I’m not going to talk about my first published novel, let alone the first one I wrote. Not that it’s a matter of the less said the better, but I don’t want to keep you up all night. So we’ll just go as far back as One Green Bottle, released last September.
Sales have been minimal. I hesitate to say disappointing, because one positive point, at least, is that I had no expectations. So I’m not plunged into a slough of despair. Objectively, though, there’ll be little point in continuing if the second book doesn’t do better.
Is it down to the book itself? There’s always that doubt – did I write a dud? But I’ve had enough feedback now to be fairly confident I didn’t. The book’s OK, it’s readable. People – if they knew about it – might enjoy it. Obviously, though, what I have written is a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.
So where now? How am I preparing for the release of Perfume Island, scheduled for September? What are the steps to follow?
Reviews. Here on this site, Atthys Gage suggests a first step is to get a minimum of 15 to 20 advance reviews that will appear on or near the date of the book launch. After a year of blogging, I’ve built up enough of a following to make that number realistic. It’s been pointed out to me that reviews are of little value, since they only get seen by people who are already on your Amazon page. Very true – in the process leading from awareness of product to purchase of product, reviews are close to the purchase end. Nonetheless, it’s better to have them than not. If someone goes to your page and finds zero reviews, it’s not a great incentive to buy (even if many people say they don’t read the reviews, there are still plenty who do).
But the question remains: how to build the awareness that will drive people to Amazon in the first place? I read again and again that the main tool here is the mailing list. Get enough people to sign up to your newsletter and you can send them emails to inform them of new releases, giveaways and any other snippets that might be of interest. Even if only half of your subscribers open the newsletter, and out of those that do, one in 10 buys your book, that’s 50 purchases for every 1000 subscribers.
I haven’t been good with newsletters. I started one, dropped it, left a long gap and started a second one recently. Furthermore, I’ve been in a dither about what to put in it. Giveaways? Contests? Updates on the WIP? Pictures of the cat? I’ve subscribed to several myself and you find all of that (including the cat). In the end I settled for giveaway contests and a couple of serialised stories. Which is probably overcomplicating things – advice I’ve read since is to keep it simple. Inform of an upcoming release, a special offer maybe, and that’s it.
Everyone agrees you have to offer an incentive – people only sign up if they get something from it. So far I have 19 subscribers. Hmm… Perhaps my giveaways don’t give enough. I did think of offering a Lamborghini but decided against it in the end. Because the problem with giving away anything other than your books is that you’re not gaining readers but freeloaders. And to give away a book, you need to have written at least two, because the point is to get people reading (and liking) the first so then they’ll buy the second. Which is why the release of Perfume Island will be not just a writing milestone for me but a marketing one as well.
It’s possible also that I focus too much on my blog. It’s good to have one, yes, but it’s time-consuming and the sort of organic growth it offers is slow. Unless you have a massive following, it’s not the best way to build your mailing list. If I rely solely on my blog, awareness of the existence of Perfume Island is going to be way too low for any substantial number of readers to find it. So what’s the alternative? Twitter? I could do more there, but I still have trouble getting my head round it, and in terms of raising awareness, it’s one of the least effective channels there is. Yes, it can be done, but it requires dedication, personal engagement and time – much the same effort, in fact, as I put into my blog.
So now, very cautiously, I’m investigating Facebook. Reluctantly too – I like Facebook about as much as I like stepping in dog poo. But at least now I’ve cleared the first hurdle, which was understanding the Facebook philosophy: why be user-friendly when you can be as maddening as a swarm of midges? Once you get that straight, it’s a matter of breathing deeply and staying calm. And now at last I have a Facebook page, as well as a profile. I only recently learned the difference: the page is where you tell people how great your book is, the profile is where you tell them what you had for breakfast. For the moment my page says I’m firstname.lastname@example.org. When I try to put my own name there, I’m told ‘You’re not eligible.’ Do they deign to explain why? Of course not. Courtesy isn’t part of their vocabulary. After much searching, though, I gather I need my page to be ‘liked’ before I can really call it my own. 25 times, if I’ve understood correctly. So now I’m in the ignominious position of begging people – that’s you, dear reader – to ‘like’ my Facebook page in order for me to truly virtually exist. When I get to 100 likes, I’ll start to levitate.
You might be wondering why I put myself through this ordeal. The answer is simple: ads. Now, I’m not saying I’m actually going to do them, but I’m setting out to explore them. Facebook ads, apparently, provide an effective way of raising awareness of your book among the sort of readers likely to like it. They also cost money, so you have to be very careful how you do it. GD has told us about, and warned us away from, Google ads. Facebook could well be the same, so I’m approaching this the way I walk through a forest full of zombies in the dead of night. But one thing is clear: if I don’t do something, Perfume Island will be released to barely more effect than One Green Bottle. A pebble dropped in the ocean. Because getting reviews is only a fraction of the task – now I have to get people to notice that the book actually exists.
I’m pretty sure, as Perry Palin says, that in the end it’s all personal, a matter of gaining readers one by one. But I’m ready to give the other approach a try. Maybe I’ll chicken out, or be driven so mad by Facebook I’ll have to be locked away. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you updated on progress. In the meantime, I humbly beg you to nip over to Facebook and adore my page.
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