Could Marketing Crash The Book Market?

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain

 

Marketing. (AAGGHHHH!!!!!! …as she runs screaming out of the room.)

As authors we have to continually keep our eyes on that ball. Besides providing great content between the covers of a book, we now have to be masters of the business world as well. Sheesh- sometimes it feels overwhelming.

 

I have an interesting question that I will ask in just a minute.

 

There’s no getting around the business side of writing. There just isn’t. Let’s say you’ve published your book, you’ve blogged, you’ve Face Booked, you’ve had a book launch, you’ve done all the things you know how to do and your sales are still moving along at a sluggish pace. Many authors will offer their books for free on Amazon and other sites. While doing that, you can also contact sites such as www.indiebookslist.com, www.pixelofink.com, www.freebooksy.com, www.bargainbookhunter.com, www.flurriesofwords.blogspot.com, www.freebookdude.com, and www.snickslist.com. These types of sites will be happy to email or tweet your book to their followers which can run into the thousands. There are tons of sites out there to help you, too many to list them all here. I’ve heard of one author who offered is book on Amazon’s KDP Select, ran it through as many of these sites as he could (with no other promotion) and he ended up with over 4000 free downloads. This sounds pretty terrific!

 

Another interesting idea is to use something called Wattpad. I had never heard of it, but it could be a great place to start building a readership, get feedback, and build excitement for your next bit of work. It’s like a giant high school literary magazine where people can put up their work and there are tons of readers there. This site is most often accessed by smart phones where short stories, novels, poetry, and fan fiction are read voraciously. Many writers reveal their stories chapter by chapter so the readers anticipate new developments and can often be found asking the writer for plot shifts or new characters! If you think this is just another site among the millions out there, think again. Wattpad gets 9 million unique visitors a month! I think that qualifies as a good site to build a readership.

 

So here’s my question. With this fairly proven method of offering your work for free as a marketing tool, are we training a whole generation to expect free books?

 

What does that mean for a writer? Dale Brown, who is a very successful author, just offered his books for $1.99. That’s not free, but it is pretty cheap. My husband bought ten books at once. While that’s a win win for both my husband and Dale Brown, Peter will now think twice before spending a chunk of change on a new book. If he waits long enough it will go on sale or be offered for free.

 

25 Responses to Could Marketing Crash The Book Market?

  1. Sad to say, Stacey, you may be on to something. Personal experience only, I’ve done the “Free” promotion four times now, most recently over Labor Day weekend. I finally gave in and did SPIDER’S DANCE (which I vowed would *never* be free). The download figures were astonishing. BUT… did it translate into sales afterwards of either SD or any of my other four works posted? Ummmm….well….. not yet (he said, trying to put a positive spin on it.)

    For various reasons, I agree that yes, people are already expecting books to be ‘free’. I’ve had people tell me that outright; “It’s on my wish list, just watching for the Free Day(s).” Unless one is a passionate reader and/or writer, most people simply do not hold books (fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, pick one) or those who strive to create them in high regard.

    The craft of writing itself, of being a writer…. if I had a dime (to use the over-worked cliche) of every time someone said to me, “I could take six weeks off and write a New York Times Bestseller!”, I’d be sitting on a yacht off the coast of Melbourne pretending I was a sundial…:)

    Years learning craft, pacing, plotting, dialogue, working harder than normal sometimes all to the goal of ‘getting it right’, learning to discipline your creativity and yourself to produce, only to be told by a reader that your years of effort was ‘okay’, or in some cases being told worse than that – which both you and Jennifer have written of recently – can lead to some maddening moments.

    With the recent economic downturns, market crashes, layoffs, housing issues, etc. etc., most people have become *very* cautious with their money. Again, personally speaking, I’ve caught myself more than once looking at an item (book, DVD, television, New Geek Toy of the moment), and asking myself, “Do I NEED this or do I just WANT it?” If there is the slightest hint of ‘want’, I pass.

    The Internet has given rise to an *expectation* of ‘free’. In the mid to late 90’s, it was music. Late 90’s to 2010 or so, free movies and television. Now that mentality is turning to books….. and I think it’s a bad thing all the way around.

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  2. So here’s the question- if you believe that the training is already instilled in us for books to be offered for nothing or as close to free as possible, how are we going to make money? This is a perplexing dilemma and I’m not sure I can see how to get out of this quagmire. Thanks for commenting- great points!

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  3. Suzan Harden says:

    ARGH! Don’t get me started on the ‘free/99-cent’ argument. As Will said, it’s bad enough readers don’t respect the amount of effort that goes into a book. Now, I see writers who don’t respect themselves undervalue their efforts. Giving away one short story as a sample is one thing, but giving away all twenty of your novels for free? NO! And a thousand times NO! That’s just training readers to disrespect you and your efforts.

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  4. Somehow I just knew you’d be commenting today Suze! It’s an interesting dilemma within marketing and I have a feeling that it’s going to backfire on writers in a big way as time goes on. Not only does it teach a level of disrespect, but it conditions buyers to think it should all be free.

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  5. Interesting point. Stacey. Thanks for giving us something to think about.

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  6. You are so welcome! Hope you have a great day.

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  7. Marie says:

    This is a wonderful and thoughtful blog today.
    As a reader I devour many books a month. I have now begun to think that yes, I too could be a writer. After reading many books on the craft of writing I have learned that it is cerebreal. I know how to knit, sew etc. but that is more visual.
    My respect and admiration go to writers. I always pay for my books. I think writers deserve that respect. I pay a lot for some writers who demand money based on their writing history. This does not always guarantee a good read.
    Readers should dip their toes in the world of creativity and then I think that we would appreciate all the hard work and dedication that it takes fo become a writer. Writers are iextemely generous people and I think we owe it them as readers to support them.

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  8. Thank you for all the wonderful things you pointed out in your comment. We love seeing you here at Muse Tracks and we love that you are an avid reader! I’ve always heard that perception is reality so if people perceive that a more expensive book is more valuable then the converse must be true as well. (Of course, you and I know higher prices does not necessarily mean higher quality in writing) Based on that model, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot by offering so many books for free.

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  9. jeff7salter says:

    I’m prob. in a minority, but I don’t intend to — & hope I never HAVE to — “give” my book to any reader I don’t know. Sure, lower the price for a brief promo period … but don’t let it go for free.
    We had to get rid of my mom-in-law’s yappy dog after Mom died. [it didn’t get along with our 3 other critters.] When I put an ad in the paper, I originally wrote, “free to good home.” But the classified lady advised against it, saying, “people don’t value what they get free.” And she told me to put $50. [it was a pure-bred, but w/o papers.]
    Anyhow, even though that may not translate directly to this topic, I think there’s a grain of truth. I’ve found myself collecting free Amazon books … but have not yet found 10 mins. to start reading any of them. Nor have I purchased any of the other titles by any of those same authors. It’s just that I couldn’t pass up getting a free book … because I love books.
    So if I were to offer my novel for FREE, I suspect it would result in a similar outcome: lots of downloads, but very little spillover sales. And my name quickly forgotten.

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  10. Hi Jeff! It’s funny that you mention the story about the dog. My husband and I were discussing this blog early thirty this morning and he said almost the same thing! He contends that when his company would give services away to a customer, they are automatically perceived as being less valuable than if he charged a ridiculous price. Hmmmm- go figure, humans are strange creatures!
    I don’t know that I have an answer to this question, but I think it is definitely something we need to mull over. The ramifications to it are far reaching!

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  11. YouDoPR.com says:

    Thanks for this perspective on marketing. We think it’s important to develop a specific plan and reach out for help with book publicity.

    Sharing on Twitter!

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  12. Thanks for stopping by today! I also believe that we should have specific plans for publicity, but I’m wondering if giving it away will come back to haunt us in the long run.

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  13. jbrayweber says:

    It’s odd how giving a book away for free can and does translate into more sales. And yes, free often devalues the product. The focus should remain on promoting a new or establishing author, but not going overboard.

    I agree that there are many are now expecting and waiting for books to go free. And so, with no answer to your question, it seems to be to be a double-edged sword.

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  14. Harlan Ellison (language warning) on paying the writer:

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  15. Suzan Harden says:

    Thanks,for posting this video, Will! This is exactly the reason Harlan has been able to make a living, lo, these many years.

    Stacey, we’re already starting to see the backlash. Programs like Kindle Select free days are seeing successively lower ‘buy’ spikes after a free promo each month since it’s inauguration in December. Also, customer reviews for free/99-cent books are getting worse and worse–along the lines of “This sucks. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.”

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  16. Wow- he’s really upset! He also makes valid points and everything he said is EXACTLY what I’m afraid about for writers. We found an effective way to market, but it’s going to bite us in the tush!! Thanks for sharing this video- Harlan says it like I want to, but can’t because I’m a southern belle. 🙂

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  17. Suzan Harden says:

    Um, I hate to tell you this, Stacey, but this Harlan at mildly irritated. You don’t want to see him upset. He turns green and starts yelling, “HULK SMASH!”

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  18. At the top of your article, you quote Mark twain on what is the best time to write an article.

    Mark Twain pretty much invented the concept of book marketing as we know it, which is, build a platform.

    It was Mark Twain who famously advised: “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.”

    So, this is an argument more than a century old. But Twain and many others have proven, until people know who the author is and feel they need (not want, but need) the book, giving it away is what you have to do. Nothing new just because it’s now in ebook form. It’s just cheaper and faster to give those books away in ebook form rather than bound form.

    The book that made Mark Twain a frontlist author was self-published, and he marketed the book himself, personally, on a one-man-show tour across the country. This, in the day when there was no virtual anything and the tour had to run on rails and stagecoaches. He had been a nobody author for years, but when he finally took the reins into his own hands and did it himself, often giving his book away, he became the ultimate Great American Author.

    That book was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

    The truth of it all is that readers will not pay good money for a book until they trust the author, and they will only trust the author after they have read the author’s work or believe many others have read the work to full satisfaction. Sampling and critical reviews are the only two ways to build this trust, and of the two, sampling is the fastest and most efficient method.

    –David Rozansky,
    Freelance writer,
    Publisher, Flying Pen Press
    Author, Fishnets & Platforms: The Writers Guide to Whoring Your Book,
    and cranky old editor of various publications over the years.

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  19. Hi David-
    I want to thank you for such a well thought and researched comment. I’m always looking for intelligent discussions and this question certainly seems to be a big one as it brought such wonderful responses! Who knew when I posted that quote (which I include on every article) that there was a history lesson behind it? I was not aware of Mark Twain’s stance on this idea and it certainly paid off for him. 🙂
    While I cannot argue that putting books up for free has been a successful marketing tool, I just wonder if we are training people to expect our works for less and less. Will this change buyers expectations of a fair price point? As for the critical reviews- that avenue is being tainted as well with “paid for” reviews and “trolling”.
    This question is huge and one that I will continue to delve into and read more on- I think I might start with one of your books!

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  20. Also, I have to ask if Harlan Ellison gave permission to use that interview on this page. You know, he is rather quick to file copyright infringement lawsuits. And given the content of that particular interview, I would be nervous. Just saying.

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  21. Mr. Rozansky, that is a fair question.

    The interview clip was originally posted on YouTube November of 2007; all I did was provide a link to it. Going to the actual page and hitting “Like” provides a URL link to post the link on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The “Share” button is also active – both actions can be disabled as safeguards on the part of the poster to prevent a video or clip the creators do not want shared, linked to, or passed around from being so.

    Knowing Mr. Ellison’s reputation – if he did indeed have an issue with the clip being publicly available and shared – he’d have made his displeasure known long ago. This is not the only web-page the clip has been linked to, and I have yet to hear a whisper of his displeasure over it. Quite the contrary, actually; Mr. Ellison has stated he is pleased the interview is being seen, and he hopes it will be educational to all writers. The first time I saw it, I immediately purchased and watched the entire documentary “Dreams with Sharp Teeth,” which the clip is taken from, a fascinating documentary on Mr. Ellison’s life and writing career.

    The members of Musetracks take questions such as yours quite seriously, both moderators and members. I would not have linked to the YouTube page were I not comfortable doing so, nor would the moderators have allowed it.

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  22. Thank you William for the research you did on posting clips. I would never want to use something inappropriately. I think we’re good on this one.

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  23. Lark Howard says:

    I’ll confess I download free and bargain books to help friends boost their ratings then find I have a huge backlog I haven’t read. If a book if free or super cheap I’m less likely to read on if I don’t get hooked in the first few pages, where I’ll stick much longer and give it a chance if I paid $7.99 or $14.99 to download it.

    It’s also true of free books I get at RWA and conferences so it’s not just a digital issue, although I’ll usually start a hardcopy book I get which isn’t true of free digital. The bigger difference between the print and digital freebees is that some editor bought the print book and a publisher invested in it so my chances of finding it a decent read are greater than among the vast number of unedited digital indie books being put up online for free or very cheap. I’m not knocking all indies–some are quite good–but many more aren’t and those are creating a bias in the buyer against the free and $1.99 books.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but I hope professional authors don’t totally devalue what we do by giving away their work. If we don’t value what we do by charging a fair price for it, neither will the readers. If readers decide all they want to read is free books, they’ll be wasting a lot of time on crap and will eventually decide their time is too important to throw away.

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  24. jfsalcedo says:

    I completely agree with David. Self-promoting is the most important thing a writer can do, and in this digital world there are going to be times you have to send it for free. Look in other industries, such as music and video games where both have either done the “pay what you want” model or given it away directly. It doesn’t hurt to try book marketing company to help, however.

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  25. sara says:

    I have to say, that honestly my view of a fair price point has changed a lot recently since i started writing myself even as a hobbyist. Even so, though, i was not above paying the standard 6-10 for a paperback and 25-ish for hardcover. its e-books that i don’t want to pay a lot for. there is no physical overhead, so logically it should cost less and i should be allowed to share it once i’ve paid for it.

    if it is a VERY good novel, id be willing to pay AT MOST 15 dollars for an e-book version. that is to compensate the writer for their time. this is, however, only going to send about 5 to the writer unless its a self-published title. yet another reason id rather not spend a lot on a book. I know everyone needs to get paid, but writers get shafted when it comes to big publishers paying out royalties.

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