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Marketing systems for books

Posted in Just for Writers, and Marketing

Image of marketing chartI often write a blog post to clarify my own thinking, and that's the case for this one. It's meant to be a spur to my own thinking about what works for me in marketing. A recent marketing workshop excerpt from Larissa Reynolds was the catalyst that finally did it for me (see here to subscribe to her newsletter).

Now, when I say “what works”, I don't mean what marketing ideas, out of the vast array available, work for people, or produce the best results. What I mean is what works for me, as in something I can do comfortably and that I can reasonably have a hope of sticking to, that has measurable and useful results.

It's taken years for me to clarify my understanding of how various marketing ideas work, and which ones I, personally, should concentrate on. I've been groping towards this for a long time.

Premises

I have my own goals and standards that define how I want to run my business, and I have personal limitations and enthusiasms to accommodate. Your situation will be different

  1. I want to sell my books at a reasonable full price (with very occasional discounts), because that's the audience I want to cultivate.
  2. I want to sell my books on the basis of quality — good reading experience, indistinguishable in quality from traditional publishers.
  3. I want my books to be available with the widest possible reach (countries, retailers, formats), with no DRM. If people look for my books, they should be able to find them anywhere, for any device, and my career should not be held hostage to any one retailer or country. This includes direct ecommerce.
  4. I'm not really a people person. I like to help and I can tell funny stories, but I'm lousy at jumping into a social situation as an extrovert. I'm more of a high-functioning introvert.
  5. I want to execute semi-automatic systems as much as possible. I'm an old IT career person, and I'm very comfortable with systems. I don't have the discipline to keep doing ad hoc experiments, but I have no problem going through the detailed (obsessive) concentration necessary to set something automated up.

Image of marketing componentsAnalysis

So, what does this mean for me?

For one thing, it rules out a broad variety of interesting marketing ideas that clutter up my thinking:

  • Wanting to price permafree — wrong audience for me to cultivate.
  • Wanting to focus on Amazon KU — wrong reach (not wide), captive retailer.
  • Discounted sales third-party newsletter marketing — wrong audience for me to cultivate, and a huge distraction.
  • Participating in bundles and similar multi-author promotions for free — wrong audience for me to cultivate, and I mostly write long-form, not stories.
  • Marketing/review swaps with other authors. I'd rather cultivate my own audience and not spam them.
  • Widespread social media platforms, pushing my books — not extroverted enough to make that palatable (banging on about my books).

What do I want to do instead?

  • Pricing — Keep my books in the middle range of their genre, with a lower price on first-in-series. (SFF: $5.99, $6.99)
  • Pricing — Offer 2-book & 4-book bundles within series to reward readers who want volume and a bargain. ($9.99 for 2, $15.99 for 4).
  • Quality — Upgrade covers when necessary to continue to signal appropriateness and freshness for the genre.
  • Formats — Produce the missing audiobook formats (narrated by author) for all my books. Consider hardcovers.
  • Distribution — Broaden my reach with traditional distributors in specialty markets (e.g., send “clean” fantasy to Christian/family specialty distributors).
  • Platform promotions — Take advantage of the occasional opportunity to become more visible for small discounts (e.g., Kobo) and grow my presence on multiple retailers.
  • Social media — Divide my groups into “focus” and “secondary” categories. For the “focus” groups, participate in the daily conversations as a colleague and helper. Become known to the community legitimately and learn to know them. These are not primarily book marketing groups. For the “secondary” groups, check in occasionally and keep in touch. For those that offer it, market books according to their rules in the set-aside areas they use for that (monthly, whatever). When a new book comes out, take advantage of good will in the “focus” groups to announce it (once) as a personal bit of news.
  • Platforms for audiences — Classify my audience and send them to the appropriate websites to offer more information. Each site has a complete set of pages for buying books.
    • Business colleagues — Perkunas Press (my publishing site — there are equivalent sites for each of my imprints, too.)
    • Writing colleagues — HollowLands (where my social media “focus” groups are directed — I don't participate in reader-only social media groups)
    • Readers — KarenMyersAuthor (branding and restricted blog topics)
  • New reader acquisition — Other than proper metadata and the occasional platform promotion (Kobo-only), I don't obsess over direct discovery on reader platforms. I do not buy or exchange mailing lists.
    • Opportunistic — links to useful articles for my writing colleagues send them to HollowLands, where they can see and buy all my books (writers are also readers)
    • Opportunistic — links to newsletter signups for all my sites
    • Direct advertising — Amazon AMS Ads for first-in-series and first-bundle-in-series
    • Direct advertising — Facebook Ads for products (not yet done). Especially important for foreign market reader acquisition.
    • Direct advertising — Facebook Ads for newsletter signups (not yet done) — with free first-in-series book (my only exception to giveaways).
  • Existing reader expansion — Keep in touch and interest them in additional backlist books or new books
    • Passive — backmatter in the books for next-in-series extracts, other-book lists, and newsletter signups send them directly to the retailers or to my readers site.
    • Opportunistic — links to useful articles for my writing colleagues send them to HollowLands, where they can see and buy all my books (writers are also readers)
    • Opportunistic — links to newsletter signups for all my sites
    • Newsletter — Feature backlist book as a reading experience, once per month, and recycle when done.
    • Direct advertising — Amazon AMS Ads for first-in-series and first-bundle-in-series, Facebook Ads (not yet done)
  • New book announcements — Introduce books to new readers and alert existing readers to new books.
    • Social media groups — in specific marketing set-aside areas, or informally (once) in the “focus” groups, as personal news.
    • Newsletters to existing readers
    • Direct advertising — new ads for latest-in-series (or first-in-new-series, as appropriate)
    • Opportunistic — announcements on the three websites for all my audiences
  • Tracking — To evaluate how each of the various channels work, I need to track, as best I can, when they motivate someone to take the next step toward becoming (or expanding on being) a customer. That's a job (mostly) for Google Analytics, which I'll talk about in detail in a later post.

The major components of my marketing system

Image of a marketing system
(click for larger image)

I do all of this today except for the Facebook component.

[UPDATE: 10/2018 — I've started the Facebook part, both subscriber acquisition and sales. It's early days yet for me for that immense learning curve, but now all the pieces are in place and I can all but hear the engine humming in the background.]

Backmatter

The backmatter of the books are an important passive component of automation — they offer the reader a link to other books (on KarenMyersAuthor), to a newsletter signup (on KarenMyersAuthor), to more information about the book (on KarenMyersAuthor), and to an excerpt of the next book in the series (or the first book of another series), which has a link to KarenMyersAuthor. The reader can also go manually to their favorite retail site to find the next book without touching KarenMyersAuthor. Once I set these up properly for each new book, and update the “also by” links in the other books and reissue those (periodically), nothing else is needed by me to keep this set of loops running.

Newsletters

This has both passive and active components. All 3 sites have a newsletter signup which ends up on a single list. The reader initiates that signup request. One version of the Facebook Ads will have a “newsletter signup” component which routes the user to a landing page on KarenMyersAuthor and offers him a free book in exchange for the newsletter signup. With GDPR as a new requirement, the language should be less direct — “thanks for signing up to receive newsletters, and let us show our gratitude by sending you this book for free” versus a direct quid pro quo (no book if you don't sign up).

The newsletters should go out on three occasions (I have to step up to doing 2. and 3. regularly).

  1. New book announcements (when a new book comes out) – links to KarenMyersAuthor book page, which has links to a broad array of retailer sites.
  2. Backlist puff piece for one book (rolling monthly reminder of my backlist with a description of the reading experience) – links to KarenMyersAuthor book page.
  3. Occasional brand reminder (KarenMyersAuthor = “Meet heroes in faraway places”) with links to hero articles on KarenMyersAuthor. Tied to current events, where appropriate.

Advertising

Advertising is semi-automatic. It needs to be monitored at least weekly and refreshed as needed, but otherwise runs automatically.

Amazon ads for first book in each series (permanent), first book bundle in each series (permanent), and latest book in current series (temporary – until the next book comes out).

Facebook ads for books should work like the Amazon ads, with the additional goal of detailed audience analysis, foreign country exploration, and so forth.

Facebook ads aimed at new reader mailing list signups are separate, with a landing page on KarenMyersAuthor and a free book inducement via BookFunnel.

Social media

For me, “social media” means Facebook groups (both “focus” and “secondary”), Twitter, and in comments on a couple of community blogs where I have established a presence.

I use Twitter only to announce new books and articles — I haven't found a comfortable way to acquire and participate in a community.

I segregate book announcements to the designated marketing areas in each community. I use articles opportunistically, mostly from HollowLands because my FB and blog groups are mostly writing colleagues, as links back to the HollowLands site. These chiefly help establish my credibility, but also generate a few sales. In particular, for my existing readers in these communities who have not signed up for my newsletter, this is an important way they hear about new books.

My articles are sufficiently useful to the community of writing colleagues that I turn up frequently in Google searches on some topics, so there is a steady flow of strangers through the HollowLands site, some of which presumably convert to readers.

Tracking

I'll cover this in more detail in a later article but in summary…

  • Newsletters. The newsletter services track opens and some of the subsequent reader behavior.
  • Google Analytics. I have added UTM tracking codes to all the links I use for marketing. I can tell, when a reader clicks on a link to another book in the backmatter, what book in what format he was in when he did it. I can track what he clicked on in a newsletter and see if he ended up going to a retailer site. I can track on which social media site I added a link to an article on HollowLands and what happened afterward, such as a scan of books for sale or a click on a retailer site. Right now, I've engaged a freelancer to help me design better reports from Google Analytics to get the most out of this data which I've been collecting for a year or more so I can start analyzing traffic and conversions.
  • Facebook Ads. To reach customers beyond Amazon, and outside the US, I am expecting to learn a great deal about my potential reader audiences when I start running FB ads.

More to come

As I pull the threads tighter on this concentrated set of activities and start getting better tracking data, I'll follow up with articles and analyses.

Now if I can only find the time to pull the trigger on the learning curves for video ads, Facebook ads, landing pages, etc. I've got most of the pieces, but it's the first one that's always the toughest.

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6 Comments

  1. This makes sense for someone with as many books as you have, though I’m curious how you’re going to do the Amazon ads, automated version, as I have had very little luck there finding the right readers (I suspect they don’t search on Amazon).

    But this all sounds like a massive amount of work!

    Here’s hoping it refines your process and your sales.

    Like you, I’m an introvert; many of your decisions are similar to mine. Regular full price is the only way to go. It is madness to set things to permafree (especially if you only have one book!).

    June 9, 2018
    |Reply
  2. I already do the Amazon ads — here’s a case study on that: https://hollowlands.com/2018/01/amazon-ams-ads-a-case-study/ . They’ve worked well for me.

    It’s Facebook ads I haven’t stepped up to yet, but I’m just about to pull the trigger, finally. Don’t yet know if I can make them run effectively, but I consider them essential to expanding my audience, esp. internationally.

    June 13, 2018
    |Reply
  3. Thanks – I’ve read your post (I usually do, as they are intelligent and informative).

    But you went into it with planning, several books (IIRC), and acquired a fair amount of data for your analysis. My trials of Amazon ads for one book just showed that people probably don’t browse for mainstream fiction by keywords. I’ll regroup and try something else when I’m over the house move. And back into the writing.

    Curious: do you fid that these ads work less and less well as more writers and books compete for placement? Have you had to up your bids?

    June 13, 2018
    |Reply
    • My bid maxiums started at $0.51 and are still there. The average price is $0.32 or so.

      The ads continue to do reasonably well, but the volume of clicks goes down, which I take to be an expression of more and more people competing for a static audience of buyers.

      It’s difficult to do well advertising a single book, since there’s nothing else for them to buy once you get their attention. A series does better.

      June 13, 2018
      |Reply
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