More fun with numbers

Everybody loves a sequel, right? Terminator 2, Airplane 2, Dogma 2  (just in case Kevin Smith is out there reading this…). Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post that generated a bit of a debate with fellow writers – but no comments! – and it’s time for a follow-up.

Since June 2015 two books has become four / five and I have a bit more experience of the other side of writing – namely, the marketing and promotions that accompanies publication. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that many writers and other creatives embrace the idea of magical thinking. Once you’ve faced a blank canvas or page and subsequently produced a piece of work that you only half recognise as your own, it’s small wonder that you become open to alternative ways to viewing reality. It can manifest as superstitions, such as the lucky notebook or pen. Those with experience of NLP might consider this a form of anchor. I’ll declare here that I have a special pen for contracts, but not one for getting them! Anyway, my point here is that I’m not against magical thinking if it serves as a motivation to do something. 

When it comes to reaching readers, which naturally encompasses sales as well, magical thinking can quickly dissipate in the harsh glare of numbers. The idea that ‘if you build it they will come’ is just that: an idea. The question is, what do you do if they fail to show up?

Most writers are looking for a magical formula that promises certainty and success, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ah hah, they say, but I have a plan! And it’s true, some writers will buck the trend and catch the wave at the perfect moment. After all, some has to win the draw for the lottery. Sean Platt, Johnny B Truant and David Wright have a more pragmatic approach: Write. Publish. Repeat.

I decided to experiment with my back catalogue. First up was Covenant, a magical fantasy that earned a clutch of good reviews but had never found a wider audience. Which is to say, it has never made any money! I found a Book Tweeting service online, which sends out 30 tweets a month from each of four accounts, with a reach of over 195,000 follows on Twitter. I confirmed they had covered fantasy novels before and, naturally, accepted that there were no guarantees. The tweets used quotes from the blurb I provided or key words, along with the all important title and sales link.

I opted for a trial month and then I’d look at the numbers for the following couple of months. Total sales for the month and tweets and the two months that followed? Zero. Nada. Zip. Ouch!

Next up in my back catalogue adventure was the collection of mini ebooks – themed collections of 100 or so gags. They’re already priced as low as you can go (apart from free), so I thought I’d try something different. I would offer them for free, use TweetDeck to run my own short Twitter campaign, and pitch them as review copies to get some online feedback. 

The good news: 84 free downloads across the set.
The not so good news, and I have a feeling you’re ahead of me here: zero reviews.

Here’s what I take away from this:

1. Organic promotions are only effective if you already have – or are part of – an active community. Treat your readers with respect though and never forget that they are giving you their valuable time and some cash too.

2. If you decide to pay for marketing / promotions research thoroughly and invest in quality.
My experiences suggest that you do indeed get what you paid for.

3. Experiment. It’s all a game of trial and review and adjustment. 

4. None of the above should interfere with the writing. After all, that’s what writers do.

Thanks for your time.

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