Category Archives: Marketing Ideas

Mailing lists: the all embracing panacea or the hamster wheel of doom?

As you know, I’ve been writing books and attempting to sell the results since about 2010. I still think my books are good. I think the books I’m writing at the moment will be good too – or at least as good as I can make them and good by my standards, ie they’ll be more of the kinds of stories I’d like to read but that don’t exist.

However, for all my efforts, I’d be lying if I said I was doing well as an author, but the fact I write the books I want to read, rather than what ‘the market’ is after could be posing a problem there.

Originally, in the absence of a following to ask, my marketing strategy went like this.

‘Hey Sensible M T I’m going to write a book.’
‘Great plan Ditzy M T. What about?’
‘I’m going to write the books that I’ve always wanted to read but no-one has ever written.’
‘Is that a good idea Ditzy M T?’
‘Of course it is Sensible M T.’
‘But, if people wanted to read them, wouldn’t someone else have written them?’
‘No Sensible M T, I believe I have spotted a niche.’
‘Oh yeh?’
‘Yeh. I’m a person, I’m bog standard, so surely whatever I want to read will be something a whole group of other people like me want to read too, right?’
‘You think there are other people like you?’
‘Of course.’

Unfortunately, Sensible M T is correct. People like me are rather rarer than I anticipated so it’s taking me a bit of time to build an audience … and I think a lot of folks are getting mailing list fatigue, which is understandable, but a pity. Although at least, now, there are enough folks following my writing for me to be able to ask them what they’d like: hence the K’Barthan shorts, and there will be some, I promise once I’ve finished the K’Barthan accidentally long I’m working on – that’s hit 50k today, by the way. I have a nice properly short story brewing about how The Pan ended up jumping off the bridge (he mentions it to Ruth in the second book).

We’re on the road to nowhere!

As the Talking Heads said (blimey this is getting a bit Alan Partridge). But I do feel that I am running faster and faster to stay in the same place. Sales are a bit … well

That’s right. Pants.

Looking at my sales spreadsheet over the last umpteen years, I can’t help but notice that I am putting in more and more effort to achieve the same results. This last month, April 2017 if you’re reading this 400 years from now in a post apocalyptic world where electricity and computers have only just been reinvented, was one of the worst on record. It was the first time more than two days passed between book sales, for me, since 2013. Then came this month, gulp. There were several big blocks of four or five days when I didn’t sell a thing. The total earnings are £30. The lowest month for ages. Naturally, I thought I’d see if I could find out why.

First up, I tried a different type of mailing promo last month and it’s too early to tell if it’s worked yet. Second, the month before that, I didn’t do a promo. That’s two very compelling explanations, right there. But is there more.

Looking at onward sales I discovered these lovely factoids:

  • There are 4,247 people on my mailing list.
  • They have bought a maximum of 662 copies of the K’Barthan Series books in a combination of books 3 and 4  at $4.99 a pop (sales are about level pegging which is a good sign) or the box set at $7.99.
  • I’ve sold about 400 copies of book 2 since I started all this free book malarky – even though I give it away free to folks who join my mailing list.
  • That said, about 750 have bought Unlucky Dip, the short story, for 99c.
  • On the day of launch only 14 people bought the K’Barthan Box set.
  • Only 280 have bought Escape From B-Movie Hell.
  • If I take just one group of 1,000 mailing list members, I can see that 280 of them clicked on the links to find out more about the paid books when I emailed them about it. That’s actually not bad.
  • After three quarters of a year, or thereabouts, I survey my mailing list peps. You’d be amazed how many answer the ‘did you enjoy the books’ style question with, ‘I haven’t read them yet.’ Even after eight months or so some of them are clearly a little nettled to be even asked.
  • A couple of folks have joined my mailing list and then emailed me to say they downloaded the book two or three years ago, never got around to reading it and are really glad they have this time – there’s even a review that says that!

What do these pieces of information tell me?

  1. That I should be writing more short stories. Hmm.
  2. That information pages I send them to about each book on my website need an overhaul.
  3. That the books might be too expensive.
  4. Or that people are feeling a bit, what’s the point? about brexit and our impending ecological and nuclear doom and don’t want to shell out for a book any more.
  5. It reinforces the argument that a higher rate of output comprising shorter books at a lower cost is probably the way to go – I’m thinking 50k for $2.99 and 10/20k for 99c/p maybe. At least I have to have something between 99c and $4.99 – currently there’s only the stand alone.
  6. That if I’m smart, some or all of the future books I write should be about K’Barth.
  7. That anyone on my mailing list who is interested in reading the K’Barthan Series had already done so, with knobs on, when the box set came out and that any who might be weren’t ready.
  8. That folks who are interested in reading the second K’Barthan book often buy it straight after reading the first one, they don’t wait four days to get it free. That’s great because clearly they’re into it.
  9. That, in turn, could tell me that people who are less worried about money purchase my books and perhaps this is more evidence for shorter books that I could sell at a more accessible price for folks with less disposable income.
  10. That I need to make it clearer to people that they can borrow my books from libraries – but they have to ask because the librarian won’t have bought them (I’m not famous and not a sure bet). In short, I need to make sure that they realise that they can get access to my books, even if they are cash strapped.
  11. That the average reader has a to-read list that is well over 8 months long and reads the books in order.
  12. That while I have always assumed that a fair few of the people on my mailing list won’t have read my books 7/8ths is quite a lot higher than I expected.
  13. That the read through rate is only as high as 7/8ths if every single person who has bought K’Barthan book 3 and 4 in whatever format is on my mailing list, which I doubt.
  14. That the percentage of people who are actually reading the book I give away is gob smackingly low. Nowhere near the 20% I thought it was (going on Amazon downloads of the free book and totting up subsequent copies of the next books sold in 2015.
  15. That, possibly, the people who do read the book I give away in return for their email address are the ones who read it straight after downloading it. This could explain why they zip through the first book in a couple of days and then get stuck right into the rest of them rather than waiting for the free second book.
  16. That until a couple of years have passed, I won’t really know the results of my efforts to upsell since it will be a very long time before many folks get to the first book.
  17. For the long haul tbr people, at least regular mailings from me will keep them in touch and help them not to forget about my books.

What about the risible rate of earnings?

Hmm… what about it? More factoids.

  • It was 70% down on my £100 monthly average.
  • The worst since February 2015 when I had 70 friends and family on my mailing list and hadn’t worked out about permafrees with optimised listings – which worked then.
  • It is in keeping with the time of year. The worst month for sales always seems to happen in spring: Feb, March, April or May.
  • As I mentioned, it may be down to the choice of giveaway book in April.
  • I didn’t do much in the way of promo in March.
  • There has been no uptick in sales at the beginning of May, usually at the start of a month there is.

What does this tell me?

  1. That net worth of my efforts to upsell my other books from information I give on my mailing list is currently worth £30, or thereabouts, from an average £100. Possibly. But I’ll never really know for sure.
  2. That it’s very important to have a promo planned every month.
  3. That you need to be lot more savvy these days, and do a lot more to get your books in front of people, to achieve the same results you could have done with less effort a year ago. Mwah hahaharhgh so nothing new there!
  4. That promos do drive sales.
  5. That the merit of giving folks a second book as well as the original freebie they downloaded might be debatable. Is it getting read by many folks? Difficult to tell but it looks unlikely. Then again, I won’t really know until the long haul people kick in (if they do).
  6. That if I give the short away as a second book, instead, it might get more people reading because it’s accessible, but it might people off because it’s crap.

It could be that I am gaining a lot of new mailing list followers, but very few readers. But just as easily, it could be that I will need to wait at least a year before a big proportion of the folks on my mailing list get round to reading any of my books. Only time will tell.

So? Patience young paduan?

Yeh, looks like it. It takes a lot of time and effort to sort out my mailings, find interesting things to include or fun stories to tell. But, clearly when I join the right kinds of promos folks are downloading and enjoying the first book in the K’Barthan Series, it’s just catching them while they’re still enthused in a way that doesn’t annoy the ones who don’t want to be reminded for a year or so. It’s also juggling not earning much with the cash. I’m moving my mailing list to another provider but currently it costs me £40 per month to entertain 4,250 folks. If my £30 per month earning streak continues I will need to uncover a way to monetise my list slightly or I’m going to be in certain doo-doo.

Yep. Doo doo. Scary huh?

Mailing list factoids.

  • Open rates have dropped but only a little.
  • Open rates are slower. I would have a decent idea how a mailing had gone down in two or three days a year ago, these days it’s two weeks before the percentage of opens stops creeping up.
  • Click rates are down. A lot. From a fairly reliable 20% – 40% to about 6% -13%.

What do these factoids tell us Noddy?

  1. Perhaps there is a mailing slow down. It’s clear that folks are still reading my emails but taking longer. Also, a couple of unsubscribe comments along the lines of ‘I love your emails but I am on so many authors’ lists and I just don’t have time to read them’ might bear that out.
  2. Many authors are doing giveaways now, or promos, or things where groups of similar books are offered for free to readers in return for them singing up to the authors’ mailing lists. It may simply be that a lot of readers have already heard about the promos I’m taking part in from other authors involved before I tell them.

So what can I do?

Sit tight and keep doing what I do.

Once again, on this one, I am, dangerously, doing what works for me. This does not mean it’s what works, generally or even that it’s what other people like. After all, if I wanted to sell books to the normals I’d have a really attractive thin woman on the covers and they’d be that shade of green, taupe, blue, brown or red.

For the record, what I want to discover, from mailing lists I join is whether I find the author interesting, as well as the stuff they offer. I like to hear about their books, their progress on new work and about any books they’ve read and enjoyed. I also like it if the emails, themselves, are amusing, or chatty, like a letter to a friend rather than a ‘professional’ offering. Furthermore, as my readers will undoubtedly be getting loads of emails from other authors as well as me, I want to make mine stand out, in a good way. I want them to get enough enjoyment and value from the things I send them to make time for them.

So far, the feedback is good. I think it is weeding out the kinds of people who are going to like and enjoy my books from those who’ve downloaded them free but will probably never read them. Hopefully it will. I’d much rather have an engaged list of 500 people, than a list of 4,500 who aren’t interested.

These days, twenty or thirty folks unsubscribe from my list in a month. That would have come as a big surprise a year ago. But people still write back and interact so I must be doing something right.

I have come up with some practical answers for improving the usefulness of my emails and, therefore, open and click rates but when it comes to onward sales, or library borrows, I’m kind of scratching my head. Maybe my books are shite, except if they were, why are the reviews mostly good? And the bad reviews, with a few exceptions, tend to say things that suggest the reader was the complete antithesis of the book’s target market anyway.

Any other cunning plans?

Well … I need to ask folks questions, find out a bit more about what they are after and then give them what they are interested in. If I set this up right, I can send free books to the people who want free, paid books to the people who want paid and can avoid sending amazon offers to readers who use only Kobo or vice versa.

But while that might help me make the information more pertinent and useful, I’m not sure what I can do about the ten thousand free books they need to read before it’s the ‘turn’ of mine. I also wonder about the 19,000 folks who downloaded Few Are Chosen while it was permafree. Six hundred onward sales from those isn’t a very good track record.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my plan.

I have two weapons and two weapons only. I’m weird and sometimes I’m funny. This pertains to everything: my books, who I am and what I do. In all, the weird and the funny are key. Some people find that hard work, others really like it. So hopefully, if I can carry on being the way I am, I will, eventually, build up a group of follows who appreciate the weird and funny of me, at least, even if they haven’t read the damn books. And maybe, eventually, they will find one of my newsletters leaves them wanting more … enough to dig out the K’Barthan Series, Book 1 and start reading.

It’s my only answer. So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On a final note …

If you’re one of the 3,500 out of 4,247 on my mailing list who hasn’t read my book, I am absolutely agog to know two thing:

  1. What on earth you’re doing there?
  2. What on earth you’re getting from it?
  3. Your reasons for not reading the book yet – i.e. your to read list is too long, the book is too long, you’re a book blogger/reviewer and haven’t got round to it, you’re never going to read the book in a month of Sundays but you love the reviews and special offers on other people’s books etc.
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Filed under General Wittering, Good Advice, Marketing Ideas, self publishing

Few Are Chosen by Awesome Indies but they chose Few Are Chosen!

Booyacka! Few Are Chosen has made it onto Awesome Indies. If you’re wondering why this is such a big deal, just go to their home page and check out the criteria. Mwah ha ha ha hargh!

Baasically, what this means is that to people with professional qualifications in creative writing, the quality of my book is pretty much indistinguishable from something put out by the big six. A cracking endorsement to have. I am very, very happy! Thank you Awesome Indies.

New Additions: young adult fantasy, humorous fantasy & a supernatural thriller.

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Filed under Author Updates, Blimey!, Encouragement, Marketing Ideas

I’ve got my mojo working baby and I’m gonna try it out on you…

Er… eventually.

I’ve been agonising about my career choice; mother versus writer. There are aspects to the two that clash (like all of them, mwah ha ha hargh). But the fact is, it’s not just finding the time to write that poses a problem. Being an Author is like any other job. There are bits you’re good at and bits you’re not so good at; aspects you love and aspects you dislike. But as an author I stake my professional integrity on the stuff I put out and getting the bits I’m not so good at wrong could be seriously risky.

Clearly the happiest author is going to be the one who writes full time but unless you’re Sir Terence, with the might of Transworld behind you, that’s not realistically possible. Actually even Sir Terry has to do other stuff.

However, happiness really is a state of mind. And more to the point, none of the other scary stuff; the marketing, for example, and the grammar – or the grim business of reasearching and approaching the various gatekeepers who are going to throw your manuscript in the bin and tell you to piss off. None of that is going to go away.

So, I’ve been a bit blue lately. My perfectly acceptable (two years ago) punctuation is now unacceptable and because I’m a self published author it’s no good arguing – as both my editors do – that it’s consistent. Sure if you’ve a contract with Orion or somebody, the indie bashers will merely ‘disagree’ with your approach but if you’re M T McGuire, self-published nobody, they will consider it ‘wrong’ and review accordingly. So my book’s going in for a third edit.

That’s why I haven’t written anything on here. Because, I was beginning to wonder if I should try to continue being an author, or at least publishing my efforts. Yes, yes, I admit it, an artistic hissy fit, but it all felt very real to me – like I’d really lost my mojo – and what can you say about feeling like that? Nothing interesting or constructive that’s for sure.

Then I realised that anyone, in any job, is going to feel a bit pants about what they do from time to time. The trick is to ditch the negative aspect that’s bugging you for a day or two – even if you have a deadline – and concentrate on an aspect of your work that you’re good at.

So, in my case, that would be the actual nitty-gritty of writing the story. Except that it’s the end of term, there’s lots on and I’ve been rather strapped for time to write. So my usual negativity cancellation technique has been an epic fail.

While I was wondering what else I could do to get the feel good factor back, the answer cropped up totally unexpectedly; at toddler group. There I was, with McMini, and I ran into a fan. Someone who I didn’t know – one of the dads – who had read my books. And he sidled up to me, shyly, nervously even, took a deep breath and told me he’d loved my books and couldn’t wait until the third one came out. And he used things like my name and the word ‘talented’ in the same sentence. And I thanked him – from approximately 40,000 feet up because I was flying. And suddenly even though I was looking down the barrel of the summer holidays – which, while a delight in most ways, does present a daunting eight week moratorium on all writing – McWorld was McRight again.

It’s things like that which make all the scary I-could-get-this-so-wrong-and-destroy-my-reputation-for-ever side of publishing your own work worth it. And then I read this post and it got me thinking.

My cyber buddie Mr Will Macmillan Jones. It’s in his honour that I’ve used a jazz lyric for a post title… that and the fact it made me laugh. Mr Macmillan Jones is a fellow humorous fantasy author; Mancunian, exciled to Wales and driver of a slightly more plutochratic but similarly stupid car as myself, he does a lot of book signings. Now, OK he’s a proper author because he has a real live publisher, not one actually, two – I swear he’s made some kind of pact with the devil – but I digress.

Anyway, he does a lot of book signings. As I understand it, he rings a branch of Waterstones, introduces himself and blags them into letting him spend an afternoon in their shop, with a big pile of books, flogging them to unwary customers. I think it scared him quite badly at first but it’s abundantly clear that he’s become rapidly addicted. Like delivering a good stand up set, it clearly gives him a buzz.

Now, on the one hand, the idea of doing signings fills me with toe curling, buttock clenching fear – and I don’t have time to do more than about five a year anyway. On the other, I’m an ex stand up comedienne so I really should be able to handle it and anyway, it’s not so bad, is it? After all, I only have time to do about five a year.

Furthermore, I’ve sold 200 copies of Few Are Chosen over the past year simply by having a copy in my handbag so that if people ask me what I do I can say, ‘This.’ And show it to them.

In other words, though the prospect of doing signings scares me, the chances are I might enjoy it. I might even do it reasonably well – or, certainly, be better at it than I am at selling e-books. I may not have sold as many via the handbag as I have via the web but my handbag hit rate is a lot higher, I can tell you.

Signings also get you into the real world. OK, don’t tell anyone this but believe it or not, out there in the normal, non-scary world beyond Amazon, people still quite like authors.

There is one small problem. I’ve only written two books. It’s not enough, but come next year, when I’ll have written three… and it’ll be a trilogy… THAT’S when it might be smart to look at signings. In earnest.

Right, so, if any of you are still awake, the conclusions I’ve come to for happy authordom are as follows.

1. Write as many books as you can, GOOD BOOKS mind you, as fast as is humanely possible without letting your quality standards drop.
2. Do the Lightning Source thing and get them into the wholesalers or get a publisher so it’s really easy for both independents and chains to order them.
3. Do signings.
4. Publicise them. Do press releases and send them round to local newspapers where you’re going to appear – pimms media guide or similar in your local library will have a list with contacts. Or ask the manager of the shop you’re going to for any press contacts they have. Many will be happy to help – they’re as keen as you are to sell lots of books, after all.
5. Do schools events – I’m not sure how, as yet, but I’m sure it’s worth it.
6. Get in touch with your local literary/library officers if you can.
7. Make post cards and other promotional items and leave them wherever you go – here are some examples.
8. Take a copy of your book with you, wherever you go and if people ask you what you do, don’t be shy, whip it out and show them (phnark).

I’m not saying I’ve applied my plan – apart from the postcards and the taking my books about – but when book three is in the bag, I will have to seriously get my finger out. There’s no chance of intensive signings, not on Saturdays but I think I should be able to swing some. So I think I’ve found… well… if not my mojo then a plan and now that I have a plan, even if I have to wait 18 months or so – hnur hnur hnur hnurrrgh – I’m gonna try it out on you.

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Filed under General Wittering, Marketing Ideas, self publishing

Free publicity for e-books

I added news of my e-short to ebooksjustpublished.com. It took a while to come up but was posted on Saturday (10 April). It’s caused a sizeable spike in my download rates at Smashwords so I definitely recommend it. They are good people, too, they e-mailed me to apologise for the delay in posting (it did take a while but I expected that) and to let me know my announcement would go live and when.

The site is a WordPress site, so it’s reasonably easy to use, you register (the link is right at the bottom on the left hand side) and then you can access a template, fill in the blanks about your book, add a picture, links to your website, point of sale, etc.

My entry is here if you want to see.

http://www.ebooksjustpublished.com/2010/04/10/is-this-heaven/

You can tell I’m all excited about it can’t you… yeh, small things… 😉

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Audio publishing…

Hmm… so what I really need to find is a Smashwords for audiobooks…

I was thinking I could read it, myself, Scott Sigler style.

He is the guy who gave his books away as podcasts and ended up getting picked up by Orion after he had 50,000 downloads.  Something like 60% of the people who downloaded his book for free went on to buy a paper copy.  He did put in a long day around the internet taking part in forums, writers’ groups and the like ‘soft’ selling his books.

For the moment, I think I will stick to the e-shorts for this.  I’m starting on another one so I would be reading the first… so long as the police cars who drag race up my street, my son and my husband could keep quiet for long enough to allow me to do so… yeh… it’s going to take a long time.

I do have a good programme for doing the recordings… It’s made by a company called CFB Software and you can find them here.

LP Recorder – really a specialist thing for recording records onto your computer so you can make them into MP3s.  HOwever, it works very well when you change the input channel to mic as opposed to line in.  If  you combine it with LP Ripper which helps you split the recordings up into tracks, you get something pretty powerful.  It’s a reasonable price, too.  They quote $70 for the two programmes together or $40 for LP Recorder on its own.

So, same deal as my current e-publishing venture, give away my short stories for free and try to build up a following.

About 250 people have downloaded my first short story from Freado, Scribd and Smashwords although it’s probably all my mates and acquaintances… not sure…  Clearly the next step is to read this and put the recording on a new podcast page, here, with a link from the entries on scribd, freado and smashwords.

I’m crap at short stories so it isn’t easy and it isn’t necessarily going to help sell my book, which is rather better, I hope.  Even so… it will be interesting to see what happens.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

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Dammit…

I liked these people, MCA… but despite being listed on querytracker.net as looking for my genre, the agent mentioned in the listing is not actually looking for sci-fi or fantasy.

So… querytracker.net gets a big thumbs down from me… one to avoid unless you’re in the US I suspect.

Looking for a new agency to submit to but not doing too well… many, when asked, express an aversion to fantasy… maybe I should pitch it as a comedy and forget to add the word ‘fantasy’, that’s a bit cheeky though.  Better to be straight.  And although it’s crap that there are so few agents dealing with my genre in some respects, on the up side, the fewer there are, the sooner I’ll know if I’m stuffed.

I really would love to find an agent though.  You know, a real one.  Someone who could help me hone my work, somebody who could open my eyes and turn me from a reasonable writer into a really good one… But at the same time, I’m kind of intimidated… the more agency websites I research, the more Oxbridge  English graduates, with MAs I find… I can’t see these literary rocket scientists going for an eccentric middle-aged, middle-class Mum with a bad Art History degree and a huge pussy* cat.  Hmm… it’s going to be a long search.

Never mind.  My submission to Snow books is good to go… what a pity my book isn’t (guffaw).  No, I’m not that disorganised, I just need to finish the last chunk of editing which is marked up already.  Then I can send it.

Perhaps it’s time to write another free e-short.  I have had 39 downloads in a month… not going to set the world on fire but not bad and I suspect it won’t get much better unless I keep up some momentum… wondering if I can manage one a month… or perhaps I should do a reading and sell it as an aural book.  That would be a scream.  I am a massive ham!

On that subject… the speaky thing, I mean not being a monster ham; since there’s a lot of speech in my novel ( “is it a play?” one agent asked me) I’m toying with adapting Few are Chosen for radio… just following the models of people who have succeeded at writing varietals of the stuff I do.

Well… it’s a thought.

* This joke was brought to you by the Mrs Slocombe appreciation society.

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Ta da..!

I start my quest for self-publication – or at least my quest to sell loads of e-books and then get a publisher on the back of my “proven track record” by giving away a short story.  It’s called Is this Heaven?

If anything it’s a demonstration of why I write novels… and not short stories.  But anyone who wades though it, I hope you have fun.

And of course, if you enjoyed the story you can help ensure your future halo is shiny (and help a struggling author) by writing a review saying how smashing you think it is and posting it on Smashwords.

You can find it here.

Enjoy.

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