Monday, March 14, 2011

To Market, To Market

What I'm reading: Restless Heart, by Emma Lang

Writing is more than writing these days. Today's post is a frank overview of my experiences with a small facet of the marketing side of things.

Last week was "Read an e-Book Week." I participated, and the results were interesting.

First, I'm not a marketing person. Between this blog, Twitter and Facebook, plus a number of Yahoo Groups, I have what in the overall scheme of things, is a relatively small, 'niche' market. A good number of the people I reach, at least as far as I can tell, would fall into the 'writer' category, whether they're published, aspiring, or simply interested in the craft.

"Read an eBook Week" reached a much wider audience. I'd decided, based on what might have been faulty logic, to offer one of my novels for free for that week. This decision came because previous discounts hadn't garnered much interest. Most of my discounts, which had ranged from 25% off to free, had yielded fairly low sales numbers. I chose When Danger Calls, hoping that people would like it enough to get them interested in Where Danger Hides (a gamble because that book will be hard cover only, so it's like comparing apples to hamburgers, but I know there are readers who read a variety of formats, myself included). I also hoped that if they liked that book, they'd buy another of my books or stories.

To my surprise, When Danger Calls reached #3 in Romance on the Smashwords Best Seller list. By Saturday, I'd sold well over 200 copies. But I sold only one copy of my other book, and one short story on Smashwords. I had two or three sales at the Amazon store. None at All Romance eBooks.

For the first three days, I advertised and linked only to the When Danger Calls page on Smashwords. After that, I attempted to direct people to my author pages at the various selling sites, and let them choose. Still, the "sales" for When Danger Calls kept coming. But only When Danger Calls.

Should I have discounted it 25 or 50% instead of 100%? Would my "sales" have come close to the number of downloads of the free version? There's really no way to tell. In discussing this with other people who were also participating, I found there was no constant. Some offered discounts on all their books. Others offered a discount on the first in a series. Some went the free route, as I did.

Results varied. Some reported good sales across the board. Others said their sales were only slightly better than "normal." Some had excellent crossover. And, some, like me, "sold" only their free books. The crossover I got was for my other stories that were already free—a total of 189 "sales" of the three titles.

Marketing is tough, and having to do it as an author is something we're not prepared for when we start writing. Consensus seemed to be that people who were on the 'buying' end of this week's big e-book push were seeking the free stuff. Many admitted they'd probably downloaded more books than they'll be able to read. Most said they zeroed in on the free reads. (I confess to picking up a few myself)

Unfortunately, I can't roll back time and run the same promotion, to see how many sales I'd get at a smaller discount. Would I be better off selling 25 copies at 50% off, or 50 copies at 25% off, or should I be happy that When Danger Calls is waiting on over 200 e-readers? That some of these people will get around to reading it, like it, and look for more of my books?

However, given that these books and stories would otherwise be doing nothing but taking up space on my hard drive, I still believe that by publishing myself, they're staying alive.

I've got no answers. It's all part of the business, and not nearly as much fun as sitting down with my characters and seeing what happens next.

Speaking of next, don't forget: Tuesday is guest blog day, and my guest is Jane Bigelow. Her topic is travel—something everyone can enjoy.

And … I'm opening up the blog to guests for May, June & July. If you'd like to reserve a date, email me and I'll fill you in on the details. Feel free to tell your friends. There's virtually no restriction on topics. Variety is a good thing.


Jemi Fraser said...

Interesting stuff. I've read several of your books and they're very good - I'm surprised once people have read one that they haven't bought more - that's what I did :)

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - thanks -- and that's what we hope for (and love to hear). I think the glut will slow and carryover down. If people downloaded 50 books, it'll take them a long time to get through them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this Terry - it's an interesting insight into marketing and reader tendencies.

Hopefully, when everyone who downloaded your free book has read it, they'll come back for more at full price. I don't suppose there's any way you can track that, though.

Beth Trissel said...

I also participated in Read An Ebook Week. It may have helped spark interest in my work a little. Difficult to say. But the book selling best for me now isn't the one(s) I promoted.

Carol Kilgore said...

I haven't reached this stage yet, but I'm sure it's coming. It's interesting to hear about your sales, especially compared to those of other writers. Lots of room to experiment in there.

Kim Bowman Author said...

Hi Terry. Awesome post as usual. I do have a couple questions - do you get to write off the books you gave away on your taxes? Would you give away another book, but maybe limit it to the first few people?

Terry Odell said...

Sophie - that was my rationale from the start. And I know I discovered a new to me author via a free read, and will be hunting up more.

Carol - I'm used to 'controlled' experiments. To me this seems like going in blindfolded. Or throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if anything sticks.

Kim - This promotion was more or less dictated by Smashwords. I could have removed my coupon before the week was out, but figured a week was a reasonable amount of time. When I give away print books, because I've paid for them, I can write them off as expenses, but since there's no cost in giving e-books, I'm not sure that would work. And I've tried offering discounts and freebies on my own--with very few takers.

Cait London said...

FWIW, I think you're a terrific marketer. I'm learning from you.

Maryannwrites said...

Terry, I think this past week was a good venture for all of us who participated, and we will just have to see if the momentum continues. Some authors who have been promoting e-books longer than we have have shared that it takes time.

Terry Odell said...

Cait - thanks, but there are probably a lot wiser folks out there.

Maryann - agreed, things take time. Trouble is, if your sales go up (or down) there's no real way to know what triggered it. Could have been any one of so many factors, and they could have come into play months before.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Terry! I'm with you--it's hard to tell what works and what doesn't. Marketing is always like a shot in the dark to me.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks for the post, Terry. The e-book business has become quite dynamic. Several SF Writer's Conference speakers addressed it, and I've spoken to several authors about their experiences. From this, I equate free e-books to supermarket samples -- they're easy to grab, some are easier to digest than others, and most "takers" don't buy the product.

I've decided to release my out of print books on Smashwords at 99 cents because it's cheap enough for people to try, and the fact that they spent something gives them value. The fickle book business is constantly changing because of technology, but there is still plenty of room for well-written books.

Should you ever find the key to successful e-marketing, I'd love to hear about it. In the mean time, good luck with your books.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - and half the time you don't even know if your weapon is loaded.

Mark - if I do, I'll definitely share. And thanks.

Sandra Koehler said...

Terry, keep these great posts coming and thank you for being so frank. You help others that included..Alison Chambers

Aisha said...

Fascinating. I appreciate the honesty- marketing is the part of this whole writing process that I absolutely detest. I appreciate reading your journey.

Terry Odell said...

Sandra/Alison, Aisha - glad you found it useful.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Terry, now I'm feeling guilty because I downloaded your book for free. I have to tell you that I do look for free books or books for only a buck, but some have hooked me on an author. You never know when someone who got one of those free downloads will buy something else of yours. Maybe not the hardback--pricey--but you have other books out there at moderate prices. I'll bet you picked up some fans! Marketing is soooo hard. All I want to do is write and see my books for sale. Sigh. Not enough in today's world, is it? We have to entice readers.

Terry Odell said...

Caroline - No Guilt! I write because I hope others will enjoy the books. And, I downloaded some freebies myself. If I didn't want to offer the book for free, I wouldn't have done it. Thanks for downloading it.

And, of course, I hope you'll like it, buy others, and above all, tell your friends. And ask your library to carry the new hard cover--that's the target market of the publisher anyway. Other sales are gravy.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Terry,
Great post,interesting experiment. It is a pity that it would be almost impossible to get accurate stats for it.



Katie Reus said...

Very interesting Terry! Soon (as in the next couple weeks) I plan to publish a novella via Smashwords/Kindle, etc. so thanks for sharing a bit of your experiences.

Terry Odell said...

Margaret - that's the problem. There's no accurate way to track what works and how much ROI one's getting from the efforts & expenses.

Katie -Cool. Let me know when it's out.