Now that I have everything just about in shape for a January, 2013, publication of The Answer to Your Question on Amazon as an ebook and Print on Demand paperback, I am reluctantly turning my attention to marketing. I actually had to look up the term “marketing,” uncertain of the difference between it, publicity, and promotion. What it all comes down to is getting attention for the book, leading to readers, leading to reviews, leading to sales. Theoretically.
Self-publishing my novel has never been about making money. It’s been about getting it out in the world where it will be read, hopefully enjoyed, and let’s face it, praised. Early on, when I was first contemplating self-publishing, the first thing I learned was that you won’t make money. Don’t go into it expecting to make money. I got that. Or did I? Ever notice how nothing is quite real until it becomes personal?
So I don’t expect to get rich. But I’d like to make any money I can. I’d like to at least make back the couple of thousand I’ve put into the book.
I remember the good old days when you went into an actual bookstore that had a door, possibly a helpful clerk, books you could pick up and turn over and read a page or two of. You paid money for that book. It never crossed your mind that it would be free. You were buying a book in order to pay the author and publisher for their efforts of putting that book into your hands. It was a real book, with heft, a cover, pages that became dog -eared and turned yellow. Years after you finished reading it, when your bookshelf was overflowing, you stored it in a bin in the basement because you couldn’t bear to part with something that had once meant so much, even if you couldn’t remember why now. You told yourself you’d re-read that book someday. Right.
You never dreamed, back in the olden days, that the act of reading a book could be otherwise.
Now you buy a book with a click and a stored credit card number. It appears on your e-reader as electronic text. I stare at my Kindle, newly purchased, here on my desk. It looks like what it is: an object I’m not familiar with, that I can’t quite place. I hear I will grow to love it. No doubt. Right now it has a black and white image of birds on branches on the front, because it’s asleep. Pause for a nanosecond and realize how weird that is. I’m the one who should be asleep.
But now, because I am about to be the author of an ebook, I must delve into the unfamiliar world of marketing. My book is one of millions (the same way I feel I’m one of millions of writers), all vying for attention, readers, reviews, sales. There is a strange proliferation of ebooks, like something out of science fiction. Ebooks are breeding, reproducing, and clamoring for attention. They’re like the meerkats in the movie Life of Pi, standing on their hind legs and raising their weird little heads as far as the eye can see. Me, me, me, all the meerkat ebooks are chanting, and no one can tell one from another. Each ebook is its own beloved self, but in the continuous stream of covers and book descriptions popping up on my computer screen, screaming for my attention, it’s hard to tell one from another.
How can I make my own little meerkat stand out from all the others? I can’t. But I can try. I get busy. Very busy. I’ve noticed that self-publishing has brought out some parts of my personality that are normally, blessedly, latent: ambition; obsession. I’ve always considered myself kind of a slacker in terms of ambition. I know writers who make my low-level ambition look like a meerkat up against Richard Parker, the tiger in Pi. But now I have to fess up that I too have ambition, more than I want to admit maybe. Otherwise why would I be as obsessed as I am with promoting my book? Once I put my mind to something, I tend to be dogged. I see that getting attention for my book, leading to readers, leading to reviews, leading to sales, is a “challenge.” Red flag. “Challenge” is often just another word for obsession.
I read a bunch of books, blogs and Internet advice on how to market your self-published book. I print off pages of info so I can keep track of all I’m “learning.” I bookmark a huge number of websites, which I know I’ll never return to. I make brightly colored physical folders for “Goodreads,” “Kindle Nation Daily,” “Blog Book Reviewers,” “Netgalley,” “Digital Book Today,” “Kickstarter,” “Free Book Advertising,” and the catch-all “Publicity.” When I “finish” this massive amount of research, I still don’t know what to do.
I have a website, I have a blog, I belong to Facebook though I only use it for what you’re not supposed to, promoting yourself. I never know what to say on FB except that I’ve posted a new blog post. Once I did ask if anyone knew a good psychic, but beyond that, I can’t think of anything remotely interesting to say on Facebook. I don’t do Twitter, and I know I should be visiting and commenting on other people’s blogs, but beyond one or two, I either don’t have the time or don’t want to, actually the same thing.
Instead of doing all the recommended publicity things, I decide to order 30 black T-shirts with the cover of my book on the front. This is fun, but it isn’t marketing. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the T-shirts. I could sell them on my website maybe, give them away to “promote” the book, use as rewards on Kickstarter, but basically I just want Answer T-shirts because I think they’ll be cool. Another outlay of money. Another self-indulgent impulse. I tell myself that I’m following my instincts, that they will come in handy, I just don’t know how. Translation: Rationalization. I decide to send one to my friend Louise in Palo Alto. She can be my West Coast sales rep.
Lying on the couch, not reading my Kindle, which must have narcolepsy, I have an insight: what marketing comes down to is giving away your ebook for free. That’s where all my research has ultimately led. Counterintuitively, you give away thousands of books in order to get attention, leading to readers, leading to reviews (maybe), leading (perhaps) to sales, if there is anyone left who hasn’t gotten the thing for free.
It starts with Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Pubishing) Select. I stand in awe of Amazon. Amazon is really smart, really ruthless, really amazing. Amazon is taking over the world, and who am I to fight it? If you choose to put your ebook on Amazon in the KDP Select program, for 90 days you give up publishing it on any other platform, such as Barnes and Noble, Kobo (or is that a steak?), Smashwords, Ibooks, Bookbaby, Babybook, Buddybook, Bookybaby , whatever. Amazon has the exclusive right to sell (and give away) your ebook. In exchange, you get the privilege of letting Amazon give away your ebook to any of their Amazon Prime members to whom they “lend” the book for free. What you get in return is 5 days during the 90 day exclusive in which you can give away your book for free. Supposedly by giving your book away to thousands for free, you increase your attention, leading to readers, leading to reviews, leading to sales. I find this hilariously ironic or ironically hilarious.
Supposedly it works, at least for some people. My friend Jim Bainbridge published a wonderful futuristic novel called Human Sister with a small publisher, who put the novel on a 3-day promotion as a free book on KDP Select. For an unknown author, it did pretty well. It got about 20,000 downloads (free) in the next two months, of which about 2,000 were sales.
Where else was he going to get 2,000 sales? It didn’t cost him anything to give away 18,000 free downloads, but—I dunno. I still have a little trouble getting my head around giving away 18,000 copies of one’s book.
Still, this promotion resulted in readers, who wrote reviews on Amazon, which helps with ranking and sales, we assume. So I’m signing up for Amazon KDP Select when I publish my book in January.
Here’s another knee-slapper. It helps to announce as broadly as possible on the Internet that you’re going to be giving your book away for free on a certain day. That way tens of thousands more people will know about it and download your book (for free). There are a ton of places where you can announce to the world that you’re going to be giving away a free book on a certain day, (for a comprehensive list of free places see this article). You can twitter your head off to all Free Kindle twitter addresses, which you can search for on Twitter.
But you can also pay to advertise your free book days! I’m rolling on the floor! You can pay for ads on Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today, Masquerade Crew and others. You can pay for follow-up ads after your free promotion day. You can pay for ads on Goodreads and Facebook that charge by the click, and on Blogads.com, which specializes in blog advertising.
I read somewhere that if you want to make money, don’t give away books for free. If you want readers, give them away. Catch 22 aside, I want both, but if I have to choose, I’ll go with readers.
In the meantime, in the spirit of the above, I’m happy to send anyone the free Kindle file of The Answer to Your Question between now and January 1, when KDP select will prohibit me from giving it away for 90 days. Send me an email to email@example.com, put ANSWER FILE in the subject heading and tell me if you want the mobi file, the epub file, the PDF file, or an Omaha steak. I’d much rather give it away to the folks who read my blog than complete strangers!
David Kazzie has an interesting post that tells of his very successful venture with his KDP Select legal thriller a year ago, "How Amazon's KDP Select Saved My Book." He had some animated videos using his own script made by http://www.xtranormal.com.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that Amazon is souring a bit on the big free giveaways, so maybe things will change. They always do . . .