Trying to sell my Korg M1 keyboard on Facebook Marketplace. I haven’t used Marketplace much, but I did manage to sell some winter tires and an amplifier on it before, so I didn’t anticipate any trouble.
After getting a few nibbles that never went anywhere, a woman named Zara contacted me ostensibly from Sudbury, initially in French. She had a Facebook profile featuring a single headshot and a banner displaying a photo of a baby. There were a handful of pics and posts of babies and puppies, complete with sporadic comments from alleged friends and relatives. Just enough to make you think that maybe (maybe!) this could be a real person. (She had no actual Facebook friends, though.)
Zara professed interest in the keyboard but was too busy (and presumably too far away) to pick it up herself. She proposed using UPS to both pay me and have it delivered.
I thought this was a bit strange as it bumped up the cost considerably, but hey, whatever. I went along with it initially. She proposed a time the courier would show up with the money and collect the keyboard. Fine with me. Then the kicker: I would have to pay $160 in insurance online upfront. But hey, no prob! She would ensure I was reimbursed once the courier showed up at my door with the cash.
“Heh Heh. I will admit you had me going there for a bit,” I texted her. “Seems like an awful lot of work for $150.” (Unless, of course, she or he was conducting several cons simultaneously, which seems more likely.)
“I don’t understand you,” she texted me back. “Please check your mailbox and spam. ” This was for an email presumably from UPS with directions on how to proceed.
Sure enough, there was the email in my spam folder. Pretty dodgy looking, from the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Need better graphics,” I texted Zara. “And the gmail address is a dead giveaway.”
I provided a few more tips on how I’d conduct the con a lot better, if it were me (not that I’m an expert, but I hate seeing sloppy work).
I blocked and reported her, which doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything. Just checked Facebook Messenger; she gave me a thumbs up, evidently happy with my helpful advice. Her profile page is still up, though her banner displays a Ukrainian flag now instead of a baby.
Yesterday I started a week long 99 cent promotion for the ebook version of my novel A Time and a Place with marketing courtesy of Manybooks. I was the Manybooks Featured Author and you can see advertisements for the novel up their site now. They also promoted A Time and a Place on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The Manybooks team has been great to work with and have delivered exactly what they said they would. There was one little glitch when their promo indicated that my promotion price might be wrong, and that potential buyers should double check, but that may have been my fault; it’s possible I indicated the wrong start date for the promotion when filling out the paperwork. I emailed the Manybooks team right away and they corrected the problem within minutes. So, some nice professionalism all round.
But the big question of course is what impact is this having? The fact is making a single book stand out is a herculean task. It’s not like promoting a movie, where you’re only up again other new releases which that year might number in the hundreds. With a book, you’re up against two hundred thousand. Millions, if you want to talk about all the potential books a reader might be interested in reading, cuz they’re not necessarily only interested in new books.
For the sake of other authors interested in marketing who might be following along, I want to be brutally honest as I track my progress. Casual readers interested in books might also want to know.
A caveat. This is just the beginning of the campaign. And I readily admit that I only barely know what I’m doing (unlike, say, fellow Canadian author Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who’s so good at marketing that, look, here I am helping him by name checking for no reason other than his name just popped into my head. Though isn’t that what we should all be doing? Helping to promote one another?) . Figuring out how to market a book properly is like trying to drink a lake. A tasty lake, with delicious fish in it, but it’s going to take a while to get through that lake.
So how are we doing on Day Two? Manybooks has 1870 followers on their Twitter feed (I have 2071). Their tweet featuring me was liked four times and retweeted four times. I’m one of the retweets, and my retweet was liked once and retweeted once. Highly unlikely that the Manybooks tweet generated any sales.
The Manybooks Facebook post generated zero comments and zero shares. I posted a link to it on my personal Facebook page, my author Facebook page, and the SF Canada Facebook page, of which I’m a member. A handful of friends and family shared the post (thank you! I feel the love) on my personal pages. The SF Canada post reached 38 people and generated zero engagement.
I have no way of knowing the traffic on the Manybooks pages that now feature my book. I can track sales. As of this writing, this effort so far has generated three ebooks sales and one audiobook sale. I can also track some rankings. Right now, A Time and a Place is ranked #328 in Time Travel Science Fiction on Amazon.ca, which is no different than yesterday. It’s ranked 10180 on Kobo in Science Fiction & Fantasy, which is also no different than yesterday.
Here’s the painful part. The Manybooks newsletter promotion cost $39.33. The Manybooks Author of the Day promotion cost $66.45, for a total of $105.78. The revenue generated by the campaign so far (with a promotional price point of 99 cents I get 35 cents for each sale on Amazon) is not enough to even reach the threshold required for Draft2Digital to pay me, though Audible might sent me the 40 percent they owe me for that one sale.
But no matter. This is only the beginning. Today I have promotions with Read Freely and eBooksoda. (Why do I feel like I’m promoting them just as much as they’re promoting me? And for free…) All of this is part of a strategy called Promo Stacking, the idea being to generate buzz in and around the big promotion that happens tomorrow, when A Time and a Place will be a BookBub Featured Deal, theoretically reaching millions of potential readers, as opposed to the smaller newsletters, who reach tens of thousands.
I also want to make it clear that this is not about convincing (or guilting) more of my friends and family to buy copies of this book. Anyone the least bit interested has already done that, contributing to the 500 sales of A Time and a Place that have already happened. This is about seeing if it’s possible to take it to the next level. A little anecdote: shortly after the novel was published, a guy at work asked me what was next. At that time I told him that it was about taking it to the next level. Aware of how challenging publishing can be, he said, “What’s that? Taking sales from dozens to hundreds?” I said, “No, from hundreds to thousands. ”
Even then I had few illusions about how difficult that would be.
Of course, you don’t have to put any effort into selling your book if you don’t want to. You can just throw the book out there and hope that by some miracle it will get discovered because of its intrinsic value. There are writers who have had some success this way. But if you choose this path, I think you will be waiting a long time.
I feel an obligation to work hard at selling my novel A Time and a Place. For one thing, I spent a long time writing it. I’m happy with it. I think that it’s worth reading. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But I do think that there’s an ideal reader for this book and it’s up to me to find them.
My publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, invested in me and this book, financially and otherwise. Five Rivers artists and editors and book designers put their time and imagination into it. They deserve something in return for all that.
Thinking about what I owe my publisher and the book itself gives me the strength and will to overcome certain misgivings I have about selling my book.
What misgivings? Why should I feel bad about selling A Time and a Place?
Because doing so is somewhat at odds with my general philosophy of life. Apart from certain contexts such as work and family, I don’t expect anything from anybody. The world doesn’t owe me anything. If somebody gives me something—their time, a gift, a favour—it must be of their own free will. I don’t want anyone to do anything for me out of guilt or obligation. I will do the same for them. If I do something for you, it’s because I really want to (um, either that or because of some deep-seated unconscious psychological impulse influencing my actions that I am neither aware of nor can be held responsible for).
What this means is that nobody, not family, friend or stranger, is obligated to purchase A Time and a Place, or read it, or review it (or review it positively), or talk about it, or do anything at all to support it.
Nobody owes me or my book anything.
Because I feel this way, I feel a little funny about trying to convince people to buy it, because I don’t want to talk someone into buying it who might not have done so otherwise. Who might buy it out of charity or a sense of obligation towards me. I would prefer that people buy A Time and a Place because they’re actually interested in it, who might really enjoy and appreciate it.
Now, this is not to say that I don’t appreciate the support that I’ve received so far, whatever the motives may be. Support that has been legion, and that I do truly value.
In fact, I will never forget it.
All that being said, because I do feel an obligation toward the book and my publisher, and because I genuinely believe in A Time and a Place, I am doing my best to market and sell it.
The challenge now, I think, is to make A Time and a Place known to a wider audience. I fancy that amongst this wider audience there are people with whom it might truly resonate. A readership that might (dare I hope?) appreciate it on its own terms.
But how to reach this audience?
A Time and a Place is published by a respectable micro-publisher with limited resources. They are not in a position to mount an expensive advertising campaign. Nor can they afford a print run that will place physical copies of the book in brick and mortar stores across North America. And the print version is rather expensive. Finally, I don’t have the time or money to do a book tour.
On the other hand, A Time and a Place is available everywhere online as an e-book at a good price point. And it was very strong out of the gate. The book launch was a huge success, selling quite a few copies. In fact, it was Bakka-Phoenix Book’s (Canada’s top science fiction bookstore) best-selling Trade Paperback for the month of October 2017. A Time and a Place received a glowing review from Publisher’s Weekly (a prominent international publishing magazine), a review that was subsequently distributed to every major bookselling platform, including Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more. The novel received some respectable media attention (CBC Charlottetown), and it has received excellent independent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, where it’s currently rated at 4.6 out of 5.
So what does all that mean?
It means that I have a good book and a good foundation upon which to build. It means that I don’t have a huge media conglomerate behind me. It means that my publisher and I must do what we can with what we have.
It means that selling and marketing A Time and a Place is a bit of an uphill battle.
But that’s okay. I’ve been experimenting. And learning.
Early on, I did a Farmer’s Market in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, shortly after being interviewed by CBC Charlottetown. The table, which I shared with my sister, Susan Rodgers (author of the Drifters series), and Sue Campbell (author of Two Bricks Short: My Journey With Cancer) cost me ten dollars. I sold eight copies that day, three a direct result of the CBC Radio interview.
Summerside Farmer’s Market with sister Sue and new friend Sue
I spent a day at a Chapters in Oshawa. Sold nine copies there. But Chapters takes a huge cut (45%). Factoring in what each edition costs me (purchased from my publisher), I was forced to charge an exorbitant amount for each copy to make even a miniscule profit, so I will never do that again, at least for A Time and a Place.
I was invited to two Book Clubs, but only one of them followed through. Several members of the Book Club that did follow through purchased copies of A Time and a Place and actually read it before I showed up to talk about it. This was a lot of fun. Great food, great questions, and great company. My only regret is that I talked too much. I was just so excited to have the opportunity to talk about A Time and a Place to people who actually seemed interested in it.
And I’ve done a few other book-related events, but never sold more than three copies at any of them.
The most success I’ve had selling the book has been to friends, family and colleagues. Cutting out all middle-men allows me to charge the least amount for the book. And in every case they’ve approached me, so I don’t feel like I’m twisting anybody’s arm. I have a couple of rules around this. If someone happens to mention in conversation that they’re interested in purchasing A Time and a Place, I always follow up. As I mentioned before, I owe the book and my publisher that. If they’re still interested, I sell a copy or two. But if I follow up and nothing comes of it, I never mention it again.
I believe that many of these types of sales have been a result of making the book visible. To promote my book launch, I posted posters about the book all over the Broadcast Centre where I work. As a result, everybody who knows me there knows I wrote a book. Also, up until recently, I made a video every weekend that I posted on various social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, and Linked In. Sometimes the videos were directly about the book, sometimes they weren’t. But they all put me out in front of people. A surprising amount of people I know have watched these videos (usually via Linked In or Facebook). The existence of these videos, I am certain, has prompted sales.
A word about the videos. Every now and then I break out in a cold sweat, certain that I’m completely embarrassing myself with the videos. My friends assure that I’m not, even though it’s obvious not everyone gets my sense of humour. But I strongly believe that if you’re considering producing similar videos, some thought and craft has to go into them. Don’t just hit record and talk. I started by doing that and quickly realized that I owed the people watching them more than that. When I resume making videos in a few weeks, I plan to ramp up the quality even more. It’s also more fun to make well-thought out and produced videos.
Speaking of social media accounts, I’ve paid a lot more attention to them since the launch of the book, especially Twitter. By using the app Crowdfire, I’ve grown my Twitter following from four hundred to over fourteen hundred since Christmas. Has this resulted in any sales? I know of at least one (thanks Jim!) And I’m pretty sure Jim has loaned A Time and a Place to a friend, who showed up on Goodreads planning to read it. Word of mouth is extremely important. In fact, perhaps the most important.
Goodreads is something else I’m paying a lot of attention to, curious to see how it can help. Recently, I mounted a campaign to make A Time and a Place the number one book about teleportation on Goodreads. It wasn’t very difficult, as not a whole lot of people had voted for that particular list. But I noticed a slight uptick of sales following this campaign. I’m also trying an ad campaign on Goodreads, but a week into that has resulted in zero sales—in fact, zero clicks on the advertisements, so clearly some tweaking is required there. I plan to experiment with Facebook next.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about selling one book at a time. After a while, the numbers add up. I’ve been very lucky with the support I’ve received from friends, family and colleagues, but for the book to truly succeed it has to break out of that group into the wider world. A Time and a Place has yet to do that to any meaningful extent. But I’m not giving up on it. Everything I read about marketing and selling books tells me that the single best thing I can do to help sell my books is to write more of them. So that’s the next big step. I am well into the second draft of a sequel to A Time and a Place.
If you have any advice on how I can do better, let me know in the comments.
Oh, and if you’re interested in a copy of A Time and a Place?
I don’t know how many times I’ve embarrassed myself on Facebook. Probably more times than I even realize.
Recently, at about one in the morning, I came across a humorous anti-gun cartoon good enough that I thought I’d share it. I wrote a caption to the effect that as long as at least some people on the planet were thinking in these terms, there was hope for humanity. I felt good about myself.
The next morning I woke up, opened up Facebook, and the anti-gun cartoon had somehow turned pro-gun. I had posted a pro-NRA gun cartoon and loudly proclaimed this kind of thinking to represent salvation for humanity!
What an idiot.
So I wrote a comment clarifying my views. Later in the day I looked at the cartoon again and thought, well, maybe it could be interpreted as anti-gun, if you squinted right. When I realized that I could no longer even interpret the cartoon correctly, either due to the ambiguous nature of the cartoon or impending senility, I decided the best course of action was simply to delete the cartoon, which I did.
Writer and Facebook Friend Ed Willett
Later, one of my Facebook friends, Canadian science fiction writer Edward Willett, posted the following on his Facebook page:
Social media reveals to you what your acquaintances think about all sorts of controversial issues. I am not sure this is a good thing, since it is likely you will then discover that your acquaintances appear to be blithering idiots about this or that issue on which you disagree, which may have a harmful effect on otherwise friendly relationships.
When I read that I thought, My God, he’s talking about me. Okay, probably not specifically me, but it could certainly apply to me on occasion.
Because sometimes I can’t resist sharing cartoons, essays and whatnot that I think reflect my views. Only they may not entirely reflect my views, either for reasons of stupidity as noted above, or because I’m being flip. Because let’s, um, “face” it, Facebook may not be the best forum for in-depth intellectual discourse, and sometimes (I would even say usually) when I post or share something, I’m doing so without a whole lot of thought behind it.
Recently I was called out for this flip-ness. Flipness, it seems, doesn’t translate well on Facebook. People take you literally. A couple of weeks ago I shared someone else’s essay on how modern filmmakers should not eschew analog film in favour of more modern, but more expensive, digital equipment. I agreed with some points of the essay. But I posted it because I like to indulge in a tongue-in-cheek preference for analog over digital because I run a department called Digital Production Maintenance. Sometimes the digital broadcast equipment my department maintains drives us absolutely bonkers with the need for constant upgrades and the software bugs such upgrades inevitably create. I joke that life would be a lot easier if we reverted completely to analog and changed the name of the department to Analog Production Maintenance. But I am joking (mostly). When I shared the essay on Facebook I did not make this nuance clear and at least one friend took me to task for my apparent gullibility. Perhaps others thought the same. There is a real (if slim) chance that such “mis-posts” could potentially even harm my career, were the wrong person to misinterpret such a Facebook post.
I have also noticed that whenever I go to the trouble of posting something with a little heft to it (such as this essay), it is usually completely ignored. Whereas when I post an anniversary announcement, or a cute picture of my kids, the “likes” sky-rocket. I am tempted to conclude what most people have probably known from the beginning. That it’s best to play it safe on Facebook. Leave religion, politics and other serious thinking out of it.
However, I am not inclined to leave religion, politics, and other serious subjects completely out of it. As Edmund Burke once wrote, for evil to flourish all that is needed is for good people to do nothing. I subscribe to that whole-heartedly. It is not my nature to stay completely neutral, posting only innocuous posts about baby kittens and friendly whales.
But clearly I need to modify my approach. When I do stray into dangerous territory, I need to exercise more care. I need to be clear, not flip. I must make sure that I am not misrepresenting myself in any way.
Heaven forbid someone should think I’m not in favour of baby kittens or friendly whales.