What My House Taught Me About Selling Books

IMG_8907Sometimes the obvious smacks you in the face. I hate it when that happens. But sometimes, lessons are learned where you least expect them. And surely enough, determining a house-selling strategy made me realize I had to change my philosophies when it came to selling my books.

My house is unique and custom-built. It’s in the wilderness, yet convenient to Spokane. It’s considered “green,” yet it’s not rustic. It’s luxurious, but it’s not outrageously expensive. When it went on the market, I knew it wouldn’t sell to anyone in the immediate area. It’s not for them. It’s perfect for city folk tired of the rat race. It’s for wildlife photographers and naturalists and outdoorsmen and retiring business executives and celebrities looking for complete privacy. It’s for a diverse, yet specialized, demographic.

After nearly a year on the market, there’d only been one showing. Why? Because putting a house up on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), Zillow, and Trulia is like putting a book up on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble – and expecting that to be enough. Maybe, at one time, we authors thought that getting our books up on those sites would get them sold. But we know better now, don’t we?

Plenty of people have been looking at the house’s listing. So what did that mean? The right people weren’t seeing it. The only logical conclusion (other than it’s not priced as a bargain basement deal) was that my house was not getting in front of the right audience. I looked at the market segments to target. I figured certain magazines tailored to the tastes of people fitting the demographic would be a good place to start. The New York Times, Mother Earth News, Luxury Home Magazine – those are just some of the “places” where people who would be interested in my house would be. I thought about how I would do it if I was a realtor. I’d start by advertising there. I wouldn’t expect each one to work, but eventually, one would.

The house has been posted on Pinterest and Facebook and a bunch of other social media sites. I was told this is effective. My rebuttal was: I have over twice the following, and I don’t sell any books on Facebook. Seriously – is a Wall Street business executive sitting at his or her desk thinking, “Hmmm, I wanted to find the perfect house today – think I’ll look on Facebook!” Probably not.

So then it hit me. Duh. Why am I trying to sell my books on Facebook? The people who support me are already supporting me. (THANK YOU!!!) The rest of the people (many of whom I’ve actually met in person!) ignore most of what I post. So why am I not taking my own advice and getting my books in front of the right audiences?

I’ve been trying to do a lot of promotion on free sites. I’m poor. I’m cheap. I don’t want to pay. I constantly focus on trying to cover the expense of advertising with sales. If I don’t think it’ll work, I don’t do it. I realize now that’s the wrong philosophy. Lynne Cantwell tried to tell me this. I heard what she was saying, but decided I could work around it. I was wrong. She was right. Effective frequency, or the marketing rule of seven, is something I do believe in. I also believe that casting a wider net will catch you more fish. So why have I insisted on dropping my hook into a puddle? Because I’m poor. And stubborn.

That changes today.

My book sales have been horrible. I’ve gotten lots of fantastic reviews across twenty-five titles. You’d think I could sell something. Nope. I am a professional writer, though, and if that is my business, I need to invest in it. As a self-publishing indie, my operating costs are very low. So I am going to have to take the plunge and start investing in advertising. Time to call in the big guns.

Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and give away free books to get your other books noticed. Sometimes you have to pay a lot of money to reach the proper audiences. Authors talk about huge crowds attending genre-themed events. So genre-based advertising makes sense, doesn’t it?

But…most of my books don’t fit one specific genre. Night Undone is suspense, romance, women’s literature, action-adventure, and drama. Triple Dog Dare is light romantic comedy – sorta chicklit, sorta humor. This is typical of me. I’m just going to have to advertise to all those groups.

Well, I’ll wait until I have more books so I can get a bigger umph with my backlist sales. I’ve been saying that for ages. How many books will be enough? How long of a wait will suffice? I’m not going to wait anymore. No one’s waiting for me. I’ve got to grab the bull by the horns and get my books in front of readers.

Some of the courage to do this has come from some really great reviews I’ve gotten recently. Yes, readers, your reviews are important in many ways! And some of this courage has come from my dear friend and all-around swell guy Martin Crosbie. He is the epitome of what a professional writer should be. He is not afraid to take risks. I want to be like him when I grow up. And I’m starting now.

Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist, photographer, and photo-journalist, author of over 30 titles, and executive director and administrator of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is currently a photo-journalist and chief copy editor for two NE Washington newspapers.  She teaches self-publishing and writing topics for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page.

71 thoughts on “What My House Taught Me About Selling Books”

  1. Awesome post. Thank you for writing it. I believe what Lynne says is correct – you have to be consistent with your marketing and reach, at least until you’ve reached a tipping point that I can envision but have not come close to reaching. I plan at least one promotion to attract attention to my catalog every month. The reality is, they don’t all break even or show a profit, but most do. I believe they are effectively removing the greatest hindrance we all have – anonymity – one impression at a time. By the way, I have a severe case of backlist envy. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Shawn. I admire you for plugging away at it. And I’ve got a severe case of review envy. You’ve got a ton of them. As for my backlist, I can have a ton, but if they’re just sitting there on Amazon and not priced right, they’re not going to move. Working on it! 🙂

      1. Those reviews came from one thing: free runs. If you give away 20,000+ books in a free promo, the reviews will inevitably come. I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as far along (not that it’s all that far) without free promos.

        1. Thanks for sharing that info, Shawn. I’m working on trying to position myself to run some freebies right now. Hopefully it will work out (even though I cringe at the idea).

  2. I’m beginning to clue into the need to spend some time and takes some risks on promo as well. It’s kind of a catch 22 because you need to spend money to promote when most of us don’t have any to use for that.

    1. Yvonne, that’s exactly where I am, too. I’m *scared* to spend the money, to be honest. I’m not sure how to get past that or if I even want to.

      1. Meg, I love how you’ve redone and rebranded your book covers. There’s nothing wrong with starting out small. Some lower traffic sites charge only about $5 to feature books. I haven’t seen very good results from them. ENT and KB&T charge about $25 per ad, but I’ve seen upwards of 100 books sold the first time I’ve used each of those for a book – and 50 books sold for my children’s titles. At that rate, you make a small profit, but 100 new people have your book and will hopefully go on to purchase your backlist. $25 is nothing to be scared of – try it, you’ll like it. 🙂

        1. Part of the reason I haven’t bought advertising so far is that I have no idea how to maximize it, how to make sure I get the most of it. Is there a step-by-step that I’ve missed in all my reading that tells how to do that? I know there’s got to be more to it than just knocking the price down and putting the ad up.

          1. You just have to do your research. ENT & KB&T are pretty highly thought of around here. Check their submissions guidelines. You are never guaranteed that your book will be accepted. Some promotion/advertising sites are genre-based, and some of them don’t even list the genres for my books. That makes the decision easy. For the ones which do, upon acceptance, each site will tell you what they expect of you. They’re all pretty much the same – share, tweet, announce. What they bring to the table is that they have followers who want to hear about books. That’s why you’re paying them – to get access to their following and mailing list. So no, there’s not much more that you can do than that. Let them work for you.

          2. Responding to your comment below because it doesn’t have a reply button, for some reason. Anyway, I’d always been led to believe that when you do an ad on one of these sites, there’s other stuff you should be doing in concert with it to maximize your results. That’s not true? I guess I’m just looking for excuses not to do it [sigh]. Especially right now when my current manuscript appears to be unfixable. Not that I don’t know *what* needs to be fixed, but darned if I can figure out the *how.* Anyway. I should start a blog called The Terrified Writer. Because that’s what I am most of the time. Shutting up now…

          3. Kat, you obviously rang a bell with me [g]. May I ask you one more question? You say you write cross-genre books. How did you choose what genre to use for your Bookbub submission?

        2. Oh, and thanks for the compliment on my books. It does seem to be doing a *little* good, and I’m glad I did it. I’m also grateful to Tammie Gibbs, who basically put a hand in my back and shoved [g]. And then helped me pick out my art. That, to me, is by far the hardest part.

  3. I agree with Lynne Cantwell’s article on frequency, and as Shawn pointed out getting reviews by freebies helps. We all try to use the free sites to gain that exposure, but it seems more difficult each day, as each social media changes in order to cash in, like Facebook. Now to reach anyone we need to dig into our (empty) pockets to pay. It seems finding the right demographics to focus on is getting harder to discover and reach.

    1. That’s so very true. And it makes being a part of a culture like we have here so helpful – sharing what works, what doesn’t – which of course will vary depending on the book, but if enough people say they are happy with the results ENT got them – then it must mean something. 🙂

  4. Good for you, Kat. My previous publisher used to insist we Facebook, tweet, blog, Pinterest, etc. If there was a social networking site, we needed to be on it. They didn’t have the funds for any paid marketing, so their focus was on “free” marketing via social networking. I know that works for some people, but I think what more often happens is we’re all Facebooking, tweeting, blogging, etc., to each other. We’re all authors in a huge virtual bookstore yelling, “Buy my book!” In general it doesn’t work (I know there are flukes).

    When I terminated my contract I “unjoined” all the sites I’d never wanted to join and focused on paid advertising. I already had some business experience; I was co-owner of a psychotherapy practice for several years, and we had to do more to get our practice up and running than stand on the street corner shouting, “Come see us for therapy!” We had to do some paid advertising.

    1. That’s what it all boils down to, doesn’t it? Get it in front of the people who want it. And that’s going to mean paying, unfortunately. But it beats spamming and pimping to the point of alienating everyone. Good for you putting your own business plan into action. And thanks for commenting. 🙂

    2. We’re all authors in a huge virtual bookstore yelling, “Buy my book!” In general it doesn’t work (I know there are flukes).

      That’s a great way of putting it!

  5. So do your books sell better on Wall Street than they do on Facebook or Amazon? I must try that with mine!

    Thanks for the ideas, you’re always inspiring.

  6. Great post. I think a lot of us are in the same boat. We hear about things like free being successful, but also hear you need a backlist to make that work well. So, we’re hesitant to try it and put it off, secretly hoping we’ll just have a natural sales pick up (like those authors you hear about in news articles). Only it doesn’t happen, and so you look for inexpensive ways to advertise with strong roi (because your funds are limited), so you advertise less than you’d like. And still don’t get the sales you’d like. So, trying something new, something daring is a great attitude.

    Good luck with your risk taking.

  7. One way to get around the “cheap and poor” blessing is to observe one of the Quotations From Comrade Lin… Spend Black Ink, Not Red Ink.
    If you can get an ad of a good newsletter like ENT or KindleNation for $60… have you made $60 off your books? Then what the hell… it’s not a loss if you get no action. If you do sell more than $60 from an ad… then you have money to try another one, maybe a more expensive one.
    If your book is something people want to read, you should be able to inch your way up.
    If it’s not, there’s no point in worrying about it.

    1. Well, if you’ve already spent that $60 on groceries, that can be an issue. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and spend the red ink, anyway.

      1. But… you’d still be in the black for your project. That might seem like quibbling, but I think it makes a difference. You have the same amount of money whichever pocket you put it in, but I think it’s worth “keeping books” on your book. If you’re advertising with money you brought in with sales, you’re never really risking anything.

        1. You have to make enough sales to begin with, though, to have black ink to play with. I’m already in the hole from the production end, and the books have to make *that* back, first. (and, no, I don’t feel that I spent an inordinate amount on the production end — I took classes in how to design my own covers and paper interiors, which I consider money well spent, and I did buy a pro cover for one of my books, just to see if it made a difference — it didn’t). I’ve made maybe half of the money I spent back so far, with six books. And then, of course, there’s the time, which I refuse to calculate because then I’d *never* have any black ink. If I wait till I have black ink to spend, it’ll be a long time before I buy paid advertising. And I don’t have red ink to spend.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m really starting to lean toward the self-publishing angle, but I’m still so uncertain, which route I’ll ultimately go. Do you have any recommended resources that I might want to check out?

    1. I think you’re in a good place right here, SM. We have a page for first time authors, and we have a knowledge base and resource pages on a number of different topics. What specifically are you looking for?

      1. Specifically, I think I’m looking for other author’s experiences with publishing with Amazon’s CreateSpace/Kindle, which is kind of the approach I’m considering taking. But yes, I definitely plan to stick around here and soak up all the information I can! You definitely have a great site here.

  9. Advertising is key. Consistency is key.
    You nailed it, my dear. That old saying, “you have to spend money to make money” is correct. I know you will achieve your goals. Good luck.

  10. Not to get too peripheral, but in an earlier piece here on IU, the problem of “reach” was discussed and I mentioned that I believed more in groups than “pages” or timeline promo. Several pointed out that groups don’t show everybody notifications. But the thing is, as you say, your “friends” and “followers” have seen it all. But not necessarily group members. So if the same percentage view them, the groups offer “newer blood”.
    This points up another advantage of using the newsletters. They reach more people than you know… and the population of their mailing lists keep growing or at least changing.
    And you can “ease into” advertising with those things. Ranging from free to $5-10 for placement, to $30-100 for major placement that is basically space advertising.

  11. That is exactly how I feel. I recently tried a $15.00 five-day ad, and got one sale. They gave me a refund which was nice. I’ve thought of PR, but that may be a bit much. Right now am studying keywords.

    I liked this part: “Hmmm, I wanted to find the perfect house today – think I’ll look on Facebook!” Probably not.

    1. Thanks, Kenyon. Yeah, I’m going for BookBub. I’ve just been approved for a freebie. Biting nails – hoping that the peripheral sales pay for the ad, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Got my big girl pants on now!

        1. I live in a glass house, so I’ll pass on that. Didn’t you download the free eBook about my house? I’m shattered. (glass pun 😛 )

  12. Really nice post, Kat, thanks. I think a lot of us respect you as an author, so it’s very cool of you to speak so directly when you find out something new. Targeting the right readers will always be problematic to say the least, and paying for advertising in “red ink” often feels, at least to me, too close to a gambling addiction. Still, Martin there knows his stuff pretty well, and he’s a good place to start.
    Hope the house gets the attention it deserves soon!

    1. Aw, thanks, Chris! I was looking at the “red ink” thing the same way you are. I guess maybe I should say that last week “what I learned about selling books because of acupuncture” … LOL but, I have an awesome acupuncturist in Spokane. She is expensive – for me, mind you, and one doesn’t always know what will or won’t work. Was my health worth taking that financial risk, going in knowing what she was going to do may or may not help? Her track record was good. So yes, it was worth the risk to me. I’m looking at BookBub the same way. ENT. KB&T. Those guys have proven track records. I have to suck it up and play those odds (look how much I love ya – I worked the gambling metaphor back in there. 😉 )

      1. Hey, as long as my bank keeps upping my credit card limit, I’m in the game and no mistake! Hell, even in Roulette, the zero has to come up some time! It’s important to keep in mind, as self-publishing authors, that they the buggers can’t bankrupt you when you’re dead #WorksForMe 🙂

  13. Great post, Kat. I love the fact that you’ve shared with us that moment when the light bulb turned on. And your insight is immediately relevant to us all–how to get our books in front of the readers who will like them? I actually think the Goodreads ads some of us did a while back helped quite a bit, not so much with immediate sales as with getting the names out there in front of readers over and over so they finally became noticeable and memorable. We all know the name recognition builds over time. Heck, it can take 20 years to become an overnight success! I wish you the best of luck with the new plan, and hope you’ll report back when you hit the best-seller list and sell the house!

    1. Thanks, Melissa. I ran a Goodreads ad for a friend, and noticed that after a couple of months, he was selling 1 or 2 books a day. When the ad expired, his sales dried up. So I do think they’re worth it. They haven’t worked for my children’s books – but nothing has really, so far. Not everything works for every genre. Just have to keep plugging away. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  14. Kat I’m so happy that you are doing Bookbub, I think you’ll see a difference; I can only dream. Your home, not house, is waiting for a very special person to love it…trust me. It would be difficult to leave and be aware that the right family wasn’t appreciating it. Lastly, you have to spend money to make money, but our family is struggling. I believe it will happen for anyone who sticks to the walls (thinking like spaghetti).).

    1. I’ve thrown a truckload of spaghetti against the wall. Time to add some sauce and cheese to that and make it stick for real. Thanks, Aron. Always nice to hear from you! 🙂

    1. You made me LOL, Lynne. You’re very welcome. I hear your words “it’s not about making the money back” over and over in my head when I’m considering advertising. It was time to stop hearing them and do something with them. 🙂

    2. Reading Lynne’s article that Kat linked to in hers, above, made a light bulb go off over my head, but I’m afraid it wasn’t the intended light bulb [wry g]. Thirty-odd years ago, I was a newspaper display ad (the kind in the main body of the paper, not the classifieds) proofreader. I learned to *hate* the repetitiveness of advertising with a purple passion during that stint. As a result, to this day I deliberately (mentally when I can’t do it physically) tune out advertising of all kinds. And now I’m being told to do this nastiness *to other people* in order to sell my books??? All I can say to that is, “oh, the horror!” I’m not sure I’m better off knowing why I’ve been resisting marketing so hard or not, but I sure can’t *unlearn* it. Ptui.

      1. If I may just pop in here, I have to say I feel the same way about advertising in some venues. I’m just not comfortable constantly sticking my book(s) into each and every tweet, Facebook post, blog, etc. The difference between that and what I believe Kat is referencing is that people sign up to subscribe to the paid ad sites. They’re actively looking for book deals – much different than someone just browsing through Facebook and seeing, “Buy my book!” over and over again. Subscribers to places like BookBub, etc., are there because they want to know about book deals. That helps me with my comfort level. 🙂

        1. That’s also why features like “Thrifty Thursday” are so beneficial. Authors can share “hey, readers – 30 bargain books, check them out!” and it seems like they’re doing people a favor, which they are. But their book is in there too, so theoretically, if all 30 authors share to their social networking following of say 1000 – then that feature is getting in front of 30,000 people without seeming obnoxious. 🙂

  15. Great post, thanks so much for sharing that! I’m interested in your house – but unfortunately I spent all my money on advertising my books. One day it will pay off – hopefully. Impressive backlist, let us know how it all goes. BookBub hate me. If they printed out all my ‘requests’ and set fire to them they could keep America very warm this winter.

    1. Thanks, Becky. You can download the book about the house for free from Smashwords, anyway. I’ve been rejected by BookBub too, up until now. Have you tried submitting to them for a freebie? Thanks for your comment.

  16. Once again I’m reading my email several days late. Anyway, that was an interesting and thought provoking article. I see the logic in persistent advertising and the rule of seven. I just haven’t done it. Mine has been more episodic and frankly a loser on the financial end of things. Breaking even on the book is still a dream. I guess part of the problem is I have a comfortable pay cheque to fall back on, so I really lack the motivation for effective marketing.

    For now, with only one book, I’m going to concentrate more on getting number two ready, rather than fussing so much with all the other stuff everyone says I should be doing, but really don’t like. I’ll take a more serious look at marketing when I have two or three books.

    1. I think that attitude is right on, John. I personally believe paid advertising without a backlist defeats the purpose – especially if you’re running a freebie. You need that backlist to draw the paid sales and help recoup your costs for the advertising. Even with 25 books in my arsenal, I was considering a delay in paid advertising until I had more books in the same genres available. But this year has not been kind to me, and sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet. 🙂

  17. I’m terrible at marketing, Kat, but I wonder if you could create an omnibus type of thing for groups of your books… perhaps based on their overall ‘type’? And then maybe make one omnibus available for free on KDP select every 3 months?
    The omnibus editions would be real bargains and people love bargains. Maybe?
    With just a couple of books under my belt, all I can do is watch what you do and cheer you on. -hugs-

    1. Interesting thought! Unfortunately, other than my children’s books, I’m all over the map with genres. The only thing I can really do about that is hunker down and right some straight-up genre stuff. I should have two new action-adventure/thrillers coming out in the next year or so, and those will go into Select. I think that will make a huge difference. Thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

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