Category Archives: Marketing

Awful But Effective

Zoe AdamsI keep reading accounts of authors trying to market books using all sorts of different promotional services, and the results are almost always described as “disappointing.” Marketing is tough, and as I’ve noted previously, it’s a lot easier to make money off authors than it is to make money by being an author. Promotions of whatever sort generally lose money and don’t even generate that much exposure.

Looking through the news lately, though, I came across something that appears to have worked. The trouble is that it’s not the kind of promotion that most of us want to go through. Kieran Bewick is a 17-year-old fantasy novelist with one ebook currently published. He made the news when, in a truly bizarre story that hit all the tabloids, he was stabbed during sex by his girlfriend Zoe Adams, who was dressed as a clown at the time (!). Adams was recently sentenced to eleven years in prison for the attack.

Adams shrugged off this evidence as a joke and claimed that she had no recollection of the stabbing. However, Judge James Adkin, dismissed her defense and said her “cruel and sadistic” actions were those of someone who deliberatly intended to cause harm, reported The Telegraph.

Adkin added that the attack was premeditated, citing the duct tape and knife that had been taken into her bedroom prior to the attack. “You had decided to cause serious harm to Mr Bewick during sex,” Adkin said. “I am sure that by that time you had already become disinhibited by drink and drugs and the more sadistic side of your personality had come to dominate.”

Bewick, an aspiring fantasy novelist, survived the attack but was left was life-threatening injuries, including a collapsed lung. In his victim impact statement, Bewick said he is going to be emotionally scarred for life and that the attack will further exacerbate his fear of clowns.

“I struggle with the knowledge that someone I genuinely cared about would do this to me. Just after I got out of hospital, this thought played on my mind a lot,” he said. “But having had time to think about it, I am convinced that she planned it. It wasn’t personal. She was going to do it to someone and it just happened to be me. Strangely, that makes it easier to deal with.

Checking the sales rank on Bewick’s book, I can confirm that with only one review and a two-star rating, it currently is outselling every single thing that I have ever published. Bewick lives in the UK, too, so he doesn’t have to offset his earnings against hospital bills. That alone would make the clown sex stabbing  approach less viable in the states, even though in terms of sales it seems to be working better than any commercial promotional service I’ve seen.

And I joke – sort of. To be clear, I’m not making fun of Bewick or his book, or this awful ordeal that he’s been through. My point is that this is one more piece of evidence that “going viral” is not a thing that happens due to simple word of mouth or individual people sharing posts. As I’ve mentioned here previously, according to a huge data set amassed by analysts at Yahoo!, the “viralness” of anything is directly proportional to the circulation of the largest media outlet that covers it. That’s the only metric that matters.

The upshot of this is that aside from massive publicity outlays that may finally produce a return on investment, but which no independent artist or writer can afford, outrage and incredulity are what make most popular artists popular. It has almost nothing to do with technical skill or quality of work. People telling you that you can become a bestselling author by focusing all your efforts on writing the best book you can? Flat-out wrong. Getting attention for your work is exponentially harder than doing the work in the first place, so if you really want to make even a meager living at writing that’s where you have to focus.

Because of the outrage and incredulity factors, the only shortcut is to be an awful person (to generate outrage) or, like Bewick, have something awful happen to you (to generate incredulity). And to be clear, the awfulness you need to cultivate is not just any awfulness. It has to be kind of mystifying and bizarre to anyone who reads it, a “man bites dog” kind of story, because that’s what will make major media outlets pick it up.

Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend? Boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex? A little less boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex while she’s wearing full clown attire? We have a winner, folks! It’s whole clown thing that really pushes the story over the top and makes larger outlets want to report on the story. And the resulting media coverage sells books. But the problem is that this is a pretty difficult thing to do on purpose.

I’m a practicing magician, so I probably could come up with some occult-related stunt that at least fundamentalists would find awful. At the same time, so few people care about the occult that I doubt I could push anything like that into clown makeup stabbing territory. I don’t really want to commit a crime or wind up in a hospital, so that limits my options. And I think if anybody is outraged by what I say on my magick blog, Augoeides, I would know about it by now.

So at the moment I’m still standing here at the drawing board, trying to brainstorm an approach that fits all my criteria and is as sensational and weird as a clown sex stabbing. I think I’m going to need a lot of luck to pull that off. Truth be told, I’m probably nowhere near masochistic enough or messed up enough or surrounded by messed up enough people to do it. That’s by design and it’s the life I want to be living, but clearly the drawback is that it limits my potential marketing appeal.

To wrap up, this all makes me weep for the future of our art, and if there’s a hill I’m willing to die on, this is it: writers should not have to subject themselves to clown sex stabbings – or their equivalent – in order to sell books. A world where that’s the norm is a dystopian nightmare, and we’re already closer to it than I think any of us would like.

How did we ever get here?

 

…And It’s Gone

BooksI took a look on Amazon today, and was surprised to see that the $713.52 copy of Arcana that I mentioned a little over a week ago is no longer posted. Was somebody really dumb enough to pay over seven hundred dollars for a copy when I normally sell them for under twenty bucks?

My guess is probably not. More likely, the seller came across my blog post and realized I was on to them. Like I said in the previous post, odds are they never had the book in the first place and were planning on ordering a copy at the under-twenty-dollar list price to ship to anybody willing to bite. Then, they could keeping the difference for themselves. I do know that Amazon is trying to crack down on that sort of “selling,” so if that’s what they were doing it would explain why they didn’t want the attention.

But it also occurs to me, on the chance the book actually sold, that maybe I should put up a listing to sell my own used copies for hundreds of dollars. It’s not like I don’t own a stack of them, and I could honestly pitch them as “signed first editions.” You know, because there’s only one edition and I’d just sign the book before shipping it out.

Shouting Trump Card

TrumpCard_Front_250wOne of the things I really did not understand about writing when I finally managed to get a book published back in 2009 is that writing the book is the easy part. Marketing the book is the real challenge. I recently read an interview with an author who was asked for tips on marketing books, and not one of their responses was even marginally useful. The recommendations were all basically “make the story as good as you can,” which doesn’t help you at all if you can’t get your book in front of people in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, whenever you write you do want to make the story as good as you possibly can. But aren’t we already working on this? Maybe the author interviewed was talking about a strategy that I’ve seen some ebook authors use of cranking out as many books as possible without much editing or revision on the grounds that it gives them that many more chances for readers to happen upon their work. I will grant, that strategy can produce some really bad writing, and when people do come upon it they are less likely to be captivated by it – even if the bad stuff does get popular sometimes.

But still, all of that is on the writing side. I’m convinced there has to be some sort of trick to cracking book marketing – some people seem to be good at it and others not so much. Part of it seems to be surprisingly old-school, as I wrote about awhile back – you need to get your book mentioned on the largest media platform possible for it to get traction. That’s old-school in that it’s less of a change to the market than a lot of people think. Twenty or thirty years ago publishers were the gatekeepers, and now it seems that media companies serve the same role.

Over the next couple of months I’m going to be experimenting with some of the book marketing services out there, and I’ll let you know what my results are. The first one I’m trying out is free promotion from Shout My Book. They have paid plans that are not that expensive, and if the free promotion gets results I’ll go ahead a likely do one of those as well. I just submitted Trump Card for promotion, and it should go out sometime in the next week.

Instead of linking directly to Amazon or any other retailer, I’ve retooled the links here and over on Augoeides to point to my book landing pages so I can analyze the traffic more easily. One of my first takeaways is that I get basically zero click-throughs on my fiction from my magick blog, even though it racks up something like twenty thousands hits a month. I do get some click-throughs on my non-fiction magick books, but it seems that Augoeides is totally the wrong market for fiction. That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to do more blogging about writing over here.

But I don’t really know if that’s the answer, either. This author site gets nowhere near the traffic that Augoeides does, and it has to become more popular before I get a good sense of all that. That’s another reason I used the landing page link for my Shout My Book submission rather than Amazon. Hopefully some of the folks who click on Trump Card – which, by the way, is just terrific, will find themselves on this site and like more of what they see.

So the whole point is to find out. If I keep getting a good sense of the traffic from my various promotional efforts, I can focus on keeping what works and not wasting my time on stuff that doesn’t. Not only that, I hope that by sharing those results I can help other authors understand the game of marketing better as I learn about it myself.