|Me at work. Someone took my chair.|
‘A truly shocking thriller for young readers.’
That’s my favourite bit of work from my old job, back when I made a living from writing sales copy for children’s fiction. I won’t tell you which book it refers to, but it did make me chuckle to see that line in the catalogue.
|No idea what this is|
Most of the time, I promise, I gave every book the best possible write-up. Even if I hated some of them, it was my job to make each one look good. I worked for those old book clubs, you may recall their junk mail on your doormat: get half a dozen books very cheaply, and then we own your soul for the next ten years. It was all in the small print, which I helped to write, so there. Only very infrequently did a book darken my desk that was so bad, I had to give it a sarcastic review.
I was doing that job, mostly seriously, for about five years. As a result, I like to think I know a little bit about marketing, especially when it comes to children’s books. I knew this would stand me in good stead when it came to promoting my own work online. I knew how to write a decent blurb, knew how to sum up a book in 30 or even 15 words, knew about age ranges, target readerships, genres, you name it.
It was armed with this unfair advantage that I embarked on marketing my first independent ebook. Before I clicked ‘Publish’ on KDP, I put together a detailed strategy document, designed to maximise early exposure through social media, to capitalise and build on this, while also drawing on my considerable network of contacts gained through being a traditionally published author.
Friends and network just out of shot
Also – being a traditionally published author – I didn’t of course expect miracles. All I expected was a better-than-average showing for a self-published ebook. After all, I had an existing readership, influential bloggers as fans, friends in the industry, and all that marketing experience behind me. I put together a book trailer, engaged a viral marketing service, took out adverts, did video and web radio interviews, hired slots on high-traffic book sites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and paid for a 45-stop blog tour that had me answering interview questions (often the same or similar ones) late into the night, until I half believed the answers myself. And I did plenty of other stuff – I think – but you get the gist. Idle I was not.
So did it work?
As an experiment it was fascinating. Because I’d been careful to draw up that strategy document and keep a careful track of every campaign on it, and because Amazon allows you to track sales by the day, I could identify very clearly the ongoing effectiveness of each initiative, and compare one against the other. I knew this would help me find the most efficient strategy in the long term. So, which online marketing approaches were the most effective?
The surprising answer appeared to be: none of them.
In the graph of sales over time, there is barely a spike, nor even an uplift, to correspond to any of the approaches that I tried. There are sales, yes, but slow and sporadic, with no noticeable variation, except when I had a ‘free download’ day. On the free days I ‘sold’ hundreds of books, but these are the only blips on the graph, and for obvious reasons don’t really count. Everywhere else, the sales quite literally flatline.
I’m not moaning. I’m actually as pleased as a physicist who’s found a Higgs Boson in his bowl of Cheerios. E-publishing for me is an experiment in progress, and these are the first really interesting data. They lead me to the inescapable conclusion that online marketing doesn’t really work. Not on the scale at which a cash-strapped, busy individual can muster it. The virtual world is simply too big now. The problem may be compounded if, like me, you write for children, who don’t seem to be flocking to ebooks as fast as one might expect, and are also harder to reach, marketing-wise (and as a parent I’m all for that).
Bin Weevils. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
So perhaps I could have saved myself all that time and expense. In a way, I knew that all along. Because speaking for myself, I never bought a book on the strength of an advert, a YouTube trailer, a blog post, a tweet, a Facebook page, or even (I don’t think) a five-star Amazon review. I buy books when I happen to stumble upon them and like the look of them, or when (more often) a friend recommends them. And the great thing about that, of course, is that it doesn’t cost the author or the publisher a penny.