Saturday, June 29, 2013

How do you sell a novel?

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson is the author of "Writing as Reading" and "Discovering Truth" in the MWC Creative
Connie (Corcoran) Wilson
Writing Primer
 (MWC Press, 2012) and 
has taught writing at all 6 colleges in the IA/IL Quad Cities and wrote for both the Quad City Times and the Daily Dispatch. She has been writing, for pay, for 57 years. She was English Department Chairperson for Silvis Junior High School for 17 years, founded the Sylvan Learning Center in Bettendorf and the Prometric Testing Center there, and is listed on Amazon and Facebook as Connie Corcoran Wilson and on Twitter as Connie Wilson Author. On Yahoo, check for Connie Wilson and sign up for notices of her posts that range from film coverage of the Chicago Film Festival to articles with titles like, "Don't Tas Me, Bro!" She was selected as 2008 Content Producer of the Year (Yahoo) for her coverage of the 2008 Presidential campaign. @Connie_C_Wilson

 That’s the number one problem for every self-published author. You could be the next Shakespeare, but if nobody knows about your book, it’s not going to sell. Here are some things I've learned over the past ten years. I've written (and promoted) 3 novels in that time, 5 short story collections, 2 books of humor, 1 scholarly novel about teaching, 1 nonfiction book of movie reviews written for the Quad-City Times in the 70s, and 1 illustrated children's book.

While e-books are a totally different world, I did manage to drive The Color of Evil, the series I am finishing up now with KHAKI = KILLER to #8 in free downloads and #232 overall on all books on Amazon (1 p.m. on Oct. 28, 2013). I also drove HELLFIRE & DAMNATION II to #11 using the Kindle Free Book Give-away method on Amazon.

But free is free, and we all would like to make something from our hard work. All I can tell you is
that, if your book is part of a series (I have 2, The Color of Evil for novels and Hellfire & Damnation for short stories ), promoting one book in that series does have ripple effects that are positive for the other works in the series---if they're any good, of course. I also learned, the hard way, that humor books only reach Best Seller status if you're a stand-up comedian or Chelsea Handler or Dennis Leary or Tina Fey or someone with a national platform, and that this often seems the way with works in other genres, as well. David Sedaris is an anomaly, amongst humor writers. (And good for him!)

1. Banner ads don’t work.

Many sites will sell you a banner ad in a choice of sizes at a fancy price to promote your book. None will yield a profit. You might not even get a single click-through. Why? The average click-through rate for banner ads is  three tenths of one per cent or 0.3%. That’s the industry average according to

Only three in 1000 people who see your banner ad will click on it. Only about 4% of those people will buy your book. (That’s the average conversion-to-sale ratio at Amazon.) You’ll make just one sale for every 10,000 people who see your banner. How much will you be charged for that banner? Anything between $100 and $1000. [This information courtesy of  Michael Alvear from his book
Make A Killing on Kindle.]

Result: you’ll lose your shirt.

Rotating banner ads are even worse. They’re a duck shoot. Now you see them, now you don’t.

2. Google Adwords don’t work. (Nor do Bing or Facebook ads, very well.)

To specify any keyword that might attract a book buyer you’ll need to pay Google or Bing around $1 per click. You can run ads for just a few cents per click if you select obscure or ‘long tail’ keywords. They’re cheap because few people ever search for them. So you’re no better off.

Do the math. If your novel sells at $2.99, how many folk who click your Google or Bing ad at $1 per click will have to buy your book for you to break even? 

Amazon, with all its sophisticated marketing, averages only 4% conversion to sale.

Result: you’ll lose your shirt again.

Facebook ads are only slightly better. You’ll just lose your shirt more slowly.

3. Blog tours:.

For a fee, a publicist will set  up a blog tour. The more stops, the more money. (You can try to do it yourself.) Over the period of a month you’ll be interviewed at a different blog or  have a review of your book, (if the unpaid blogger is up to the task and responsible enough to follow through.) (*This is why having a blog tour organizer who is diligent is good; the blog tour organizer will “ride herd” on the unpaid bloggers and make sure the bloggers stay on schedule and, hopefully, keep an extra article in the hopper in case someone drops the ball).  [*Be careful that you don’t commit to too many  interviews. They can be a real time suck.]

You also have to be aware that there are no guarantees that the bloggers will like your book. They might pan it. Always write the reviewer to thank them and ask them to post their GOOD comments on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads.

There are “good” blog tours and “bad” blog tours. I’ve done a fair number of blog tours for one reason: it helps to “prime the pump” with good on Amazon. Unpaid bloggers  potentially fill that need, IF they like your book. [This assumes that the members of your favorite club or organization won’t help you out.]

If you commit to a virtual blog tour, you should (a) specify that the blog tour will be e-book only---Mobi or Kindle downloads (b) decide whether you want to give away any e-book or paperback copies as prizes and (c) decide how much time you are willing to devote to interviews.  My goal on blog tours was always to get reviews that would be posted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. [One caveat: your book had better be good. Bloggers are under no obligation to give you a pass if your book sucks. My worst experience on a blog tour was with a book that said, ON THE COVER, that it would be critical of George W. Bush. This did not set well with the red states.]

I also have become leery of ever mailing anything anywhere in paperback format. I mailed 5 books to Canada, via the USPO and none of them arrived. On April 5th, as we were leaving the country for 2 weeks in Mexico, the post office sent a lame apology note with a badly battered envelope (brand new mailing envelope purchased at Staples especially for the purpose) with the information I had filled out for a Writer's Digest contest enclosed. I called WD. No book or check arrived. I couldn't "fix" this until we returned on April 20th and I began making phone calls. Fortunately, the contest deadline was April 30th, but I had to remail, and I used UPS. A day later, 3 more envelopes that had contained 3 books for review purposes arrived back at my house with lame apologies about how they had become mangled (they had) in the mail. I no longer entrust anything of real value to the USPO and certainly not a contest entry, with a check and a deadline. Maybe your experiences have been more positive, but I think the budget cuts at the governmental levels are taking their toll, and, in one West Des Moines suburb, a series of break-ins was even being tracked to possible informants within the post office letting thieves know when they could rob houses in broad daylight because the Snow Bird residents were not home. So, writers, beware.

4. Press releases, posters and press ads don’t work.

John Locke, the first man to sell one million self-published e-books, author of “How I Sold 1,000,000 E-Books in 5 Months,” relates spending $25,000 on paid-for publicity and  not selling a single book. I can testify to that, locally, in a small way.

The year the children’s book The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats came out (2011), I bought ads in The River City Reader, on condition that they do a feature story on the book. They did do a feature story on the book; the story and ad helped sell a few copies. But the ads cost $800—and that was a special price!

The cost of the ads basically wiped out any and all profits from sales of the book at Festival of Trees, the Geneseo Victorian Christmas Walk (I sat in the window of the Four Seasons), through the Watermark Book Store on John Deere Plaza at Christmas-time, and during the Village of East Davenport’s Christmas Walk. Although I knocked myself out to sell the children’s Christmas book, the paper ads were so pricey that it became a break-even proposition.

Press ads can work well if you sell non-fiction into a specific niche.
Nonfiction sells better than fiction. I actually had one Public Relations firm turn me down when they learned that the book I wanted them to publicize was fiction and not what they wanted to promote, as it wasn't a "how to" tome.  If you can get your ads for a nonfiction book free, in exchange for feature articles, or buy them cheap at ‘last minute’ prices (10% of list rate), perhaps they might pay off. My experience has been spotty, at best. 

Press ads rarely work for fiction.  Big circulation consumer magazines that reach your target readers are not likely to give you a cheap or barter deal. Why should they?

So what does work to sell fiction?

 John Locke, author of “How I Sold 1,000,000 E-books in 5 Months  swears by the ‘funnel’ approach. No less an authority than David Morrell (“Wise Blood”) told me, during a one-on-one hour-long session in December at the Writers’ Benefit for New Orleans that my goal should be to get “a list” and to learn as much about Internet advertising as possible.

John Locke first sold novel number one at a token 99 cents. He built a Twitter list to promote it. (Google+ may be a better option today as it may be  more author-friendly than Twitter or Facebook.) He encouraged reviews, welcomed feedback via an email link in his book, and acknowledged every customer personally.

Locke put every customer on a database.

That was list #1. If anyone bought more than one book, they were transferred to list #2: ‘Friends’ or repeat buyers. These people got regular, highly personalized emails, gifts and privileged previews of his next novel. It was worth the effort because such people would buy everything he wrote.

Once he hit a critical mass of several thousand customers he found he could relax and his fans promoted his books for him.

Second, he traded up his regular list to buy his next novels at a higher and more profitable price,  but his original list of Friends still got a discount.

His strategy was time-intensive, but it worked. Locke himself admits that he first threw big bucks at billboard advertising and all sorts of unsuccessful methods. In my own case, I recently did an E-blast to 100,000 people over a period of a month. I knew the owner of the company that does them, so the price and preparation were right. Too soon to know if it "worked" well or poorly. And I'm still building "the list" that David Morrell values so highly. 

Why was Locke so dramatically successful when many self-publishing authors will say they’re doing much the same thing? Answer: they’re not. Locke sells through Amazon and other on-line book stores, like everyone else, but he works hard to get every customer on his own mailing list.

If you put up your books at Amazon, Lulu, CreateSpace and the like, and do nothing else, you’ll fail. These stores will keep your customer names to themselves; you’ll never see their names. So you can’t build a direct personal relationship with your customers, encouraging them to come back.

You must build your own list plus an after-market that you control.

As Morrell told me, “The list is key.”

This is often where having your own blog comes in handy, as you can often secure names of interested consumers by asking them to “opt in” to receive a newsletter with news about your next release.

A recent Goodreads post showed that word-of-mouth was the single biggest factor in selling books, and winning awards for your writing helped, too. But The List is paramount.

Another suggestion I’d make for selling your books would be to become active in writers’ organizations where you might form influential contacts. I belong or have belonged to the MWC, MWA, IWPA, AWP, HWA, and ITW. What do all those initials stand for?

Midwest Writing Center

Midwest Writing Association

Illinois Women’s Press Association

American Writing Program

Horror Writers’ Association

International Thriller Writers

As you move into different fields, you may move to different organizations. I, for instance, am seguing out of “horror” as a field and into other areas that interest me more. I’m interested in the True Crime novels of folks like r. Barri Flowers (whom I interviewed), will probably be active in “Love Is Murder” in Chicago in February, again, and may join Sisters in Crime.

But each writer is different, and it depends on what you write. And, of course, independent bookstores are making a comeback and writers can sell their wares directly to the public, if they can draw a crowd. (not always easy).

I have attended activities/conferences for many genre areas and was even selected as Silver Feather award winner by the Chicago chapter of IWPA (Illinois Women's Press Association, June , 2012) and David R. Collins Award Winner in 2010 by the MWC. As a member of IWPA, I am also able to participate in Printers’ Row each year, selling books at the Midwest’s largest outdoor book fair, and David Dorris and I sold books at the Iowa City Book Fest one year, on behalf of the MWC. I have attended the BEA (Book Expo America) for many years, although that is not a book selling opportunity, but more a chance to learn more about marketing your books and meet others. (You have to give away your books). I'll be at International Thriller Writers in July and write for their newsletter and I continue to "write short" for Yahoo as a Featured Columnist, specializing in entertainment and politics (although I was out taking flood pictures last week.)

I hope any of the above helps other would-be writers. Please check out my books and write me back at with your thoughts on the above, which may differ from my own. I'd love to hear your experiences.

Meanwhile, it's back to finishing KHAKI = KILLER, the third installment in "The Color of Evil" YA trilogy and working on more short stories organized around Dante's "Inferno" and the crimes punished at each of the 9 Circles of Hell.

ChI was just notified that I've won a NABE Pinnacle award (Thriller category) for RED IS FOR RAGE, and that HELLFIRE & DAMNATION II won 2 E-Lit awards (silver) so the beat goes on.

See more about Connie (Corcoran) Wilson on her websites at; (under construction);;;;; and, soon,


MWC Creative Writing Primer Kindle Giveaway June 27-29! #collinsconference

1 comment:

  1. So very helpful to know doesn't work as well as what does. Thanks!