The magic of book marketing

Picture of Amazon adIn the last couple of days, my book sales have escalated, propelling Morgan’s Return into the top 20 for space opera (which is the genre I write). Its predecessor, Morgan’s Choice, is also back in the top one hundred. Please understand, I won’t be giving JK Rowling a run for her money anytime soon. We’re not talking huge numbers, but it’s nice to have an audience. Very nice.

A few people have asked how I managed to do that.

The answer is simple: I haven’t a clue. As I said in the title, maybe it’s magic. Maybe a sprinkle of fairy dust landed on my shoulder, and caused Amazon to send out the ad at top left. If we exclude the possibility of fairy dust, I don’t know what I did to have Amazon send that out – but it did and my languishing sales took off. Maybe – and I’m guessing – it has something to do with the fact that Morgan’s Choice was in the top one hundred for several months a few months ago. Maybe Amazon thought it was worth telling people I’d written a sequel. But I didn’t pay for the ad. It’s sort of an adjunct to the emails we all regularly get, listing a selection of books in a genre you’ve bought. I usually get a list of my own books, with a couple of others, like that one there.Picture of Amazon suggestions

Let me tell you a few things that didn’t cause that spike in sales.

I’ve written a ‘good book’.

I don’t know what that means. ‘Good’ is subjective at the best of times and has different meanings. Does it mean it’s a great story? What you think is good, someone else will think is a crock. If ‘good’ means the book has been well-produced in that it’s been edited, has very few typos and is correctly formatted, well, yes my books are all those things. But again, so what? Readers don’t much care about those things. Writers do.

I advertised.

I have bought advertising but what I’ve bought for this book has not yet appeared. I’ve bought ads on The Romance Reviews and the-Cheap – even on the mighty Zon, where I paid $100 to be in the Amazon Book Club, which I feel was a waste of money. Morgan’s Choice was in a list of twenty or so books, not sorted by genre or anything else, a grab-bag listing for the day. I have seen no spike in sales that I could attribute to any sort of advertising. Except that headline one up there.

I participated in blog tours.

Not for this book, I didn’t. I did for Starheart, where I managed my own tour, and I bought a tour for Black Tiger because it was a different genre to my usual space opera. Again, in my experience, blog tours don’t really work.

I have a huge web presence.

Not really. I have an author page on Amazon, Omnilit and Smashwords. I’m on Facebook, but I recently whittled down my friends list to people I actually interact with. I have an author page with 400 ‘likes’. I have a website where I talk about writing and science, a separate site for historical topics and a third where I share my photos. (I’m a keen photographer.) I don’t do a newsletter. My name is on sites across the web where I’ve signed up but don’t actually participate. Oh, and I’m no longer on Google+ or on Goodreads. After all, how much time can a person spend updating sites? I also don’t touch the Kindle Boards.

I bought reviews.

At the time of writing, Morgan’s Return has no reviews on Amazon or anywhere else. I don’t ask for reviews, and I certainly don’t buy them. I have placed the book at two review sites on the basis of a free book for an honest review. Morgan’s Choice has a full house – one star to (a lot more) five stars. That’s okay.

I bash the book on Twitter.

Yes, I do some sales tweets. I’d be stupid not to – but that’s certainly not all I do on Twitter. I participate on Triberr and I’ve found a lot of great blog sites that way. The best way to turn people off is to shove your product down their throats. I don’t.

It’s on Kindle Select.

Morgan’s Return isn’t on the program.

It’s a cheap read.

Yes, it is. $4.99 is cheaper than the big league. But it’s not $0.99. There are two reasons for that. One, I work hard at what I do. I think I’m entitled to a fair compensation. And two, the readers of the planet aren’t stupid. If you give your book away, or undervalue a 100k+ word book, why should they give it any respect? To be sure, there are well-produced, well-edited, free or ultra cheap books out there – but there’s an awful lot of garbage, too. I don’t want my work to be automatically lumped into the garbage category.

What works?

I’ve stewed on that subject for a while. I don’t know why Morgan’s Choice took off, either, or why it suddenly declined. But there is no doubt that if one book takes off, the others are towed along in its wake. So…

Write more books. That’s it, in a nutshell. If you have a backlist, readers can discover one book, then happily go and read your other work. I do that all the time. If I find a writer I enjoy, I’ll dig out everything they’ve written. It’s a network effect, a web. The more books you have available, the more entry points you have, the more chances you have to establish readers as fans. This latest surge is an illustration. At the time of writing, Morgan’s Return was at 19 in space opera and Morgan’s Choice was at 27. What this means, folks, is that NEW PEOPLE ARE BUYING Morgan’s Choice.

However, I will add one thing; it’s easier if you write one genre. My space opera sells. My historical fiction novel, To Die a Dry Death, won a bronze medal in the 2011 e-lit awards and has a swag of excellent reviews from a wide range of sources. But it hardly sells. Some people have given it a try after reading my SF, and have been pleasantly surprised, but that’s rare. The same thing has happened with Black Tiger, which is just as fast-paced and action-packed as my SF – but it’s a paranormal romance. (Or at least, as close to a romance as you’ll ever see from me.) The reviewers on the blog tour all said the book was different from the usual paranormal, and they were surprised they enjoyed the read. Again, I have done the same thing, only the other way around. I remember buying a well-credentialed Elizabeth Moon book which became a DNF. It wasn’t space opera, you see.

So there you have it. You’ll find there are a whole raft of people offering to help you sell your books – for a price. By all means give them a try, people can’t buy what they don’t know about. Just bear in mind that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. I firmly believe word of mouth is the only real way of making sales. But why people decide to buy particular books is beyond me.

I’m sure not complaining and I’m ridiculously thankful to Amazon for that ad. And if it did involve a sprinkle of fairy dust, it’s all good.

16 thoughts on “The magic of book marketing

  1. Pingback: The Magic of Book Marketing (via @gretavdr) | Literarium – The Blog

  2. Paul Trembling

    Congratulations, Greta – I hope you continue to see some good sales! You make some good points, and thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. I’m mostly following your formula – just keep writing and get them out there! I’m not so good on sticking to one genre. Instead I’m wandering between crime and fantasy at the moment, with a few SF ideas under consideration. Perhaps I might be able to persuade some readers to try a different genre?!

  3. juliabarrett

    Wonderful post, Greta. I agree. Write a good book and write more of them. Advertising does not work. Blog tours don’t work, although they may get your name out there. Reviews, no matter how great, don’t increase sales. (And when you come right down to it sometimes absolutely awful books sell like gangbusters.)
    I believe it’s three things in combination:
    1. A good story/excellent writing.
    2. Word of mouth.
    3. Luck.
    Congrats. I’m happy for you. Well-deserved.

  4. Adrian Kyte

    I’ve read some great books that were free. But of course those tended to be the first in a series. So i think giving a book away for free is ok if it in some way prefigures the next.

  5. MonaKarel

    Leaving out the magic for the moment, in addition to crafting a good story and avoiding the major grammar pitfalls, you simply put your head down and keep going forward. Combining the ability to tell a story with a strong work ethic is a much better formula for success than fairy dust. Though a bit of fairy dust isn’t a bad thing!!

  6. C.E. Kilgore (@ce_kilgore)

    Great post, and it really sums up what I have discovered in my first six months as a self-published author. There really doesn’t seem to be some “trick” or agreed upon method for making that top 20 list (I was so ecstatic when I saw you had made it there.). One thing that people can agree on is that it’s important to just keep writing. Be true to the stories you want to tell, and I think that eventually everyone can find their audience.

  7. Bill Kirton

    I’m with Patty. As I was reading through this, all the time I was waiting for you to say ‘Perhaps people bought it because it was written by someone who takes the business seriously, knows how to tell a good story and is a bloody good writer’. But of course, you’re too modest. I think your ‘secret’ is pretty open, Greta – it’s in the quality of the writing. (And I hope, after such praise, that my cheque will soon be in the post.)

    1. Greta van der Rol

      Oh, Bill. I thank you, but I really don’t think readers care about quality. All of us can cite examples where we can only wonder why anybody would read that ‘stuff’. And conversely, sometimes we can only wonder why sometimes particular writers are ignored. I honestly believe fairy dust has a great deal to answer for.

      PS I’ll write the cheque tomorrow

  8. pattyjansen

    I agree that it’s most to do with luck and then some.

    However, I have to (tongue-in-cheek) take exception to this:

    I’ve written a ‘good book’.

    I don’t know what that means.

    Rubbish, Greta :P. Of course you write a good book. A good book is a book that has competent prose that fits withing genre expectations and that has a clear plot and satisfying ending that does not piss off too many readers.

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