Friday, July 08, 2011

The Numbers Game

Numbers.  That’s what it’s all about, really; marketing, at its most basic level, means getting your message in front of as many people as possible.  The actual product, what the message says about your product and how that message is presented are all peripheral issues, and totally dependent on the first.  If your message is not getting in front of people, then all the rest is a waste of time.
I’ve been wasting my time.
We all like to talk about our fan base and our followers, etc. but what does that translate to in terms of real numbers?  In my case, not a lot.  When the first book came out, I managed to carve out a respectable number of followers, and sell a few books.  But I made the huge mistakes of A) assuming those followers were still following, B) moving my blog at a critical moment and C) assuming my followers would follow me.  That assumption was so strong I never even questioned it, so for the past two months I have been paying attention to The Product, The Message, and The Presentation, and all the while I have been preaching to an empty church.
So the solution, really, is simple: fill the pews.  The problem, of course, is that this is easier said than done.
My handicap is that I am old and crotchety and set in my ways and still think I’m living in the IT barn-storming days when the information highway was just a dirt road and simply being on it made you something special.  (Back then we used HTML, Sparky, and we liked it.)  When I set up my first web log, I didn’t have to hunt for followers—they found me.  There were not a lot of us out there and we were doing it for fun.  These days, of course, everyone with a blog is using it to pimp their books (me included), promote their “Brand” or push their organization.  We’ve all become hucksters, strip-mining the Cyberlandscape for our next customer.
In an environment like that, standing out is hard.  Just having a book out used to be news, but with 76 billion self-published books currently on Amazon (oops, it just went up to 77 billion*) “Indie” authors are about as rare and newsworthy as corrupt politicians.  So, like a corrupt politician, unless you do something extraordinary (like get caught in a Travelodge with an underwear model, Shetland pony and a check for £500,000 from Rupert Murdock for “services Rendered”** ***), no one is going to pay much attention to you.
John Locke did something extraordinary: he devised a system that enabled him to sell 1 million eBooks, so people pay attention to him.
Amada Hocking did something extraordinary: she became a self-published millionaire, and she didn’t even have a system, so people pay attention to her.
But, in a way, I have done something extraordinary, as well, so it’s only a matter of time before people start paying attention to me.
Think about it: at a time when eBooks are so lucrative and popular that unscrupulous scammers are randomly stringing 80,000 words together, slapping stolen covers on them and uploading them to Amazon’s Kindle publishing site, and make money on them, I have managed to produce a quality product, advertize it to an admittedly small but targeted marketing cluster and not sell a single book.
Granted, I am taking into account only the month of June 2011 and only Amazon (US/UK/Kindle) and Smashwords.  I have sold a few on Barnes and Noble, and a dozen or so by hand, as well as a smattering in May when the book was first launched, but don’t confuse me with facts: selling ZERO books is the only extraordinary thing I have done and I am going to hold onto that.
In fact, this is so extraordinary that people will want to know about it.  This story should be picked up by the National news so millions of people can flock to my book’s site and see THE BOOK THAT DID NOT SELL.  It could become a pilgrimage for discouraged self-pubbers, who gaze at my stats and think, “Well, at least I’m doing better than that!”  Or a cautionary tale for hopefuls putting the final touches on their epic tale of Dwarf Love in the 23rd Century, causing them to stop and think, “Perhaps this self-publication thing isn’t such a hot idea after all.”
This could, of course, backfire: millions of possible customers might come to my site only to be so awed by THE BOOK THAT DID NOT SELL that they can’t bring themselves to buy it for fear of breaking the streak.  To these potential customers (and, of course, future, dear, devoted friends—we’ll be exchanging Christmas cards, I just know it) I say: Don’t be afraid to buy the book; I’ve already attained my ZERO credentials.  The record I am trying to break now is the biggest comeback for a non-selling book, humor division.
I’m starting at ZERO, so I have a huge advantage.

* statistics from
** I’m talking about the corrupt politician here, not self-published writers
*** The extraordinary issue, of course, is that they were in a Travelodge; no self-respecting politician would be caught dead in a Travelodge

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