Thursday, December 15, 2011

The $2,400 Question

By CJ West author of The End of Marking Time 
Seems like an odd number right? Actually that’s my marketing budget for 2012 (well, most of it) and I’m giving it directly to readers to thank them for spreading the word about my work. This is something new for me, but I’ve been trying new things for years.

For those of you who can’t wait for the next 439 words to find out how to win your share of the $2,400, click here.

I’ve tried a lot of things over the years to reach out to readers. Some of them have worked. Some of them have been total flops.

Anyone remember The Million Dollar Home Page? Didn’t think so. Back in the days when I was focused on print books, I bought an ad there for about $250. If you click over, you can find the word SIN about two inches down from the Contact Me link. I’m scrunched in there between A free Xbox, a liquor add, and a dollhouse furniture gallery.

When I made the transition to e-books, Kindleboards was the place to be. Everyone was excited about e-books and after a few months in the discussion forums, I learned they were going to start selling ads. I quickly bought a week’s worth. By the time my ads ran it seemed that only authors were on Kindleboards anymore. It is still a great place to visit, but advertising there didn’t help me reach new readers.

In January of 2011, I made friends with Christian, the owner of eReaderIQ. This is a fantastic site that lets readers track the price changes in e-books they are interested in. Christian has developed some fantastic technology that works with amazing speed.

I was the first advertiser on eReaderIQ and I sold a boatload of e-books this January. It takes a lot of electrons to fill a boat! Seriously, I was delighted. EReaderIQ has been the brightest spot in my e-book marketing struggle.

Next I found the Amazon Kindle Page on Facebook. I gave away a few hundred copies of The End of Marking Time there and I made some great friends, but unfortunately as the page grew from 30,000 friends when I joined to over 1.4 million now, there is no longer room for conversation. E-book authors continually blast the page with promotions and the people who used to visit the page several times a day no longer visit. 

This is one of the sad realities of indie publishing. There are so many authors and it is so hard to reach readers that the marketing noise often spoils some of the best places to get to know other humans who happen to read fiction. The Amazon Customer Discussions forums is a prime example of this. The hostility to authors there has grown and Amazon has imposed restriction after restriction to keep authors from monopolizing the conversation.

So, if the forums are jam packed, and the venues that accept indie advertising are hit or miss, what is an author to do?

This year I’m giving my marketing dollars to the people who market my work best: readers. Each month I’ll hold a drawing for a Kindle Fire. Winners who already own an e-reader or would prefer something else can choose a $200 gift certificate to Amazon, BN, or an independent bookseller. My hope is that $200 is enough incentive to get people excited about the contest. At the very least I hope to make one new friend each month.

Anyone can enter by tweeting, posting on Facebook, or emailing their friends. Register here.

Do you have e-book marketing woes or triumphs to share? I’d love to hear them.


  1. Intriguing idea! I've considered big-ticket giveaways, but after querying authors who did them, I changed my mind. But one a month, which establishes consistency, could be effective.

    I've had similar experiences with promotion. What worked for me a year ago is no longer effective because the market is flooded with new authors all doing the same thing. The one consistent thing I do that still works for me is to give away books.

    It'll be interesting to follow your new promotion and see how it goes. Best wishes! I'm going to register now.

  2. I'll be watching. Very cool.

    And I think I registered, but I'm not sure.

    Good luck, C.J. Keep us informed.

  3. I suspect the market will be flooded with indie authors -- for a while --then it will settle down. I think the authors who persist with three or more books to offer will continue to rise to the top after folks who write one or two books and sell some figure out that it's very hard work to write a book, and harder to sell it, even a good one.

  4. Interesting idea. The question you have to ask yourself is what the purpose of your advertising is? With traditional advertising, the concept is that if someone sees something enough times, they become comfortable with it and it increases the chances of buying. Getting a lot of eyeballs is therefore a good thing.

    Such campaigns are going to be impossible for an individual author to tie to sales. So authors have taken to looking at how many sales they have immediately after an ad. And most ads will not measure up. Some that usually do are:

    -Pixels of

    -Kindle Nation Daily, although their impact has gotten less because they have spread themselves too thin.

    -eReader news Today. They booked all their 2011 ads by June and closed for new ads after that. In theory they are going to open up again soon.

    -Kindle Lovers. Search for them on facebook. They had a free add promo at one point in October which i took advantage of. They easily generated 50 sales above normal for my book on Amazon that day, and the level of sales stayed higher afterwards.

    Beyond that, I do think your approach is a good one. The big thing is you're connecting directly with readers and building a mailing list. This puts you less at the mercy of whatever choices Amazon makes about their algorithms for displaying books to potential buyers. Although I love what Amazon has done for me thus far, relying so heavily on them is a risk I am working to lessen.

    No major marketing triumphs of my own to share. But I'm certainly considering giveaways like what you are doing. The major question for me is how to spread the word so that a lot of people sign up for the drawings. Perhaps with such a good prize on offer, it will take care of itself.

  5. Thanks All.

    There are some great sites out there that focus on indie books. Pixel of ink is a great one. I haven't had much luck with Kindle Nation Daily. My ads there didn't produce any measureable sales.

    Edward, you do touch on something interesting, the idea that we can measure the impact of an ad in the day it runs. This has been true for me. I see the impact of ads on e-books immediately and that makes accounting for (at least part of) the benefits easily measurable.

    One of my goals in the giveaway is to reward the people who help me spread the word day in and day out. While I can't guarantee any of them will win, at the very least I think they see my willingness to give back to my readers directly.

    I'll keep you all posted with my progress. In the first three days of the contest I have about 100 people registered and they've been tweeting and sharing like crazy.

    More to come.


  6. Intriguing idea, CJ.
    As a reviewer, I'm interested in your results.

  7. CJ -

    How do you measure the success of ads? Very few advertisers use direct sales as a measure. They use various more general metrics like "impressions." If I spent $100 on a KND ad and I saw $50 of extra royalties in the 48 hours following the ad, I might conclude it wasn't worth it. But that's not how most businesses that advertise would see it. They'd evaluate how many people saw the ad and how many clicked through and based on various industry norms or their own past data, they'd make conclusions. For most businesses, making back half their money right away would probably be a huge win for the ad.

    We as individual authors can't really do that. We don't have much context. One simple thing we can point out is that basing it solely on sales right after the ad doesn't account for samples. The vendors guard data about sample downloads, so we have no idea how these are translating into future sales. And we also don't know how our book would have done if we hadn't advertised.

    All that said, I have only done two very small paid ads. Partially because I don't want to invest in a sustained campaign that I have difficulty measuring anyway. I think what you're doing is a good move, and glad to hear you're getting people excited already!

  8. Great ideas, CJ! But all of this makes me worry that indie writers are now forced to spend too much of their precious creative energy and time marketing their books (sometimes too soon), to the possible detriment of their writing...? (I've seen more than a few examples of that on Amazon - no one I know - of books that just weren't ready yet.) One solution could be to send the manuscript off to a freelance editor to go through while you're marketing the previous one or planning promotion strategies for the upcoming one...

  9. Things are changing at breakneck speed in this business. What worked months ago no longer holds water where gaining readers is concerned. It seems those who can reinvent themselves on a regular basis are the ones who stay on top. Easier said than done, of course.

    I've also considered holding some big-ticket item giveaways--I'm just not sure if they garner more sales. The only thing I've found that continues to stand the test of time is focusing on my established audience and trying to grow out from there.

    Wishing you much success. I'll help spread the word.

  10. I don't need a giveaway to make me say that CJ's West THE END OF MARKING TIME is a book everyone should read!

  11. Thank you Jenny.

    I am so pleased with the reaction to The End of Marking Time. It has been used in a criminal justice course. One student said yesterday that she learned more from my book than anything she'd read in her criminal justice texts.

    Several people have said to me that every high school senior should read this book.

    I'm honored that it has had such an impact.


  12. I can't wait to see how your contest works. I've done "out of the box" marketing in strange locations that have produced wonderful sales but alcohol was usually involved.

    I also always have a drawing or contest when I blog and that generates decent comments and some sales. The cheese hat prize was a big favorite.

    Keep us posted and I'm signing up and tweeting now!


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