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Reflections on a mostly successful group promotion

October 29th, 2014 · No Comments · Nine Bucks a Pound, The Greatest Show on Dirt

When I went to bed Monday night, my first novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt, ranked No. 3 on Amazon among all Kindle baseball books. That’s rarified air for me, and I stayed up a bit too late checking my sales, enjoying an unusual night when they came in at a 4-5 per hour clip. If not for an all-day glitch on Amazon Tuesday, I might have enjoyed a moment at the top of the heap, at least long enough to capture a screen shot of Dirt nudging ahead of the Derek Jeter books and Moneyball, which seems to haunt the top 5 for reasons I can’t understand.

Aside from the ‘Zon’s technical difficulties, things were soon back to normal. My one-week sale blitz was complete, the frenzy over. It was a fun ride while it lasted, and, boy, did we move some units. Okay, it may not be NY Times bestseller pace, but for me, moving 85 books (between my two novels) in seven days was dizzying stuff, even at 99 cents a pop.

Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in Baseball at the end of the promo

Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in Baseball at the end of the promo.

I’ve done 99-cent price promos in the past, with much more modest results. My hope this time around was to generate enough sales to see a carryover effect once the books went back to regular price. (The jury is still out on that, but early returns are not promising.) So this time I wanted to do something totally different. I read David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Visible, which is all about marketing books, particularly ebooks. One idea I came away with was a World Series group promo.

I kicked it around with a couple of writer friends, both authors of good baseball novels (Russell Rowland’s High and Inside and Jeff Gillenkirk’s Home, Away). They were both into the idea from the start. I reached out to a number of other authors, some I’ve interacted with before and others I hadn’t. I figured we needed at least five books minimum to make a credible stand. With two of my own, we were nearly there early on, but I wanted more.

It proved harder than I figured it would to reach critical mass, but when we did we got there in a hurry, courtesy of Summer Game Books. A baseball-only publisher, SGB responded to my email with definite interest, offering up three books that were perfect for our promo. In 1999 Casey Award winner, Slouching Toward Fargo, we had a headliner. They also pitched Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide and Pat Jordan’s The Suitors of Spring into the mix. Author of A False Spring, one of the most revered titles in the baseball library, Jordan is a name familiar to many baseball readers. Suddenly we were nearly to 10, a round number we hit when David Martinez threw The Book of Baseball Literacy into the sale.

And then we were down to nine again, with the loss of one of our originals. Gillenkirk’s publisher informed him just days before the sale that it had placed a moratorium on price changes until November. (Though they did offer the paperback version up at a special price of just $4.99.) There went my “10 books for less than 10 bucks” slogan. But not for long, as The Permanent Press, publisher of Jenny Shank’s novel, The Ringer, contacted me to inquire whether we’d be interested in adding a second title to the pot. Howard Owen is a mystery writer, who just happened to set his newest title in a minor league ballpark. And Parker Field put us back in double figures.

Unfortunately, the “10 for 10” euphoria was washed away the night before the sale kicked off, fairly late in fact. Summer Game Books hit a snag in altering the price of Slouching Toward Fargo and the Sol White Guide. Heavy on images, both were too large for Amazon to let them drop the price to 99 cents. SGB offered up a couple of other titles in their place, to keep things in line pricewise. I begged them instead to keep the originals in the lineup at the slightly elevated price of $1.99, which they did. Perhaps in light of that, The Permanent Press requested their two titles be pushed to $1.99 the morning the sale began (they offered no reason, so I’m only guessing). Instead of “10 for 10” we were now at “10 books under $2 each.”

Those burps aside, the sale got off to a strong start. Traffic to our site, The Baseball Reader (a Google Blogs page I cooked up a couple of weeks before the sale began), hit 255 page views that first day. No telling how many of those were me, checking and adjusting the text, but enough were interested buyers to push us all well up in the Amazon sale rankings by nightfall.

I sold 16 copies between my two titles that day, a solid, yet disappointing, number. I knew it was likely to be our best day, and that was well shy of the goals I had set. I was hoping to average 10 sales of each book per day, 70 per over the course of the week. And when things fell to five (combined) both Wednesday and Thursday, I was resigned to accept this promo was not going to go where I wanted it to. Not even close.

But a funny thing happened on Friday. Checking the page views on the site’s dashboard I found the numbers had shot up. Turns out a friend with a Twitter following near 38K retweeted one of my updates. I contacted another friend with a large following and asked for a hit. The traffic spiked again. I worked a few more contacts. By 8:00 in the evening (when for whatever reason Google’s traffic calendar turns to a new day) we hit 596 page views. My sales nearly matched Tuesday’s. We had hope, and I had a plan: work Twitter strategically for the final three days, calling in favors to as many friends as I could without crossing the line to pest.

It worked, particularly on Monday, when retweet after retweet shot our traffic over 1,200 page views. Not exactly ESPN.com to be sure, but for a small operation that treasured every visitor, it was huge. I sold a combined 31 books Monday, staying up way too late refreshing my sales numbers. The days when they climb so visibly are truly rare, indeed. In fact, in two and a half years since my first book came out, I’d never had a day like Monday. I did a couple of free promos on Amazon back in 2012 that saw the numbers skyrocket, but there’s a huge difference between giving books away (most of which will never be read) and selling them, even at a 99-cent discount. And we sold a lot, combined. By the end of the sale, seven of our books claimed spots in the top 20 Kindle baseball books on Amazon, with an eighth cracking the top 50.

In the end, Twitter made this promo for us. Which I didn’t expect. One of the first things I learned in book marketing was tweeting “buy my book” not only doesn’t work, it can cost you followers. It’s annoying and completely counterproductive. But having a sale with 10 strong books to advertise is a different beast. We had something to offer readers, and they responded. Twitter drew them in by the bunch.

Of course, it’s not a sustainable strategy to keep begging friends and passing acquaintances to do your bidding. Once or twice a year you can push your luck. Beyond that, you’re just pissing people off. So a top priority going forward is to build up both my personal list (@James_L_Bailey) and the one for The Baseball Reader (@TheBBReader). As of tonight that one stands at 80, a relatively pitiful number, but not so horrible considering I only created it two days before the sale.

Would I do it all again? I think so, but I would do some things differently. First off, I would plan it further ahead. With this experience to draw on, I would look to lure some bigger-name authors into the mix, some folks who could pull in some traffic. Some of our books this time around literally came from authors who didn’t know their books were in it (or who have been dead for half a century, in the case of Sol White). None of the rest of us had particularly large followings. That does make things more difficult. But having done it, having some reasonable idea of what I can offer to an author or publisher, I believe I could sell a more visible author on the benefit of participating.

I would also try to hold the line on the pricing, if at all reasonably possible. The two Permanent Press titles lagged behind the rest for most of the week, and I would guess that was mainly due to the pricing. Slouching Toward Fargo did just fine at $1.99, but your headliners can get away with things that others may not. The whole point of a sale like this is to get your book in front of as many readers as possible. Sure you’re sacrificing quite a bit off of each sale in terms of royalty. But with enough sales, you make up for that, and hopefully lay the ground for more sales down the road.

That is essentially the goal. Without any carryover effect, it’s hard to justify the effort that goes into a group promo like this. It’s premature to really sum things up, but thus far I have to say there hasn’t been much carryover. I sold 85 books (both titles combined) in seven days. Since the price went back to normal ($3.99 for both titles) yesterday, I’ve sold three copies and had two more sales/borrows through Kindle Unlimited. That is better than I was doing earlier in the month (my sales are always strongest in the spring, when people are gobbling up baseball books), but it’s not what I was hoping for.

So will I do it again? Maybe. It took a lot of time to plan and execute. Time I could have spent revising my third book, which I hope to have ready to release by next spring or summer. Many authors will tell you your best marketing is writing the next book. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. But there’s part of me that can’t give up on promoting the first two. So I’ll keep my options open and see where things take me. Maybe next spring I’ll get the itch to put an even better lineup together and set the wheels back in motion. By then perhaps everyone will have gotten through the books they bought this time around and need more titles with which to fill their Kindles.

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