Work smarter

by Alexandra Sokoloff

As so often happens here at Murderati, a theme for the week has emerged, from Gar’s blog and Philippa’s:

Work smarter, not harder.

Well, today I’m going to try to talk about that in excruciatingly practical terms – so excruciating that some of you may find your eyes glazing over, and I wouldn’t really blame you. But the reality is, it’s pretty tough to be an author these days if you’re NOT on top of all this, and you know me, union activist and all – I feel morally obligated to expound on all this every so often.

Here’s example number 1, a quick one. Since social media seems to be a do-it-or-die mandate for authors these days, I’ve invested a lot of time recently in growing my Facebook presence.  I make time for it every day. I’ve found a way that I can do it that feels like play, not work. In fact, it has become a needed break from my writing. I don’t get the same kind of pleasure out of Twitter, so I don’t do it. And I spend the vast majority of that FB time socializing, not promoting.  But when I do need something promoted, people are amazingly happy to help, as I found out in spades last week.

So example 2, a much more detailed one.

Last week I was giving away my parapsychology thriller The Unseen as part of a big group book promo through the e book author collective I’ve written about here before: Killer Thrillers!, the brainchild of Karen Dionne.  

Some of your favorite ‘Rati, current and alums, are part of this venture – Zoe, Rob, Brett, Dusty. We’re all happy to promote each other anyway, but Killer Thrillers! gives us a bit more of a structure to do it.

 Six of us from the Killer Thrillers! author lineup (two dozen in all) participated in the giveaway, and I thought it was a great opportunity to compare notes on best practices for Amazon promotions. 

So while I didn’t spend a huge lot of time drawing graphs and pie charts – since I was also at a writing retreat finishing my new book (which is going very well, thank you very much!)– I did keep an eye on the general numbers, to see how effective a free promotion is compared to what it was last year, before Amazon changed its algorithm a couple of times, resulting in decreasing returns for such promotions.

The six of us were all directing traffic to a link to an Amazon Listmania page that listed all six of our books, so anyone who went to the page could download all six right there.

Here it is, with prices now back up to normal – check out all these great authors and books!

And if that had been all we did, then theoretically, we would all have had roughly the same number of downloads and the same ranks.  HOWEVER, what really happened was that we had individual numbers ranging from a few thousand giveaways to 27,000 (US only – some of us also were giving away books in the UK).

Some of us did additional promo via the Kindle free sites. Some of us were randomly picked up by one or two of the bigger sites, which accounted for the highest number of downloads.

Now, it’s always been clear to me that free sites are the key to pushing numbers up for promotions, and the bigger sites result in exponentially more downloads – that’s really how your book will go viral.  Exactly what happened this go round.

The thing I didn’t expect this time is that three days after the end of the promotion, when our books went back to paid, most of us were in about the same ranks of paid books: between 2000-2500 overall in the Kindle store – and that’s at a $1.99,  a $2.99  and a $3.99 price point – the price didn’t seem to matter at all, nor did the number of free downloads, after a certain threshold.  Interesting to know.

For me, it’s a very far cry from the number of books I sold when I released Huntress Moon in July.  Of course, that was a new release, while The Unseen is a backlist title that I’ve had up for half a year, now, and I’ve promoed it before. I wasn’t expecting to make the same numbers or money on this run.

Still, I’ve already made over a thousand extra dollars in sales in these few days after the promo, all profit, and more importantly I did get 18,600 copies of The Unseen out there.  What percentage of those will be read – well, who knows? But that’s one hell of a lot of promotional exposure in one go. Instead of paying for advertising, I am getting both income and a promotional push. Even if the vast majority of those books are never read, the book has been seen – it’s one of those six times that a person has to see your name or your book’s name before you actually stick in their brain. And the promo did sell extra copies of my other e books, generate some new reviews, and remind my Facebook friends that I’m an author and not just a fun cocktail party guest.

Now, I would get more specific about the observations I’ve made about the sites that are most effective in promos and how to do that, except that all that is set to – probably – change again as of today, March 1, with Amazon’s new changes to its Affiliate agreement, which seems to be targeting the bigger free book sites.

So as usual, those of us e publishing are going to have to scramble to adapt to the new landscape, and everything I’ve just written above may already be obsolete, not even one week later. It’s enough to give you whiplash of the brain.

I hate to admit it, but when I stopped paying attention for a while there because well, I was writing this book – my sales numbers slipped drastically. Yes, there is an ebb and flow to all of this tied to book releases, but it’s perilous to let it all go unattended for too long.

And this last promotion was well worth the time.  As I could have predicted, Kindle Select promotions are a lot less effective than they were in 2012. But promoting with a group is much more fun, and these are authors I read on a regular basis and know and love personally. All six of us agreed that we had no hesitation about plugging the group, as opposed to just plugging ourselves.  Having some joy in the process is key.

It was also a good reminder that as an indie author I make a living in direct proportion to how much QUALITY time I spend marketing and keeping up with the market, so I’m going back to a practice I’ve let slide: Marketing Monday, meaning one full day per work week devoted to nothing but business.  (Hey, it also serves as a break from all the endless writing…) 

And I’m just not going to grumble about how hard it is to e publish, because of this great blog I read this week by Matt Hilton.

Although I disagree with him on one key point – I DON’T think that midlist authors have the same dilemma selling on Amazon as they do in traditional venues – otherwise it’s one of the most realistic articles I’ve ever read about the pitfalls of signing with a traditional publisher and thinking that’s going to yield an actual career. It completely lays out the traditionally published side of the story – the hellish frustration of being a midlist author and NOT being able to control my promotional destiny.

Remembering the rage I used to feel about that powerlessness, well, I’ll take the current landscape, even shifting as it is. Because there IS joy to be had in the process, and for me, that is all about friends. Writer friends, reader friends, social media friends. For me, those friends are what make the work play.

So I’d love to hear examples of promotion that people LOVE.  Well, also, let’s have examples of promotion that people HATE.  It would be great to generate a couple of lists, a buffet, as it were, where there’s bound to be something that people can choose to do that’s actually fun for them.

– Alex

19 thoughts on “Work smarter

  1. PippaW

    OK, so I read The Unseen, I wouldn't have read it otherwise and I'm not sure if I ever want to read paranormal stuff again (I slept with the light on) but it was good. Now working through the rest of the list of 6 and finding more unexpectedly good reads..

    I really like having a collection like this – grab it quick, read it. I think I need to remember that part of my *contract* in getting a freebie is to post a review and I think this is something that in the whole social media thing needs exploring. not paying for reviews (we know that doesn't work) but creating an unspoken convention.

    I also LOVED having a list of just 6 items to read and that made it fun!

    Alex – part of what made sure I made a review was that you replied to my message so in that respect the social media face time was good – though of course it was for the freebie so not a massively profitable use of time! Having made that contact though, I'm more likely to look through your online offerings.

    I like looking at what *online friends* are recommending for me to read. I get grumpy when I like the idea of a book but it's really expensive (for the record I won't pay £8+ to read an author I don't know on the kindle – established series I'm hooked into is fine, but not a first start)

    I like Murderati, I like individual blogs, I think Dana Stabenow has created a social media prescence of genius.

    I don't like very expensive kindle books, and I don't like kindle books where the text–>voice has been disabled but then I drive a LOT and can't afford all audio books.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pippa, you're an ideal reader – if everyone were as conscientious as you (as in the "contract") authors would have no problem making a living!

    Thank you so much for giving the book a try even when it's out of your genre… sorry about the scares, but it's my job! And thanks as well for taking the time to post this very thoughtful analysis – it's invaluable feedback and you've summed up MUCH better than I have what works about social media interaction. The personal connection does form a bond between reader and author, and I've found ALL reader feedback is priceless, not just in a business sense but it keeps me wanting to write the best books I can write or I would feel I'm letting people down.

    I won't pay $9.99 for an e book, either. I rarely will pay above $3.99, really, except for non-fiction.

  3. Pauline

    I greatly appreciate the free book offers. I had already read a couple of yours, (thoroughly enjoyed them) so when you offered The Unseen free I jumped at the opportunity. Could not put it down. Loved it!
    My internet time is limited to my breaks at work. I jump on the Murderati blog and a few others, see what's going on. When an author offers special deals I take advantage. Also, when a kindle book comes with exerpts from other books, it gives me more authors to check out.
    I also usually stick to the $3.99 and under books.
    I feel very fortunate to have discovered the Murderati blog with all its wonderful authors and books.
    I can't wait for Blood Moon, by the way!

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pauline, you're a doll! Thanks so much for reading and downloading, and I'm thrilled you liked the book!

    I'm also really appreciating the reader feedback on the free books promo. Personally I'm pretty incapable of plugging a book that I haven't read – or at least have read enough books by that author to know it's a good bet. So I'm very interested in doing more group giveaways like this. My mailing list people also seemed to really appreciate the offer of six books at a go, and I was really happy to be able to make them available.

  5. Larry Gasper

    I enjoy blogs like Murderati, The Kill Zone and Type M for Murder. They do lead to me reading books from the authors. I'm in the middle of one of Gar's books and have Zoe's "Die Easy" waiting in the wings. As well, I'm half way through David's "The Art of Character." I have to admit I'm not great at reading outside my comfort zone, but that's mostly because I have a limited amount of reading time and over a hundred books to be read just on my Kindle.
    Another way I find books and new authors is by following "Must Read Mysteries" on Facebook. They have an interesting blog today on what effect the Amazon's changes are going to have on them. Looks like they'll be linking to fewer free books now and concentrating on $.99 to $4.99 books.

  6. Michael W. Sherer

    Very cool promo, but I would expect those results given that you've become fairly well known and cross-promoted with other well-known authors. Any ideas for those of us who aren't household names yet?

  7. Sarah W

    Matt Hilton's post is terrifying. And discouraging.

    I'm beginning to see your point about going a different route . . . But how difficult would it be for an unknown to establish an e-book following?

    As for your actual question, what you're doing seems to be working! the math is a little too arcane for me, but Killer Thrillers has introduced me to authors I wouldn't have otherwise known.

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Michael, hah! It's nice to THINK I'm a household name. The reality is we all worked our little typing fingers off to make the promo a success, especially Karen, who did a LOT of the heavy lifting. We all did a combination of things like newsletter announcements to our mailing lists, judicious Facebook postings and Tweets, blogging the promo on our own blogs and websites, posting on sites that allow announcements of free books, and taking the time to sincerely thank people who shared the promo news on FB. Those are things that everyone can do.

    There's a scary random element to whether a book goes viral or not, but there's also no question that working it the way we all did increases your odds. It's just a LOT easier to do it with a group.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I know, Sarah,it's scary, it's discouraging, and I'm sorry. But I feel a very strong need to caution aspiring writers who have no practical experience of that side of the business that signing with a traditional publisher is VERY seldom a breakthrough into any kind of real living income.

    You, personally, are in a better position than a lot of people to make a go at e publishing because you have a fantastic blog, a wealth of experience and contacts from your library work, and a fantastic snarky presence on FB that will serve you well when you have books to promote. (The more I let myself say EXACTLY what I felt like saying on FB, the more followers I started to collect. Although I know I lose some with my political posts! Oh well.).

    But your library experience also gives you an advantage if you do go traditional. The important thing to remember here is that choice is a GOOD thing. We didn't used to have this choice, and that was just bad.

  10. Lisa Alber

    This is a print-and-file-away post, Alex. Thanks as always to giving us the nitty-gritty.

    I've noticed your increased presence on Facebook with interest. You always get great conversations going, which can only help promote your community. That seems to be key: starting conversations.

    I'm curious about your statement, "But when I do need something promoted, people are amazingly happy to help, as I found out in spades last week."

    What's that mean exactly? Are you finding that when you do mention a promo, your community shares that status with their friends? How else do you find that your community helps?

    I came upon the term "street team" recently. Streets teams, apparently, are fans that authors can tap to go out and spread the word…Do you know anything about this phenomenon?

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, yes, that's what I meant – my Facebook friends were sharing the promo all over. I have to think that has something to do with my being very careful NOT to inundate people with requests like that. We all hate being bombarded.

    Yeah, "street team". I'm not at all comfortable with that term myself, it feels so patronizing, somehow. I have enormous respect, awe, even, for my readers and I would never expect them to take up pom poms and wear ALEX T shirts. Maybe that's just my own hangup, but IMO there are very few authors who can do that street team thing gracefully. The late Leslie Banks was terrific that way, she's very missed. Heather Graham is another author friend who inspires rabid devotion, including mine!, she has legions of helpers when she needs them, but I can't in a million years imagine her calling anyone her "street team". People do things for her when she asks because they adore her. That's a much better way to go, I think.

    But again – it may be just me. I'd love to hear what other people think about it.

  12. Larry Gasper

    I missed the bit where you asked what people hate on social media. Hands down, it has to be someone who title drops in the comments section of a blog or on Facebook. Any excuse will do for them to connect their book to the subject. "Sorry for your cat dying. As you know I have a cat dying in my book, 'The X of Y' out this month on all e-book platforms." Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but it's amazing how far people will go to piggyback their BSP on other peoples' social media. Even if the book sounds like something I'd like there's no hope I'd buy it.
    I like the idea of only doing social media you enjoy. That comes through for the people on the receiving end, as does having a connection to the writer that isn't just being seller to consumer.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Larry, LOL – your dying cat example isn't a stretch at all. I've seen every bit as bad. It is AMAZING to me how many times a week I have to hide BSP that people I don't know post on my wall. The nerve it would take to do that!

  14. Reine

    Larry. LOLOLOLOL!

    Alex, I buy e-books because I can read them. I was scared off a bit by recent publicity about people losing entire Kindle libraries with an app update (the download contained an Amazon warning against the update for small devices).

    I know companies can go out of business. If B&N goes under, I lose my Nook app books. My good sense was overridden by the happiness I felt when I discovered e-books and small devices. I have very old e-books that I bought and downloaded years ago. They still sit in an e-book folder in my documents file.

    Silly me. I thought if I downloaded an e-book from Amazon, B&N, or Google, it would stay on my computer. That isn't the way the new e-books work. I have to admit, though, that after losing my Google books and docs in an app update a few months ago, I had no problem reloading them. That may be a one-time thing. In their interest to preserve their profit, something I understand, they may make it too easy to lose what we think we bought. We think we bought e-books. No. We bought the right to download them and read with no guarantee they would stay on our computer or other device.

    Now I only feel safe in buying low cost e-books. This makes it much harder for me to read, once again. If Amazon can't reload lost libraries, I've lost money. More important, I've lost freedom.

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Reine, that is scary and outrageous that a book you've paid 9.99 for could simply vanish. (I'm perfectly capable of losing my own books).You're right, it does make me even more reluctant to pay the higher prices for e books.

  16. Must Read Mysteries

    Thanks for the mention! It is going to be interesting seeing how the changes play out. Amazon is very late with their reports for the first day of March, so everything is still up in the air.

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Must Read Mysteries, hello! A LOT of us out here really appreciate your being so up front about all this (and your fabulous service, before the shakeup.) Wishing you all luck with the transition.

  18. PD Martin

    Hi Alex. Interesting these results…the last free promo I did had a couple of thousand downloads and my book was back to its starting position in terms of rank within 24 hours. So definitely not successful!

    Maybe the group giveaways are the answer. Perhaps we should do a Murderati one! Past and present Murderati 🙂

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