As you probably know from my last few posts I’m preparing a marketing push for my novel A Time and a Place. Cuz selling books is every bit as demanding as writing them, and (as a friend of mine said recently) they don’t sell themselves.
Over the next couple of weeks A Time and a Place will be featured in the following:
A BookBub Featured Deal. (BookBub will be doing the heavy lifting here, placing A Time and a Place in front of 1,790,000 potential readers)
And possibly a couple of others yet to be confirmed.
My goals are simple. I’d like to generate awareness of the book, and I’d like to (at the very least) break even on the promotional costs.
I’d also like to ask for your help.
If you have ever considered purchasing a copy of A Time and a Place, now is the time to do so. The e-book is already available at its promotional price of 99 cents for a limited time. Every sale will help push A Time and a Place up the sales rankings.
You’re also welcome to simply sit back and watch as this all unfolds. A while back I reported on how well the book is doing. I’ll also report the results of this campaign, with brutal honesty. It promises to be at the very least educational.
People often ask me how the writing’s going. I interpret the question pretty broadly. As in, how’s the new writing going? Fairly well, thanks.
And: how’s my first novel doing?
There’s no short answer to that question. At least, no
short accurate answer.
A Time and a Place has been available just over two years now. I usually tell people that I’m not quite in Stephen King territory yet but it’s going reasonably well, and that my excellent publisher tells me that the book has paid for itself, which I hope leaves the impression that it’s achieved some measure of success.
Whether the book truly can be considered successful depends on who you’re asking, I think. I suspect that any big-time publisher might condemn the book as a complete and utter failure. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code sold eighty million copies. Compared to that, A Time and a Place has not exactly taken the world by storm.
The aforementioned big-time publisher might—I say might—concede that the critical reception for A Time and a Place (professional and otherwise) has been reasonably favourable, but they would probably also feel compelled to point out the rather small sample size.
Some novelists, I suspect, might suggest that merely completing and publishing a novel constitutes success because doing so is goddamned hard. While I accept that, most novelists would also admit that that’s not enough. Almost all of us (if we’re being honest with ourselves) would admit that we define real success as massive book sales and wide critical acclaim. On those scores, A Time and a Place can not exactly be considered an unmitigated success.
Still, to be fair (especially to those who helped me with the book), it’s probably performing perfectly fine considering it’s a first novel by an unknown author published by an independent press. I assume all responsibility for any lack of greater success. And I am well aware that the freakish success of an author like Dan Brown is pretty much a complete fluke.
But I’ll let you be the judge. Here are the facts. Let’s start with sales.
of my most recent Royalty statement, for the first quarter of this year, covering
up to March 31st 2019, A Time and a Place has sold a total of 454
those, my publisher sold 333 print editions, 98 e-books, 1 e-library edition,
and 22 audio books.
Of the 333 physical copies my publisher sold, I sold 134
of those myself after purchasing them from my publisher (at a discount). I gave
away 13 books as gifts, another 2 were kinda gifts (I thought the people would
pay but they never did), and 1 copy was stolen after a reading at a library (she
picked it up off the table when I was across the room. I didn’t confront her. I
dunno, maybe she thought it was free). I
have another 18 copies sitting in my basement to have available for readings
and book fairs and so on.
I earn 50% of net on any e-books sold, 10% on print (possibly more if I sell them myself, depending how much I charge), 50% on e-library copies, and 50% on audio books. A Time and a Place has earned me a total of $5989.68 since July 2017 when it first came out. Factor in the cost of purchasing books at a discount from the publisher to resell, all the marketing and promotion I do to supplement what my publisher does, along with treating myself to attending one writer’s convention per year, and I’m not exactly getting rich. Actually, technically I’m in the red, if I’m honest about how much I’ve spent on writing related activities since I began all this.
So yeah, I don’t think I could call A Time and a Place a huge success financially so far.
It’s fared better on the critical front. Reviews have been mostly positive.
On Goodreads, it has been rated 42 times, accompanied by 23 reviews. It currently averages 4.35 out of 5, consisting of twenty-four 5 star reviews, thirteen 4 star reviews, four 3 star reviews, one 2 star review and one 1 star review. It’s been added to 100 bookshelves, including 45 To-Read shelves.
23 of those 45 ratings have been accompanied by reviews. The reviews range from positive: “Mahoney writes with a practised wit,” “I loved this mesmerising audiobook with its non stop action and adventure,” and “A brilliant, often hilarious, thoughtful and amazing read,” to not so positive: “The second half of the book got a bit muddled for me.” “I think that the author was a bit too ambitious,” and “…one of the least likeable protagonists I’ve read in some time.”
On Amazon.ca it has been reviewed four times. All of those have been 5 star reviews.
On Amazon.com it has been reviewed twelve times (one 3 star review, two 4 star reviews, and nine 5 star reviews).
On Amazon.co.uk, it has been reviewed two times (both 5 star reviews)
On Library Thing it has garnered six reviews (two 5 star, two 4 star, one 3 star and one 2 star, averaging 3.57 stars).
There are a few other reviews out there as well, mostly positive, a couple less so, on blogs and Audible. Some are replicated on Goodreads.
Out of the approximately eighty people who have rated the
book, I personally know, am related to, or have met (at least once) around
twenty. The rest are complete strangers to me. Personally knowing or having met
those who have rated the book has been no guarantee of a positive review; three
acquaintances have given A Time and a Place three star reviews.
A Time and a Place has also been reviewed professionally by Publishers Weekly, who gave it a largely positive review when it first came out employing such words as “skillfully,” “entertaining,” and “great” to describe the writing, but the reviewer also discouraged me from getting too fat a head by suggesting that “occasional segments… distract or feel a little overdone.”
The book is currently being carried in seventeen libraries around the world according to WorldCat, in libraries ranging from Austin, Texas to Madison, Wisconsin to Rangiora, New Zealand, and at least three Canadian libraries that I know of, possibly more (despite having only sold one e-library edition; most libraries appear to have purchased print editions).
Does any of this matter? Of course! Otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it. 🙂 Also, I just thought some folks, especially fellow writers just starting out, might find it interesting.
Does it REALLY matter?
Of course not.
But it sure is a great way to procrastinate.
One final thought. Here’s a great Ted Talk from Albert-László Barabási on how to increase your chances of success in any field, writing included.
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?