books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Social Media vs. a New York Times Book Review Cover: Which Sells More Books?

Yesterday Catherine Ryan Hyde and I spoke with a wonderful bunch of eager authors at the Digital Authors Seminar in San Luis Obispo. They were full of lots of great questions, some of which I’ll address here on the blog in coming weeks.

We talked about the two events that have caused a seismic shift in the publishing business in the last four years: the introduction of the e-reader and the rise of social media as a marketing tool.

Amazon, Facebook and Twitter: love ’em or hate ’em, they have turned the creaky old publishing industry on its ear.

The way books are marketed has been revolutionized as much as their delivery system.

As publishing insider Alan Rinzler said, on his blog last summer: “That $50K space ad in the New York Times? Forget it. It’s only for the author’s mother.”

Last week an article in Publishers Weekly backed up that statement with some hard evidence. They showed that even a favorable review on the cover of the NYT Book Review—one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the publishing industry (and the object of most authors' most cherished fantasies) doesn’t do much to bump a book’s sales these days.

Most books they studied did double sales for a short time, usually not more than a week or two, and one quadrupled sales—but most didn’t show more than a modest influence.

And when I say modest, I mean just that. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times featured on the May 27th cover, had sold 52 copies the week before. With the NYT cover bump, it sold 134. That’s right: scoring a review on the cover of the NYT Book Review netted a sales increase of 82 actual books.

So let’s compare that with the e-age way of marketing: using social media and free book giveaways on places like Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP Select.

Catherine Ryan Hyde recently self-published her novels When I Found You and Don’t Let Me Go and put them into KDP Select.

For the uninitiated: KDP Select is a program on Amazon that allows members to borrow the book free and any customer to download the book free during 5 days in every 90-day period. (Authors are paid for downloads by members, but not for the general-public freebie days.)

Why do authors want to give their ebooks away free? Because it’s the best possible advertising (as long as you have a great product) and it costs nothing. Zip Zilch Nada.

Why doesn’t everybody do it? There’s one big obstacle. In order to put a book into KDP Select program, you have to give Amazon exclusive rights to sell that ebook. No B&N. No Smashwords. No Kobo. Not even sales from your own site.

OK, so back to Catherine. In the week before its freebie days, When I Found You was selling “in the tens” per month. After it zoomed to #1 on its free days, it continued to sell thousands.

Within a week, Catherine had earned enough on that book alone to buy a car. (A very nice car. A Lexus.  I got to ride in it yesterday.)

Then let’s look at Ms. Hochschild, with her coveted NYT real estate.  On a trad. pub royalty of 17% or so on 82 units, Ms. Hochschild could barely buy a set of Hot Wheels. (Not to criticize her book. It looks brilliant.)

So e-age marketing wins over the New York Times Book Review cover. (Aside from having something suitable for framing for your Mom.)

But: it’s important to note that Catherine couldn’t have achieved her success with a giveaway alone. An author can offer any number of free books, but if nobody knows they exist, nobody will download them.

That’s why your social media presence is so important. By the time you have a book to sell/give away, you need to have a network in place that can spread the word to thousands.

When Catherine’s second self-pubbed book, Don’t Let Me Go went free last weekend, Catherine tweeted it to her 1150 followers. Since I’m one of them, I retweeted to my 3200 followers. Two followers even thanked me—and because most people don’t thank for tweets—I assume many more downloaded it. I also assume they went on to broadcast the news to all their Tweeple.

This is why Twitter is probably your most important marketing tool. But you have to get that network established long before your book comes out. One of the best ways to do that is to tweet links to things that your readers might be interested in. Write sci-fi? Tweet links to trailers of new sci-fi films, sci-fi bloggers, etc. Write cookbooks? Tweet links to great recipes--not all your own. :-) Write women’s fiction? Tweet everything Jennifer Weiner says about valuing the genre. 

The point is to have people in place who have a habit on clicking on your links for good content. Not just your own stuff.

Catherine also did a Facebook promotion coordinated by an outfit called Shindig: a two-hour chat that fans could attend for free. It was a rousing success—and Don’t Let Me Go shot to #1 in the whole Kindle Store and stayed there for three days. It’s now selling better than any of her other books.

This is why you need a social media presence.  Yes, even if you do get that NYT review.

I’m aware that people in the know will say the freebie days on Amazon are not working as well as they used to—and may soon not work at all. The Amazon algorithms changed again recently, and the freebie bounce in real sales isn’t as high as it used to be. There’s also the serious drawback of the exclusivity demanded by Amazon to enroll in the KDP Select program that allows the free days.

But no matter what new promo comes up next, chances are pretty certain you’ll only be able to utilize it if you already have a social media platform. Just going on Twitter two weeks before launch and saying “buy my book” (Or worse, hiring somebody to tweet it for you) isn’t going to cut it.

You need to have a network in place. That’s why you want to start now. You don’t necessarily have to Tweet or be on Facebook (Although FB is kind of like the Yellow Pages these days. It’s where people will look for you first, so it’s usually worth it to have at least a “like” page.)

But you can grow your network anywhere: LinkedIn, Goodreads, RedRoom, Pinterest or Tumblr. Or Vlog on You Tube. Find one that works for you and then start making friends.  Don’t spread yourself too thin by going on all of them. Check them out and then linger in places where you find kindred spirits.

Yes. Kindred spirits. People you like. Social media is social. So be sociable. It’s like being at a party. Don’t brag or talk about yourself or beat your chest and bellow. Talk about shared interests.  Like what books you like to read. What music you like. Your obsession with Dr. Who.

So, even if you're a romance writer, don't just talk romance writing. Instead, you might start exchanging Dr. Who lore with a bunch of people on RedRoom, and pretty soon you’ll find a Whovian who also likes romance. Voila—a potential reader. And yes, it’s possible to relate hot romance with Dr. Who. Here’s a great post at Passionate Reads from Marilyn Campbell.

What about your blog? That’s social media, right? If you have a blog is it OK if you’re not on other social media?

Sure. As long as you use that blog to network—going to other blogs and commenting and making friends. Just sitting there in your lair writing about your book and attracting three hits a month isn’t going to help sell your book. For info on how to start an author blog, see my blogpost on How Not to Blog, or read my How to Blog series in the book I’ve written with Catherine, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE.

Reminder: I strongly urge new and unpublished writers NOT to blog their WIP or post excerpts from an unpublished piece! That’s giving away your first rights and will limit your book’s publishability. It’s OK to blog about writing some of the time when you’re starting out--that’s a way to make friends with other writers and people in the industry. I know a number of authors who found their agents or publishers from recommendations from other writers they met through their blogs.

And I think I should mention this in every post, because about 90% of unpublished writers do this. Don’t forget to post an “about me” page that contains your CONTACT INFORMATION. Without a bio your blog is useless. For help on writing your author bio, read my post on Write Your Author Bio Now.

But blog about other things besides writing. Interview published authors. Review books or movies in your genre. Or network with other Whovians and blog about why the tenth Doctor is by far the best. (OK, I have a fondness for Eccleston, as well.)

Personally, I think a blog is a huge asset for a writer, because it allows you to have a flexible online home base where people can always find you and communicate. Whether it’s an agent who’s trying to decide whether to request your manuscript, a fellow writer who wants to respond to a comment you left on another blog, or a reader who loved your new book, a blog is useful at any stage of your career.

But the main purpose of whatever form of social media you choose is interaction. You need to communicate with other people. Otherwise, you might as well be sitting in your basement holding a sign. No matter how brilliant and beautiful the sign, it doesn’t do any good if nobody sees it. You’ll be wasting your time--and you'll be stuck in reruns of that fantasy where you land the cover of the NYT Book Review.

Which will probably only sell 82 books.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have hot fantasies about the NYT Book Review? What form of social media works best for you?
***

Thank you, everybody who downloaded HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY (written by Catherine Ryan Hyde and yours truly.) Our free days were a rousing success. We immediately went to #1 in writing skills books in the Kindle store in both the US and the UK and stayed there for all three of our freebie days. We beat out Mark Coker's free book, the new conversation between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, and Noah Lukeman's new book on agents. All authors I really respect. Pretty amazing.  


But it's still a good deal. It's only $2.99 for another month or so. You can buy it at Amazon in the US, or in the UK

Remember, if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a FREE app for your computer, phone or tablet RIGHT THERE ON THE AMAZON BUY PAGE. And if you have a NOOK here’s how to download an app so you can get free Kindle books to download to your NOOK. 


And remember, this ebook comes with free updates every six months!

And for you die-hard treeware lovers, the paper book is coming! A little slower than we hoped, but it is in the proofing process. 


Tor those of you who signed up early for our mailing list, we promised we would award a copy of a signed first edition of Catherine Ryan Hyde's iconic novel PAY IT FORWARD to one lucky winner today. So the winner, chosen by the random number generator at random.org is CORA RAMOS!!! Congratulations, Cora!


And further congrats to longtime follower of this blog, children's author Lorie Brallier, who also attended the seminar yesterday--and today was offered representation by the Karen Grenick Literary Agency! Congrats, Lorie! 

38 comments:

  1. I have to get permission from my publisher to post any excerpts from my book. And I've only done it twice.
    That's good to know that social media is more effective than a review in the NYT. (I've never had one either, just Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.)
    Thanks for some of the tips to make blogging and Twitter more effective!

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  2. Ahoy Anne,
    I've got my free copy of E-AGE & learned some good things at yesterday's conference. Thanks again for more good advice.

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  3. Anne—Invaluable! Lots of things ain't what they used to be & the NYTBR is one of them. The stats are a real wake-up call...the NYTBR sells only a handful of copies & that 50K ad is for your Mom? No wonder NYTBR has been looking very thin (dare I say anorexic?) lately!

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  4. Hello Anne,

    Terrific advice as usual. I've always wondered how the NYT selects books to review. I know some authors pay to have Kirkus reveiw their books. Have to wonder how a favorable Kirkus review affects sales.

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  5. Hello Anne,

    Terrific advice as usual. I've always wondered how the NYT selects books to review. I know some authors pay to have Kirkus reveiw their books. Have to wonder how a favorable Kirkus review affects sales.

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  6. Alex-Publisher's Weekly still has clout, I think. And Library Journal and Kirkus still influence library sales. So congrats. You're a great example of how to find your niche and build platform.

    CS--Thanks for coming to the seminar. Maybe they'll do another and invite you to talk about audiobooks. I sure would like to learn more about your work on them.

    Ruth--I agree with the "anorexic" NYTBR. I'm sad to say I stopped my own subscription about three months ago. It just didn't seem relevant any more. (And it's never reviewed enough Women's fiction:-( )

    Jennifer--If you've read what Jennifer Weiner says about it, the NYT seems to use gender a lot in making their choices--like if you're female, they don't choose you.

    About Kirkus--I've heard that indie writers who pay for those Kirkus reviews do see a sales bump, but I don't know if it's enough to justify the cost. I hate the idea of paid reviews, anyway.

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  7. Interesting post about the NYT. I'm still stubborn. All I have out there is a blog that I post writings on and I know your opinion on that. My page reviews have gone up so I don't know if that really means anyting or not. I'm not going to worry about it. I really do enjoy doing it.
    I'm planning on self publishing in the new year and I have decided not to do free. I will stick it out and just keep on writing and publishing.

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  8. Awesome post Anne, thanks so much! I'm working on my own social media platform al momento, so this is great encouragement :D

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  9. Thank you so much for such an informative and enlightening post. I've been plugging away now for half a year on building a network. By far, twitter has been the most helpful, although I only recently started a FB fan page. All that networking and who knows when my novel will be done, but I knew to start early on my platform. Everyday is a learning process.

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  10. Thanks so much for everything you said, Anne. Slight clarification in the interest of not over-blowing my horn: The book was #1 for three days in all of Kindle FREE. Which is a bit smaller. Maybe that's what you meant, but just clarifying. When I Found You just came in under the wire of the old algorithms and bounced to #12 in Kindle Paid. Don't Let Me Go got up to around #50 in paid, and stayed in that neighborhood a while. Not complaining! The royalties are great. I do just want to note that the bounce for Don't Let Me Go was literally just a few days ago. After many predicted that "the bounce" was a thing of the past. I'm still quite grateful to it. Thanks for the wonderful post!

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  11. Vera--I should be clear that my advice is just general information, and if something else is working for you, great. One size does not fit all. I love exceptions that prove the rule. Best wishes for your launch next year. I'm so happy when any of my blogfriends has a success.

    Charley--You're getting a great start with platform, all right. You're going to have a great network when your book comes out!

    Jeri--That's such a dilemma and I go through the same thing. How much time should I spend on platform when I have "real" writing to do? I wish I knew the answer (and had more hours in my days!)

    Catherine--Thanks so much for the clarifications. #1 in Free Kindle Store is what I meant, but I didn't say it very well, did I? I think I'm kind of exhausted from the excitement of the seminar and the book launch (But hey, we're still #1 in Free Kindle Writing Books!) And I did get the car part right. You did buy a car with your royalties. A very nice car.

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  12. I'm new to your blog, but I'm definitely following now. What a great post- so helpful to a novice like myself!

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  13. With such an extensive and helpful post, I couldn't wait to download your book, was already clicking to grab it before I realised it was free! I'm so excited, I've already tweeted about it. If you're book is anything like this post, then I'm sure to be in for a treat and I'll happily blog about it when I'm done :)

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  14. Some real useful tips!

    Thanks Anne!

    Enjoy your week!

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  15. Well it's Monday and I put my novel REMEMBERING YOU free for yesterday and today. I hope you'll pick up a copy.

    One thing I've found that really helps in sales (not so much for the free promo but for actual sales) is the retweeting by your friends. I think THAT is hands down the best way to success. (I'm gathering info for a post later in September after the freebie dies down.)

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  16. I'm struggling to set up my own network. twitter just, I don't know, scares me... intimidates me.. makes me want to hide. But at least I have a facebook page now, and a blog. *makes not to verify she's got contact information onteh About Me page... and not at the way bottom*

    Ive always been a bit of a small circle of good friends girl, and I'm trying to figure out how to work myself into the potential of having a larger than I prefer circle of readers. (I'm having a similar issue when it comes to the parents of my kids friends... yup, shy - much).

    Anyway. I'm loving your E-age Book, waiting for the hard copy, jsut cause, and gigling at all I've read in it so far. :}

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  17. Honey--So glad to help. There's a lot of info out here in Interwebz, but it can be hard to find when you're starting out. Some people forget we were all newbies once. :-)

    Charmaine--Thanks much for the tweet. Sure hope you like it. And when it goes off the free list, it will still be $2.99 for another month or so.

    Jacqueline--You too! It's an awfully gloomy Monday here. :-(

    Anne--I LOVE your books! REMEMBERING YOU is FREE????? Everybody, if you like classic romance, this is the book for your beach reading.

    I think you're absolutely right that Twitter is key. Look forward to your post.

    Cathryn--As I say in the book, Twitter is like a big cocktail party. So you have to learn to schmooze one person at a time. "Kiss, kiss, love your work" then move on :-)

    And yes, there WILL be a hard copy. We're learning a lot about how 21st century prose--the kind with lots of white space and bulleting--does NOT translate well to paper. It's a formatting nightmare.

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  18. Melissa Rynbout left this great comment, but the spamfilter elves decided to put it in the spam folder (and let through all the Ukranian porn spam) Maybe the regular elf is on vacation. Anyway, here's Melissa

    Melissa Rynbout says:

    Thanks again for an interesting and informative article Anne. I have long resisted the idea of social media networking; with a family to look after, and books to write, I thought I wouldn't have the time, nor the inclination. But I have to admit, after reading your blog, you've got me convinced, hence I've started a blog. Still finding my feet blog-wise but I'll get there. Still mulling over twitter, but this article makes a good case for it (I never thought about the domino effect of twitter).

    And of course, I'm very pleased that I've inspired you to start building your platform. There's lots of specific info on how to do it in our book, which is still FREE one more day!

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  19. @ Anne, that's just it. I'm not all that good at cocktail parties (unless I can dance, so I suppose I just need to find the Twitter music to dnace to.. .lol) *grins*

    And while I'm sure I'm not the expert, but having been fromating modern documents (aka work instructions for bio-tech products) in Word for 10+ years, if you think I can help.... (cause that sort of thing intrigues me, he he). :}

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  20. Cathryn--I love the idea of dancing on Twitter!

    I'm going to let Mark know you've got formatting experience. You may just get an email from him. Thanks!

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  21. Love the post, Anne! And I agree 100%.

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  22. There's some great information in this post and thank you for sharing it. Plus, I went and downloaded the e-publishing book and am looking forward to see what it has to say! Thanks!

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  23. Jenny--Thanks a bunch!

    Mary, I'm so glad you got the book, and I hope you find it helpful. (BTW, I love your picture.)

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  24. Anne, I think I may have stepped in it. I had a short story up on my blog for a week or so, then pulled it down and submitted it to a magazine. I didn't realize a story on my blog was considered officially published. Should I notify them?

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  25. Fascinating stuff, as always.

    I'd be interested to see statistics on how many print sales, as opposed to ebooks, are attributable to SMP activity.

    No question SMP is driving indie sales of ebooks, and pretty much essential for new names to get a foothold, but most mega-sellers haven't got SMPs of any significance yet continue to far, far outsell everyone else.

    The biggest selling point would still seem to be the author brand.

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  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  27. Great info! So many changes to pub/marketing and I'm taking in all the info. It's almost been a year since I started blogging and social media and I've learned SO much. I highly recommend to writers not to wait, because it really takes a lot of time to learn and grow. Baby steps--but start now! :)
    Thanks for keeping me informed Anne!

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  28. Anon--It's not the end of the world. You should make full disclosure to the literary magazine if they accept it. If there's pay involved, you can't sell them first rights, so you will only get paid for "reprint" rights, which will be lower. But if they love the story, I'll bet they'll publish it anyway.

    Mark--Definitely author brand is the #1 factor for publishing either ebooks or paper. CRH already had a brand, so she was ahead of a lot of us. But for a writer starting out, Social Media is the best way of establishing that brand. And whether you're indie or Big 6, you'll be expected to have a social media platform.

    At least right now. Everything subject to change in an instant in this business.

    Coleen--It sounds as if you're doing everything right. Even if there were no "platform" issues, social media provides a free course in the publishing business and helps you meet lots of people who can help in your career.

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  29. Most of us realize that traditional media continues to be important but social media seems be gaining ground. Stories like Catherine’s are amazing, but seem to be hard to emulate!

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  30. Emily--Thanks!

    Mohan--I'd like for publications like the NYT Book Review to stay relevant. I have to admit I didn't renew my subscription in March. I'm getting most of that info online (I do still read the New Yorker, though.) I think they're both addressing a smaller and smaller niche.

    It's true that not all of us can have CRH's spectacular success. Because she was already a "brand" she had the advantage. But I know of unknown, first time authors who have had big success with KDP Select promos.

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  31. Somehow I missed this from last Sunday! Great advice, Anne. As usual. I love the new changes!

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  32. Really enjoyed this post, Anne! I'm a newborn in this techno world of marketing, so I really appreciate the shout-out.

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  33. Hi Anne! I couldn't agree more. Yes, I admit that a NYT Book Review is pretty attractive, not to mention a good reason to feel more proud about your book, but nonetheless, creating a way to actually reach more audience and readers is more worth it. I've been using social media and I can attest its extensive benefits to my career.

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  34. Judith--I didn't factor in the psychological effect of a NYT Book review cover, and I agree that's a major factor. (Yes, I still fantasize) But it's great to hear from another writer who's been there that social media works.

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  35. Fabulous article! I kind of want to read it again. ;)

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  36. Social media data can tell you what is happening. But, you must validate and enrich this data with in-depth, person to person conversations

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  37. Awesome Information Anne. I work on my social networking platform wallpost.Really great read. Thank for Share with us.

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