Marketing 201 – The Advanced Course

On the first Friday in March the Friends of the Library held a fundraiser in our little town. My wife is a member of the Friends, and I was brought along to set chairs.

Admission was five dollars. The food was free. The Friends sold wine and beer, and there was a live auction of some nice things. I hoped the Friends would raise enough to cover the appearance fee of the speaker, New York Times bestselling mystery author William Kent Krueger, who would be driving out from his home in the nearest large city an hour away.

We set about 75 chairs. A few minutes after the doors opened, we scoured meeting rooms and offices for more. Krueger arrived with the members of the Friends who had taken him to dinner, and he opened a suitcase and put out the trade paperbacks and hard cover books that he brought for sale. People approached him with copies of his books, and he graciously signed them. Then he moved through the crowd, engaging people in conversation for several minutes each. He insisted on paying for his own beer.

Then it was time for Krueger to speak. He took the microphone, smiled at the audience, and spoke very little about his books. He asked for applause for the Friends of the Library and urged listeners to join. He said he arrived early to drive the streets of the town, and voiced his positive impressions. He spoke about how the public library is the first thing to be cut in a municipal budget pinch, but that we need to support our libraries as the only repositories of our culture.

When Krueger spoke about his writing, he talked about the personal connections with people that helped him form his character Cork O’Connor, the Irish/Ojibwe protagonist in his series of 16 (and counting) mystery novels. He spoke about his appreciation for publishers and editors, and for bookstores and not-for-profits that had supported him in his work. He spoke about what compelled him to write his award winning stand alone novel “Ordinary Grace,” how he had been given a boatload of money for a sequel, and how after struggling with the story he tried to give the money back. Many of the people in the room had read some of his books. Very few had met him. He was warm, approachable, friendly, honest and open. By the end of his talk, everyone liked him.

The auction, the principal fundraising event, followed Krueger’s talk. He had donated two items to be auctioned off, and he bid on several items also. My wife won a very nice hand made afghan before she realized she was bidding against Krueger. There was one item in the auction that I really wanted, and I got it: my chance for literary immortality. With my winning bid, I will be the main character in a William Kent Krueger short story, to be submitted to and most assuredly published by a magazine of his choice. We exchanged email addresses, and I have provided him with plenty of information about me for the story.

After the auction Krueger went to his display of books and began signing copies. I don’t know how many he sold. He left with a lighter suitcase and a bag of money and checks.

The crowd slowly left and just a few of us were still there. Krueger asked about his appearance fee. He was handed the check, and then he tore it up for the promise that the Friends would apply the money to a specific library program.

I spoke to Krueger for only a few minutes. It was about marketing. He stressed with me what I had just witnessed, a personal outreach to and a genuine appreciation for those people who are willing to read what he has written. This approach has grown his readership, his wide circle of friends, and his career.

book promotion, book reviews

Ten Thousand Page-Reads. (Or K.U. For Dummies)

The title of is this post is possibly enigmatic to most, but to anyone who has a book or books signed up on Kindle Unlimited, the reference is clear.

What’s a page-read? What’s Kindle Unlimited?

Okay. For those who don’t know already: when you publish an eBook on Amazon, you have the option of signing it up with Kindle Unlimited. That means Kindle Unlimited subscribers—for a ten dollar monthly fee—can download and read your book for free, (as well as all the other eBooks signed up with Kindle Unlimited) and you, the author, receive a payment for each page read.

Yes, they can keep track. No, you probably don’t want to think too hard about that.

How much per page? Amazon sets a new rate every month, but then it also adds a certain amount from the Kindle Direct Publishing Select Global Fund (which—if I understand it correctly— is based on the total number of pages read of all KU books by all KU subscribers.) Bottom line? It varies slightly from month to month, but as a ballpark figure, I assume about 45% of a penny per page. And, KU is actually fairly generous in the way it counts page reads. My book Spark runs 345 pages in paperback. KU counts it as 408 pages. (For the record, a complete read of Spark on KU earns me about $1.80. Selling the ebook earns me about $2 in royalties.)

One important rule: if your ebook is signed up for Kindle Unlimited, it must be exclusive to Amazon. You cannot sell it on Kobo or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords or anywhere else. For many authors, this is a deal breaker. It’s also the reason why most actual publishers do not use it. They don’t want to cut off any potential sales avenues.

In practice, KU is made for independent publishers. And while exclusivity may be distasteful for some authors, most ebooks sold in the global marketplace are sold through Amazon. (I heard 70% somewhere, but don’t ask me to back that up.) Personally, I didn’t find it a difficult decision. I am happy to have my independent titles on KU.

Being signed up with KU also allows you to run promotions, including making the book free for up to five days out of every ninety. If you promote your giveaway, you can end up with thousands of downloads. Both times I’ve given Spark away, I’ve topped 3,000 downloads. This may not seem like anything to crow about, (and I’ll address that question further on). But let me just focus first on the immediate results of that kind of giveaway. Both times, it has resulted in a small sales spike after the giveaway. (Very small in real numbers. The first time I think I sold 12 copies, the second time only eight. But compared to my normal sales, which can include months of goose eggs, it’s a spike.)

In addition, giveaways get me page-reads on KU. Faced with a temporarily free ebook, some subscribers choose to download it through KU rather than downloading it for free. It makes no difference to them, I suppose. It’s free either way. But it makes a big difference for the author. During the month following my last giveaway, I topped 10,000 page-reads. This is roughly equivalent to 25 people reading my book all the way through. It also means I made about $45 in royalties.

Now just for a bracing dose of reality, I know most of the 3000 people who download my book onto their Kindle or their cell phone are NOT going to read it. A lot of those folks have hundreds of free books stored up on their devices, and they keep adding new ones, which probably only serves to bump the older books lower on the priority list (newer books are shinier books). The only reads that we can be sure of are the ones that come through KU and the ones that leave a review, or at least a rating, on Amazon or Goodreads.

My giveaways have generated a few reviews on Amazon and some ratings on Goodreads, but very few. Reviews are rare enough anyway, but I think they are even rarer for readers who download the books for free. I had a review of Flight of the Wren after my last giveaway of that book—a terrific review—that actually said:

“This is a great book! Usually I don’t write reviews for the free/cheap books I get from the various email groups because they are not usually worth reviewing.”

It’s just human nature, I guess. We tend to value things in direct relation to the price we pay for them, and we sometimes assume that free stuff is free because nobody would pay for it. So the whole giveaway thing is not an unqualified positive. Sure, I would prefer it if people were buying the books and lavishing me with reviews, but that ain’t happening. At least this way, there are people reading the books. Some of those people are going to like them and will maybe read the next one.

Some of them might even pay real money for the privilege. Crazy, I know, but it could happen.