They Shoot Authors, Don’t They? A Guest Post by Mark Lloyd

Mark Lloyd has just spent the weekend as a self-published author, plugging his book Rum Humour/Rum Humor on social media. And it hasn’t been fun.

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 09.24.03Activity. Bags of activity: hands and fingers slapping on keyboards, copying and pasting, tweeting, commenting, sharing, liking. But there was little to like here. Watching your post emerge in a Facebook group and seconds later disappear under the fat arses of twenty other posts. Arriving at the umpteenth group to find that Marla has been there before you, like she was in every other group and her cover is so much better than yours. You’re thinking of striking a deal with her, splitting the groups between you. Forty Facebook groups to cover.  And LinkedIn and Twitter. You cut and before the paste, before the ctrl+v, you melt into the internet, emerging in a room of sweaty men and women in t-shirts, all cutting and pasting to the beat of a drum.  This isn’t publishing, this isn’t writing. No, it’s social media marketing.

As a new publisher, I tend to experiment on books I’ve written myself before subjecting the work of credible authors to any new-fangled marketing stunt plan. I don’t want to piss off authors with my amateur half-baked ideas. I’d rather make the fundamental mistakes on my own books and then go on to make smaller mistakes with their books.

This weekend, I decided to try the Amazon Countdown Deal.

Using the Amazon Countdown Deal, publishers can set a time-limited bargain price for their books without impacting on the amount of royalties Amazon will pay them. Generally speaking, Amazon pays 70% royalty on all books above $2.99 and 30% on everything below.  The Countdown Deal allows publishers to push their book in the cheap seats without royalty penalties, in the hope that a surge in sales will ensure that, after the reduction ends, the book will continue to sell well at the normal, grown-up price.

So, tooled-up with a few Facebook ads and some free LinkedIn ads, I signed up Rum Humour/Rum Humor for the countdown deal and set about pushing my book, at the new pocket-money price.

I used Hootsuite to send simultaneous alerts to all of my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter contacts. Mailchimp allowed me to send decorative borderline-spam to my email subscribers. We were up and running.

Looking at the stats fed back by Facebook, LinkedIn and Mailchimp, proved that I’m not exactly in the Saatchi grade when it comes to designing adverts.

The Mailchimp spam lost me three subscribers, was only opened by 23% of recipients, and secured one, solitary click. (That’s a click. Not a sale. Someone looked at the book but probably didn’t buy it.)

I spent over €20 of free money on Linkedin, which yielded three clicks: a theoretical cost per click of €6.82. For a book costing 99c?

Facebook performed dramatically better, where €30 of real money got me twenty-four clicks: a real cost of €1.24 per click. For a book costing 99c?

Amazon provides near real-time reporting on sales, allowing me to learn very quickly that my credentials as a ham-fisted marketer were quite safe. My book was not selling.

There are thousands of groups on Facebook that purport to support writers and help them promote their books. So I joined forty of those.  I studied how they worked and quickly determined that one posted a link to one’s book with some apposite text and bingo bango – sales!

Talking to one self-pubbed book promoter in one of the groups, I asked him if there was any art to his marketing strategy.

‘Nope’, he replied, ‘just BUY MY BOOK.’
That’s it?

Shout it as loud as you can in as many places as possible.  And I got the distinct impression that this writer, and many others were all shouted-out – war weary from all the hollering.

Big publishers are always shouting and they never come across as needy. They shout in the books section of the Sunday Times, where they have paid to take out full-page ads, they roar on posters and placards dotted along all of our daily commutes and they demand buy my book on arts shows that they help to fund and/or stock with guests. This is professional marketing – never needy. Our self-published antihero doesn’t have a budget, or a marketing team, or a friend at The Times.

So, on the Friday, I cleverly posted in the Facebook groups during the day for the UK market and at night for the US Market. By Saturday morning sales hadn’t exploded. Rather than substantially changing my tack, I posted every two hours to each group – shout louder!

I met other groups online who were gaming Facebook and Twitter, working together to post and re-post, tweet and re-tweet each other’s blurbs and book covers until the exponential growth of the noise they were creating would force people to buy their books, I imagine. These groups won’t retweet porn but it appears that this is the only quality-check they employ.  I’m ashamed to say that I joined one of the groups. Not five seconds later, I was reprimanded by compete strangers for not having enough twitter followers and commanded to get my followers  ‘up to 1000 ASAP’.  Like a good soldier, I did what I was told: to gain fifteen retweets of my blurb, I retweeted the blurbs of fifteen other group members.

In the peak of my social media marketing frenzy I was lashing out posts, tweeting and retweeting at a rate of knots.  I guess that, if one had the stomach and the time for it that there might be some return from these activities. But they weren’t for me.

Truth be told, I felt soiled after the experience. I had posted and re-posted to groups whose only audience were those who had also come to post and re-post.  No sane reader would set foot in amongst that shouty rabble. Worse still, I had retweeted other people’s words, making them my own, without any filter whatsoever.  How could I be trusted? Who would listen to me after this? I needed to crawl up into the corner of a social media shower and try to get clean again. I guess that is the point of this post.

If I ever again decide to embark on a 99c Amazon offer – shoot me.

Mark Lloyd was born in 1972 in the small town of Naas, Co.Kildare in Ireland. He studied at Trinity College Dublin where he was allowed to escape with a BA (Mod) in Computer Science, Linguistics and French. His poetry has been published in Revival Literary Journal, Microphone On! and Boyne Berries. He is a founding member of The Limerick Writers’ Centre, Limerick, Ireland and a member of the Literature Pillar of Limerick City of Culture 2014. He is proud to have once been a member of Litopia. He founded Pillar International Publishing in 2012, named after his grandfather’s erstwhile company Pillar International Publishing. Though focusing on edgy and absurd humour, Pillar has also published several poetry collections, including Heartscald by Alphie McCourt and I Live in Michael Hartnett (featuring a piece by the late Seamus Heaney).

In humorous fiction and non-fiction, Pillar have published works by Rhys Hughes, Robin Walker and Thaddeus Lovecraft.

In 2014 Pillar will publish works by Tony Philpott and Helena Close, amongst others and will introduce Pillar Vintage, an imprint that will re-issue 1940’s fiction and non-fiction.

About cromercrox

Cromercrox is a recovering palaeontologist, author and editor who lists his recreations as writing, beachcombing, playing hard rock organ, supporting Norwich City FC and falling asleep.
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5 Responses to They Shoot Authors, Don’t They? A Guest Post by Mark Lloyd

  1. Sometimes, the half-baked ideas are the more tasty ones. They mix so much better in a blender with a lot of Bourbon. Something tells me there are big things coming down the pike from Pillar. Massive, fast-moving and very dangerous things.

  2. cromercrox says:

    As a fellow soshul-meeja enthusiast, I have a sneaking feeling that shouting ‘BUY MY BOOK’ is of limited effect. What one needs is word-of-mouth.

  3. Steve Caplan says:

    I have both self-published and published with small presses, which from a marketing standpoint differ very little: basically, you are on your own. From my experience with fellow authors, very few sell more than a handful of books, and rarely reach the few dozen stage. My first novel, self-published in 2010, has sold over 1000 copies if one includes Kindle (probably 6 Kindle for every paperback copy)–but I think the only reason it sold is because I am fortunate enough to have continuous access to new in person contacts. I have the opportunity to promote the book when I deliver science seminars at other institutions and scientific meetings. Without those in person contacts, I doubt that social media would have garnered a dozen sales.

    I definitely can sympathize with your frustrations; it takes the fun out of writing…

  4. John the Plumber says:

    There’s a contradiction of terms in book, Facebook and Twitter. A good book has literary merit, whereas Facebook is for those who carn’t spell. As for Twitter, surely that’s for twittering. Selling books on social media then, is akin to selling Disneyland tickets to condemned murderers. There’s a lot of hope involved.

  5. Kell Brigan says:

    I REFUSE to support the obnoxious intrusion of needy, pathetic “marketing” from self-published “writers” into my life. I REFUSE to ever buy any self-pubbed junk from anyone who tries to sell it to me. (I have bought two self-pubbed works in my life — both items I encountered through legitimate means, i.e. when searching online.) I’ve encountered self-pubbed sales screeds IRL and online in writers’ groups, readers’ groups, at work, and in groups that have nothing to do with books, and, consistently, all these people do is appear needy, creepy, naive, stupid, and oh so irritating. SHUT UP. LEAVE US ALONE. NO ONE WANTS TO READ YOUR JUNK. GO AWAY. Selfies, if you want to “sell” something, create a vetting mechanism to first weed out the 99% of self-pubbed stuff that is toxic slush. Oh, wait. They call those “publishers…”