Stories to touch the heart and mind
Michael W. Davis
Copyright 2010 by Michael W. Davis
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The Comparative Benefit of Various Promotion Avenues
By Michael W. Davis
Introduction and overview
See if this scenario sounds familiar. You’re a newbie to the fiction writing business. You get “the call” your first story has been contracted to go live out into
the world and you’re ecstatic. Then, a month later when you receive your marketing query package from the publisher, you become confused. After all, you
did your part. You created a fantastic story. Someone else is supposed to promote your book, right? Sorry, wrong answer. You are an integral part of the
promotion process. Although the portion of effort divided between you and the publisher will vary, all authors have to do their part. Question is, if you’re like
me, both your time and personal promotion budget are small. So how do your choose which marketing avenues provide the most Return on Investment
(ROI) in both revenue and spend hours for you particular situation?
I decided to do research on exactly where I should sink my limited resources. Unfortunately, in the dozens of sources I consulted the opinions where mixed
leaving me again confused. Not being one to give up easily, I turned to my old past time of conducting statistical analysis using site hit data and supporting
revenue statements. This article offers what I’ve learned over the last five years from data collected on site hits associated with two-dozen self-promotion
experiments I ran to determine what worked and what did note. Where possible, I confirmed my conclusions with several experienced author friends.
Bottom line – Based on the results discussed below, I culled back to 6 or 7 promo arrows in my quiver, yet my sells have tripled, and I’m spending a smaller
fraction of my time marketing and more writing. Does that make ya wet your lips? Then read on.
Some background and general observations
Let’s began with a little background. Once I became contracted by a publisher, I was amazed at the level of effort involved in promoting one’s books. Yet
I've learned from discussing this topic with other authors, I wasn’t the only one shell-shocked by what it takes to push your books. Within the first few
months I became aware of a serious problem. Every few weeks a new promotional opportunity would pop up. Thing was, with so few hours in the day, I
was forced to allocate time between my muse (the very reason I started writing) and promotion. I decided to collect statistics that would reflect the
effectiveness of each marketing activity. Those that clearly had a significant impact I would continue, those that did not I would discard. Before we exhibit
the results, we need to understand how I conducted the analysis
The basis of my observations - I’ve kept website statistics since Dec 2007 and my observations are derived from initiating one new promotion opportunity
at a time while holding all others constant. In that way, any affect I witnessed was not convoluted across multiple promotion avenues.
Terminology - The best statistic one could use to evaluate whether a promo method is effective would be to examine increases in sells during the recording
period. Unfortunately, there’s a six month lag between when I enacted a promote activity and when I get my royalty statements. Thus, I fell back on two
metrics that correlate to sells, namely: Deep hits and buy page visits (I’ll explain those in a minute). I do not record shallow hits based on the logic they were
most likely false visits (my site was not what they were looking for).
1. Deep hits – If a visitor stays longer then a minute and visits my excerpt, review, award, trailer, or buy source pages, I assume they were interested
enough to at least read further.
2. Shallow hits – If a visitor simply enters my website via the home page and exits immediately, I assume it was a mistaken search and discard.
Rule of thumb: I get about 12 times the number of shallow as deep hits.
3. Buy page ratio– I compute the percentage of deep hits in a week that exit my site via a visit to the buy page (links where my books are available).
4. Base rate – The average rate (computed across eight weeks) of deep hits when no special promotion activities are going on.
1. Each promotion activity has a shelf life of its own ranging from one to six weeks.
2. Repeatedly doing the same exact promo activity quickly wears out your audience.
3. A promotion campaign must be continuous. Otherwise your hits decline to the base rate quickly.
4. Many authors believe promotion activities have a long-term benefit of establishing name awareness. Its not that I disagree, rather the data collected
is not aligned to evaluate such effects.
Comparative benefit of promotion avenues
Below are two-dozen activities I have executed in an attempt to promote my stories. In addition to these avenues, there were certain “background” activities
being conducted routinely by myself and my publisher. I collected ambient levels for four months to evaluate the nature and effectiveness of such promotion
and adjusted my analysis of other avenues accordingly. The numbers in front of the activities (e.g. “100”) indicate their relative benefit in promoting my
books when compared to time spent. The scoring does not deal with intangible return (e.g. the activity is just fun to do, etc). Note that a “100” score
represents five times the benefit of a score of 20. All scores 60 and above I considered effective in terms of the time spent and repeat as part of my promo
plan. Scores 30 and below, to me, were not worth the effort spent and dropped. Scores between 30 and 60 are done if I have time.
100 Special Recognitions – The events that resulted in the largest return on investment were awards, nominations for awards, or be identified by an outlet
sources as a "best seller for some period (e.g. a week or month). Here are four examples:
- When I won the “Author of the Year” award I expended maybe an hour to announce it on a few social network sites. For that investment my
deep hits increased 350% and buy page visits increased 250%
- My novel FORGOTTEN CHILDREN was nominated as “best romantic suspense” by two sites. That event increased deep hits 220% and buy
page hits 130%
- When my short SF story THE TREASURE hit the Fictionwise book outlet’s best seller page, the hit rate jumped 260% (the buy page visits
- When my novel BLIND CONSENT won the Rose Award for best romantic suspense my deep hits went up 240% over a four week period and
buy page visits increased 85%.
I’ve discussed this with four other authors and their experience has been the same. Unfortunately, most of these events happen on their own
(e.g. other than working hard to create a great story, not much you can do about this one).
90 Reviews – Whenever I have a new release, my novel is submitted to various review sites by myself and the publisher. The level of effort to submit is
minimal, yet when you receive a top review (like a 5 star review, or “Reviewer’s Best Pick”) the deep hit rate and buy page visits roughly double,
but its short lived (two to three weeks). After that, your review is replaced by other “New reviews” on the sites “Top review” page.
80 Site Participative contests – Web sites conduct contests where they enlist visitors to participate in the author’s world by asking readers to go to the
writer’s site and bring back some interesting factoid. Deep hits increase about 160 to 210% depending on the site. This is another avenue you cannot
really orchestrate yourself, however any time I’m given the opportunity, I gladly participate.
75 Lister sites – There are about a dozen sites out there (Izuzu, Docstoc, etc) that list and display documents for anyone that wants to post them and
made ‘em assessable to the public. These outlets are free (nice word “free”). Whenever I get a new release I place a snazzy document sharing blurb,
early reviews, and excerpts on each of the sites and boy do they get read. Over a two year period since I discovered these outlets, my “announcements”
have been viewed over 11000 times and once they’re uploaded there’s no more work involved (now that’s my favorite kind of promo activity). Does it
result in deep hits? In terms of explicit redirected visits (like with a review), I cannot say. Unfortunately the documents do not have the option for
hyperlinks (which would permit trace back by my tracker program). Thus all benefit comes from readers actually entering my website in the URL line
vs. clicking an embedded link. Yet, each time I upload a new release, my deep hits and buy page visits do jump initially (I guess from people searching
for “new uploads”). Now before you sent an email requesting I forward these sites, I plan to place an article on my website sharing the data based
results, when I get time. At the moment I’m trying to recovery from a one year dip into hell fighting cancer and it’s a steep hill crawling out of zombie
world. Boy am I backed up.
70 Forums – There are dozens of writer forums out there (AWC, Writerbeat, WriterCafe, Amazon has several, etc). Just by helping others on the forum,
sharing what you’ve learned, visitors will check out your site. Only makes sense, doesn’t it? Writers are readers too. Plus the time is minimum
compared to the fact that your help post stays viewable forever, although as time progresses it moves further down the stack.
60 Shared linking – For about twenty published author friends, we reciprocate writer links on our websites. The number of deep hits is relatively low
(3 to 5 a week) but so is the cost (a one time expenditure of a few minutes to add their site to my link page). Unlike other promotion activities that die
off in a few days or weeks, once added to your website, the affect goes on indefinitely.
40 My Participative contests – The only contest I run myself now are those where I encourage the visitors to participate and stay for a while to at least
read about my stories (trailers, excerpts, etc). The participation comes in the form of questions they need to answer or things they must search for.
Deep hits increase 60% to 90% and buy page visits go up about 30%. Problem is these avenues take a tremendous amount of time to send out to 900
past players and to manage the answers from the 170-220 responding participants. For this reason, I do this one less and less.
35 Interviews – On average I would receive 12 to 20 deep hits the first week an interview is released tapering to 3 or 4 by the third week but disappearing
all together after about 6 weeks. The problem is the amount of time required to complete a detailed interview is significant. Could be the genre in which
I write (suspense with a romantic core) while most of the websites conducting the interviews are pure romance. I’ve never discussed this with writer
friends so their experience may be different.
25 Special chats – Every few months my publisher schedules an author chat and their roster of writers interact with each other and readers about various
topics. Whenever the chat sponsor is new, or has not hosted a chat for a long period, my deep hit rate increases 40% to 50%, and my buy page visits
go up by about 30%. Although the benefit is significant, the commitment of time is major (chat durations reach from 2 to 12 hours in length.) None the
less, I do the chats orchestrated by my publisher. They spend a lot of time setting them up, plus I believe in supporting the other authors.
25 Video Trailers – I researched opinions on the web and unfortunately views were split. I decided to conduct an experiment and developed videos for two
of my novels (available on my website). I posted the trailers on eighteen posting sites (You Tube, Vimeo, Seven up, Photo bucket, etc). Although the
videos were viewed thousands of times, and even given five stars by the audience, translation to site visits was disappointing. The problem is I saw no
change in deep hit rate or visits to the buy page, at all. This was a surprise. Afterwards, however, the results made sense. The posting sites reflect a
broad based audience versus just book readers, thus they viewed the video as a random interest but really weren’t in a buying posture. Since that
experiment I have observed a logical but unanticipated benefit. Of those that deep visit my site and actually view one of my book videos, the visits to a
buy source increases 110%. Videos do take a major effort to create (eight days for both trailers) but they are fun and they do increase the buy page visit
rate so if I have time, I will do them again.
20 Bookmarkers – I use two styles of bookmarkers: 2”X6” glossy markers aimed at a new release; and a business card size that reflects cover art and
5 star reviews for two books (one on each side). The large ones cost .10 each while the small .02/ea. I use the larger at talks/signings and the smaller
ones are convenient in my wallet when someone asks for my website. I do not leave them in random non-audience specific locations (like restaurants,
coffee shops, etc). I actually tested leaving markers in such places on trips with the result that I received no hits from those locations afterwards (my
stat package tracks server location). I do use them, but the expensive markers are rationed to special events because of their cost.
20 Blogs –I expected posting articles on blogs to have major impact. Yet each time I did it, I saw no measureable increase. I found that peculiar and
decided to stop all other promo activities and posted thirteen articles on different blogs across a month. Again, I saw no significant increase in site visits.
There were a few redirected hits, but nothing that justified the effort in writing all the articles. That could be because of the articles I post, or the blogs I
posted on, or my genre itself. I do participate in a blog entitled “TheWritersVineyard.com” with 28 other authors from around the world because it does
get viewed a lot. Last year alone we had over 33000 viewers so for the once a month twenty minutes I spend for my post, I consider it worthwhile.
10 Libraries – I support local libraries where I can by contributing free books. I’ve noticed very little return from this, but that’s not the reason I do it.
I just like the idea of people having the opportunity to broaden their horizons in areas they might not be exposed to otherwise.
10 Book signings – My first signing was at a B&N store. I was shocked to see over ninety people attend. Yet I only sold about a dozen books, while the
cost to get to the store (two hour drive) out weighted the commissions from my sells. Could have been me, maybe my deodorant wasn’t working, or a
variety of factors. I’ve talked to other authors that had similar experience (their book sales ranged from zero to less than 10 at an event), yet they still do
them in the belief it provides exposure. In that light, I do book signings when offered the opportunity, but I don’t seek them out like when I started.
10 Routine chats – Chats with authors and readers that are done on a frequent basis (e.g. each month) tend to lose effectiveness over time because you’re
interacting with the same readers and lurkers that have seen your excerpts, reviews, blurbs, etc. I do support my publisher in every promotion event they
organize but I no longer seek out chats that I have done several times at author social network sites.
10 Loops – Yahoo has a ton of writer/reader loops where visitors discuss issues about stories/authors they like. Half the threads posted are by authors
promoting their books. I tried for several months but noticed no significant increase in deep hits or buy page visits. Although the idea appears fruitful
and the visitors seem to enjoy the interactions offered by the loop chat; I think they quickly get saturated.
10 Articles – On occasion I write articles to share the writing experience. About one third of the time, they are self-generated (I get an idea and write
about it). The remainder occurs when I’m asked if I would be interested in writing an article. I’ve observed roughly a 15% to 20% increase in deep hits
and no significant increase in buy page visits. However, I do still write them when I feel the urge to share.
5 Newsletters – I know there will be those out there that scream “Bull” to what I’m about to say, and God bless ‘em if their results are different, yet
I’ve discussed this activity with three other authors and they concur: newsletters ain’t worth the effort, least for me. Each month for one year I send out
a newsletter to 1200 participants and the letter was extensive. Took be about two hours to put it together, yet I saw no bump, zero, nada the week I send
our the mailing. For those that observe a positive experience, by all means, march on, but for me, “never more.” Guess its possible those individuals were
already periodically visiting, but if so the newsletter still was not worth the effort, IMO.
5 General give away contests - General “submit your name” random drawings have not paned out for me. I did get a ton of hits, unfortunately virtually
all were shallow. I talked to several other authors and their experience was the same.
5 Social networks – I’d heard great things about social networks (Facebook, Myspace, etc) in terms of promoting your work, so I spend two entire
months joining about a dozen sites and monitoring resulting hits. Unfortunately, my personal results were almost non-existent. I’ve discussed this
avenue with six other authors that shared my experience, but a couple of writer buds swear by this mechanism as key to promoting their books.
5 Rings – There are rings that freely link your site to groups you select if you insert HTML banner code at the bottom of your home page. As a member
of each ring, your site will be randomly displayed in the banner so potential visitors can click and be transferred to your home page. I have tried two
rings and received a few referred hits each week, but unfortunately they were virtually all shallow hits.
5 Directories – There are a bunch of websites that will freely list yours in their directory, and I have tried dozens. Problem is, all referred hits
1 Advertising – During my first 12 months, I spend a chunk of change advertising my novels across about a dozen sites. The results were abominable.
I tried new sites, different site pages, different kinds of ads, but to my surprise the result was always the same. I would get a handful of hits, so few I
was spending about a buck to earn 8 cents worth of royalties. I’ve discussed this with four other authors and their experience has been the same.
Wrap up - I hope newbie authors find this information helpful in designing their own marketing plans. If nothing more, it may introduce several avenues you
haven’t considered. Like I said at the beginning, your experience might be different for a variety of reasons. As I continue to learn more, I will share on my
Note - this is an updated article from one published years ago in a magazine associated with author self promotion. Articles on
other writing related topics discussed in a workshop I give are availble HERE for free (click links down the left side of that page).