Paying for it

By Mary Gillgannon

In the month since my latest book came out, I’ve dutifully attempted to promote it. I updated my website, guest-posted on nearly a dozen blogs, tweeted and Facebooked (in my own pathetic way), had a Goodreads giveaway, and engaged the help of the other authors on my publisher’s promotion loop to get the word out. But two weeks after the book’s release, it became clear that my efforts weren’t working. My book wasn’t gaining traction, it was standing still. If a bestseller is the pinnacle of a high mountain, this book was only a few yards up one of the foothills. I decided it was time to heed the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.”

I’ve spent money on promoting my books in the past. I've purchased ads, had postcards and bookmarks printed and paid for mailings, the only promotion options available in the days before the internet. But there was one crucial difference: Back then, I was spending money I’d already made. When you’re earning several thousand dollars on an advance, it’s a lot easier to part ways with a few hundred here and there.

But even back then, I was pretty cautious about investing a lot of money in promotion. Mostly because I wasn’t convinced it worked. I’d known authors who spent nearly every dime of their advances on promotion and their sales weren’t that much better than mine. Instead, I took to heart the advice most editors and agents gave back then: “Put your time and energy into writing the next book.”

That really was the conventional wisdom in those days. Now publishers expect you to promote. Some even demand it. I’ve submitted to publishers who put as much emphasis on the author’s platform and social media presence as they do on the quality of the manuscript. A lot of it is because the market has shifted to ebooks, which are marketed so much differently. In the old days, if your publisher got your book in the stores and it had a reasonably good cover, you could expect to sell thousands of books without doing much of anything. The important “promotion” took place between the publisher’s sales staff and the bookstore buyers and wholesale distributors. The main hurdle was getting your books out there, and you had no control over that.

Now, “distribution” is the easy part. Anyone with a little tech savvy can get their book published. The ease of that part of the process clearly shows, as the number of ebooks available increases exponentially each year. The gatekeepers are gone and we now have a flood.

So, in an effort to try to get a tiny bit of notice for my book, I decided to spend some money on promotion. But it’s not easy to decide where to throw those bucks. The best sites for promoting ebooks are picky. They want you to have x number of positive reviews, and even if you have those, they may still reject you. They also want you to offer it free or at a discounted price. Since my book was published by a small press, I don’t have any control over the price.

But to test things, I went to a less well-known site and paid a small fee to promote one of my indie-published books, for which I’d dropped the price to $.99. In terms of sheer numbers, the approach was successful. On the day my book was listed, I sold 150 copies. Considerably more than the half dozen or so I usually sell in a month. In terms of money earned for money invested, I’ve come out a little ahead, but just barely. With the regular price of $2.99, I make nearly $2.00 per book sold. On a $.99 book I make about 35 cents. So I have to sell nearly six times as many books to make the same money. Plus, I have to earn back the $45 fee I paid to have my book promoted. If the bump in sales continues for a while, or it helps increase the sales of my other books, it will be a good investment.

But that doesn’t help my newest book. For it, I bought an ad on a romance ebook site. It was on sale for $99 and runs for a month. It’s a site that has been sending me newsletter emails for years and I always delete them without opening them. So, we’ll see if it makes any difference. And I’m still looking around, trying to find other avenues for ads. But there’s a limit to how much money it makes sense to spend.

I suspect the slow sales on my latest book may be related to the book itself. I’ve always written historical romances, but this book (a time travel/reincarnation story) takes place primarily in the present. While some readers bounce back and forth between historical and contemporary romances, a lot have a preference for one or the other. In some ways I’m marketing this book to a brand new audience. So, maybe I should do what I’d really like to be doing (instead of agonizing over these things) and finish the next book in the series. Maybe the second book will help me get a few more feet up the mountain.

Mary Gillgannon

Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library.

She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! More about Mary on her website.

15 thoughts on “Paying for it

  1. Thanks for the candid post, Mary. My latest take is that it’s all a building process. We start out slow but keep producing and growing, sometimes one reader at a time.

    • I hope you’re right, Shannon. I’m in this for the long-haul, so maybe I just need to keep at it and be patient. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Mary, you are so generous to share your marketing experiences with us! Thank you! ePublishing is a new, sometimes rewarding, often daunting path, and what works for some authors may fail for others. At our most recent RMFW conference, Courtney Milan expressed it well when she stressed the importance of reaching our readers. Not only must we discover the best genre in which to write, but we must find our readers, and touch them with our stories. It sounds like you’re on a good path of discovery. I’m wishing for you continued courage to discover, and a touch of that special element: good luck!

  3. Figuring out the marketing part of this adventure makes the writing part look easy (and we know it’s not). The worst part? We’re aiming at a moving target because the business is changing so fast.

  4. You’ve expressed the marketing conundrum that not just writers face, but anyone with something to sell. It’s hard to know what to do because what works for some is not always the same as what works for others. Big corporations can spend up to millions in marketing and I’m sure even some of them have epic fails. I’ve heard big radio campaigns marketing new books and I’ve wondered if that had any payoff–I’d love to see the return versus marketing investment for some of those campaigns.

    Even the free outlets of personal appearances, media interviews, guest posting on blogs, or what have you requires time and securing those opportunities in the first place. And no guarantees for sales for any of those either.

    The main thing is to either have the product be something that everyone absolute must have or have some means of convincing the public they really want to have what you are selling. It’s like a science, but an inexact science that defies any consistent law.

    I guess the real answer is that there are never guarantees, but if we don’t keep trying to market what we have then we have little chance of getting it into the hands of paying customers.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. These are some of my favorite kinds of posts.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    • I’m happy to share! If my personal journey makes someone else’s easier, then all my struggle will at least have a purpose!

  5. There’s an axiom I use to describe the marketing process.

    Social media is a fulcrum.
    Backlist is a lever.
    If your lever is too short, having a solid fulcrum doesn’t help gain purchase.

    The magic number seems to be five. Time and again I’ve seen authors struggle with marketing until they get five novels available. That seems to be some kind of tipping point where the confluence of skill, presence, and reach makes a significant difference.

    That’s not to say it’s a gimme at five. It’s just more likely to bear fruit.

    I’m talking novels here — about half a million words in the wild. It presupposes that you’ve not done damage by chopping off your social media opportunities at the knees.

    JMO and I’m a contrarian in most things. 🙂

    • I wish your math worked for me, Nathan. I have thirteen ebooks for sale now. Eight backlist, three indie-published and two with small presses. It is possible that they are spread out in too many sub-genres. Maybe I need five in one sub-genre. Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong. I bounce around as a writer too much.

      • Each subgenre is a new audience.

        Your Hot Knights series (2 books that I found on Amazon) and your Lords of London series (also 2 books) may not have as much crossover as you’d like in terms of audience. Silver Wheel has only one book atm (?) and that looks like a different audience as well.

        The viking romances (Beyond the Storm Mist and Storm Maiden) aren’t identified as part of a series. It’s interesting (and maybe significant) that readers who bought Beyond also bought Maiden but not vice versa.

        The Dragon Island series looks like it has the most legs and I’d peg that has having the most crossover potential with the Hot Knights series (just based on cover art). It also seems to have some good buy-through with your other titles showing up on your “also bought” ribbon.

        How do you reach out to your readers?

        • Just to be clear.

          I don’t claim to have any real answers. Just a lot of questions.

          The whole marketing piece fascinates me because some authors who write better than I do have massive difficulty reaching an audience while others who appear to believe POV means “player owned vehicle” leave me waving as they blow past.

          My critical brain wants to find the patterns while my creative brain snickers and mutters “art doesn’t work that way.”

          Go figger.

          • You are so right, Nathan. My theory is that “quality” is not an issue. What is important is that the author’s vision matches the vision of a lot of readers.

  6. Great discussion here. Glad I came in late to read! I went out and looked you up on Goodreads. One thing I don’t like about Goodreads is that the latest book by an author is not the number 1 book you see in the list. I had to go a page in to find your new book. You’re doing something right because you have 168 people who have added your book to their ‘to read’ queue. Nathan asked if you reach out to readers. I’d love to hear more about reaching out to readers to keep your book in that ‘to read’ queue!

    • I did a giveaway on Goodreads for this book. Gave away three copies to US readers, and had almost 350 entries. I think this did help get me some attention on Goodreads. Whether this will pay off in terms of sales, I don’t know. So far it hasn’t seemed to. I’ve decided my marketing strategy is “throwing things at the wall and seeing if anything sticks.” LOL!

  7. I have a couple of different ways that I reach out. All of them violate the generally accepted rules of internet marketing. 🙂

    I use twitter to have conversations with fans about stuff. It’s seldom about my writing. I post a picture with a weather report every day with a hashtag (and no explanation). Twitter is the water cooler of the internet and I spend a bit of time there every day. Sometimes a couple of minutes and sometimes as much as an hour if there’s something going on that I’m interested in.

    I use my blogs – I have three of them, one for each franchise and one for me – but I only post when I have something to say. Reminds me, I’ve got something to say …

    I reach out on G+ but few fans seem to be interacting with me there.

    I have a podcast that reaches out to the hardcore fans (almost) every day. I’ve been having a dry spell lately but need to get back on that horse.

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