Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

The Three Pillars of Promotion

Imagine: your friend has invited you round to her house. She’s having a bit of a get-together, and there’ll be some people there you know, but also lots who you won’t. She answers the door, possibly noting that you’re the only guest who hasn’t brought a bottle, and introduces you to someone you haven’t met before.

“This is Janice,” she says, “We work together.”

“Would you like to buy my book, Janice?” you say. “I’ve got a copy in my bag. It’s on special offer today – only 99p.”

You wouldn’t do that, would you? Few people would… unless they’re on Twitter. And then I unfollow them: end of relationship.

I’m not going to advise you to use Facebook, or Twitter or any other particular social platform; they’ll all come and go. Instead, I’m going to suggest a strategy that applies to whatever medium you use. Here are my three pillars of promotion.

Number One: Be in it for the long term

Relationships take time to grow. I’ve been blogging and posting on threads on various sites for some years now. Although they aren’t writer sites, I’ve found a beta reader, Tweeps and bloggers and  when I publish my novel I know these people will be interested, just as I’m interested in what they’re up to. I’d want them to post a link to their book because I like them as people and so I think I might like their books too, and hopefully they think the same of me. That takes months, if not years, to build.

Number Two: Follow the principle of reciprocity

I’m a research student in psychology, and part of the process of carrying out studies involves getting ethical approval because I have human participants. It’s desirable (though not imperative) that there’s something in it for them; some researchers are able to pay participants for their time, others give them feedback on their results that might help them in some way and others might enter them into a prize draw. I’ve found that if you want to recruit people to do a survey, a box of chocolates on the desk seems to increase the numbers willing to take part, although most of them won’t eat any! The same idea of reciprocity applies in promoting your writing. Writers I follow via Twitter or subscribing to their emails, such as Joanna Penn and Jeff Goins, spend time providing useful information for other writers for free. They’re generous in sharing their discoveries. When they publish a book, I trust that it’ll be of the same quality, and will certainly look at what they’re offering.

Number Three: Deliver on quality

This third point is an amalgamation of the first two. When someone buys your book, it has to be good. This leads to two results: firstly, your reader will be more likely to buy your next book, and secondly, they might recommend it to friends – word of mouth is a form of promotion, but you can only achieve it once you’ve delivered something worth talking about. This is a long-term relationship, where both sides give and take. I’ve read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be a Woman,’ her tweets frequently make me laugh out loud, and when her next book comes out, I’ll be buying it. And here I am, plugging it – if rather explicit feminist hilarity appeals, you might want to check it out.

If you want to sell millions of copies tomorrow, these tips aren’t going to help you do that (but there’s nothing out there that would, and you know that). If, instead of thinking ‘I must promote my new book,’ you thought ‘In five years, I’d like this person to be interested in a book that I haven’t even imagined yet,’ what would be your approach? That’s what creates interest from your market.

This is the fifth blog in a series of eight about marketing.

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Traditional Route or Self-Publishing?

When I started writing The Syndrome Diaries back in 2010, my ambition was to hone it until it was as good as I could make it, then find a publishing house willing to take it on. Realistic? It no longer matters because in those two years there’s been a revolution. We’ve already seen it happen in music, and the written word seems set to go the same way.

I’m talking about new technology. I’m not sure that the old technology will disappear completely, particularly for coffee-table books and diagram-filled textbooks, but the way we consume books is changing at an incredible pace and marketing plans need to take account of that shift.

The third ‘P’ of marketing is Place, and it’s all about sales channels. Do I want my book to be downloaded from Amazon? In the window of my local bookshop? In the racks at every airport branch of W H Smiths? At the moment, I’d answer yes to all three. However, for a hard copy print to appear through a traditional publisher takes years – literally – if I’m one of the privileged few to have work accepted. Think of the surge in ebook reading in the last two years. What will happen in the next two?

The traditional route takes time – time finding an agent, time for the novel to be pitched to publishers, time for it to be edited and prepared for publication – and the novel could fail at any stage and possibly never be published. Is it worth pursuing the traditional route for its professional input when that input is so difficult to secure?

Self-publishing isn’t a simple option if it’s to be done well. As with any sales channel, there is a large element that I will be unable to influence, and once my novel is launched there are no guarantees that people will like it and want to buy it. Nevertheless, self-publishing gives me control in the weeks and months running up to that point, and as the publishing industry is so unpredictable at the moment, that autonomy is important to me. There are plenty of people out there with ereaders – and it’s my plan to give them something special to download.

Do you have an ereader?

Do you still buy hard copy books?

What makes you choose a particular format?

How much is that novel in the window?

We’re onto the second marketing ‘p’: pricing. This is a real challenge for self-publishers, particularly for a first novel. Every week brings news of some phenomenal self-publishing success, and many of us dream of achieving those lofty sales figures – after all, why publish your work unless you want to reach a wide audience? And wouldn’t it be great to be able to afford to give up your day job?

But these are two separate aims: reaching a wide audience depends purely on sales volume while making writing pay depends on a balance of volume and pricing. Which is more important to you, sales volume or income? What costs do you need to cover? You need to take these issues into account before you set your price.

What are your costs?
I’m going to consider costs first because it’s very tempting to spend money that you won’t recoup. We want our books to be as good as they can be, and for some people, this means professional editing and cover design. Before incurring this cost, writers need to think very carefully. Involvement of professionals is likely to result in improved product. However, will professional input increase sales enough to cover its costs? In my case, the answer is probably not. I’m not well-known, I’m reliant on circles of friends and family and word of mouth to generate sales, and if I sell more than a hundred copies, I’ll be delighted. That’ll probably mean a couple of hundred quid income. If hiring a professional designer and editor quadrupled my sales, I still wouldn’t have covered their costs.

So how much should I charge for my e-book?

I’m going to run through some of the strategies, then discuss how they apply to me, a debut novelist planning to publish online. This is quite a long blog, as there are lots of options – I hope you find it useful.

Price penetration involves setting your price low to maximise sales volume. These are the 75p books you see on Amazon. The advantage of this approach is that people are likely to impulse-buy your book and won’t consider it a risky purchase (if it’s a dud, they haven’t lost much). But the disadvantage is that you will compromise your royalties and possibly give a bad impression of your book. Amazon’s royalties system means that selling a 75p e-book will earn you 26p, while selling a £1.49 e-book brings in £1.04. Will you sell four times as many copies at 75p as you will at £1.49? If the answer’s no, you’ll earn more at the higher price, although your sales volume may be smaller. Bear in mind that ‘cheap’ has connotations of low quality: is that what you want for your book? Is your market looking for a bargain, or will they assume that a low price means the book isn’t much good?

Price skimming is where you set the price high initially, gradually reducing it. Publishers take this approach by publishing a hardback at a premium price for hardcore fans, then a cheaper paperback for those willing to wait and unprepared to pay hardback prices. This is not a strategy for the first-time novelist; you need a solid, devoted fan base.

Premium pricing means pricing your book at the top end of a realistic scale. What is the top price that other novels in your genre by unknown writers are selling for? The advantage is that with this approach, you’ll earn a high royalty for each sale but you need to be absolutely sure you’ll deliver on quality, because at a higher price, there is no scope for the typos and grammatical errors that litter many self-publishing debuts. A higher price carries a greater risk for the buyer and so they are more likely to try a sample before buying. If the opening of your book is a work of genius, this could be an advantage. If anything lets it down, you won’t convert the trial to a sale.

Loss leader describes the freebie: this is where you offer your work for free.
My advice is to avoid this. If you give away the results of many hours of hard work, what does that say about the value you place on efforts and your belief in your abilities? Apart from the obvious consequence that you will earn nothing from your hours of effort, you potentially devalue your writing. The exceptions are brief promotions in the hope of word-of-mouth recommendations, or as a way of increasing sales for your other books if you have a larger portfolio.

Psychological pricing refers to that little trick that we’re all familiar with: £1.99 is much more attractive to buyers than £2.01 because people look at the most significant digit of a price. You’re likely to do better at the slightly lower price, and the loss of royalties per sale is tiny.

So what’s the answer?

There isn’t a correct answer. A book is a unique product, and many authors regularly adjust their prices to gauge the effects. But I can rule out some strategies.

Firstly, I need to consider my aims. I don’t have costs to cover, so any income will be pin money. I don’t have any inclination to give up the day job: I’m a postgraduate research student and I love it! However, research grants are well below the average UK salary and some extra income would be extremely useful. This will be my only e-book when it’s published, so I can’t use it to generate interest in my other novels which are very rough drafts at the moment. This rules out loss-leading, at least for the time being.

Although I won’t have a professional editor or designer, I know from experience that my proof-reader (Hi, Dad!) will pick up tiny errors and ambiguities. Members of my writing group are giving me feedback on extracts and I have a couple of beta readers who have promised to give me objective critiques of my final draft. However, it’s possible that my novel won’t be quite as polished as many books from big publishing houses, making me wary of premium pricing. Neither do I have the fan base to try price skimming.

Nevertheless, my novel’s quality will compare well with other e-books on the market. It’s a decent length – around 90,000 words – and is the product of multiple drafts and input from knowledgeable friends and acquaintances. I’m confident that it’s worth more than 75p. While high sales volumes (and they really would have to be spectacular) could attract a publisher, a publishing contract is not on my wish list and maximising my earnings will have more impact on me than maximising sales volume. This points towards a price above Amazon’s 70% threshold, yet the book needs to compete with established writers and traditionally-published best-sellers, suggesting the price should be under £2.50 and possibly under £2.

I haven’t made a final decision, and would be interested to know what other people think (if you’d like a taster of the style and plot, you can find out more here). Are there particular strategies that have worked – or that haven’t worked – for you?

This blog is the third in a series on marketing for writers. Next time: place. What sales channels should you consider? Yes, that online versus print argument again – and more.

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