimate of fifteen million (yes, 15,000,000) new titles were published in the United States alone.

So, I’m not all that worried about the competition. Let’s be honest, here; not all of those titles are murder mysteries, not all of those titles will ever see more than a few sales, not all of those titles are fiction, etc,etc,etc.

Do a bit of research about YOUR direct competition; find out who sells into YOUR market, what they charge per copy, how popular they are (read the reviews of their work and find out why readers enjoy their work). Remember, any books they sell means money you won’t be earning.

If you want to earn a living as a writer, find out what works in your market and make sure potential readers for your work know that you provide what they want.

Or don’t. That just means you don’t really want to earn a living as a writer; you just want to write what you want to write and have people (a very few people) enjoy it and tell you how wonderful you are. I’m okay with that. Really, I am.

I’ll just have an easier time selling my work, since I don’t have to worry about you as my competition.

Then again, if you are my competition (or want to be), read on, because I want to give you a leg up. I love competition, and you should, too.

Two years ago, I was selling between ten and thirty copies of my novels each month on the Kindle platform. Each copy I sold put about $2.00 in my pocket (my novels sell for $3.00 each on Kindle). I started working with the Kindle Select program (http://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/KDPSelect), which allows me to promote one or more of my titles for five days out of every 90 as free for download, gives me access to worldwide distribution and gives me 70% royalties in return for exclusivity. There are other benefits and restrictions, but on the whole I am tickled pink with the deal.

At the time I began with Kindle, my fist novel had five reviews and I was essentially broke. Getting reviews (hopefully more positive than negative reviews) was my immediate goal, as it should be yours. As I added titles (as you should be doing), reviews showed up until I had 4 stars and ten reviews on my first novel and 3 or 4 reviews (and 4-5 stars) on my other titles .

Here is a clue; be damn certain you listen to your readers and read carefully the reviews they post. Especially the negative reviews. Especially those. Do not be at all reluctant to do any editing or make any changes your readers say are necessary. One out of every hundred readers will ever bother to post a review for you. Thank them profusely! And listen to what they have to say. If one reader out of a hundred posts a review saying your work is badly edited, do you really thing the other ninety-nine readers never noticed???

At 10 reviews and 4 Stars you can begin to actively market your work. You have a product with a track record. Make certain those are ‘legitimate” reviews from independent reviewers (meaning readers who actually paid for your product).

There many eBook promotion companies springing up on the web. Find them and see if your book(s) meet their submission requirements. Most offer free promotion of your eBook listing during ‘Free’ ($0.00) promotions, and most offer a fee-paid promotion. If you can get your book listed you WILL see the number of downloads jump markedly.

Which is when you will also see follow-on sales of your other titles, and THAT is when you begin to see a marked increase in your royalty payments.

But to get to that point – 4-5 Star listing on Amazon, 10 or more reviews (legitimate) and two or three titles to your name – takes time and work. And giving stuff away in small batches. Start using the Free Promotion opportunity Kindle offers you; do a few blog tours to promote the giveaway, post the dates your book will be listed for free, send out emails to friends, family and readers and begbegbeg for people to download your book and post  review for you. The more positive reviews you earn, the more seriously promoters and readers will take you. You cannot lie to or deceive these people, and you should not ever try.

I spent much of last year doing just that; getting honest reviews, I mean, not lying. My first novel, “The Big Bend”, now has 51 reviews and 4 Stars on Amazon. The other three novels have 8 or 9 reviews and 4 or 5 Stars.

After spending much of last year doing limited giveaways as I described earlier, I had enough good reviews (35) and a sufficient number of Stars (4) for my first novel to meet the requirements for two of those eBook promotion newsletter services in November of last year. I ran that giveaway on the 15th and 16th of the month. ONE of the two newsletters to whom I submitted an application at the beginning of the month published my information (cover art, blurb and URL to the book page on Amazon) on the 2nd day of the giveaway.

One of the two eBook promo sites gave me one – one day of free advertising. Got that?

Normally – meaning without anything more than the limited audience I normally had access to – I would be able to generate 2,000 or 2500 downloads over the course of a 2-day giveaway.

From that 1 day of free access to one of the subscriber lists of that international eBook promo site, the number of downloads reached 6,500. Follow-on sales from that 2-day free giveaway of my first novel saw my royalty check for the month jump over 1000%.

Read that last line again, please. It really does bear repeating.

Needless to say, I set up another giveaway a few months later. Same novel, same cover art, same blurb, same URL to the book page on Amazon. But this time, I spent a whacking great $220.00  on a fee-paid promo that covered both days of the giveaway.

Follow closely, now; the only difference between the two promotions is that $220.00 fee, and the access it gave me to a larger audience. Over those 2 days, I saw the downloads of “The Big Bend” jump to over (and no, I am NOT going to tell you the exact number) 44,000. Over 44,000. Significantly over.

Follow-on sales of the other three novels also jumped significantly. As did my royalties.

That last giveaway took place mid-February. Today is the 11th of March, and sales are beginning to taper off. I can tell you now that I have sold over 1,000 copies of “The Big Bend” since the end of that giveaway – you remember, don’t you?  The giveaway where I gave away free copies of “The Big Bend”? Follow-on sale of the other 3 novels are in the hundreds.

Where two years ago I was pleased to see 20 or 30 copies a month in sales, I am now selling close to 50 copies a day of each of my 4 novels.

Producing a product – in our case as authors, writing a novel – gives you an opportunity to earn a living. That is a start. In my case it required 2 years of writing and editing to get that first product into the marketplace. I have continued to invest in myself and my future as a writer by producing additional novels at the rate of one each year.

But once that first product exists, YOU have to become involved in marketing – making potential customers aware of your product and its value to them, and promotion – giving them a reason to acquire your product.

Give it some thought. Or not.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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