Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Been A While... Theory versus practice of book marketing

Gosh 9 months already, like a pregnancy coming to term. Although this post has needed to be induced with all the other things going on. Where did the time go? Why, into marketing of course...

But just like London buses, no posts here in an age, then 3 come along all at once. One is on Twitter and the other on the value of artists in society and how we approach pricing our work.

Don't think I've been idling in all this time fair reader. In fact I've never been so busy writing in all my life. This blog is the one that has been pushed to the back of the queue, as every week I'm writing a new 1000 word piece of flash fiction, posting to the "Spectator" arts and culture blog, posting a book review to Booksquawk commenting on blog posts of others and other people's flash (see below), making goodness knows how many tweets through both my Twitter accounts and posting pieces on various parts of literary craft and the ever-changing literature market here, there and everywhere. Oh and to counterbalance all this virtual world activity, I've joined not one but two writers' groups just to re-engage with other writers in the flesh.

Very stimulating, very thought-provoking, very indirect. For while these each are I believe, a worthwhile endeavour for its own sake and all loosely bracketed under my marketing campaign, they are very indirect forms of reaching potential customers. None of them involve the book itself, but offer more of me the person and hopefully people will be attracted to the book by osmosis. But it's hard to get any data to back that dynamic up. Take Twitter for example, you build up a virtual relationship with someone you come to consider as a friend. At what point in the relationship do you drop in "maybe you'd be interested in my book?" At any time it can seem a betrayal or a manipulation at best. Answer, I don't do it.

Before I go on to examine some of these indirect marketing strategies, I'll present evidence of a direct one. I have a 20 page sample of the novel up at To date, it's had 5700 views. Now if everyone of those views had turned into a sale, I would have smashed my own sales target. Of course they haven't and I've no real way of knowing how many sales have emerged from this source. So this direct form of marketing, successful in its own terms in that 5000+ views is a very acceptable figure, yet even this is probably not having a huge impact on sales of the book itself.

So indirect forms of marketing, a sort of getting my name out there qua name rather than qua book, is likely to have less success even than that. There definitely seems to be a giant leap from someone liking what you have to say about the status of the "hero" in the early 21st century in a blog post somewhere, to them being moved to stump up money for your novel. It seems a bit more than theory leading them to chase down the practice.

I think there seems a fundamental flaw to social networking marketing. Because so much quality product is online FOR FREE, the discerning surfer can get their fill of really good literature (or art or whatever they're interested in) without having to declare their credit card details. Freemium may just not work as a model when you are starting out as a neophyte producer. Once you've achieved Seth GODin like status, then you can seemingly charge the earth for your product, but how to make the jump from one to the other...

Sometimes this glaring reality bugs the hell out of me, other times I don't care. There are other forms of validation. Take a Twitter hashtag community called FridayFlash Every Friday writers all over the globe post a new piece of flash fiction (1000 words or less) on their blog and tweet it with the hashtag Fridayflash. All the members of this community are thus alerted to each others' work and they read, comment and then re-tweet it to their own twitter followers. It's a great way to get your work read, to direct people to your blog. How many of such readers are not themselves writers? Probably very few. So it is a validation, but it is writers mainly talking to other writers. And thereby that reflects out wider when you are trying to pimp your book, it is mainly a message sent out to other writers, who as we all know are penniless!

None of this really diverts me from my original business plan, my sales target and means of achieving it. It has however made me extend the period devoted to marketing from 6 months to 18 months. If it achieves anything, it's going to be via a slow build is the one lesson I've learned. I've still to receive final edits of 4 of my 5 video readings for example, and they were shot in January. These delays always happen and you just have to allow for them. What it will enable is a fresh impetus when they do land on video file-sharing sites. So the way I look at it is as a happy adjunct of the marketing drive, I've also developed these rather joyous online relationships, not necessarily with customers or dedicated fans, but with a group of people who are just fantastic to know.

The other direct form of selling is via live readings. I've done about 7 now, always in tandem with other writers rather than solo spots and thoroughly enjoyed each one. Sales have been skimpy, but again that''s secondary because the show has been the thing! I'll post my thoughts on doing live readings here next week.

So that's the update. A lot of sound and fury for possibly scant return - we'll have to see the results of the royalty statement due in October which covers Jan-Jun of this year. But it's been a lot more fun than I'd anticipated. And as I said when I started this, I can have no one else to blame but myself if it doesn't work out. Just so long as I know I gave it my all.


  1. I'm wondering whether you should make the measure of success less binary. Quality may trump quantity and interacting in the way you are with the world is surely it's own reward - though, and this may be a bit of a bummer, not a monetary one. But then writers throughout most of history have made very little money.

  2. Thanks GAW - see my post just before about the value we put on artists in our society.

    I have written a really inflammatory piece about funding for the arts for the Touching From A Distance Blog, made even more timely by the proposed abolition of the UKFC, but I'm unsure if Simon's going to go with it - maybe just too provocative. If not, I'll post it here.

    Thanks for commenting

  3. When I look at your timescales I wonder if you aren't still too optimistic about the speed things happen - and also asking the same question I've been asking alot recently - what are you trying to achieve saleswise? A certain figure with this book, or a steday income down the line as a writer. The latter will probably take a lot longer than 18 months, but is by no means dependent on the former.

  4. No, not really concerned with income. Don't ever expect to earn anything but pin money from writing and so be it.

    Again, in order to be read, should we not just give it away for free?

  5. The timescale thing was more when I anticipated I could return to long-term writing, ie another novel. The all-encompassing nature of promotion/marketing has forced me to reconsider. The timescale was not to do with any career kind of arc. That remains in the realms of the unknowable.

  6. The problem is you can't really have any idea whether you've "succeeded" with only one (even 2) book. Take the number 1, or 100 - of which sequence would it be the first number? See my point?

  7. 獨居時,要反省自己的過錯;在社會大眾之間,則要忘卻別人的過失。..................................................

  8. 真正仁慈的人,會忘記他們做過的善行,他們全心投入現在的工作,過去的事已被遺忘。.................................................

  9. 與人相處不妨多用眼睛說話,多用嘴巴思考. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .