Aim High or Not?

When I was the financial analysis guy for a large department store chain, I was asked to develop a method to evaluate advertising costs related to the benefits of increased revenue.  The CEO asked me to tell him if he spent an extra $1 in promotion costs what kind of return would he get.  I spent considerable time analyzing various ways to track and measure the impact of advertising; but one of the issues was that there had never been a time in the company’s history when they didn’t spend a considerable sum on promotion.

One of my recommendations to the CEO was that the company should stop advertising for a period of time allowing us to establish a benchmark on what revenues would be without any promotion.  The look in his eye seemed to suggest he was considering tossing me out of his office window.  It was only the third story but my chances of survival were not good.  Thankfully, he chose another option.  He thanked me and did not speak to me for weeks.  It was conveyed to me by one of his assistants that he thought I was an idiot.  He also increased the adverting budget 20% without any factual justification.

While he was the one who asked the question, he knew that there was no way he was going to risk his job by suddenly decreasing or even lowering advertising expenditures.  To deal with the increased promotion costs he cut the staff.  He didn’t get to be CEO by being dumb.

My book sales are driven by promotion.  If I stop advertising, book sales drop to almost nothing.  The only exception to this, is to put out a new book; which will generate short term increases in sales for all of my books.  The problem I have is very similar to the department store CEO years ago, how do I justify spending money on promotion when I cannot measure results.  Sure, I can measure number of books sold during the one-day or two-day promotion; and if that is the measure I should stop all promotions, because I do not generate a profit from those days.  I see this all of the time from “experts” advising how to measure your book sales based on ROI.  I spent $100 and got a bump in sales that brought me $150—okay, no problem; I will do those promotions each and every day.  But how about if I spent $100 and received $40?  That looks like I should stop all promotions.

Of course the problem is how to measure and for how long.  If I run a promotion today and sell books a week from then—did that promotion have anything to do with that?  Or how about in my case I sell some books but also have an increase in pages read (which I receive some compensation from Kindle Unlimited) but can’t really put an exact number on that.  In essence it’s the same problem as my old CEO; stop all promotion and see what happens.

I’ve sort of done that in the past.  No promotions equal zero (or close to it) book sales.  Okay that’s a known; but should you spend $100 to generate $40?  If I had staff, which I don’t, I would follow the tried and true path, and would increase the promotion budget and fire the staff. 

There is another approach to this problem, which I have advised many times as a wise (and expensive) consultant—when in doubt do nothing!  This follows the principle of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  During my days as a business consultant the most common approach taken by business leaders was always postponement.  While we have the image of business owners/leaders as aggressive “let’s do something new and different” types; the reality is that most successful businesspeople are reluctant to change anything.  I’ve advised people staring at bankruptcy who were reluctant to change anything, including the high-priced brother-in-law who was as dumb as a rock.  Change means responsibility.  The people who most often have tremendous ideas on how to change things often work in the warehouse.  They have nothing to risk, so their advice is throw out the bath water and the baby.  Baby is often the current leader/president/CEO of the business; warehouse people have no fear.

If you follow my blog you know I have this love hate thing with advertising/promotion.  I just want to magically have massive book sales and basically be left alone.  That’s not going to happen.  So the question is the same; what should I do, nothing or something?

I’ve decided to stop whining (I’m sure you can appreciate that, if you’ve read this far) and re-double my efforts on advertising.  Also I’m going to get back to work and finish the two books in progress.  Of course taking a more aggressive approach to marketing, costs money; and since I don’t have the staff to fire, I will have to cut my own pay.  Based on my analysis a twenty percent reduction of nothing is more than doable and reflects my overall commitment to myself.  Recognizing all along I was going to change whatever plan I decided on for this month by next month, the long-term consequences will be minimal.


Baseball folly?  Okay, enough already!  Both sides should immediately compromise.  It’s time for baseball—I’m tired of these scripted TV shows.  We need real drama—bottom of the ninth inning drama.  Go Rockies!

Thanks for being a reader!

In case your interest The Bootlegger’s Legacy ebook is FREE today on Amazon.

Alerting The Reader

A reader said the characters in The Bootlegger’s Legacy were boring.  His comment ZZZZZ.  Okay, it’s one of those reader reviews I should ignore and wish the person good health and happiness.  Well, maybe not happiness.  The two characters he was referencing are Mike and Joe.  Mike is the son of the bootlegger in the title and Joe is his best friend since second grade.

The excitement in this book is not thriller stuff—it was not intended to be.  It is about two ordinary guys who stumbled across a mystery about the past and see it as a way to make their lives more meaningful.  Not massive bomb blasts or twenty people mowed down in a hail of bullets.  Nothing close to political overthrow of the government; just a couple of guys trying to figure out how to live.  Maybe that is mundane.

So more than likely the reader was expecting action (which I think means greater risk to the protagonist—like a thriller, or maybe more graphic violence).  Either way that is not this book.  So was the book misclassified?  How, as a reader not familiar with the author, do you determine if the book is something you’re interested in reading?  Probably by the description provided by the author, the genre of the book or reader (or editorial) reviews. 

First the description on the book’s page on Amazon.

“Joe and Mike, middle-aged losers, have discovered the promise of abundant riches and a better life; if they can only solve the cryptic clues from the past. Clues left by Mike’s bootlegger dad, whose legacy is immorality and astonishing wealth. Mike finds a troubling family history and Joe discovers his love for someone already dead. This adventure of discovery may lead to happiness or misery; but they will not be able to stop themselves from unlocking the past. The answers will surprise everyone.”

I’m not proud of my descriptions.  It is one of my many weaknesses.  I have trouble with hype or hyperbole and therefore, they all sound kind of boring or flat.  So if that reader read the boring description and expected something else, that can’t be the problem of mischaracterizing the book.

The genre of the book is mystery.  Well, that covers a ton of books from one extreme to another.  There is a sub-group of Cozy Mysteries which this book might fit into, except for my use of gritty language.  Of course I’m not real sure what the actual dividing line on cozy verses regular mysteries is—so who knows maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t.  Definitely this book was never intended to be a thriller with lots of high tension moments putting the characters at risk of losing their lives. 

There are no sub-classifications regarding mystery; in-depth character development or mystery; fun story with only a little violence—so the huge pool of mystery can, of course, lead to not finding the mystery book you were looking for.  I often think of my books more along the lines of British mystery books with a slower pace and more dialogue—but they are not the same.  That quality can be boring to some readers looking for action.

This book has another element that can be confusing.  There is a flash back to the life of the bootlegger in the 1950s.  And any real “action” in the story occurs there.  Most of the mayhem is “off-camera,” but the main characters in this section of the book are put at risk.  Pat (the bootlegger) and Sally (his mistress) have contact with the bad guys in this part of the book.  Their lives are at risk and the action drives a main point of the plot.

So I suppose you could say that the flashback portion is more of a thriller than the current time portion.  The reviewer I mentioned at the beginning did not refer to the characters in the flashback section as being boring (only Mike and Joe); so maybe the reviewer thought that portion was okay and was only giving a snoring review for one portion of the book.

The last way to evaluate a book (other than reading it—even at full regular price e-books are cheap) is reviews.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy received good reviews from several professional reviewers including Kirkus.  Also, the book received a Benjamin Franklin award.  There are 236 reader reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5.  But, of course, some reviewers may have better insight than others—how would you know?  Obviously, you wouldn’t.

I have often said this is my best book.  Not necessarily the writing, more the narrative.  The Pat and Sally story as a flashback I think is a great tale of very different people who meet for a short time but leave a lasting impression on many people.  I greatly enjoy those stories of people’s lives that impact the future of so many others—and I thought this was a good one.

So this blog seems to be me promoting my book, okay; maybe.  But it did not start that way.  I am very concerned about how to help readers select the best books for them to read.  In that regard I’m going to re-write all of the descriptions of the books with a new emphasis on less promotion and more information.

Attempt 2.

“The Bootlegger’s Legacy is a non-thriller adventure by two ordinary guys, Joe and Mike, whose lives have hit a wall.  Desperate for money to solve their problems they embark on a lark to find treasure from the past.  The past is about Mike’s father who was a bootlegger in 1950s Oklahoma and his accumulation of great wealth and his illicit love affair with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  That legacy of wealth and love drive the later story of self-discovery and fulfillment by the next generation.  Great characters, some romance, some adventure and a bit of humor.”

I don’t know, I think I like the current description better than the new one?  Guess I will try again, later.

Or maybe the approach should be full-on bullshit—

“#1 New York Times national bestseller by one of the best authors writing today; The Bootlegger’s Legacy by superstar author Ted Clifton.  This book has been nominated for every award in existence and is currently being made into both a TV series and a major Hollywood movie.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy is so popular that, if you do not buy it today, all copies could be gone.  Currently the e-book is on sale at only $4.99 from the regular price of $129.99—what a bargain!”  Note; only 5 star positive reviews are currently being accepted for this book per agreement with anybody who matters.

Next book genre, fantasy.

Thanks for being a reader!

Writer and Book Salesman

Indie writers are actually in the business of selling books.  It happens to be books they’ve written, but it is still book peddling. 

For an indie author the first step of producing a book is, of course, writing the book; but also having it edited, cover designed, building the structure of the book (e-book, paperback, hardback, audio) and then having it produced (printed, file creation etc.)

Next step in selling a book is that old bug-a-boo marketing.  Writing this blog about indie authors and the process of writing, I have covered marketing on numerous occasions.  Usually complaining about the time and money involved and the inability to predict results.  Just because you can write a book does not mean you know diddly about marketing that book.  My approach to all marketing is trial and error with a great emphasis on error. Half of my time devoted to being an author is spent (or wasted) dealing with the marketing aspect of book sales.

I have a web site, blog, newsletter and a data base of email addresses.  Also I participate in other blogs, share marketing ideas with people in the industry including other authors.  I place ads on Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Bing; have also ran ads in some trade publications.  I pay to have ads run on Twitter or Facebook by third parties.  Also I giveaway thousands of e-books, utilizing web sites who market the free books to their audiences—I pay for that privilege. 

Generally, I design my own ads (probably a mistake—but I do not need another fee to pay out).  I subscribe to various software sources to construct these ads.  I will spend several days out of every month designing and placing ads with questionable results.  On occasion I will feel rebellious and decide I’ve had enough of this nonsense and will stop placing ads and giving away books.  Sells go to zero pretty damn fast.  Marketing with all of its complications and headaches is a necessary evil.

The results of all of this marketing effort is book sales.  That was the primary goal and at some level it works; not as well as I would like, but it works.  The other result is book reviews.  Reader reviews have some impact on sales, because other readers read them and also because Amazon likes them.  But reader reviews are a double edge sword.  Some reviewers seem to have anger issues.

Probably one of the most popular and acclaimed books ever written was To Kill a Mockingbird.  On Amazon it has 18,800 reviews (wow!) with 3% of them 1 or 2 stars (there are no zero star reviews –it is not an option with Amazon).  Okay 3% bad reviews that is not a big deal—right?   That 3% for To Kill a Mockingbird is over 500 readers who said this was a bad book, not worth reading.  And none of those 500 received the book in a free book promotion—because the To Kill a Mockingbird people don’t have to do that to find readers.

Marketing books is a chore.  I will spend as much time marketing, promoting, advertising, hawking my books as I do writing them.  Writing is what I do and what I enjoy.  I do not like marketing.

In my previous life as a financial analysist I was asked by my employer (a very large department store) to analyze their advertising/marketing efforts and establish a method to measure the results on a cost/benefit basis.  My first suggestion during a large meeting with the top executives was to not advertise for a period of time to establish a floor to measure marketing results against.  You could only measure results if you know what the results would be with no advertising.  All of their attentive faces turned a ghostly shade of white.  It was a while before anyone spoke.  The CEO thanked me for my suggestion and sent me back to the accounting department to measure less important things like ROI.  The next month they increased their advertising budget.  Better to overspend than to run the risk of no customers.

I could take my own advice and stop marketing for a couple of months and then would have the data to measure the impact of advertising.    It would cut my workload in half and relieve me of all this self-doubt about my marketing skills.  On the other hand, I think I know the results.  After some thought I have decided to double my marketing efforts for next month.  Better to have some books sales (with a few less than perfect reader reviews) than to become a private indie author writing only for myself.  Although if I was the only reader, my reviews would be glowing—unless I was having a bad day.

Thanks for being a reader!