The Pins are Out of the Grenades: More Thoughts on Self-Publishing

Burning bombI haven’t been sleeping real well lately and my eyes are all kinds of blurry this morning. That’s partly because of allergies and partly because I’ve been pretty stressed out this past week.

As I mentioned last Wednesday, I’ve started seeing signs of my self-promotion paying off. It’s clumsy but, for the first time ever, I have a marketing machine that makes some sort of sense to me.

Everything I’ve tried over the past few years, outside of releasing a new book, has had a murky effect on my sales. My readership has been growing, there’s no doubt there, and I continue to get new fans, but it’s been…well to call it confusing doesn’t quite fit because that implies that I at least understood some of what’s been going on.

I haven’t. Good reviews on well-read blogs have done nothing, bad reviews on blogs with three readers have boosted sales. Giveaways have done nothing, Tweeting “1…2…3…READ MY BOOK!” got me introduced to the publishing house that brought The Hunger Games to Latin America and Spain.

It hasn’t been merely confusing, it’s been like a Dali painting on acid. I might as well have woken up every morning, drank a bottle of NyQuil, and sat down for my marketing time for all the logic that has been involved.

Now though? Now there’s actual sense here. I apply force X to lever Y and Z goes up. I adjust my marketing budget (X) in the two ad campaigns I’m running right now on Facebook and Goodreads (Y) and sales (Z) rise.

LeverIt’s clumsy and I have to believe that I can get a larger rise in sales per dollar put in by tweaking ads, page layout, which quotes from reviewers I lead with, etc. Currently the cost in advertising per sale is a dismal number, and when I talk about sales I’m talking low double-digits for April.

But it’s a functional machine. And it’s real. And that’s why I haven’t been sleeping.

Money goes in, sales go up…but that’s not the end goal.

That’s a means to an end.

The end goal is to have Amazon eventually say, “Why hello there, Probability Angels, you’ve been selling well recently. How about I introduce you to more of my customers?”

That’s been my goal since day one, though I’ve lost track of it plenty of times. That’s been my bedrock concept. And now here I am, putting real money in and creating real sales on Amazon and having hourly panic attacks that my core goal, the attention of the Amazon algorithm, is a myth. Or that the money I’d have to spend to garner that attention is so high that all I’m doing is throwing my money away to see a brief rise in sales and then, once the money, Force X, is gone, things will slow back down to a crawl and Amazon will not have taken notice. It’s stressful.

I do have two concrete facts that I’ve come away with this week, though.

One is that, with the rise in sales of Probability Angels there has been a rise in sales of the sequel, Persistent Illusions. And I’m not advertising Persistent Illusions. At all. There’s mention of it at the end of the current edition of Probability Angels and it is the first book that Amazon recommends if you liked Probability Angels, but no direct marketing by me. So to see the numbers of the sequel also go up is comforting. I’m buying fans not sales.

The second concrete fact is minor and specific entirely to the Goodreads ad campaign, but I found it fascinating.

Goodreads recommends that you create two ads for every ad you make. One to target a set of authors, and one to target a set of genres.

Here are my two ads based on a quote from Nyx. Note the difference in click-through rate:

PA Goodreads Ad with Reviews

Probability Angels Ad No Reviews

For those of you not familiar with CTR, that’s your click-through rate, the percentage of times the ad has been clicked out of the total number of times it has been displayed. CTR’s generally range from 0.05% to 0.50%, so o.11% is a big number in this world, the highest in my ad campaign, in fact.

And yet, the second ad, the one targeting specific authors, has a 0.0% click-through rate. I could see some discrepancy between the two because one targets genres and the other authors, but for an ad worded exactly the same to range from the highest CTR in my campaign to the lowest? No. That was a red flag.

And yet I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on…until today. Can you see it? You probably caught it already.

When I created the author ad, the one with no clicks, I forgot to toggle the box on the ad creation form that puts a link to your reviews at the bottom of the ad.

Three words: “View 85 reviews.” A change from 0.0% to 0.11%.

No wonder I haven’t been sleeping well. I forgot to check off one box and a swing in numbers that large occurred.

Yoga meditation on the beach

I miss the days of pure theory. Those were comforting. It’s so nice to say, “Well this happens because of that and I know it’s true because in my head it sounds right.”

I still do plenty of that and, granted, that mindset came about because nothing I did seemed to matter anyway. But now there’s this jarring sense of cause and effect. And, along with that, a very real sense that I’ve moved out of dress rehearsal, that I’m no longer practicing, that I’ve switched from learning to juggle with duds to juggling with live grenades…and all the pins are out.

Theory no longer; sleep is scarce.

More next week.