Everything Takes Time, Not Everything Takes Money

Posted on 6 September, 2012

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First off, Dragon*Con was a tremendous amount of fun. I got to do some good networking and exchanged cards with some other indie and self-published authors, both ebooks and print. I spent a very pleasant few minutes on Monday afternoon, when things had finally gotten slow, comparing notes on various publishing platforms with a couple of authors of supernatural and romance (and supernatural romance) stories. I also attended a panel on marketing in which a few authors were willing – shockingly, in my experience – to share what they did to market a book and why. They shot down a couple of ideas I’d had and tried to no avail and they had some suggestions that seemed very clever and had never occurred to me. Among the points discussed in that panel were:

  • Authors need to be on Goodreads, which I am but not in any meaningful way.
  • Everyone has to have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page and a Google+ page and a website and a blog.
  • Because everyone has Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and a site and a blog, having all those things doesn’t help anyone distinguish themselves.
  • Paper handouts – cards, fliers, postcards, whatever – are common and usually thrown away without being read.
  • Mementos and other memorabilia are a much better means of getting a potential reader interested and helping them remember you later.

I took a ton of little business cards with a QR code on them to Dragon*Con and the boyf and I were leaving them all over the appointed places for such things all weekend long. As of this post, I could at best argue five visits to this site are the result of those. Those five visits are five I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise and the effort involved is minimal but the waste and expense involved were pretty high in comparison. I never broke triple digits on business cards or anything crazy like that but it does put Perishables as a project further in the red. I do not note that as a complaint. I consider this whole thing a huge experiment – more accurately, a series of experiments – and I regard failure at any given task to be just as interesting a result as success! My point with this site is to document what does and doesn’t work for me so that other creators can have the chance to see what others have done as they try to get their own work out there and I am not protective or proprietary regarding any of my efforts or their outcomes. I want to get out there my process so that I can learn from others’ reactions and suggestions and so that maybe others can learn from me as well.

Other things I’ve done this month include a really enjoyable interview by steampunk writer Brooke Johnson. Brooke was really nice to talk to and of course I love any opportunity to talk about myself – obviouslyIt also had the distinct advantage of being completely free and driving some traffic to my site so, y’know, marketing win.

I was also the guest on an episode of John Rakestraw’s The Platform, a podcast about writing and editing and the marketing of books. We discussed pricing and my experience that price matters almost not at all, especially when compared to the power of personal recommendations. That also drove some traffic to the site and was free: another win! It was also a fun conversation and took basically zero effort.

That common business observation about the two – that they were free and drove traffic to this site – fits nicely with one of the things discussed in that Dragon*Con panel: marketing doesn’t have to be expensive and often the most successful marketing is free or cheap but also creative. The example discussed at the time were these freaky, funny pencil topper art things one of the writers makes while she’s watching TV and then gives away at conventions. Her experience was that people want to get a thing way more than they want to get yet another business card or handbill and that people are much more likely to remember her when they get home if they open their suitcase or their swag bag and find a little pencil topper doll staring back at them. She is absolutely 100% correct. I remember her – Kiernan Kelly – and the genre of books she writes, and I can’t say the same for anyone else on the panel. I remember these things because she gave me one of the pencil toppers. Weird, huh?

With that in mind, a couple of authors suggested I try to put together a table for ConCarolinas or something like it next year. I enjoy going to ConCarolinas for gaming content and they are certainly covered up in writers. However, the con space is tiny. Could I spend an entire weekend sitting in a hallway promoting my book and, by then, its two sequels? Who am I kidding: I totally could. It would be hella awkward to sit there and tell people to buy my ebook online, however, so I’m currently looking into cheap options for small print runs of paper versions. If I took some of those as a “limited first printing” that could hold some real appeal. I could even satisfy the lifelong fantasy of having someone ask me to sign a book I’ve written. Why not, right? Author tables are insanely cheap. For that matter, vendor spaces are insanely cheap and would be a lot less hectic. It’s certainly worth considering.

Another possibility would be going to the GLBT-themed OutlantaCon next year. Dealer tables are likewise insanely cheap and include electricity and wireless access. The con also sounds like a load of fun and I’ve wanted to go for years. They’re both seriously worth considering. If they’re places I’m going to be anyway, why not go and sell a few books?

That raises the point of having mementos or memorabilia to give out, however. I’m working on a potential source for some sort of magnets or charms to give out but I am very interested to hear what others think. If an author were offering some sort of tchotchke to hand out, would you take it? What would interest you? Feel free to drop me a line or comment and make fun of all of this. I’ve succeeded in the goal of this project. From here on out, everything is icing on the cake. There is no failure left to fear.

In other free-and-enjoyable marketing efforts, I just submitted the first draft of a guest column for opensource.com, the site which picked Perishables as one of their summer reads for 2012. In it I discuss how essentially open-sourcing the publication and marketing process, at least insofar as being totally open about what works and what doesn’t, is a lot like overcoming the initial fear of trying to publish in the first place and not wholly unlike the choice to open-source a software project or anything else. It’s all about overcoming the fear of people mocking one’s work and one’s efforts to promote one’s work. I now consider overcoming that fear to be job number one and I’m going after it.

Finally, the banner ad promotion is over and it was, financially speaking, kind of a disaster. It cost a lot to buy that ad and it generated at most 15 or 20 sales (an ongoing challenge is figuring out exactly what led to a given sale; at best I can approximate based on date ranges). The whole thing only generated about a hundred click-throughs to my site, which may be the result of my banner ad being terrible or may be the result of the site not being a great match for a novel or for my novel or something. That said, I am assured that a purchase rate of 15-20% on what click-throughs I did receive is pretty spectacular, so the problem here may simply be that banner ads are an expensive way to generate lots of notice but little interest. If I’d linked it to the Amazon page instead of this site it might have generated more total sales but in my ongoing obsession with giving people lots of purchase options I would have felt those sales were less informed and any sales made to owners of nooks or Sony ereaders or the like would have been turned off anyway so maybe it’s a wash.

The lesson I’m choosing to take from it is that traditional marketing is a poor match for nontraditional publishing. If I’m going to generate interest and sales on the cheap then I’m going to have to get creative about it. As I say, suggestions are most welcome. In the meantime I have a few things cooking of my own.