Tag Archives: Marketing

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.

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Internet publicity

Usually authors who want to publicise their books are recommended to use social media. I’m sure it can be effective but it’s not a quick fix, it needs work putting in.

Facebook is probably the most versatile tool, but I’m not sure about it’s reach – it only communicates to people you already know, or those who deliberately seek you out then find you in the throng of others across the world who share your name.

Twitter has potentially a much wider potential to attract new interest with judicious use of hashtags. But how many billions of users are there now? The competition for attention is enormous unless you’re a major celebrity. Sure you can say something profoundly attention-grabbing in 140 characters, then a minute later you’re number 1000 in the profound twitter stream. Building a significant audience is a steep mountain to climb.

Instagram looked the most promising marketing tool to me. It’s the photographic equivalent of Twitter that got a lot of publicity when Facebook bought it for an astronomical sum just before the public flotation. Not yet as oceanic as Twitter, but sharing the hashtag basis so more focussed than Facebook.

Since the book I wanted to publicise, Watching Marilyn, featured Marilyn Monroe it meant I could base the marketing campaign around photos of her – of which there must be thousands to choose from, she was constantly photographed over a period of almost 20 years. And photographs of her, some well known, some rarities, are still hugely popular among an army of fans on the internet (I share the opinion that movie stars ain’t what they used to be). Definitely pictures of Marilyn attract more attention than photographs of the Cuban Missile Crisis which is one of the other major themes in my book, or photos of American political corruption (everyone just takes that for granted).

So my instagrams were photos of MM, where possible with an appropriate quote from the book for publicity purposes (Instagram allows more than 140 characters), and a #MarilynMonroe as well as a #WatchingMarilyn hashtag. And it did seem to work. My first instagrams attracted a handful of likes. Before long, as my audience grew, they were getting 50 or so likes each. I can’t tell what proportion of people who view the instagram (aka advert) bother to press the like button, but I assume most don’t, so the 50 likes represent a lot more views.

I was feeling reasonably pleased. Then I looked at the output of one of my fellow #MarilynMonroe hashtag users called @welovemarilyn. He/she (there’s no personal info associated with the account) was posting the same kind of photos as I was, putting up one or two every day, and was by then up to number 425 – probably over a year’s worth of dedicated uploading. For @welovemarilyn it was really working. Within 25 minutes of putting a picture online he was getting around 2500 likes.
That’s a hundred people a minute hitting the like button. How many more viewing? Within a couple of days, as dawn swept around the globe, he was regularly accumulating over 10,000 likes per photo, and for some photos where Marilyn is wearing an especially décolleté dress over 25,000. By daily posting of a picture of Marilyn Monroe @welovemarilyn has accumulated over 200,000 followers. And why not – Marilyn was a very attractive woman.

So if I kept up the campaign to promote my book for a year would I accumulate that many followers? Equally important, since instagraming is not my main occupation, how many book sales would it translate to? The followers of the #MarilynMonroe hashtag seem, in the main, to be nice people, sincere in their fandom, mostly gentle souls compared to many on the internet. But I don’t get the impression they’re great book buyers.

So would it be more effective to target my marketing at a more serious audience? There are currently 107,088 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #MarilynMonroe. There are 18 with the hashtag #CubanMissileCrisis.