Marketing is Eating my Brain: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ebook Revolution

I’ve had a couple of things up on Smashwords and Amazon for several months now, but I never really got serious about this whole publishing revolution until I decided to put Yseult up as an ebook. Ok, so I’ve written hyperfiction before (hyper-what?), but that was back in my former life, when I was concentrating more on literary criticism than fiction. My creative writing ideas at the time reflected the research topics I was writing about for my day job.

Ebooks now are a completely different animal than hyperfiction was back then. People who wrote hyperfiction were experimenting with new ways of telling a story; people who are publishing their works as ebooks are exploring new ways of trying to make a living as a writer. The hyperfiction crowd didn’t have to worry about that, since most of them were employed at universities, like I was. While I still find the narrative potential of hyperfiction fascinating, I think the developments going on right now in publishing much more far-reaching. Stories told in linked text fragments may yet become a more common way of telling a story, although even in the dark ages at the dawn of the World Wide Web when I was writing the stuff I had my doubts. But the authors now who are becoming successful with models outside of traditional publishing might well be at the forefront of a paradigm shift similar to that which eventually led to the medieval patronage system being almost completely abandoned. (It could be argued that vestiges still survive in various forms of “writers in residence.”)

But while it’s really cool to think of yourself as a revolutionary at the forefront of a paradigm shift, it comes with a big price tag.

Marketing and promotion.

The short stories and novellas I put up as ebooks last year were all previously published works, fiction I had already “earned out” on, and as a result, I was not too invested in sales numbers. I mentioned the ebooks here and there, and got a few sales here and there, and that was it.

I guess you could say I “earned out” on Yseult too, since I got a very respectable advance for the German translation, Flamme und Harfe. But I spent years on that book, and when I decided to bring it out as an ebook after I got the English rights back, I didn’t want it to sink like a stone. After all my effort writing it, it would definitely be worth some extra time marketing it, right?

Well, like usual, I underestimated what “extra time” would entail. Since I didn’t have a clue how to market ebooks, first I had to research marketing strategies. I signed up for Goodreads and LibraryThing and organized a giveaway. I wrote a bunch of sites that will review ebooks (not much luck until now). I announced Yseult everywhere I could except Twitter (although I did announce there when it went free for two days). I read more articles on ebook marketing. Lather, rinse, repeat, er, repent.

But it worked. I’m not going to be an ebook millionaire anytime soon, but during the first freebie promotion, Yseult had over 8500 downloads. After the promotion, while I was still spending a lot of time on marketing (but not tweeting “buy my book” I swear!), I was getting 20-30 sales per day, the high point being 38. But I wasn’t writing anymore.

I had some excellent suggestions on my blog last week how I might be able to balance writing and marketing, (thank you all!) and I tried to implement them, but I think my problem is that I’m still learning the whole marketing gig. I can’t do it in half an hour a day. I need to read blogs, try what’s worked for others, figure out what works for me. In the last week, while I was concentrating on writing rather than marketing, the sales of Yseult went down from over 20 a day to under 10.

So I have a new plan, given my lack of experience in promotion. Two days a week, I’ll concentrate exclusively on marketing, including researching how best to go about it and trying new strategies. The rest of the week, I get to work on writing projects: editing, writing new material, brainstorming, whatever needs to be done. At some point, I may be able to develop a daily routine of a few minutes a day (hah!) where marketing-related activities are concerned, but I don’t know my way around enough to be able to do that now.

I figure it’s better to be a zombie only two days a week than all the time. Maybe someday marketing won’t even involve turning into a zombie anymore!

16 thoughts on “Marketing is Eating my Brain: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ebook Revolution”

  1. I have no balance AT ALL when it comes to writing and social networking. To keep my blogs current and visited takes so much time and to learn the ins-and-outs of writing (not all of us studied this unfortunately) and self-pubbing takes so much time. My first novel has changed ten-fold since its origin a few years ago, and for the better. But never better enough, it seems to me. I now have a fear of finishing it because that would mean having it published and possibly loathed and ridiculed. BUT it is my ROW8 goal to finish it and I will! 🙂

    Good to meet you BTW. I read of your accolades. You should be proud! 🙂

    1. Great to meet you too, Shah! 🙂

      Yup, I think that’s one of the big problems — it’s terribly hard to limit the social media stuff. But if I give it two dedicated days a week, that could be a way out! *g*

  2. That sounds like a good idea! I’ve been trying to keep up with the live-tweeting from a conference in NYC and much of it had to do with self-pub/ebook advice. It’s definitely a lot of work and I love hearing about your experience.

    I don’t think I follow you on Twitter. I just now see the link (was just about to suggest that you put one!) Maybe your follow button could go up higher on your website? Just a suggestion, since I missed it. 🙂

    Have a great week, and good luck with your new plan. I eagerly await how it works out for you.

    1. Good suggestions about the Twitter feed, Heather. I was thinking my books are more important, but they also take up a lot more space, pushing the follow link way down the page.

      Yeah, there’s tons to learn where this new ebook revolution is concerned. Just figuring out what to do is pretty exhausting. I will keep everyone posted on how my two days a week strategy goes. 🙂

  3. sounds like a plan. I’m trying to find that balance and its so hard – the writing is whats most important but without people reading it well. . . any way I think your two day thing might well work – fingers crossed for you
    all the best for coming week

  4. Two days a week as a marketing zombie ain’t a bad deal by half. I’m glad that you tried out an experiment last week to see if turning away from marketing would affect your sales. Unfortunately it did. While you should by no means become a Twitter “buy my book!” bot, I do hope that with more time, maybe the marketing will be able to become more automatic. Or at least, pre-scheduled (interviews, giveaways, contests, Amazon free weeks, and the like) and then gotten out of your way. Hopefully with time you’ll build up a readership network that will help share the promotion duties.

    Plus, I may be in a minority when I say this, but I do use Twitter as a way to find books I want to read. So I don’t mind self-promotion from authors appearing in my feed. That’s why I’m there in the first place!

    Anyhow, marketing stuff aside–I hope that the coming week gives you more time to breathe & write! Good luck!!

  5. Heh, thanks, Tracy! Who knows, maybe once I have learned the ropes I might still be able to implement your suggestions.

    That’s interesting that you actively use Twitter to find reading material. Makes me a lot less guilty about having announced my freebie there a couple of times. 🙂

  6. Balance. Whoo. That’s a tough one. But I think you’ve got a good plan to start with. Two days a week on promoting/social media might be enough to do the trick. Glad you’re making time to be a writer too. Best of luck!

  7. I agree that your idea of 2 days a week for marketing sounds like a very reasonable place to start. I think it’s critically important to hold onto your writing time and yourself as a writer. I’m not at a point to be self-published yet (hopefully, maybe in the spring) so I’m very sympathetic – it’s quite the mountain. It seems to me that you are working your way through this puzzle one problem at a time – probably the only way it can be done.


    1. Yup, holding on to the writing time is the big challenge. Ok, my marketing day yesterday spilled a bit too much into my writing day today, but I think I can live with that. And I may even be able to get it under control eventually! *g*

  8. Be great to know which sites that do reviews end up being successful for you (with hope that they WILL!). Good to hear that signing up to GoodReads and LibraryThing has worked for giveaways, how does that work?

    1. For ebooks, only LibraryThing allows you to do giveaways.

      Once I know what works re: reviews, I’ll be sure to post about it. 🙂

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