Tag Archives: internet

Internet Book Marketing, the facts

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Writers Need Reviews

Browsing casually through a bookshop or on Amazon, no one ever pays out hard-earned cash for a book they don’t know by a writer they’ve never heard of.

People buy novels because someone recommends them – whether through reviews, best-seller lists or word of mouth. Books without positive recommendations won’t sell.

When you find a book on Amazon with an eye-catching title in a genre you like and it has, say, 50 or 60 reviews, most very positive (not all because real people have different tastes), you’ll possibly give it some consideration. You might even buy it. Hopefully you like it, then you recommend it to others who in turn recommend…. it’s a snowball effect.

But for a new author getting the ball rolling is a challenge. Yes, you’ll often see books with three or four great reviews, all awarding 5 stars. Everyone is wise to this, one review will be from the author’s best friend, one from their mother, one from their aunt, and the other they probably wrote themselves. A genuine writer needs to get a critical mass (not too critical) of real people talking positively about his book before it will take off, and he needs to achieve that without expecting they’ll volunteer to pay for the privilege.

That’s why writers have free e-book promotions, give-away days when they reduce the price of their work to zero and encourage readers to download. They’re hoping that by getting their book into the hands of enough people they’ll generate a positive buzz that will translate into sales of the full-price paperback, and of the e-book when it returns to normal price. When the give-away is done specifically through the Kindle store they’re hoping for 5 star reviews on Amazon.

That’s the theory anyway, and when I was planning how to market my mystery novel, Watching Marilyn, a free give-away weekend seemed a good way to go. The story is about Hollywood in the 1960’s, the Cuban missile crisis, the dark suspicions surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s death. After launching it in the Kindle store it sold at a steady but slow pace considering it had no great fanfare of publicity associated. It needed a push.

I decided to have the give-away at the start of June – this was the anniversary of Monroe’s birthday, (she’d have been 86) and the hashtag #HappyBirthdayMarilyn was trending on Twitter. I covered the details of how the give-away went in an earlier blog. It seemed pretty successful. Now I want to analyse if the strategy really works.

Sadly the answer seems to be ‘not really.’

Well, I never did expect everyone who downloaded the free book to review it, most readers of books obviously don’t, it’s only a minority of activists who put their opinions out there to inform and educate the public. I’d have been very, very happy if 10% had responded, but expected it would probably be lower, but surely at least 1%. So how many reviews did the promotion generate? None. 0%. Nada. Zilch. There were no reviews. A couple of people did press the ‘Like’ button for the Kindle edition and I’m grateful to them, but what happened to the others?

Well some simply wouldn’t have liked the book, or were indifferent to it, you have to accept different people have different tastes, and for those who can’t stand the sort of book I write I should be happy they didn’t respond, negative reviews never help unless you’re a punk rock star.

I suspect there’s another group who download free books but never get round to actually reading them, like buying inappropriate shoes in a Sale the lure of a bargain is enough in itself.

But at the end of the day it may simply be that far fewer than 1% of people who download a book will respond with a review, and to get a useful marketing result you need to give away thousands rather than the hundreds I stopped at. Well, I’ve just looked at the Amazon page for that publishing sensation Fifty Shades of Grey, alleged to have sold over a million copies – currently it has 7,712 reviews (heavily polarised between 5 stars and 1 star to average 3 stars). I make that 0.8% – so I should have had 3 or 4 reviews at least! Obviously the only safe conclusion from this marketing experiment is that my free book didn’t have enough gratuitous sex.


Internet Privacy

Suspicious about how Big Brother is using ever more sophisticated tools to track your use of the Internet? Google, Amazon, the FBI, Facebook, the company that owns your work computer can all monitor what you do online. But it may be the lesser of two evils.

Each organization would claim they have good reason for their surveillance, and to some extent it’s arguable they really do, assuming they can be trusted to act responsibly. In the case of Google their knowledge of almost everything we look at on screen helps them target highly individualized adverts, which increases effectiveness for advertisers, makes lots of money for Google, and keeps all those incredibly useful services like search, email, storage, free to use for everyone.

Even so I can’t blame people for feeling uneasy, even paranoid, about the intrusion behind the screen, even when the only obvious result is advertising popping up on my computer for mail-order Creative Writing degrees, Cellphone packages and Shelving Systems, all connected in some way to stuff I’ve done online.

The European Union, an odd organization that champions consumer rights when not busy bankrupting small member nations, has recently banned web sites from dropping cookies in secret on visiting computers, legislation now insists they must, if they’re hosted in Europe, explicitly get a user’s permission beforehand. Additionally browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer have introduced ‘Do Not Track’ settings – though usually buried in the options and compliance by websites is voluntary. You can even tell Google you want to stay private if you dig deeply enough into account settings.

So I tried becoming anonymous recently. It took a few hours delving through technical advice sites, ironically relying on Google, before I had every system, browser and cookie setting switched to protect my online identity from prying eyes. I don’t have anything to hide, honest. I simply believe in a right to privacy.

Google and it’s surveillance buddies however seemed to draw their own conclusions about the type of person who’d want to become anonymous in this way. My targeted (and admittedly appropriate) adverts for shelving systems and the classic books of John Dickson Carr were promptly replaced by larger and much more colorful banners for agencies representing attractive Russian brides, and for sun-soaked Gay vacation resorts in Palm Springs (I’m broad-minded, but both at once ?). Clearly they weren’t tracking my financial status any longer.

And of course it wasn’t what I wanted anyone physically looking over my shoulder to see on my laptop (okay, I’m really narrow-minded). I went back to allowing widespread surveillance. They’re tracking me again, probably even as I write. Google, if you’re reading this, tell Anastasia from Podolsk to email me, I’ve lost her details. FBI – friend me on Facebook?

For technical details here’s how the experts explain it: How Websites Track You Online