Thursday, March 1, 2012

Marketing: Watching the Numbers.

Yes, I am getting very close to finishing my book, Nobody, Aggadeh Chronicles Book One.  The final chapters have been outlined and end of the story is in sight. That being said, there is actually one more phantom chapter that was created that didn’t make the original cut when I decided to rewrite Nobody. I figured I would set it aside until the end, and now I have a better idea how to rework it back into the story.
One task that must eventually be completed is writing the blurb of the story. That short summary that is usually printed on the back cover, inside the lining, or on the web site that is supposed to intrigue the reader enough to want to buy the book and read it. There are actually two that must be written. One is usually a single line that works like a catchphrase. The other is the summary as described above.
That first task is actually a small part of the second task that must be addressed, second in importance only to actually writing the book. That task is: selling the book!
That means getting the word out when my book is available. I can’t just rely on uploading the ebook and then sitting back and wait for the sales to roll in. I have to get out and actually tell people that it is out. That means hitting Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and a few other forums and message boards that I haunt. But, it must go much further than that.
I know at least three or four dozen copies of my book will be sold almost immediately. Those sales will be from friends and family that have known I’ve been writing this book and have been waiting patiently for me to finish it. While it will be exciting to actually watch that initial sales count roll in, I have to temper myself with the fact that those are technically “courtesy purchases”. 
Second to that, I know that almost 90 people have downloaded the sample chapters of my book. Again, about half of those are from friends and family. It is the other half that is more intriguing. Those are people who I may have met in passing or noted a post from a social site and were interested enough to take a look. Or, they may be friends of friends who were guided to my site. It is a most important number, because it represents the general public, people who I don’t know personally or don’t meet with on a regular basis!
The question is, who and where are these people?
If you stand on one street corner to sell your wares, after a couple of weeks, everyone who passes by on a regular basis has either already bought your product or isn’t interested in buying your product. You aren’t going to sell anymore. Eventually, you have to move to another corner. The same applies to social networking sites. I can post about my book all I want, but ultimately the message is going to the same people over and over again. Over time, that means almost 200 people that would be very annoyed and bored with me.
Sales is the process of selling the product. Marketing is the process of identifying who and where to sell the product. Are you going to sell more things standing by the train station at rush hour or at the entrance to a sewage treatment plant at midnight? Making that determination is marketing.
Marketing is all about demographics.
Is your book a hardcore sci-fi cyberporn extravaganza that exceeds the limits of human savagery and sexuality? Chances are, it might be a tough sell at the local church reading group. How about a coming of age story for a young girl that has lots of unicorns, glitter, bows and rescuing a handsome young prince in distress? Maybe setting up a table at the biker bar isn’t a good idea. (But, hey! You never know….) Determining who might like to read your story is all marketing; identifying demographic groups that would be interested in your story.
I spent one evening going through my list of friends on Facebook. I chose thirty who I knew were avid readers or I knew who were very well connected on Facebook. Then I visited each of their profiles and got the count of friends they each had. The final tally came in at just over fourteen thousand! Yes, connected to those thirty friends were fourteen thousand people.
If you think I was sitting at my computer staring at that number with my jaw dropped open in disbelief, you would be correct. I even went through the list a second time to make sure I didn’t punch in a wrong number somewhere. But the number was correct.
Hopefully what this means is if I announce the release of my book on Facebook and each of those 30 friends click “Like” when they see the announcement, then all of their friends will also see that announcement. This means the announcement of my book will be exposed to over 14,000 people through one degree of separation. Fourteen thousand people who might think, “Hey! My friend actually knows this author! Maybe I should take a look at his book.”
That little bit of market research told me that Facebook is probably the very first place I want to run to the moment I make my book available for purchase. Since doing that bit of research, the number of people I am connected to has more than quintupled (increased by over 500%). So, that number of 1° connections may actually be much higher now.
But that sales push will only work for a short while. I am basically relying on word-of-mouth to sell my book, and I can’t expect that my friends are going to go out and constantly beat the bandwidth of the internet for me. I also need to hit other social groups with the announcement. The announcement must also be repeated on a regular basis for a while, to keep reminding people that my book has been released.
This blog serves just such a purpose. It is both a promotional (sales) and a data-collection (marketing). It is a place where potential fans can come to and get a look into my mind, and at the same time, I can collect counts of how many people come to my blog and read it.
For example, I cannot see data that tells me that Fred Mertz of 123 Main Street, Anytown, USA visited my blog. But I can see that twenty-three people visited my blog at some point after I posted an entry, and fifteen of those people connected by following the link from Facebook and four followed the link from Twitter. It’s the remaining five that are a mystery. How did they come to my blog?
Marketing is driven by numbers.
When I post on Facebook that I have a new blog entry, how many people respond to that? What about the time? Do more people show up if I post in the afternoon or in the evening? Those numbers are a little more difficult to come by. And timing an announcement could make a huge difference in how many people actually see the announcement.
I’m publishing my books as ebooks first. Which platform is the most popular? Amazon’s Kindle? Apple’s iPad? Barnes & Nobles Nook? Or some other platform? That’s why I put the survey up on the right. That could determine where I launch my book first.  (So far, the Nook is winning.)
What day would be a good day to announce my book? A lot of newspapers print upcoming weekend events on Thursday, because that is when most people start thinking about what they want to do on Friday or Saturday. That would certainly be the evening to announce a “meet the author” event! But when do people sit down and decide they want to buy a book or start going through Amazon or B&N to find a good book to read? If everyone sat down Wednesday evening around 9 PM to peruse for a new book, then maybe I should make my announcement Wednesday evening at 8 PM.
These are things you need to ferret out in order to improve the salability of your book.
I just activated Google Analytics on my web pages to glean more detailed information about visits to my web pages. It definitely will NOT tell me that Fred Mertz just visited my blog. But, it will tell me that someone visited my site around 9 PM and they stayed on my site for about thirty minutes, which tells me that the visitor hung around and read a few things. Up until this point, all I could tell was that someone merely visited a given page. I can’t tell how long they hung around or if they downloaded something. Hopefully using Google Analytics, I’ll be able to glean this information.
What this will all tell me is how effective I am being in getting the word out. If doing one thing results in a lot of visits, then that effort is a good one to continue. If doing another results in no visits, then clearly that effort is a waste of time. The more effectively I can get people to look at my book, the more likely I am to generate sales of my book.
My goal is to sell at least 10,000 copies of my book. If I can do that, then I’ve got a future! The only way that is going to happen is if I properly market my book to people who are most likely to buy it and enjoy it. If those people like it enough to recommend it to friends, then my book will be a success. So the more people I can the book to that will promote my book to their friends, the more likely I will reach that goal.
Then there are other activities that must be done should sales of my book surge ahead.
For one thing, book signings. This, in my opinion, is vital for selling a book. People who might not look twice at your book are more likely to take a chance on it if they meet you as the author in person. It really is a thrill to meet the person who wrote a book you truly loved. It's even better when that author turns out to be an incredibly nice person. The corollary is, it really sucks when that person is a jerk. And I have seen the look of utter devastation on a fan's face when they waited for so long to get an autograph or even just meet their admired celebrity, only to have that celebrity whisked away to another event at the last moment.
Now, didn’t I just say above that you can’t autograph a computer file? Seeing as I am publishing as an ebook first, I figured I would print up copies of the cover on high-grade card stock and autograph those for anyone who purchased the ebook and wants an autograph from the author. Eventually I will get around to printing physical books, but for now, I just can't afford it.
I’ve already been approached by friends that belong to reading groups asking if I would be interested in me being a guest. Most people I have met that attend reading groups prefer to read from paper books than from ebooks. This is a quickly changing demographic, but currently within this population, paper books are still holding the lead.
When someone gets the chance to meet the author of a book, they do want some physical reminder of that occasion. So it behooves me to come up with something that can be done.
Printing actual books is expensive! How soon I move forward with this will depend on a number of things. Certainly the number of ebooks I sell! Without money, I can’t afford to print up actual books. Demand for print copies comes next. If there isn’t much demand for print versions of my books, then it doesn’t make sense to spend several thousand dollars to print them up if they aren’t going to sell. (Interestingly, dipping back into demographics, about half the people I know are interested in buying both the ebook and hardcopy versions of my book.)
I am considering turning to Kickstarter to raise money for doing a physical printing of my book sooner than later. I do recognize that it is important to try and go to print as soon as possible. If the ebook is proving successful in sales, then it would be wise to invest in a print run. Kickstarter allows people to offer a donation in return for a token of thanks. It has been very successful for a number of authors and other projects.
People want that keepsake from meeting an author. While I think the cover card is a good idea for those who have ebooks and are satisfied with that, there will be many more who prefer to have a book for their collection. I have a few autographed books I have received over the years, and I treasure that tactile memento as a shared presence between myself and the author I met. At some point or another, I hope my path crosses with Spider Robinson so I can get my copy of Variable Star autographed. (Though, I suspect that will happen after his Orphan Stars is released.)
So, I’ll be watching the numbers to see what is happening and hopefully be able to guide my decisions in the most advantageous way. I’ve had a general plan in place for some time now, but the moment to put all that in motion is fast approaching.