"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo
Let's Take the Survey One Step Further
A Question about a New Book -- or Two
My Favorite March Column
Scammers and Trolls Are Alive and Well Today

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Promotions

Good Idea Gone Awry: Audio Books



Ugh! I've tried this one, too, and it's a spectacular failure.  I chose to try out this format on my best-selling book, Beyond All Price. My choice of a production company was ACX, the Amazon affiliate, because they handle the contracts between author and narrator and do all the final formatting. I got to audition several possible readers and selected a talented and experienced woman who seemed to be a perfect fit. And she agreed to do the job on the basis of a 50/50 royalty split. If I had had to pay her on an hourly basis, the cost would have run into several thousand dollars. The project stretched out for over nine months because the narrator had other paying gigs and concerts (she was also a professional singer) that took up her time. The whole thing was easy for me.  All I had to do was listen to the tapes at the end to make sure there were no obvious errors, and I think we ended up with a great product.

However, it simply has not sold. My readers are not the kind of folks who listen to audio books, apparently.  They don't drive cross-country, or go to the gym or do other mindless things that would give then the time to listen. If they travel by car, they also have a spouse and children who aren't interested in historical biographies. (Beyond All Price runs for over 13 hours.)

ACX sent the narrator and me 75 code numbers apiece; those numbers could be exchanged for free copies. The idea was to distribute them to our friends so they would write reviews for the website. I soon learned that I couldn't give the audio versions away, even by running contests and stuff.  I still have over 50 left.  My narrator had the same problem. And then we realized that we would receive no royalties on those give-away copies.  So we were exhausting our small readership by giving the product away.  The result after six months of publication? There are exactly 16 copies in circulation, and the narrator and I have each received payments of approximately $50.00 total.  I feel really bad for the narrator because she did all that work for free. At least I only spent a few hours on the project. But I'll never do another one. 

Maybe it's a great idea and I just did a lousy job of marketing. Maybe I don't really believe in audio books (I've never purchased or listened to one), and if you don't believe in something, you can't sell it. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy who's stuck in a rut, but I've gone back to writing the next book, where I know what I'm doing. 

Good Idea Gone Awry: Pre-Orders



Recently Amazon and other e-book retailers made it possible for independent publishers (like me) to take pre-orders for a new book, just as they do for traditional publishers.   The hope is that there will be enough pre-orders to kick-start the book's climb through the rankings. How does that work?  Retailers accept the orders but do not charge them or record them as purchases until all those pre-orders are entered in one batch on launch day.

I tried this for my first historical novel, Damned Yankee, which launched on May 1, 2014. Again I was not impressed with the outcome. Yes,  a few of my faithful readers dutifully pre-ordered their copies because I asked them to do so. I had the book on pre-order for a solid month, and there were only seven pre-orders on Kindle, and none on Apple or Nook as far as I can tell. 

My readers really didn't like doing pre-orders, and several told me so. Truth be told, there was not a single advantage to be gained by making a purchase early. Unlike a product whose supply might run out before you could get to the store, e-books never run out. So the pre-orders did not cause any sort of wild mob of lined-up buyers at the time. On the morning the set went live on Kindle, the seven pre-orders all came in at once, and they had absolutely no impact on the book's ranking. A couple of months later, the book took off well on its own and sold hundreds of copies a month for the rest of the year. The pre-order option turned out to be another waste of my time. Would I bother doing it again? Probably not.



Good Idea Gone Awry: Boxed Sets

In 2014, Amazon and the other e-book retailers began encouraging the publication of boxed sets. Two varieties were available--single or multiple authors. An author might choose to gather together several older books in a series.  Or a group of authors could get together and combine one book apiece on a single theme.  The retailers promoted this idea as a way to bring new life into an older book or to tap into new communities of readers. One group of mystery writers tried producing an anthology of short books from a variety of authors. Because each author pitched to a different set of readers, writers were reaching readers who might never have heard of them otherwise.
 In my case, I decided to box together the first four books of my series on "The Civil War in South Carolina's Low Country."  There were production problems from the beginning.  The formatting isn't too difficult, but it's tedious because you need to remove some markups in the originals and then replace them.  My old brain really didn't want to mess with it, so I hired someone to reformat the four books, combine them into one file and hyperlink all the chapters. My cover designer worked hard to come up with an image that included all four titles. And just when we thought we had the perfect 3-D portrait of a boxed set, Apple iBooks changed their requirements to outlaw all 3-D images, and the other retailers fell into line. Another delay followed while the designer came up with a completely different cover.

Once again, the major selling point was that the combined set carried a price that was considerably lower than the original cost of buying all the individual volumes. But in spite of the bargain price, my readers shunned the idea. I watched the sales figures and witnessed people bypassing the boxed set in order to order all four of the books as separate files.  I thought I was promoting the set heavily, but people kept right on ordering single copies of those four books at their regular price.  For example, I sold eight copies of "A Scratch with the Rebels" during the week before the boxed set went live.

What went wrong? In some cases, I learned, the boxed files were too big to be downloaded unless the purchaser had access to high-speed internet services. Others found the 1300-page file confusing and too easy to get lost in.  A boxed set seemed like a good idea, except for the reality that nobody wanted one.

Good Idea Gone Awry: The Countdown Deal

 
One of the characteristics of e-book publication in 2014 was the appearance of new marketing tricks. For example, KDP Select now offers an option to do a "Countdown" sale. In this promotion, your book starts out at a low price of $0.99 and then the price gradually increases until it reaches the book's list price. Amazon promotes these countdowns heavily, but I fail to see the point. If customers won't buy the book for 99 cents, why would they be more likely to by it when the price increases by one dollar, and then by two dollars?

Still, I was willing to give it a try. I listed a countdown for a book that had been out for two years and had sold regularly although in small quantities. I was encouraged to help the countdown along by posting frequent reminders that "there are only x-number of hours left before the price goes up." How annoying is that -- not just for readers and potential customers, but also for the author who has to keep track of the hours and post the warnings?

There was not a single sale during the countdown promotion. I received no feedback on why readers did not purchase the book at a lower price, but the message was clear. Potential customers were simply ignoring it. The countdown did not produce any sense of urgency. They knew the book would still be around if they needed it, because E-books never die. Readers who needed this particular "how-to" book were willing to buy it at regular price; those who didn't need it were not swayed by the promise of a bargain that was due to expire "in just one hour!"

Sorry, Amazon. I rate this promotion as a huge miscalculation.