E-Book Marketing (is) For Dummies

Congratulations, you’ve written a book! Welcome to the club. A club with over 200 million people, at last count.

I have a book in my home library called The Book of Failures which was published a few decades ago. According to this book, the biggest publishing failure in history was way back in 1710, when a hugely unpopular book sold only 140 copies. This record remained unbroken for almost 3 centuries until Amazon came on the scene. Now there are over 7 million books on Amazon, and 99% of new books only sell 30 copies. It probably isn’t a coincidence that this is also the average number of friends and relatives a person has. By comparison, that book in the eighteenth century sold like a lost Stieg Larsson novel.

So what is it about being a “published writer” that is so irresistible to so many? Anyone who’s in it for money is destined for disappointment. According to Amazon, only forty writers in the last 5 years have sold more than one million e-books.

To make the situation worse, every November over 300,000 people sign up at a site called NaNoWriMo to speed write their own novel. The idea is that people who sorta want to write a book but lack enough self-motivation, are pushed to type 50,000 words in 30 days, leaving little time for research, editing, or crafting the perfect phrase. Then in a mad rush to self-publish before the Christmas shopping season begins, these books are unceremoniously dumped into the Amazon marketplace on December 1st.

Each and every year, a million new books crowd the Amazon search results. Laid end to end, that’s roughly 350 kilometers of books to choose from. You could drive for 4 hours down the highway at 100 km/hour watching this great literature whiz by.


Before long these new authors realize that selling books doesn’t end when you upload your book. So they start to promote their books online, and they all use the exact same strategies (strategies which stopped working years ago). These days “social media” is the big buzzword. Everyone says ‘get yourself a platform’ and by this they mean you should get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a webpage, and then sit back and the sales will start rolling in. But the reality is that few people sell books that way. All you see are endless cries of “Buy my book!” by thousands of authors, all blending together into white noise.

And you can forget about buying advertising online. It will cost you around $50 in advertising to get one person to buy your $5 book, and that’s if you’re lucky with a well optimized campaign. Google Adwords is even worse. You might have to pay $3 per click for your chosen, and you’ll need hundreds of clicks to get one sale. So it might cost you $300 to sell a $5 copy of your book. If you’re hoping people will stumble across your book in the Amazon listings, well, they won’t. The last time I checked there were 140,000 books ranked in the mystery category at Amazon. Most people start on page #1.

So you’re probably thinking: Why not just get a publisher? They’ll market my book for me. Not any more. When you submit your book to publishers these days, they want your social media addresses and a detailed marketing plan. The few publishers that still remain are going out of business because they can’t compete with the multitude of free and $1 books in the Kindle store.

My point is that promoting your book on the internet just isn’t effective anymore, especially for new authors without an audience or ‘Klout’ (a measure of online influence as measured by Klout.com).

So if the internet is out, what should an author do?  Simple. Get offline! The old school stuff is still surprisingly effective: Rent a table wherever there are people; Do book signings every single weekend; Stock your books in local stores on consignment; Get free publicity in newspapers and magazines; Deliver talks at libraries and book clubs; Stick your bookmarks in mystery novels in your local bookstores when nobody is looking. Just don’t spend any money.

All of these offline tactics have proven to be very effective in the limited time that I employed them (my time is in short supply because of my job and new magazine,  Mystery Weekly – Plug! Plug!). In fact, almost everyone I contacted agreed to stock my book, or allowed me to do a signing event, or reviewed my book in their publication.

Here’s the take home message. Marketing your book is a lot of work. Stop wasting time and money online. There is no form of paid advertising that will give you a positive return on investment. Believe me, I’ve tried them all! Look to the traditional media, and load up the trunk of your car with product. You’ll be shocked that everyone in the real world is so eager to help you.

Fortunately, 99% of the writers out there are too busy tweeting each other to notice.


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