Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Observations on marketing self-published books

Yesterday’s experiment in social shaming for personal gain was very interesting. I learned a lot. Not much that I learned will actually help me market my novel, but it’s good to learn things, I think. Don’t you?

To recap, I asked people who happened to land on the blog to buy my small story collection, Our Children Are Not Our Children for the supremely reasonable price of 99 cents. I did this because it hasn’t exactly been selling like Hot Pockets since its release in August: 6 copies at Amazon, as a matter of fact. So I set a goal of moving 6 copies yesterday to see if people might be inspired to help a guy out and double his publishing income. (I get 35 cents per copy!)

Of the 25 or so folks who popped by yesterday, 3 purchased the book.

At the risk of sounding bitchy, I’m delighted to have achieved a 50% success rate, which is probably inconceivable in the marketing world. On the other hand, what this little test reveals, or reinforces, is that the rampant availability of free ebooks has made 99 cents, or any price, really, too much. In fact, I’ve seen situations where prospective readers will turn down free downloads, probably because there are so many freebies available that they have to pick and choose or their e-readers will become unmanageably stuffed. Pretty tough for authors when even free doesn’t cut it.

But good news! Margaret Langstaff, a Florida writer and publisher, reports in the comments to yesterday’s post that her short story, “The Unbearable Lightness of Prunes,” has shot to #10 in the Literary Fiction category on Amazon, thanks to a giveaway promotion. That’s what 2000 downloads in 48 hours will do for you. Let’s hope that this translates into sales of her novels, which is the only reason we give this stuff away. Marketing 101.

But when someone asks me, Why do authors sell their work for so little?, then fails to pay 99 cents for Our Children, I know there’s no way to reach this kind of reader, who apparently doesn’t see the irony in that scenario.

The reason we have to sell our work for so little, or to give it away in the hopes that a paying readership might come of it, is that the marketplace has devalued the product. When so much is available for free, as in the music business, the only artists who can charge a fair price are those who already have a following, or those who are successfully hyped by traditional publishers (and even then it doesn’t mean that readers will pay the higher price). Self-publishers who try to charge more than, say, $4.99 are taking a huge risk. Yet, those who charge 99 cents or less risk making their work seem irrelevant. Quite the conundrum, eh?

I also learned, however, that there are people who put their money where their mouth is (mouths are?) and try to help. Thanks to Margaret Langstaff, Laura Stanfill, and Phillip McCollum, who stepped up to the plate and bought the book. Thanks to Marie Bailey, too, who has reviewed Our Children at Amazon and other sites, including her own blog, 1WriteWay, and who will be doing an author interview with me when Yesterday Road comes out in late October. It’s really gratifying to know that there are fellow travelers out there who get it and are willing to support their compadres, with enthusiasm, I might add.

As for reaching people who aren’t already friends of What The Hell? That’s going to be a tall order, folks.

11 comments on “Observations on marketing self-published books

  1. countingducks
    September 20, 2013

    It really is hard for an unknown author to get started. Best of luck with the book

  2. francisguenette
    September 20, 2013

    I held off getting your book because short stories are my least favourite genre – but, what the heck! Your post definitely spurred me on. But oh my – marketing is soooo hard.

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 20, 2013

      Don’t feel bad, Francis! I’m lagging on some purchases as well, esp. when the genres aren’t my cuppa tea.

      Also, 99 cents is probably well over a Canadian dollar! 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 21, 2013

      Was that you who just reviewed this puppy on Amazon? If so, you’ve won yourself a T-shirt! Contact me at kevinbrennan520@gmail.com and we can work out the logistics!

  3. margaretjeanlangstaff
    September 20, 2013

    Your experience first time out of the shoot with a book is (sad to say) typical, Kev. Nothing makes friends, family, associates and “well wishers” vanish faster than the publication of a writer’s first book length work. Every writer experiences shock, dismay, disappointment and bitterness when this happens. Loss of innocence, you know. Whole deal is a real eye opener on the personal level. Some friends don’t want to read one’s book because 1) familiarity breeds contempt (aware of the fact that you are a real human being, not some godlike thing, they assume the book can’t be any “good,” 2) they are genuinely concerned about what they will find in the book and don’t know what to say to you after reading it ; these folks actually care about you, are scared of hurting your feelings, 3) envy/resentment, another quite common unattractive flaw in wannabe writers (perhaps still in the closet about their writing ambitions, haven’t admitted them to anybody); your accomplishment of just writing and getting it out there before the public galls them because they haven’t done that yet, maybe never will. Your book in other words makes them feel small, sometimes awful, about what they haven’t done themselves.

    There’s more disappointment and frustration ahead, too, Kev, to be honest– The bad reviews by readers who didn’t enjoy or get what you were trying to do (Listen, no shame in that–the greatest books in the world get their share of those too), the anonymous trolls and flamers, just mean cruel people, who make a sport and a past-time out of sniping, hurting people, creating confusion.

    Consider it an initiation, the baptism by fire into the book “biz.” And totally forget about it and get back to work writing.

    All will be well, trust me 😉


    • Kevin Brennan
      September 21, 2013

      This isn’t my first time out of the shoot with a novel, but I get your drift. When Parts Unknown was published, lo these many years ago now, I experienced everything you describe here and then some. The best part of having a book published is the year before it’s published. People are interested, impressed, enthusiastic. Your agent and editor love your ass. The publicist is excited. Mom is telling all her friends. It’s only after the book comes out that the disappointments start piling up, and they do come from all angles.

      So what have I been doing over these years since Parts Unknown?

      Writing. Writing. Writing…

  4. margaretjeanlangstaff
    September 21, 2013

    My mistake about your previous books, I knew that but it slipped my mind. Apologies. I’ve been at it for 35 years and had a background (after grad school) as an exec in NY publishing before I started writing full time under my own name (had already ghosted a number of books for public figures/celebrities etc) so I don’t have many illusions left .But I do know like the back of my hand how the system works (and doesn’t). We carry on, regardless, book by book. Some make it, some don’t immediately and gain recognition only later or perhaps never. That’s just the way it is and I deal with it, move on, Hi, Ho, Silver! And away! haha

  5. 1WriteWay
    September 24, 2013

    Hey, Kevin, thanks for the mention. You’ve captured the conundrum of trying to price your books low enough to sell without seeming irrelevant. With ebooks and outlets like Amazon, it seems like the market is really like a kid’s game where the rules are changed on a whim. I read blogs about other authors struggling to decide if, when, and how to make their books free just to boost downloads and hopefully get reviews that will lead to sales. It seems so insane at times. I do so hope your book sales improve. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed Our Children. It’s worth much more than 99 cents!

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 24, 2013

      Thanks, Marie. It’s so great to hear that someone really likes what you’ve written and pushed out into the world!

      I’m not too concerned with sales of “Our Children,” though, since I thought of it mainly as a way to see how the whole KDP/Smashwords system works. I’m hoping to use it as a promotional add-on for Yesterday Road, but we’ll see how all that goes.

      You’re absolutely right. It seems like any kind of planned strategy vis-a-vis free copies is a shot in the dark. You might get a lot of downloads, but I’m not sure that translates into boosted sales later. Most “experts” are saying it’s a way to get people to look at your other books. Who knows. Maybe a lot of people only read what they can get for free these days…

      • 1WriteWay
        September 24, 2013

        I think people also have the misconception that if it’s an ebook, then not as much work went into it. Those people would rather pay $5.99 for a trendy doorstopper from the remainder table at B&N than cough up $1.99 for an ebook of timeless prose. It’s frustrates me and I’m not even trying to sell anything 😉

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2013 by in Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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