Monthly Archives: November 2011

Buying Your Readers. Think About It.

Once, while attending the Phocus Wright Travel Conference, I heard the CEO of the largest online-travel agency declare that it didn’t matter that a slew of new travel web sites with innovative products would pose a challenge to his site’s dominance. “We will simply outspend them,” he replied. “They won’t be able to compete.”

What he meant was that his company would be able to maintain its industry-leading position by “buying” users–in other words, spending enough on advertising to draw users to his site. The big three travel sites (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz) average approximately a 5% conversion rate. It simply becomes a math formula at that point. If the web site gets a million users, 50,000 of them are going to buy something.

As I prepare my manuscript for publication I have been thinking about what he had to say and did some “napkin” math.

Let’s start with a couple of assumptions.

**You are prepared to spend some money on advertising your book. Let’s say it’s a $1,000.

** Assume you have written a book that falls into the “chick lit genre” and that you want to advertise  on a variety of sites (travel sites, blogs, fashion, entertainment).

**Assume that your average CPM rate is $8 per 1,000 ad impressions (which simply means that you get 1,000 text or graphic ads appearing on a variety of web sites for that $8). In short, you will be buying 125,000 ad impressions for your $1,000.

** Assume that 1% of those clicking on your ad will buy your book.  That means you will have 1,250 purchases.

If you’re selling your book for $0.99 (a disturbing trend which I will write about later), then you’re probably going to break even–at first blush. But remember, reading is a lot like leisure travel: what you read (or where you vacation) is heavily influenced by others.  So, let’s assume you wrote a good book, one that 60% of the readers like, and that 10% of them recommended it to their friends, who eventually bought it–and who then recommended it to their friends. As you can see, a positive referral cycle begins and you end up making a profit and getting the word out.

Now if you sold your book at $2.99, which means you keep $2.10, then you have immediately made a nice profit, plus you got the word out.

Of course all of this is merely hypothesis. You may not get a 1% conversion rate on your ads. Your readers may not recommend your book. You may not advertise on the right sites.

In any case, food for thought. Please do leave a comment. Oh, and by the way, I do not work for or own any piece of an advertising company. Just a guy typing away…



Filed under EBooks and Advertising

Do We Need A Groupon For Writers?

Hi Writers,

Ok, full disclosure: I’m new to the game. I’ve spent the last fifteen years working as an entrepreneur and as an academic. Just recently, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and bring to fruition the many partially completed manuscripts that I have been working on during my “water cooler breaks.” I know many of you join me in this endeavor. Bit scary, eh? And exhilarating, too.

But the entrepreneurial mindset is one that is hard to shake, and as I navigate my way through the social web, I keep asking myself: how can we writers do a better job at marketing ourselves? That is to say, once we “locate” our readers, and I think a tool can be built to help do a better job at that, what do we do with them then? How do we get our “potential readers” to make a transaction?

My last company was in the travel space and I worked with many of the well-known travel brands. I recall that the big three OTAs—Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity–averaged in the 4-6% range for transactions, with seasonal variations, of course. If Expedia averages 25MM users a month, then that means 1-1.5MM users actually “buy” something each month. As you can imagine, that’s no small chunk of change.

I’m not sure that we writers can expect a 4-6% transaction rate, but one possible way (amongst many) would be to use a Groupon-like tool. Groupon, of course, is not interested in most of us–the margins aren’t there. But it is interesting to note that they did an experiment with Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, and helped him sell 1642 books in three days. Of course you don’t want to use Groupon. After they take their cut, and assuming some other entity (such as Amazon) takes a cut, that leaves very little for you.

But what if there was a tool–elegant yet simply designed–that let you run group-buying campaigns yourselves? One that let you design the offer and then distributed the offer to your “located” audience?

As I said, I’m new to the game; sometimes that is a good thing. Sometimes it makes you look like, well, new to the game. Perhaps there is already a tool out there that does what I’m suggesting. If so, let me know. I could use it. If not, I would welcome hearing your ideas and input.


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How Much Would You Spend To Market Your Book?

I’m an entrepreneur and an aspiring writer. When I’m writing, I’m often thinking of the next business I want to start. When I’m working on a new business, I’m often thinking of the next book I want to write. It’s a heady dialectic, to be sure, and generates a lot of angst and guilt that I’m not doing the other activity. My cross to bear, I guess.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing. You see, I’m almost ready to release my first book, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I am putting into practice all the great advice from Konrath, Locke, et al. It hasn’t taken me long to notice that I’m not the only one out there engaged in doing this. Several questions have popped up for me during the process: how do I find my “niche” audience? Are there any unique ways of getting my message in front of them? Will I have to pay to do so?

The last question is especially relevant–and I’m not the only who has asked it, as a quick troll through a variety of blogs reveals. Author Brad Swift, for example, has asked the question: “If you had a budget of $1,500 to promote and market your book(s) that are available as Kindle books and POD hard copies, how would you use it? If that budget was $3,000 what else would you do? Is there anything else you’d include if your marketing budget was $5,000?”

Jane Friedman responded to Swift’s query by saying that one should first determine the “primary target audience.”  She suggests that you shouldn’t “spend a dime until you know who you’re trying to sell to. You should thoroughly research your target readers’ habits, discover where they spend their time online, and how they decide to purchase books.”

So my question of the day is: assuming you can find that “primary target audience,” how much would you spend to reach them? I’ll start off by saying that I would spend in the $250-500 range. Let me know what you would spend. I’ll share the results in another post. Thanks!


Filed under EBook Marketing Innovations, EBooks and Advertising

Talking ‘Bout A Revolution: This Ain’t It

I’ve always loved Penguin, more specifically, the Penguin Classics. When I was an undergraduate, I set myself the task of reading every single Penguin Classic that had been published. I can’t say I reached that goal, but my book shelves still contain quite a few of those works, and I remember my time with them with feelings of joy and, yes, nostalgia.

So it was with great interest that I read about Book Country, a service that the Penguin Group offers to writers of genre fiction. David Shanks, CEO of Penguin Group, told the WSJ that the company had invested a “substantial amount of money” in the new technology.

And there’s the rub. I’m just not seeing any innovative technology. Yes, there are community and networking elements, and while helpful, these are not new innovations. Indeed, it makes it look like Penguin was a little late to the game, and cobbled together a variety of functional (read: social) elements to cloak their true intent: that is, to sell high-priced services and to take a distribution fee.

The wonderful Joe Konrath said that he “threw up in his mouth” when he looked at what Book Country was offering. Perhaps he realized that the lamb he was eating was really mutton?

Konrath has done a great job at detailing what Book Country is all about: high-priced formatting services and a stake in your revenues. Makes sense: for lack of better ideas, services are where the lowest-hanging financial fruit swings.

But what bothers me is simply the lack of innovation. I’ve worked with many publishers in my professional career, and we share the same abiding interest: a love of books. But with the exception of a few publishing houses (O’Reilly comes to mind), most publishers do not attract the best and brightest “technology” minds. They can’t–there simply isn’t the upside (or environment) that the small start-up down the street offers. Instead, publishing houses tend to hire folks who have graduate degrees in English. Great people (trust me, I used to be one of them) but they aren’t thinking of algorithms in their spare time.

A suggestion to the publishing houses: if you really want to be of help, take a look at what’s happening in Silicon Valley. There are quite a few companies that provide models for what aspiring writers need to market themselves.

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Find My Audience Wants To Help You Find Your Audience!

Hi Writers,

My name is Mark Schroeder. I’m an entrepreneur–and an aspiring fiction writer. I’m reaching out to you because, you see, you and I, we share one and the same experience: we have finished a novel and now we are both looking for readers. Just where are they, anyway? Have you found them?

We’ve both turned  to the “How To” guides of John Locke, Jason Matthews, M.R.Mathias, and others; and of course we’ve looked at the web sites of Hocking and Konrath, to see if there is any secret sauce that they have that we need to add to our own narrative sauce.

We started a Twitter account, and what a great thing that is, but it’s also a bit of a feeding frenzy, isn’t it, one that you’re compelled to join for no other reason than to not be left behind? And of course there is Facebook and LinkedIn and the numerous reading communities to join, the book covers to be designed, the editorial to see through and etc. It’s a friggin’ full-time job, it is. And with poor pay. At least for now.

Really, this doesn’t feel much like a revolution to me; or, rather, it’s one that is taking place in fits and starts. I get it that “social” may well change the nature of the act of reading, or that the Kindle may impact comprehension and reading speed, that you can store your whole library on it (Bezos is brillliant), but really, I’m interested in How To Sell Books. Aren’t you?

Right now, we are all looking to attract readers to us. When I think of that, for some reason I am reminded of what Marx said about Hegel, that he had “stood him on his head.”

So, here’s where I start: it has to to with direction. Perhaps we need to change it.

The next step? A visit down the rabbit hole so I can see what tools are down there that help writers do “this marketing” thing  better. I will share what I find, but would welcome your thoughts. What do you need to do a better job at marketing yourself as a writer? What would be your “perfect” tool?

I look forward to your comments!


Filed under EBook Marketing Innovations, EBooks and Advertising