book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

The power of a newsletter. I hope.

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How can we gain readers? Blogging is approximate, Facebook is fickle and tweets are lost like bubbles that burst as soon as they’re formed. Only one answer, then: a newsletter. Well, that’s what I’ve heard, time and again, from self-publishing marketing gurus, foremost among them Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson. Build your mailing list!  As Dawson puts it, my mailing list is a crucial – THE crucial – part of my business. It’s my most valuable asset. Because then you have email addresses so you’re sending out regular content to a (more or less) captive audience. So that’s what I’m doing. Last week, GD did me the honour of posting one of my letters, so the least I can do now is explain the mechanics behind it.

First you’ll need an email marketing service. I’m currently using Mailchimp, which has good functionality and is free up to 2000 subscribers. After that, it’s $30 a month, rising to $50 when you hit 3000. Not exactly cheap. As I’m getting close to 2000, I’ve started looking at alternatives. Among the best known is Mailerlite, which is free up to 1000, only rising to $35 a month when you reach 10,000 (by which time, if all goes to plan, you should be generating more than enough revenue to cover the cost). Here’s a more detailed comparison of the two. But they’re not the only ones: here’s a list of several more.

But readers don’t sign up to lists for no reason. In return for giving you their email address, they want something of value to them, such as a free book or a video course. Make your first book free, and if subscribers like it enough, they’ll buy the second, especially if it’s part of a series. Or so the reasoning goes. But with so many free books out there, for that to happen, you’re going to need a lot of subscribers.

Next you want somewhere readers will find you. A landing page on a blog is all very well, but unless you have a huge amount of traffic, the sign-up rate is so low it could take years to build your list to any decent size. Then there’s the call to action placed at the front and back of your permafree book on Amazon, including a reader magnet (e.g. Sign up to my newsletter to join my readers’ group to get another free book / short story / novella and be informed of new releases). Here again, the sign-up rate is tiny. The solution? Shared promotions and giveaways. Since I signed up to Mailchimp almost a year ago, I’ve participated in half a dozen. Results have varied, ranging from barely 20 subscribers to the current one (40 mystery novels), with over 700. Readers sign up to giveaways on one of the two main sites, Instafreebie or Bookfunnel. This video (20 min) explains how both of them work.

Finally, but of course not least, you need content. This is the hardest part – an insipid or uninformative newsletter will lose subscribers fast. But if it’s helpful, fun to read, or offers something of value (more giveaways, a free story), they’ll stay. All of them? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But with each letter you send out, you can expect a hefty batch of unsubscribes. How many depends on the number of subscribers you have, so it’s best to talk percentages: in my experience, anything from 2% to 8%. Which is fine – lots of people sign up just for the freebies, so they’re unlikely to become your fans in any case.

Those are the ingredients then. What about the stats? How good a strategy is it? And what’s the best measure in any case? The most rewarding (financially) is the number of sales of a second book after readers have downloaded the first. If I include the sales of book two (Perfume Island) at the time of its launch, my conversion rate is 2.3%. Excluding the launch, it’s less than 1%. There are other measures, like the open rate of the newsletter (35% – 40% for mine) or the number of reviews on Amazon (Mark Dawson puts forward a figure of 1 per every 1000 downloads), but the bottom line, of course, is sales.

Am I downhearted? No. Nor even surprised, now that I know what the nature of the game is. For me, it’s way too early to draw conclusions. I’ve only got two books out, and there’s a lot I’ve still got to learn. My expectation is that until I reach at least 5000 subscribers, release a couple more books (and probably start spending on advertising), there won’t be any significant result. But so far this is the only strategy I’ve come across. It’s no doubt getting harder as time goes by, and it requires endless patience and perseverance, but there are plenty of authors who’ve used it satisfactorily. So sometime you can expect another post from me, triumphantly announcing I’m one of them. Maybe. In the meantime, you can always sign up to my newsletter.

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book promotion, book reviews, publishing

Strategy update

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I’ve been busy. Still am, but starting to see the end of the tunnel as regards my marketing strategy. The first tunnel anyway – there are lots more to come. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Using Draft2Digital, I’ve made One Green Bottle free on Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was up there already but shifting no copies, so it’s not much of a change. Now I need to write to Amazon to ask them to match that price, i.e. have it permafree. They’re under no obligation to do that, so I don’t know how they’ll respond. But they’re well aware that many authors do this as part of their marketing.

I’ve written Making a Murder, six essays about the writing of One Green Bottle, which I’m offering free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. The offer is at the front and back of One Green Bottle, so anyone downloading it has an incentive to sign up and I get their email address, which obviously I can’t get directly from Amazon. I don’t know if Making a Murder will appeal – it’s not fiction, and the essays are humorous, so it’s a gamble. It would probably be better to stay in the same genre, which is what I intended, but my novella, which was to serve that purpose, needs more work.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my mailing list. I had around 700 subscribers after doing a joint promotion and a giveaway (many more from the first than the second) and I then sent different messages according to whether they opened my first email or not. I offered Perfume Island free, prior to its release in November, and removed over 200 subscribers who didn’t open that email. Of those that did, 112 signed up to receive the book.

That’s a lot of giving away of two books that have taken me five years to complete. Not so long ago I’d have thrown up my arms in horror at the very idea. Now? I’m quite relaxed – 112 reading the sequel is 3 or 4 times more than read the first. Not all will like it and of those that do, only a few will write reviews, but I’m still at a stage when I need to reach out to those few.

The worst part of all this work? Converting Making a Murder to epub and mobi formats, which I have to do if I’m sending it out myself. Converting a text is fine – Calibre handles that easily. But getting a text with pictures just right is a challenge. Or a nightmare, depending on your mood.

From time to time, I step out of my marketing bubble and see that the world continues to turn and hurricanes to blow. I’m working on a third book in the series, which I hope to bring out before the Apocalypse.

 

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book promotion

Giveaway Gamble

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I’m running a giveaway. I never thought I would, so I’m rather surprised. But I’ve reached a point in my writing where I want to put it to the test. Which means I’m going to pay to build a mailing list in the hope that enough people will like what they read to make it worth my while. Eventually.

Here’s the deal. I’m giving away 12 paperbacks in a raffle. To enter, you simply need to give me your email address. Then you’ll be on my mailing list, from which you can of course unsubscribe at any moment. The winner gets the grand prize but all entrants get a free ebook of One Green Bottle. In a forthcoming newsletter, I’ll be announcing the release of the sequel, Perfume Island, in September. So then I’ll see how many people liked the first book enough to want the second.

I could do this without the giveaway, via my blog. But after a couple of years, my mailing list stands at 67, which means it’ll get to a thousand around the time of my 112th birthday. Blogging is good for all sorts of things but not for getting readers.

The giveaway will be up soon on giveawaypromote.com. That costs me just $5 (or $10 for a featured promotion). If I don’t do that, only my blog readers would find it, which kind of defeats the purpose. So if I get n people signing up, it’ll be money well spent . How big is n? Some giveaways draw more than 1000 entrants, but I’m not getting my hopes up – let’s say 300. I’d be quite happy with that. Less than 200? Mweh. The cost of the prize plus postage will be around $200: given that some of the entrants will (a) unsubscribe from the newsletter, (b) either not read or not like One Green Bottle, (c) read and enjoy it but not go on to Perfume Island, there needs to be a large number of entrants for this gamble to come off.

The raffle winner will be chosen by an online random name picker, into which I’ll feed the names of the entrants myself. There are services which can do this for you, along with a host of other frills. The best, apparently, is KingSumo, which costs $200 (one-off payment – it’s yours then for life), but it only works on wordpress.org sites, not wordpress.com. The other main two are Rafflecopter and Gleam. There are free versions to both of these, but if you want them to collect emails (which after all is the point of the whole exercise), they cost respectively $43 and $39 a month. You can run your giveaway for just a month, then downgrade again to free, but still it’s another expense, so for this first bash I’m not using them. Maybe next time – if there ever is one. This time I’ll get the emails by having entrants sign up on a landing page.

So that’s the background. I’ll report back on results when the giveaway ends. Meanwhile, would you like to head over here and tell me what you think? Have I done it right? Any blunders you can see? If you do, I’d be grateful if you could let me know before I post it on givewaypromote. And of course, don’t hesitate to enter yourself – you might even win.

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