We all know that writing books is a lot different than selling them. The activity of it, as well as the mindset. When you write a book, you sit somewhere, stare at a blank screen, then open a vein and bleed on the keyboard. When you (try to) sell a book, you bang your head against a wall, sometimes accompanied by throwing money out the window.
The world of the author. Simple.
I’d decided at the beginning of the year that I’d take this time to try to straighten out my writing drawers, so to speak. I have a bunch of manuscripts sitting on my hard drive that needed revamping. And I haven’t sold more than a few copies of any of the books I did publish in years. It’s been all about the writing, right? That’s what I like to do. Writing is creative. It’s Andy Warhol, Beyonce, and Louise Penny all rolled into one. It’s where the magic lies. Selling… that’s for Willy Loman.
But Covid-19 gave me a lot of extra time, so I thought I must as well use it to fix up the languishing manuscripts, get new covers for everything, and do a few things to sell a few copies. Clean out the drawers!
I know you’re all wondering how that’s going so far. The mostly good news is: So far, so good. I got a couple books out, and the new covers are happening. But the sales effort! Friends, I am clueless.
What I have learned from Mark Dawson, David Gaughran, Ricardo Fayet at Reedsy, and a host of others, is that advertising pays. And based on their advice, I’ve thrown a bunch of money at Amazon and BookBub in an effort to increase sales. And it’s paying off! Sort of. That is, I’m breaking even or a little better, making back in sales what I’m putting out in costs.
But the mystery of it. Who’s buying my books? On Amazon and BookBub both, you can choose—within a range—where your ad shows up. You pick authors who you think are roughly like you, and your ad will show up when someone searches for that author. (All those irritating “sponsored” things you see on all the pages? That’s where I am. Maybe you’ve seen me there.)
I thought Janet Evanovich would be a lock for me. Turns out, no. Nothing like. But why the heck not? Her Stephanie Plum is a lot like my Phoebe Renfrew. My books are screwball comedies, like hers. Janet Evanovich readers should love my book.
And maybe they would, if they ever bought it. Maybe Janet Evanovich readers get their books from the library? Maybe that’s why I sold two copies to OverDrive? I have no clue.
Who was a lock? Jana DeLeon, an author I was unfamiliar with. I got her name by going to Janet Evanovich’s profile page on Amazon and seeing what her buyers also bought. And it turns out Janet Evanovich authors also buy Jana DeLeon. So I tried that, and then for a month I watched as readers who searched for books by Jana DeLeon saw my ad and bought my book. For more than a month, more than half my sales came through Jana DeLeon.
In the last couple of weeks, she’s fallen off precipitously. I guess that means that people who read Jana DeLeon who might be interested in my book already bought it, right? I think so. But I’m not sure. She’s got a huge audience. Surely I have not exhausted those folks yet.
And now, what else I don’t get? I bought an ad for the second book of the series. And it’s getting no traction whatsoever. I’m talking flatline. Book One, however, still is going gangbusters. “Gangbusters” by my standards, anyway.
So it’s all a mystery to me. What experience do you guys have with marketing? Any clues for the hapless?
And now, back to something easy. Like bleeding on the keyboard.
(P.S.: Which cover do you like?)