It’s been awhile since I last provided an update on my adventures in book self-publishing, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. Quite the contrary – I’ve been as busy as ever. That said, the questions for me are the same as for you: where exactly have I been, and where should I go next?
The reason for such uncertainty is this: what I’ve found is that trying to self-promote a book is the ultimate exercise in pushing a string: no matter how much effort you put into it, your ability to achieve the desired result is extremely slight. Matter of fact, your ability to do more is, in all likelihood, close to nil.
But what the hey. One reason I started this site, this blog, and my law firm, was to see how things work, and what I could achieve. This has been especially interesting in the case of my Internet-based efforts, since the Webscape continues to evolve rapidly, and there’s no substitute for trying things out yourself and seeing what works best.
The choice of title for this post therefore isn’t accidental (if you don’t recognize it, it’s a take off of the title of a seminal 1960’s book by Ken Kesey, called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). Like Kesey’s cross-country jaunt with (among others) The Grateful Dead, self-publishing represents a journey of discovery, made more difficult by the challenge of distinguishing facts from hype, reality from delusion, and the way forward from just another dead end. Only without the colorful bus, great music, and acid.
Isn't it time you read:
The Alexandria Project?
a Tale of Treachery and Technology
Remarkably accurate while consistently spellbinding: I ran across a reference to this book at a blog unrelated to the author, and after reading one chapter, bought the book
Great thriller: In the spirit of Vincent Flynn and Tom Clancy, this cyber-security thriller is a great read. Compelling characters, great detail and an an unsettlingly plausible scenario add up to a real page-turner.
Delightfully unpredictable! Updegrove has managed what many attempt but few can execute: a plot that is both credible and surprising....A great read - I can't wait for the next one!
Strong characters and compelling plot: I read a lot of novels and this is a very good one. The characters are believable and engaging and the plot is compelling with several clever twists along the way....Highly recommended
Excellent and accessible techno-thriller: Updegrove...clearly knows the subject matter inside and out, but is too self-assured and smooth a writer to hide behind that insider's knowledge....I look forward to Updegrove's next book with great anticipation.
Great Read: This is a very well written, highly engaging story. The scary thing about it is that the entire plot is far too possible to come to life.
Fantastic! The Alexandria Project is a gripping novel of intrigue and suspense. The characters may be fictional, but we all know their real-life equivalents. The storyline may be fiction - but maybe not.
Read these and more 5 Star reviews at Amazon
The only part that's fictional is that it hasn't happened yet
Available Now for $2.99 or less
Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes Store
Buy at Barnes & Noble
So here’s a quick recap of what I’ve tried, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what I plan to try next.
Community as resource: The biggest disappointment has been the fact that those that have followed me on line, in some cases for many years, have provided virtually no support whatsoever, despite the fact that thousands of them read the first draft of my book as it was posted chapter by chapter. Despite multiple nudges and requests, I don’t believe that more than one of them even took the couple of minutes necessary to post a review at the book’s Amazon page.
There are two possible conclusions to draw from this: either I just don’t know how to reach out properly, or the relationship between writer and anonymous Web reader is so ephemeral that it can’t be relied upon to provide any support. Given the number of ways I tried to enlist any help, I believe that the latter is the likely lesson to be learned.
Blogs as sales vehicles: To date, the ads I’ve included in every blog entry over the last three months have generated at most a handful of sales, even to those reading the sequel I was running. The lesson here, as I’ve written about previously, seems to be that it’s extremely difficult to sell something through a channel where readers are used to getting their content for free.
Reaching out to friends, contacts, etc.: This has been a more interesting exercise. My first emails to people didn’t generate much action. More recently, a surprising percentage of these emails has resulted in sales. My best guess is that in the intervening time I’ve accumulated eleven Amazon reviews (ten of them five star reviews, and one four star). While, as you’d expect, some of these reviews were written by people I know, others were written by people who posted them spontaneously, and all are extremely complimentary.
While it’s true that my new email may be more effective than the variations that I had tried before, my suspicion is that the third party validation of the reviews has made a big difference.
That said, I think that the form of email that you send to contacts is extremely important. After much experimentation, my current email reads as follows (the quote is from the book jacket):
I don't know which way your reading tastes run, but if you're into thrillers, I thought you might want to give mine a try. You can find it at Amazon here http://amzn.to/xo00rn, It's also available on Nook at http://bit.ly/ADzjkm and iTunes at http://bit.ly/wbGHFU and in both hard and soft cover versions. Some recent reviews are here http://bit.ly/IgKAjz and http://bit.ly/I7apxM Here's what Dan Geer, a noted cybersecurity expert, had to say:
THE ALEXANDRIA PROJECT is fiction that cuts close to the bone. But where George Orwell envisioned 1984 from the safety of thirty-five years out, the future that Updegrove describes may already be upon us. That's what makes it dangerous, and that's what makes The Alexandria Project an important as well as riveting read.
Dan Geer, CHIEF INFORMATION SECURITY OFFICER, In-Q-Tel
If you're inclined to give it a read, I hope you enjoy it.
As you can see it’s brief, not pushy, and heavy on validation. One mistake I made early on was to ask for too much in the initial email (e.g., to write an Amazon review if they liked and read the book). I no longer do this, but when someone replies to say that they’ve bought the book, I follow up with an email that reads something like this:
That's excellent! If you enjoy it, please let me know (and feel free to tell your 1,000 closest friends that it's a "must read").
I've found that promoting a book is the ultimate experience in pushing a string, so any words of recommendation at my Amazon page or to your friends would be greatly appreciated.
That’s still short, respectful and non-demanding, but it does contain the message that I could really use their help. If the same person emails back later and tells me that they’ve enjoyed the book, I bring up the Amazon page again, but don’t push too hard. Some people follow through with a review and some don’t, and that’s OK.
Seeking reviews from people you don’t know: One of the marketing tools that all the pundits recommend is seeking reviews for your book from recognized Amazon reviewers. I decided to take a different approach, and instead sought external reviews by people that blog on cybersecurity. My thought was that these writers would have the kind of audience to which my book would appeal, and that their recommendations would carry more weight with a more receptive audience.
My first step was to find out who these bloggers were. A bit of Googling eventually took me to a list, which I began checking through, looking for those bloggers that were likely to be willing to write a review (e.g., they wrote on more than specific exploits), and who blogged frequently. That immediately eliminated many of those on the list. The fact that people who blog about security are less likely to expose their email addresses eliminated many more.
Over all, this was an extremely time consuming, and ultimately not very effective strategy. The winnowing process was very tedious (when do you quit looking for that elusive email address?), and the yield on my approaches was low (c. 10% of writers I approached said, “sure, send me a book”). Of those that accepted a book, only three have thus far posted a review (not much more than a 10% return on the books sent). It doesn’t appear that the reviews have generated many sales, so I’ve discontinued this effort.
Pricing: This is a topic of ongoing experimentation for me. Lately, my sales have been going up, although most of them, I suspect, are still going to people that I’ve contacted directly. 90% of sales are still in eBook form, and for the last two months, the eBook has been priced at $2.99. Given how low the price is, I believe the big factor is reaching people that like books in the genre I’m offering up, rather than whether a higher or lower price would make a difference.
I’ll be testing this assumption out now, as the price will be going up to $7.99 later today at Amazon and iTunes (it’s already taken effect at Barnes & Noble). My guess is that it will have no effect, although it may increase the percentage of hard copy sales relative to eBook sales.
Time demands and results: How time consuming is all of this? Very. As a rule, I spend about six hours over the weekend putting promotional efforts in motion, and then an average of a half an hour a day most days during the week responding to the results. How much has the string moved? The bad news is, “not much,” but the good news is that the rate of change is increasing. For the last ten days, the Amazon Rank of the Kindle version has been between 20,000 and 60,000. In the twenty days before that, it spent most of the time in the 60,000 to 130,000 range. And in March it lived mostly between 100,000 and 200,000. So there’s progress, but still not a lot of books sold.
Lessons learned and next steps: The next time that I self-publish a book, my first priority will be to get a good showing of reviews at my Amazon page (and, if possible, at my B&N and iTunes pages as well). Only after I do will I start reaching out to others. You don’t want to badger those you know, so your first, and perhaps only, touch should be one supported by a link to a page of laudatory reviews.
My next step will be to contact everyone appropriate to bring the book to their attention. Despite the very significant amount of time it takes, I’ve sent a personal email to everyone I’ve contacted so far – no blasts to a compiled list.
The desired result will be to generate enough sales to bring the book’s Amazon rank up to a point where it begins to offer additional credibility, and the hope will be that enough people who have read it begin to mention it to their friends to begin to get a compounding effect. For example, one reader has told me my book was recommended to him by one of his favorite bartenders. To a solitary self-published author, a story like this is downright heartwarming.
What will I be doing next? I don’t know yet, because that’s the point that I’m at right now. But when I’ve tried those next steps, I’ll let you know what’s worked and what hasn’t. I do plan to start experimenting with Google Ads when I find the time to see whether this offers any potential, and will be interested to see if it does.
In the meantime, I’ll post again next week, this time with details on the logistics of how I’ve been managing my promotional efforts: list management, status logging, analyzing sales data, and so on.