Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Promotional trials & tribs

Serenity now!

Serenity now!

Turns out that my promotional efforts last week were something of a bust. I’m speaking as objectively as I can, because expectations are always raised when you take the plunge and fork over some money for this kind of thing, yet I’ve learned in the four months since Yesterday Road came out to at least try keep my expectations in check.

Still. Here we go. For you authors considering these outfits:

The BargainBooksy feature ($50) yielded eleven sales.

Choosy Bookworm ($0) yielded no sales. Then again, it cost me nothing to try it.

I’m pretty much convinced that this has a lot to do with my genre — literary fiction. It just seems a simple fact that the indie market and the typical ebook reader are geared toward mystery/thriller, romance, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and maybe young adult. Readers of literary fiction still haven’t made the move, at least not in significant numbers, toward ebooks, so there aren’t many of them subscribing to newsletters like BargainBooksy and Ereader News Today.

The other big factor is price, and I’ve moaned and groaned about that before here. The overwhelming emphasis of these promotional sites is on free and “bargain” books, and the average reader seems to interpret “bargain” to mean a couple of bucks maximum. Would I have sold a few more books if I’d kept the price of Yesterday Road at $2.99? I doubt it. There’s intense pressure to discount to 99 cents or less, and even then I’m afraid the genre issue would rear up and make me the author of a book I can’t even give away.

I sure don’t need that right now.

Hugh Howey’s report on the ebook market strikes me as even more of a double-edged sword after this experience. What he’s really revealing is that Amazon is moving a lot of independent ebooks in the popular genres and that a large percentage of these are indies. But that also plays into the “quality gap” problem. Readers of literary fiction (let’s call them “hoity toities” for simplicity’s sake) look at the data and say, “I told you! Ebooks are all genre crap written by amateurs.”

And the cycle will probably spin like this for quite a while until something new happens. Amazon will become a gargantuan poop-factory in the eyes of the hoity toities, while a certain clique of indies will do very well, attracting more and more genre authors to self-publishing and repelling (or discouraging) more and more writers of literary fiction. Even though traditional publishers pump out their fair share of genre books, they’ll maintain the mantle of quality. Only when, somehow, a few literary authors manage to gain some traction in the indie market and show the hoity toities that it’s safe to wade into these waters can the cycle be broken, and I don’t see it happening next week.

Meanwhile, there’s not much to be done other than play the only game in town. And that means selling books the hard way, one by one, using whatever tools are at hand.


21 comments on “Promotional trials & tribs

  1. Charles Yallowitz
    February 16, 2014

    As a fantasy author, I can tell you that it isn’t any better for my genre. I seem to always be an oddity when I do those things. Just sitting among the erotica romances and dramas. Nothing against them, but I see more of those books than fantasy.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 16, 2014

      True. I see so many male torsos without shirts out there. We need to chip in and buy those guys some shirts!

      • Charles Yallowitz
        February 16, 2014

        They’d just sell them for gym memberships. 🙂

  2. francisguenette
    February 16, 2014

    The picture that goes with this post and your last few lines say it all for me – selling books the hard way one by one and needing the patience of Buddha to keep on the path 🙂 You are not alone, my friend.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 16, 2014

      I know you know how it is, Fran! We just have to keep a practical frame of mind about it all and do what we can.

  3. Dylan Hearn
    February 16, 2014

    I think while literary fiction vs genre fiction may play a part, the only people who are making money out of these promotional programs are the promoters. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they are a scam, but I don’t necessarily think they are good value for money.
    Let me ask you a question: for all the tweets, retweets and promotions you get in your twitter timeline, how many have you actually purchased? Me? None, and I believe it is the same for most people. I tend to buy books based on friend recommendation. Word of mouth promotion is still the most effective form of promotion for us indies but it is a long game (when it is effective at all).

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 16, 2014

      You are so right, Dylan. I think Twitter is pointless as a sales tool but possibly useful as part of one’s platform. But no, I don’t buy books promoted there and I don’t believe I’ve ever sold a book that way.

      The question is, How long is the long game? 😳

      • Dylan Hearn
        February 16, 2014

        The million dollar question! I read a great book on Indy publishing called Write. Publish. Repeat. The authors’ views were that you rarely make progress with one book, you need to release a number and gradually increase your readership as each book sale leads onto the next book in your portfolio, then the next. Very good reading but again targeted mostly to genre authors

  4. 1WriteWay
    February 16, 2014

    I think Dylan pretty well captures it. I know I haven’t purchased or even bothered to look at books that have been promoted in my Twitter feed, unless I’m already familiar with the author. Vicious cycle, that is. The thing about word of mouth though, as slow as it is, it’s really the highest praise, don’t you think?

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 16, 2014

      Absolutely. And so far, for me, the greatest pleasure has been receiving unexpected reviews that show real appreciation for the book.

      There’s that old Pete Seeger song, right? “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.” 🌻

  5. lgould171784
    February 16, 2014

    I’m curious as to how you define literary fiction. Is it anything that can’t be readily placed in a particular genre? Does it differ from mainstream fiction, and if so, how?

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 16, 2014

      Well, that’s a big question for a little reply box, so I’ll just say that, IMHO, literary fiction is less plot- and formula-oriented, tends toward stylistic exploration, and is much more geared toward character and theme than genre fiction. Generally a literary novel can’t be pegged as any particular genre because it doesn’t follow the pretty strict conventions the genres call for. On the other hand, someone could write a horror or sci-fi novel, for example, that has a literary flavor and stretch the rules a bit.

      And this is not to say that there aren’t genre novels out there that are well-written. A lot of mystery/thriller authors (and others, I’m sure) get cred for great writing. Elmore Leonard comes to mind…

  6. John W. Howell
    February 16, 2014

    Good post. I am sitting here with marketing projects left and right and still don’t move the needle. I think I’ll load up the car and go to the mall and try Kiosk work for a while. Psst…you wanna book?

  7. sknicholls
    February 16, 2014

    As my book crosses genre between historical and literary fiction, the Ereader News Today that I just finished today netted a couple hundred sales at 99 cents. I am afraid the hoitie toities might rip me to shreds, though, in reviews. The last promo I did through them was in historical fiction, netted about the same at $2.99, but has a larger subscriber audience. I dunno, sort of feels like I am in Vegas.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 17, 2014

      It does feel a lot more like gambling than marketing. Sounds like you did well, though!

      • sknicholls
        February 17, 2014

        We will see when the reviews come in how well we did. Selling by the hundreds every few months during a drastic promo beats not selling at all. BookBub wouldn’t touch me on my last two tries. I am hoping with my improved sellers rank that they will give me a shot.

  8. ericjbaker
    February 17, 2014

    Don’t get down on yourself, Kevin (if I am accurately reading between the lines in some of your commentary above). It’s hard not to ask, “What am I doing wrong?” But it’s the nature of trying to promote a book. People can hear a song and know whether they like it right away. You can show them a clip from your movie in 30 seconds. But a book title and a cover are just noise when there are thousands of book titles and thousands of book covers out there with nothing to distinguish them from the rest. Even getting someone to read a page is requiring more give and take than playing them a song or showing a movie clip, because reading is more active than listening or watching.

    • ericjbaker
      February 17, 2014

      I realize that is not a solution, but just a bit of perspective.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 17, 2014

      I’m not down on myself; I’m down on the rest of the world!

      Just kidding. But you’re so right about the nature of books vs other kinds of “media,” which makes them hard to peddle. On top of which, there’s no such thing as instant gratification with a book. It’ll take a few days to get the blast.

      Thanks for the pep talk, Eric. Nobody said this would be easy…

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