Saturday, May 10, 2014

Selling books like Hendrix playing

In the various communities of writers you often see posts from people saying "I've just self-published my first book how do I promote it?" which, roughly translated, means "how do I make people buy my book?"

The answer to this question is very simple: You don't. The very last thing you want to do is waste energy (or worse, money) trying. Seriously, just don't. And here's why:

You're on stage with your guitar, standing behind your amplifier. You play a single note. It rings out strong, filling the auditorium and then fades to nothing. Gone.

That's what happens if you publish one book (although you will get some sales forever). But what if you could do this:

You stand in front of your amplifier, you play that same note and it sings out forever - because the sound from the amplifier vibrates the string, which gets played out of the amplifier, which vibrates the string, which gets played out of the amplifier and so on, ad infinitum. Or at least until you get bored or someone unplugs the amp.

That is positive feedback and that's what you're looking for regardless of whether it's traditional or self-publishing. It's just a lot easier to achieve in self-publishing.

Positive feedback in publishing? Yes indeed.

If you have just one book...

When you first publish a book (on, say, Amazon) they give it a little bit of a kick to help it along. Why not? They'd love to make money out of you. So a few people buy the book, pushes it up the chart a bit, makes it a little more visible but once they've bought it they've bought it, so sales drop, the rating drops,visibility (or, more accurately "discoverability") becomes less, which makes it even less likely anyone else will buy it. The sales tail off and die.

You can do some advance marketing, this can help. The start-up kick is bigger but the people who are going to see it and buy it will buy it and after a while it drops down the charts.

Or, maybe you get lucky, maybe this really is a popular book you've written (think Fifty Shades of Grey) and the kick is big, but word of mouth pushes more sales, discoverability goes up and more people buy it. It gets in the news, and sales explode. This is a positive feedback loop but even this eventually tails off, everybody who's going to buy it eventually does and the decline sets in.

What if you have more than one book?

This is stretching the analogy but a single guitar string is equivalent to one book. Every book you publish adds a string like this:

Let's say you take the first option above, you publish a book and don't promote it. Instead you write another book (preferably a sequel). That's published and gets some sales, people like it and they come back and find you have another book, so they buy that. Two sales where before you had just one.

Third book: three sales for one launch. Four books? Four sales. And so it goes on.

But here's the point: As you build the number of books your discoverability increases (you have more books) and when you get a follow-up sale that's another kick in the discoverability of that book. And with all your books cross-promoting each other and pushing each other up the charts you now have positive feedback.

And the analogy completely breaks down.

Because a book is not a recyclable sound wave and guitars seldom have more than six strings.

Once a person has bought a book they don't need to buy it again. So while you can reach a sort of positive feedback point, you still have to keep putting out books to keep triggering a round of further sales. (And reach new people.) If you stop producing the sales will eventually tail off, not to zero but some low level.

Notice that unlike traditional publishing ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks can always continue to be produced. They are always in the shop waiting to be bought.

Additional factors

If you can't write nothing in the universe will make the positive feedback kick in, I don't care how many books you're written. (Fifty Shades may not have been a very well written book but it was readable and caught the public imagination.)

Speed of getting them out. The faster you can produce books the sooner you'll reach the positive feedback point. Although naturally that depends on lots of other factors.

Pricing is not a major point, as long as you don't price too high.

Once you have a number of books available you can then indulge in promotion and marketing but deciding the point at which it becomes worthwhile is an imponderable. These things work best if you are already doing well.

What's on the turntable? "Red House" by Jimi Hendrix