Building Engagement (Sales Model post #2)


This is a continuation of the Sales Model of an Indie Author post, and part of my musings during and about my journey to become a highly successful author.

This also comes in the wake of the Fifty for Fifty celebration we ran last month. A lot of fellow indie authors asked me how I got there – and they deserve a somewhat longer answer than “hard work”.

As mentioned before, and is often proven by statistics, pay-per-click ads on Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads and the like do not lead directly to sales. Without going into too much detail, your ad needs to be first displayed (impressions), then clicked (click-through), then effective (conversion – resulting in a sale). Usually the percentages for each stage are so low, that whatever you spend on ads is unlikely to be covered by sales.

Mailing list services do result in sales. BookBub is the premier service, but is notoriously expensive and hard to get into. Other services exist, with varying results – and often conflicting reviews. They are best used when your book goes on price promotion. You’ll need to keep track of which service you used, and what the results were. Because different services have different results for different genres, take all recommendations floating around the web with a grain of salt.

Another point to consider is that such blasts result in a one-off spike of sales, that will dry up almost immediately (especially if the price goes back up after a limited time promotion). My understanding (and I claim no inside knowledge), is that the Amazon algorithm prefers a more steady sales stream than such spikes.

So how do you build up sales momentum?

The key is to focus on reviews, rather than sales. Once you accumulate reviews, things become easier. Amazon lists your book more prominently. Book bloggers are more likely to pick it up. New readers will be more interested. People, in general, will be more likely to buy your book when they come across it.

The way to get reviews is simple: find the people who’d be interested in your book, give them a free copy, and then follow up on reviews.

Simple does not mean easy, though.

This is a numbers game: out of 1,000 random readers in a room, let’s say only 20 will be interested in your book (for reasons of genre taste and preferences). 10 Might not have the time to read it now, or more likely will try to get you to buy their stuff. Of the ten that took a copy, 3 will eventually leave a review…
But just like in a crowded bar, you have to wink at 1,000 people, start the conversation with 20, exchange phone numbers with 10, and go home with 3…

Wait! That came out wrong! But you do get the drift.

It’s a time consuming bit of work, that is centred around the ‘social’ aspect of social media. It’s building engagement by being engaged. It’s about selling yourself, before you even mention your book.

You can improve your percentages a little bit by choosing the right “room” (the social media circles) but the essence is the same: engage as many people as you can, and when a conversation takes off and – after making a new friend – you mention your book, explain what it is about, and they’re still interested – you offer a free copy.

To make a writer’s faux pax, allow me to amusingly mix metaphors: It’s a slow and steady burn, that grows like a snowball.

As a side note on a side effect, this also results in better reviews. Let’s assume your novel is decent and is professionally produced (well written, edited, proofread, laid-out, and with a good cover – if you haven’t done that you need to go back to the basics!). As we ourselves don’t like every book we read, your own little masterpiece is not for every reader either (and did you know, there are 40,000 people who thought Lord of the Ring is a 1-star suck-fest and bothered to say so on Goodreads?). The cause of bad reviews is often failed expectations. Readers expect one thing, and when they  find another they are disappointed and the review they leave is therefore negative. On the other hand, the above strategy of engaging potential readers before you give them a free copy, will help in identifying readers that are interested in your genre and work, and that they know what to expect. So given a decent book that was put in a the hands of a verified member of your target audience, you are more likely to get a review, and that it will be a positive one.

This strategy, while time consuming, does work. I know it from first-hand experience. It will work even better when I (or you) have more books published in the same series. It sure beats being frustrated at why your incessant “buy my book” ads have no results.

If you’d like to read more, here are Part 3: Branding and the original Part 1: Building on Reviews.


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