A Numbers Game

Safety in numbers?

I love the poetry of numbers, and the certainty. Two minuses added together (or multiplied) result in a positive number. Prime numbers conform to agreed rules – although I have read fierce debates over the inclusion of 1 and 2. And that ‘adding up to 9’ rule is very handy when it comes to Countdown. If there is a language of the Gods it’s probably mathematics.
The only Freddie the Fly in the ointment is that the world of numbers can also be random. Algorithm generation, statistics and data analysis (weather forecasts, anyone?) – to name but three examples – serve to remind us that the dependability of mathematics doesn’t always translate to predictability in daily life.
My fascination with numbers found new ground after my debut thriller, Standpoint, was published by Joffe Books. Because it was an ebook (now also available as a paperback on Amazon – just sayin’), with a low price point, business has apparently been swift at times. It’s human nature to want to see or impose order on the chaos of the world, especially when there’s something important at stake. Consequently, there is a tendency to see situations as static rather than fluid. 
I watched with gratitude as, once a special offer free period had expired, the rankings (and therefore the sales.) improved significantly. Before then, my book climbed the rankings of the Free on Kindle league table, amassing over 20,000 free downloads. Once the book reverted to its original price sales flourished. In a relatively short period of time Standpoint was No 1 in all three of its categories: International Mystery & Crime, Espionage, and Spy Stories. 

It didn’t last forever though, partly because it’s hard to maintain that level of new readers and partly because the mysterious metrics and measures Kindle uses (believe me, I have tried to find something useful to share with you on that score) also compares your sales against those of other books in the same category/ies. You can still be doing well, only others are doing better.
Then there are the reviews. Ideally, a healthy percentage of those 20,000 downloads will result in Amazon reviews. However, not everyone who downloads a book reads it straight away. Also, not everyone who downloads and reads an ebook feels strongly enough about it to leave a comment. The negative reviews may or may not be useful to you. (I maintain that if they have cogent points then they’re still useful, even if you vehemently disagree with them.) Still, relevant and accurate or not, each review contributes to your average score, which is all some people need to decide if they’re going to become a reader of your work. Positive reviews are no less tricky. Some people prefer not to give anything five stars, while comments such as ‘nice’ tell the would-be reader nothing at all and may even infer that the reviewer couldn’t find anything more positive to say about the book.
When it comes to social media, numbers are all important. Every FB share or retweet or favourite is potentially a whole new community being made aware of your work. The greater the reach and the greater the diversity, the more opportunities there are to entice new readers. One friend of mine – hello, Sarah Campbell – went beyond the call and put a classified ad in an online staff magazine about my books. That’s what I call brand loyalty!

Zen and the art of social media

1. What is the sound of one tweet repeating? 

2. If a Facebook post about a new book is only read by one person, in a forest, does it make a sound? (Certainly not a splash.)
Is it possible to beat the house and play the game when it comes to book promotion?
My experience suggests that certain things can give you a competitive advantage in the short term. One thing you can’t predict is context. Write a novel about orangutans and you might get some airplay based on the novelty (no pun intended, this time) of the subject. But if the book is launched at the same time that a tabloid runs a front page story about Oscar the orangutan, and his uncanny ability to play Chopin on the piano, the odds are in your favour.
Perhaps, in the end, the writer’s certainty lies not in numbers but in words. The better we write, and the better we edit, the greater the likelihood that an agent or publisher will take an interest. Or, that our feedback will give us the confidence to take the plunge and self-publish.
Yes, there are thousands, possibly millions of writers out there, ready to ply their trade. In the end though, you’re only interested in one.


Line of Sight

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