Newsletter 034 – March 10, 2023
I’m still working on my novella, Flood and Fire, and I’ll keep you updated on its progress (which is currently sloth slow), but today I wanted to talk about my marketing campaign for If a Butterfly. Self-published authors are often told there are a certain few things they must do to make sure their books sell well. Like having an online presence. In a huge display of hubris I originally felt I already had that nailed down. I had been designing websites and creating online content since the 1990s. I’ve been around a long time, but that doesn’t translate into sales unless you’re actually famous. I’m not.
Other than posting a few notices on my Facebook and Twitter pages I didn’t do any other advertising for Jagged Man, the first book I published (in 2015). It sold very few copies, so I took a different approach for the next three books. As you might already know, Aggravated (published in 2020), was a non-fiction book about my brother Steve’s unjust incarceration. My purpose in writing it was to establish a record that proved he didn’t commit the crime he was accused of (even though it would likely not free him). In addition to social media posts, I sent pdf copies of the book to a wide range of legal professionals, and innocence projects, and spoke at a few book clubs, plus I did one radio interview. I’m also scheduled to do a podcast interview about Steve’s case a few days after you get this. Even though none of that resulted in large sales, I thought it might at least generate some interest in his case. So far it hasn’t. I also tried to promote the book’s release in Texas through a paid blitz of book blog posts and giveaways. A few of you signed up for this mailing list as a result of that promo, but still very few copies of the book sold.
I tried the same routine again in 2021 when I published If a Butterfly, with similar results, so I decided to add one more element to that campaign, an email marketing push. That (and Butterfly’s book blog tour) added more of you to this newsletter list, and has generated some sales, though they aren’t spectacular yet. It has been more successful than anything else I’ve tried so far, though. I’m not quite through sending emails, but here’s a simple explanation of what I did.
I knew that one potential audience for the books might be quilters since one of the main characters, Stella Lambert, like my wife, Minay, is a quilter, and many (maybe most) quilters belong to quilt guilds. I Googled phrases like “quilt guilds in Texas,” and started visiting the websites for all of the guilds I could find in the state. I gathered contact email addresses for each of them, along with a few email addresses of members who were listed on the guilds’ websites (like the guild officers — president, vice-president, etc.). Some of the sites had no contact information at all, but I found what I could. Then I composed emails which explained about Stella and the other characters, and invited their guild members to consider buying the books and/or sign up for my mailing list. Then I started doing the same thing for quilt guilds in every other state in the country, plus Ontario and the UK (part of the story takes place in Ontario, and one of the characters, Jas Calder, is a British grad student).
That email push was designed just for quilters. I did find a few social media sites devoted to Monarch butterflies and did a little advertising on those, but the other characters in the book (scientists, actors, radio deejays, etc.) don’t seem to gather in such well-defined groups as quilt guilds, so I’m at a loss as to how to reach anyone else except through general advertising, which I might try later this year.
The last half of last year, and the first few months of this year have been dominated by that email marketing. You might suspect that sending all of them out was a lengthy, grueling, mind-numbing process, and you would be right. After sending out over 2,300 individual emails, I’m not sure it was the best use of my time. Gathering the addresses consumed about 80% of the time I spent on it, but the process of sending the emails wasn’t too bad. I only have three more states to go, plus about 300 guilds in various regions of the UK, so I’m going to see it through. I’m not devoting every hour of every day to it. Its currently consuming about half a day, three days a week, so I think I’ll send the last one before March is over, and can then focus more completely on finishing Flood and Fire, and doing Jagged Man’s final edits.
Even though (under normal circumstances) I do try to spend several hours each day just writing or editing, life’s ordinary little interruptions often make that difficult. The next newsletter is about those (chores, exercising, other stuff). See you then.
[“A book is like a garden carried in your pocket,” Unattributed proverb.]
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