Notes from the marketing underground by Dorothy Grant

*AKA ask and you shall receive! – SAH*
Notes from the marketing undergroundby Dorothy Grant

One: if you’re going to spend a lot of time staring at the screen and have problems sleeping, check out the f.lux program. After local-time sunset, it red-shifts your color balance, to drop the levels of blue light what disturb melatonin production / contribute to insomnia. Of course, if you’re working on covers, turn it off – but a trial run on my monitor has made a noticeable difference for me.

Two: Marketing exists on a bell curve that runs the opposite direction from engineering.

In Engineering, the very first entrant into a new market has to work hard to crate a demand. The second entrant into a new market can piggyback on the previously created demand, while also iterating their design to be more responsive to the demands of the new market. (See Smashwords’ meatgrinder vs. D2D’s uploading system.) As demand grows, production volume increases, greater cashflow is available for R&D, more innovations are made, and the market splits into  offering cutting-edge in lower quantities for a high price and older technology for the mass market at a lower price. (See cell phones, cameras, automobiles, night vision scopes…) The last people into the market benefit from all the prior R&D, and creation of market demand, and focus on making a high volume at slim margin for the cheapest offering, for predictable if thin profit. (See memory sticks, burnable DVDs, t-shirts, most things offered by Walmart.)

In Marketing, the very first entrant into the field with a new marketing innovation makes a killing. When the first half of the bell curve arrives in a rush, they make a respectable profit that leaves them hungry, because it didn’t work as well as the initial outliers. The second half of the bell curve drops off sharply, because as everyone in the field is using the marketing technique, it loses all effectiveness, and drop to breakeven, then a loss. The outliers at the tail end are the last people to hear about and try to catch the wave. Unfortunately, the market is usually sick of this tactic, and thus the last guys run a heavy loss.

For a publishing example, once upon a time, not that long ago, making a book free and having lots of people go download copies from amazon gave a huge rankings boost that carried over when the book’s price was increased (i.e. “put back in [the] paid [listing and rankings.]” There were several website, most notable Pixel of Ink, who made lots of money off Amazon Affiliate links by directing their mailing lists to Amazon for hundreds of thousands of free downloads each week, and reaping the affiliate fee when buyers purchased other things.  Amazon changed this practice overnight by 1.) no longer giving affiliate fees to an account if over X% of the downloads are for free items, and 2.) no longer carrying the ranking boost over when an item goes back to paid. If you put a story out there for free these days, you will not make the money that was available in 2009-2010. In fact, you won’t even get visibility for that story.

The next major tactic was “permafree”, or leaving the first book in a series permanently free, as a full-time loss leader. This tactic took a hard hit in July this year, when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited. Now, a great many of the people who used to download free books to try with only an investment of time before buying anything else from the author are instead trying all the KDP Select books they want to without worrying about the cost. It will survive as a marketing option, especially in other stores like Google Play and itunes, because they don’t have an equivalent subscription program. Yet. But it’s not nearly as lucrative as it was six months ago.

Meanwhile, “bundles” have come into the prime, and the market is rushing to try them. “Author Bundles” is a new name for a very old tactic; they used to be called “anthologies.” The new spin on the old theme is that ebooks don’t have the limitations on the binding or cost to print and ship like paper anthologies do, so they can include full novels and sell the whole thing at ninety-nine cents. (Or ninety-nine pence in the UK stores)

The first few authors to try this made a killing. However, if you go look at the also-boughts for the bundles, you will rapidly realize that what most people buy after buying a .99 bundle is… other .99 bundles. Do they still work? If all authors in the bundle promote it  to their fans, they do a good job at cross-pollinating fans. On the other hand, using that reader base to launch the bundle onto the bestseller lists and reap lots of eyeballs is getting harder, and the majority of sales are coming from people who only buy free or heavily discounted books.

A minor note: your fans probably already have your novel. You’re actually selling the bundle less your novel to your fans, on the basis of “I like these people, and if you liked this book, I bet you’ll also like these others.” Anthologies of short stories have the detraction of shorts as opposed to novels, but the attraction of new material; I suspect they’ll hang in there when the bundles are long gone.

What’s the next new thing? If I knew, Peter would be on all the bestseller lists. Meanwhile, I have a few things I want to try. J.L. Curtis, who writes thrillers for people who’ve been there and done that (and for everyone else who wants a thriller that’s scarily plausible and leaves you with “are you sure you didn’t hear this and change the names?”), is trying a new spin on the links at the back of the book. Instead of putting a link to more of his work, he’s putting in links to more books by friends that he thinks the target market would enjoy – including JD Kinman, Larry Correia, Marko Kloos, and Peter Grant. (Thanks, OldNFO!)

How many of you remember the “if you liked this, cut out this page, check off the ones you want, and send it to the publisher with a money order” in the back of the pocket books? How many of you also sent off pocket money with high hopes for the ones the bookstore didn’t have? (How many of you got the lecture from your mother that you weren’t allowed to cut that page out of the library book, even if the library didn’t stock the other ones?) I think it’s brilliant to resurrect that tactic again for cross-marketing, and am looking through the also-boughts, the Amazon Associate “people who clicked through went on to buy” items, and the comments from fans to determine who Peter’s target market really is, and who else they’d really enjoy among the MGC and our other friends that they haven’t yet found.

Some folks are having brilliant success right now with targeted facebook and google adwords ads, while quite a few others have declared them utter wastes of money. If there’s a trick to it, once advertised, that may be the next big thing. I want to get a couple banner ads and try webcomics in a similar vein and strain to Peter’s space opera. I don’t expect it to be lucrative on the first iteration; I expect to learn there’s a lot about creating visual ads that I don’t know.

What do you plan to try?

Dorothy Grant is the marketing half of the marriage; Peter Grant is the one who writes space opera and military scifi with good guys, bad guys, lots of fun, and the absolute minimum of navel-gazing when you could be naval-gazing at starship fleets instead. Check out the first in his Maxwell series, Take The Star Road, for spiffy space opera, or War To The Knife if you like a grittier guerilla war.

22 thoughts on “Notes from the marketing underground by Dorothy Grant

  1. I’ve wanted to put “You might also like” in the back of my books since I started doing them, about 3 years ago. The trouble is finding the people to do it with. The books have to be at least as good as mine (even if it is only in my opinion), because I don’t want to be telling people to buy crap books. (If other people want to put my name in the back of crap books, that’s fine by me, but not the other way around). And they have to want to return the favour, so I really have to be at least as good as them, plus at least as popular.

    I’ve asked a few people, but no takers so far, for various reasons.

    1. I suggested before that there be cross promotions between various Human Wave authors.

      I remember the mini-catalog pages in the backs of Paperbacks, I think they disappeared when the tax laws about back stock changed.

      1. The last time I tried to assemble one, I ended up tapping my head gently against my desk, and muttering “But it’s not just what authors I like. It’s what books the readers who enjoy this would like. Think, brain, think! Who is my target market?”

        I will find enough time to read, and recommend! I will! Hopefuily before Peter finishes his next book…

        1. I’ve added a Recommended Reading page to my WordPress. I’m still working out the formatting (only 4 books in there) but it shouldn’t be too hard to expand.

          1. You guys might try asking folks who really liked the book if it reminded them of any other books which they’d like to recommend. I know that when my sister gets around to reading Sarah’s mysteries*, if she wants more I’ll point her at Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Dorthy Sayers Lord Peter Whimsy short stories, even though the setup for the three– “divorced mom in modern times, little old maiden aunt just before WWII and into the 60s, rich English lord just after WWI to just after WWII”– is very, very different. The… feel of the stories, the narrative choices, even the author’s “voice” is similar enough to appeal. (So much so that I was going NUTS reading a Miss Marple collection, until suddenly I realized why she sounded so familiar, and sent a thank you note to Sarah.)

            *Bought used. Fight publishers defrauding authors!

  2. On a different forum, I was pointed at a post by a woman who writes erotica on Amazon. She wrote 100 Books and shorts over the course of a year, and by the end of it, she cleared almost $10k in the final month. Of course, some of it was appalling stuff, but her theory was write what the top 100 sellers in your category are writing. And she used pen names to segregate her stuff.

    She has actually a lot of good info on pricing and managing her works.,162157.0.html

    There was also a podcast about this, but it didn’t present too much information that isn’t in this post.

  3. Good analysis. I’m currently collecting information about marketing, trying different sites/emailers, writing it all down.
    Like the market mentioned, the first ones get the money, the later entrants have to price themselves lower. Are they worth it?
    That’s where the analysis comes in. So far, only Ereader News Today and BookSends have turned a profit. The others I’ve tried aren’t there yet, probably because they’re new and don’t yet have the subscriber base that BookBub or BookGorilla has. Both of those last two are pricy, so their promotions would need to reach more than 50 000 subscribers to turn a profit on the investment.
    Those numbers will need to go up. BB has something like 100 000 subscribers, but they report that you can expect something on the order of 1700 downloads. That number will drop.
    It’s called market saturation. People who have a dozen books they purchased at $0.99 will be very choosy about adding another, even at that discounted price. The more they buy, the fewer they WILL buy. As for free books, I have at least a thousand on my computer, waiting. Maybe someday. Which is the problem with free. There’s no urgency to read it. And if it doesn’t grab me immediately, if there are too many mistakes in the prose, dump. On the other hand, if it’s reasonably good, I’ll at least write a review. I owe the author that for the entertainment he/she provided.
    Want a copy of the information I’ve gathered? Write me at

    1. Interestingly enough, BookBub and the like appears two have two overlapping markets. The first are the people who are price-sensitive readers – the same group of people who you’ll see at the library, the used book store, or over a table of books at a garage sale, but very rarely at a B&N.
      The second group are using it for curation – they are price-insensitive, but want someone else to filter through books and present them with new and interesting choices.

      The first group will buy your book at discount, but a significant chunk won’t buy anything else of yours unless it, too, is put on sale. But yay, they buy it and help it climb the charts where other browsers can discover it!
      However, if your writing is clear and compelling, your story good, then the price-insensitive and some of the price-sensitive ones will finish your book and start working their way through your catalog.

      A note for writers who worry: sell-through takes weeks to measure, not hours or days. Sure, a few readers who use the discount sites for curation will go “Ooh! Interesting!” and buy the second book right away. However, we can watch the ripple of people moving through a series. There’s a distinct wave of readers who take 3 days to finish Book 1 and buy Book 2. After that, sales are pretty steady but declining over the next week, as other readers finish at their own pace.
      Then, two weeks after the initial promotion, there’s a second wave of people who buy the second book. I can sympathize; I actually find it takes me one to two weeks to finish a novel I’m reading on my kindle app at break and over lunch at Day Job. Two weeks after they buy the second book, they buy the third.

  4. I’ve been thinking about marketing the Colplatschki books in a print magazine aimed at people interested in German/Swiss/Austrian culture, since the novels draw on Central European history. Other than that I don’t have an good ideas, because everything I write seems to fall between genres. The also-boughts for my stuff links to Peter Grant, Sarah Hoyt, Dave Freer, and the other Human Wave/ Mad Genius authors. (Which suggests that I do need to find a way to market to other readers, but I’m not certain the best way yet.) Being e-book only is also a big limitation on marketing, it seems.

      1. I don’t think so. All their articles are about travel, cooking, and genealogy, with a few history/education/culture (like a history of the Goethe Institute) tossed in. Most of the boks they review are family/group histories, or biographies of Germans and German-Americans.

    1. I strongly recommend doing the formatting for POD, even though it’s a pain in the neck and nether regions to struggle up that learning curve. Not having print is a limitation on marketing – and also, to people who still only read a couple print books a year (if that), $2.99 is so ridiculously low compared to their standard $30 hardcovers that they subconsciously class that price range with bargain-bin quality. Therefore, charging $13-15 or so for a trade paper makes us look, ah, “respectable” and makes the ebook seem like a real bargain.

      It’s all about knowing your market – and not all markets are indie-savvy. Yet. 🙂

      1. I spot so many things during the POD formatting that I somehow missed up until that point, it’s almost a final proofread/polish step for me. The pain in the neck and nether regions became a lot easier to bear once I realized that.

        Great article, by the way.

      2. POD means buying new covers for pretty much everything. Until recently, my primary cover source has offered e-rights only, so I don’t have print rights. That’s part of why I have not done POD yet. It’s one of those things I know I should do, but I’ve been putting it off in favor of writing. *sheepish shrug*

  5. (How many of you got the lecture from your mother that you weren’t allowed to cut that page out of the library book, even if the library didn’t stock the other ones?

    It came up from someone else being dumb and taking a page out– my mom had a mini-rant about them having to walk past a copy machine to get the scissors. Knowing her, half the reason was to get it into our heads that the intelligent thing to do was make a copy, rather than actually being filled with a need to complain aloud about the idiot.

  6. I presume I am not the only readaholic that is unable to satisfy my habit because of difficulty finding enough material to my taste within the time I’m willing to spend looking.
    After stumbling across AccordingToHoyt and then the MadGeniusClub site, I quickly looked through the material of all the members, and bought much of it. And found more authors mentioned in the sites of members.
    I’ve exhausted the links in the back of those books, as well as the “also bought” links on Amazon.
    Recently someone on Baen’s Bar mentioned the “Riding the Red Horse” anthology, which exposed me to several additional authors whose series I’ve since enjoyed.
    What all this indicates is that I’ve found the inter-author networking to be the most effective way to track down new books which are to my taste. It’s limited because the social groups of authors are somewhat closed, like for all the rest of us. The fact that Amazon “also bought” lists are mostly closed to the same groups is evidence that I am not alone in this. Being exposed to a new group opened up more material to me.
    One thing this says to me is that each author group opens up new markets by forming links between groups. An example is being in anthologies with authors from other groups that you’ve maybe never heard of before, but whose material looks good to you.
    Which says to me that the primary marketing purpose of cons for authors is not meeting readers or publishers, or running into old friends, it’s meeting additional authors to network with. Which implies both having a few cons to attend regularly and also randomly attending any con you’ve never been to or not in years.
    So, how do you authors meet new authors to network with, be in anthologies with, etc? How can you widen your net for that?
    It also seems that any way of coming to the attention of new readers who never heard of you before would be a positive for you and everybody in your author group. What ways have you found to do that? For example, I would guess that Sarah writing in pjmedia probably increased the readers for the entire club, even any she didn’t mention. But, I am not usually a pjmedia reader, that is also a segregated group, and the more sites you are exposed on the better.
    So, the goal is to maximize the number of groups of readers you are exposed to, and possible methods include increasing the number of authors you are linked to, and increasing the number places (with potential readers) where you write columns that attract attention.

    1. So, the goal is to maximize the number of groups of readers you are exposed to, and possible methods include increasing the number of authors you are linked to, and increasing the number places (with potential readers) where you write columns that attract attention.

      Writing well about subjects which are likely to be linked by sites that have readers who will like what you write, too. That’s how I found Sarah’s blog, from VodkaPundit linking her.

      Note: this is NOT to be confused with writing blogs that get a lot of attention and/or clicks– it has to be written to make people who will like your writing be interested enough in what you have to say to give you money to try more.

    2. One thing to know is that Also-Bought links are not two-way. I once went through all the also-boughts on every book that was in the Also Bought for mine. None of them linked back (although there WERE a lot of common books).

      But I once ran across this excellent visualization tool for seeing the connections between books:

      It sucks up all the Also Bought information and forms a linked web, and you can click on any item in it and navigate to the also-boughts from it. The way certain authors cluster, or not, is interesting.

    1. You’re quite welcome!

      I’m not an expert, just an amateur who keeps trying and learning. In fact, I still find it a little strange to have guest posts here – sort of being the non-writer in the writer’s club. On the other hand, I like marketing. It’s fun and fascinating, and a complete break from the day job. So if I can help my husband, and then turn around and possibly help others, why not?

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