In celebration of my son and my upcoming birthdays (we’re two days apart), and to celebrate the April 6th launch of Eddy’s Treasure which we wrote together, I am making my other titles e-books either free or super-cheap ($0.99) over the next couple of weeks.
Earlier this year, I was very excited to achieve a goal I set myself when launching Incite Insight— my first real novel.* The goal was to sell a thousand copies and I did it! I’d been laughed at when I told people this was my goal when launching it. But those people must not have realised how stubborn I am. 😊
Importantly, I never set a time-frame in which to achieve the goal. 1000 copies in my first month? Totally unrealistic. But, 1000 copies in less than four years, it seems, was achievable.
So how many have I really sold? Well at the time of writing: 1005** (this excludes a further 55 e-book review copies given away via an online e-book mailing list).
The 1005 copies are made up of:
218 Paperbacks (including 8 by distributor, 11 in libraries)
38 e-books (full-price)
105 Kindle Unlimited
644 Promo e-book sales (at 99c/99p).
Most authors will say their sales are usually 80% paperback and 20% e-book. Mine are reversed since I’ve focused on selling e-books, since they are very easy to market. I’ve paid to promote my book when it’s discounted (on a Kindle Countdown deal) and used pretty much all the major mailing-list based promotional services that are out there. My favourite ones (in no particular order) are: Book Gorilla, Bargain Booksy, Book Barbarian, Fussy Librarian, Robin Reads and FKBT.
Other promotional things I’ve done: presented at sci-fi conventions and libraries, been interviewed on the radio and online, had a book launch and used social media. I’ve also done some pretty unconventional marketing at times.
The most effective thing has been to simply tell people I’d written a book. To not be shy about admitting it, and then following up if someone showed interest. The goal, in this regard, is to be tolerably persistent to get the sale. This is often the hardest thing for authors, who, it seems, aren’t big on self-promotion. You don’t want to pester too much (ie. become intolerable), as this will cause you to lose a sale (and potential sales of your next book), so learning to recognise when someone is just being polite vs showing a genuine interest is a skill authors need to learn. Unfortunately, some people are very good a making politeness seem like genuine interest. If you haven’t converted someone’s interest into a sale after three attempts, then it isn’t going to happen, and any further attempts will get you into intolerable territory.
If I count the free e-books I’ve given away (ie. review copies and via a free promotion on Amazon), there are about 2700 copies of Incite Insight out there. I know many authors who’d scoff at such numbers and say they’d sell that many in a month, but I’m still excited by what my book has achieved and that’s what’s important.
I’ve published two books since Incite Insight, but never felt the need to set a sales target for them, so, we’ll have to see how they go. While I’d love for them to reach the same sales target, I’m kind of content with what I’ve already achieved. I’ll still chase every sale and keep writing, but will try to ration my promotional budget a bit more as my cost of acquiring readers has far exceeded my return on investment.
*I’d self-published The Conversationist before this, but that book barely had a plot and was a more a series of musings between characters and, thankfully only 98 copies of that exist (and only 32 in print).
** For the purposes of this statistic I’m counting the 79 hardcopies I’ve given away to people since I usually managed to get at least a coffee out of them. When I ran a free promotion over 1600 people got a free e-book copy of the book but I’m not counting those as sales.
Image from an early promotion
When I published Incite Insight roughly three and a half years ago, I said I wanted to sell a thousand copies. I was laughed at, more than once, right to my face. I was naïve about what it took to sell books, especially at that quantity, but that number wasn’t randomly chosen.
I wanted people to read the book, and thought that, with some luck, I could sell 200 paperbacks and 800 e-books. The e-book number came from what Bookbub indicated they’d be likely to sell if I landed a promotion with them, which I, once again naively, thought I could. I’ve applied to them a couple of times, without success. I also thought that since I had a distributor on board through Tale Pubishing, sales would just happen.
So that meant using e-book promotion sites (which use email lists & social media to promote your book to readers), and I’ve used many of them with variable success. By stacking several promotional services together, in conjunction with a discount on the book to 99c, I’ve had campaigns sell between 37 and 92 books. My previous campaign (in Dec/Jan) sold 77 copies and I was sure that with the number of services I had stacked for a promotion last week, I’d reach the 55 sales I needed to break the 1000 barrier. I spent a lot more money than usual, and was hoping I’d not only break the 1000 mark, but maybe have my most successful promotion yet.
Unfortunately, after the sale finished on Friday, I was left on 999 sales (and with a couple of promotion services crossed off my recommended list).
I made an appeal on the final day of the promotion to my social media followers to buy the book while it was discounted, and be my thousandth sale. In exchange, I’d promote them in my blog (the version of this post I was intending to write).
Sunday was my birthday. Maybe someone would buy a copy?
This morning I did my usual check and saw I’d made a new sale overnight (actually on my birthday. I’m Australian, so it whilst it was the 8th here, it was still the 7th in the US where the sale occurred). My thousandth sale. Goal achieved.
For what it’s worth that’s made up of 207 paperbacks and the rest as e-books; pretty much what I’d envisioned when I launched the book.
I’ll give a breakdown of sales/channels in a future post. I’ve also given away over 1600 e-books of Incite Insight during a ‘free’ promo. I know many authors would scoff at those numbers, but, to me, the thought that there are over two and a half thousand copies ‘out there’ is very satisfying.
Mug Punter has past 50 sales too. This was an experimental/promotional book (only 46 pages), and 50 was my target for it. Nearly all of those are paperbacks rather e-books, which shows the intent behind it was reasonable.
I also recently sold my 250th copy of Movemind. I’ve never set a sales goal for that title, but I’m really happy with that number. It’s also had nearly 700 free e-books given away too. So soon that will have a thousand copies in circulation.
In a ‘writers bucket list’ milestone, two people I’ve spoken to this year have said they’ve seen my books in their local bookshop and they were excited to make the connection between the books they’d seen and me. Still on my list is being recognised by a stranger as an author they’ve read (and, ideally, enjoyed). That will be quite a milestone.
This technique is the opposite of foot-in-door (see Compliance Techniques). Here you make an extreme request which you think will be turned down (ie door slammed in your face) and then a smaller request (the target). It is based on the idea of reciprocity. The reciprocity principle isn’t only for gift giving, it can also occur when you feel that someone has already compromised on what they wanted, and this compromise should be acknowledged with some behaviour. With door-in-face, people are more likely to accept the second request because they feel the person has already lowered their request/expectation to accommodate them and this puts the target person into their debt.*
A study which supports this was conducted by Cialdini in 1975. A control group was only given the target request which was to chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo; only 17% agreed. A second group was asked to sign up for two hours of voluntary (unpaid) work per week as counsellors for two years. Unsurprisingly, no one agreed. They were then asked if they’d chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo and 50% said they’d do it. That’s nearly a 300% increase for virtually no extra effort.
How you could use this as an author, might be to approach a bookshop to stock your books. You could ask them to take a firm sale of thirty copies of each of your titles. When that is refused then ask them to take two copies of one title on consignment. They are more likely to say yes and you achieve your goal of getting them to stock your books.
Deliberately underestimating a cost, price, rate etc or leaving out crucial information in order to get compliance. Essentially it means getting the commitment to do something before finding out information which may have altered your decision. Eg: Have you ever been asked: “Can you do me a favour?” without knowing what the favour is?
This is often used to sell things like cars. They advertise cars as being from a certain price, but then to get the better paint add $, extra safety add $, extra luxury add $, auto transmission add $ etc. Usually one or two of the add-ons will put you close to the model up in the range which for just a bit more gives you those extras you wanted and a whole lot more, so you might as well…
Like the other techniques discussed (see An odd way to increase and below) sales this has been demonstrated in research:
Cialdini et al (1974) asked if people would agree to participate in a study starting at 7 am. Only 24% agreed to take part. This was used as a basis for comparison for the second group who were asked to participate in a psychology study, but not told the time. This time 56% agreed to take part. When they were then told it was at 7am and they could back out if they wished none did. What is particularly interesting (and shows the power of the compliance technique) is that on the day, nearly all (95%) of those who’d agreed to participate turned up to participate.
For authors using this technique can be as simple as asking someone to buy a copy of your book at a cheap price, for example $5, when they say yes, then add that is how much the second copy is (ie once you’ve paid full price for the first). Alternatively, get the commitment for $5 and say well to get it for $5 all you need to do is buy this other book for $20.
* I’ve experience this first hand when looking for someone to restore the roof of my home. They started by quoting a price which was nearly three times the two quotes we’d already received (thankfully). When we baulked at the price, they then ‘graciously’ brought the price down by ten percent. After a few such price drops (including the obligatory call to a manager for approval, getting us to agree to put a sign up advertising them for one month) they brought the price down about 35% of their original price. We politely said we were not willing to pay that much and the person left (after repeating each price drop he’d made directly implying we owed him for being so considerate). The following week we had a call from their head office offering an even further discount if we agreed to keep their sign for an additional two months and paid a deposit over the phone then and there. This absolutely final, best offer price was still a lot more than the other prices we’d been quoted ($6k vs $4 and $3.5), so we said no. I couldn’t help but think how many people would jump at that offer though, especially if you hadn’t got more than one quote.
Another time, a tree removal place tried the same tactic with me. I laughed as I knew what they were doing, and took over the negotiation by offering a really low price, which was refused, then slowly raised my offer. When they mentioned how much they’d come down in price, I mentioned how much I’d come up. The poor person was terribly confused. They were a laborer and not a salesperson and probably had been told offer price x then price y, but without really understanding sales technique. Eventually we agreed on a price we were both happy with.
My previous post Odd ways to increase your sales seems to have interested a lot of people, so I thought I’d discuss a few more techniques to increase sales. Before I begin discussing compliance techniques, I should point out that they will neither guarantee you a sale, nor convert a firm “no” into a sale. All they do is make it easier for someone who has not made up their mind to make up their mind in your favour. This is important as their commitment is still their choice and you are not forcing them into it (Freedman and Fraser refer to it as compliance without pressure). As someone trying to get a sale, you need to always respect this, and if someone says no accept that as their decision. These techniques are distinct from those involving obedience, where there is an authority or power imbalance, and conformity where there is no direct request to do something.
This is where you make a small request which is likely to be agreed to and then a larger request which is what you actually want to achieve. Agreement to the initial (small) request makes people more likely to agree to the (larger) target request than would have been the case if the latter had been presented on its own.
I joke that my wife is the master of this technique – she claims it’s always unintentional, but I’m not so sure. For example, she’ll ask me to put her coffee mug in the dishwasher, then after I’ve agreed, tell me I’ll need to empty it first and might want to also load all the other dishes from the sink. And yes, despite knowing how I’ve been goaded into it, I still do all the tasks.
Some research studies which support the effectiveness of this include Freedman and Fraser (1966) who canvassed a residential neighbourhood in Palo Alto, California where they asked women to complete a brief survey about the range of household products that they used.
After a period of three days these same women (the experimental group) were asked if they would allow a team of researchers to catalogue the types of household products they had in the house for a 2 hour period. In this instance 55% of the women said yes compared to 22% in a control group who only received the target request.
In a separate study Freedman and Fraser asked some people to sign a petition or to place a small sign in the front window of their homes for “Keep California Beautiful” or for a safe driving campaign. Most participants agreed to this initial request. The residences that were bypassed during this process became the control group.
Different researchers returned to the neighbourhood two weeks later and approached all of the households and asked to put a large safe driving campaign sign in their front yard. Those who complied with the initial request had a compliance rate of 54% for the larger request, in comparison to the control group whose compliance level was 16%. Think about that. They obtained a 337% increase in people displaying what was termed “an ugly billboard” in their front yard just by asking them to put a small sticker or sign a petition first.
As an author you could use this by having a cheap promotional item which you get people to purchase and then ask them to buy something bigger from you. I’m experimenting with using Mug Punter like this – it’s only 48 pages long and cheap to produce, but if someone has bought that from me, then I can follow up with asking them to buy my full-length books.
Two other compliance techniques are Door-in-Face and Low-balling. They are discussed in my next blog post compliance techniques part 2.
Everyone knows the traditional places to sell books – ie bookshops or online retailers, and selling them yourself at markets, author talks and amongst your friends. These work and work well, but there are other places you can make handfuls of sales, which add up over time.
Small independent shops with high volumes of ‘foot traffic’ are the key. Chain stores tend to have regulations about what they can and cannot stock, which is why independent stores are the ones to target.
Your local chemist or milk bar are good examples of such places. A diverse mix of people shop there, they already have the intent to purchase something when they walk in and can more easily be persuaded to add to that purchase. Your display of your book won’t clash with their other products (and hence, will actually stand out) and selling in such places implies the book is from a local author, so by mere location, you’re making an appeal to the community mindedness of people to purchase your book.
One of the oddest places I was able to set up a display was in a hair salon. They sold 3 books in two months. This may not seem like many copies, but if you have several such shops selling for you it adds up (and this was one more than the local bookshop too!) Importantly, these are readers you wouldn’t reach through other means and gaining new readers is crucial for authors.
All it takes is to create a simple display such as the image above and below and the courage to ask your local shops to help an aspiring writer out. I bought a few desk organisers and repurposed them to sell books. On the back of each is my phone number so the shop owner can tell me when they’ve had enough of the display or to order more books. Remember if a shop does agree to help you out be grateful and courteous, you might need them again for your next book.
For ways to increase your chances of converting an interested person to a sale see my blog post on Odd ways to increase your sales.
How can you increase the chances of making a sale?Offering a free bookmark or sample chapter is one way to improve your chances of getting someone to buy your book. This works for a simple reason, the law of reciprocity, which is well-known to marketers – the gift of the bookmark (if they take one) nominally puts the person into your debt and this produces a discomfort in the person which they can resolve by buying your book.
Evidence for the strategy comes from several studies. Here are two:
1. Disabled American Veterans organisation reports that its simple mail appeal for donations produces a response rate of approximately 18%. But when the mailing also includes an unsolicited gift e.g. Personalised labels, the success rate nearly doubles to 35%. (Smolowe, 1990).
2. Researchers Berry and Kanouse (1987) found that they could increase the likelihood that doctors would complete and return a long questionnaire they received by mail by paying them first. When a cheque for $20 was included 78% of doctors returned the survey, in comparison to 66% doctors when they were paid after completion. Unfortunately, there was no comparison to a group which was not paid at all. Interestingly, 95% of doctors who complied cashed their cheque, whereas only 26% who did not comply cashed the cheque (ie took the free money), which further demonstrates the reciprocity norm.
So giving something away does not guarantee you a sale, but significantly increases your chances of making one. For some different places to sell books, see my post Odd places to sell books.
Networking is an important skill for an author to utilise and (for the purposes of this post) distinct from social media networking. Networking is hard simply because it’s purpose is to achieve more than just “getting your name out there.” It’s about building relationships and that takes a lot more effort than social media posts. It means going to events in the real world with people who may be unpleasant to you to your face. For the record though, the authors, publishers, producers and editors I’ve met have all been friendly and nice people. Some have been shy, some have barely let me say a word, but they’ve all been positive. Even when a rather gruff movie producer rejected my pitch, the subtext was still “not that idea, what else have you got?” rather than “you’re not worthy.” And here’s the key – all the people you need to support you as an author also have something to gain from your success, so in general, they want you to succeed.*
You also need to have something to give people you meet so they have your email, phone number and website/social media details. This can be a business card or bookmark or flyer. I was slow off the mark with this. It was only when I was talking to an author for advice to calm my nerves about pitching to movie producers at the Melbourne International Film Festival that I realised I needed one. He was walking me through the likely scenario of what it would be like, including the crucial detail that most meetings would start with an exchange of business cards. I didn’t tell him that at that point in time, I didn’t have a business card. I just hurriedly designed one when I got home and had them printed in time for the event. It was life-saving advice, as I was prepared for the day. Again this network connection was invaluable to make sure I didn’t appear as out-of-my-depth as I felt. Since then I’ve kept a few cards in my wallet and been pleasantly surprised by how frequently I’ve given them out and how useful they’ve been.
In a nutshell here’s the crucial advice I received; Hand out those business cards and collect as many as you can. Follow up with people. If someone shows interest or may be a useful connection in the future send them an email – “Thanks for talking to me at Event X, please contact me if there’s anything you’d like to discuss further…” (or similar). It doesn’t have to be an essay. The crucial thing is to invite the contact to keep in touch and let them know you’re okay with them contacting you.
So how do you meet people from your industry to form relationships? Short version, get out and get active:
1. Join a writers group – you’ll meet a dozen or so people who will pretty much be obliged to buy your book when you publish, keep you inspired and meet people who can put you in touch with others who can help you.
2. Go to writers conferences such as (in Victoria) the Emerging Writers Festival, Small Press Network’s Annual Publishing Conference meet people and learn about the industry.
3. Look out for conferences where you can be a panelist and get on as many panels as you can. Not only will you be seen as being at the same level as your panelists by the audience, you’ll get the contact details of your panel members (so you can organise what you are going to discuss, who’ll chair the panel etc.). Send them an email after – “I had fun on the panel and enjoyed hearing your views. If you’d like to stay in touch you can email/call me on…”
4. Go to you local library/libraries and offer yourself for an author talk or to be involved in any events they might be hosting.
And the hardest:
5. Spend a day going from bookshop to bookshop and introduce yourself. Ask if they can stock your book and try to get their buyer’s contact details. This has been the hardest for me and often unsuccessful, but I’ve managed to get a few. It’s worth doing so when your next book comes out you can contact the person you need to directly and direct people to said bookshop to purchase the book. Being stocked by bricks and mortar bookshops carries a certain cachet which is appealing. Equally, the bookshop benefits as you’ll promote them to interested readers.
Putting yourself out there is hard for many writers, and can be confronting when someone says no, but even if it takes some rejections to make a new contact it’s worth it. After all, who knows, the next person you meet might be the one who buys a copy of your book or gives it some visibility (see a list of ten things networking can achieve). They may introduce you to the person who’ll publish your book or turn it into a movie. You won’t know unless you network.
*If a publisher rejects your novel, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, just that, that particular book wasn’t for them. If they give feedback on editing or story – listen to it, but don’t give up. A friend of mine just signed a publishing contract with a publisher in the UK (she’s Australian), after been rejected many times. Her persistence was the key to her success. An expression I like is that you need to be “tolerably persistent.”
The following is a list of things I’ve seen authors achieve through their own interpersonal network. (nb: excludes social media which is why i’m not using the phrase social network).
- Get 5 offers from publishers to read a book that was still being drafted.
- Get an invitation to speak to a school group.
- Get a spot talking at a bookshop to their bookclub.
- Get their books into libraries.
- Meet the editor who made their work great.
- Get a publishing contract with a one of the bigger Small Press.
- Get someone to sell their books on their behalf at various markets.
- Meet a great cover designer.
- Meet more famous authors and gain endorsements from them.
- Make new friends.
See my post on how to network for how you can achieve some of these benefits.