It’s been nearly six years since the release of my first book in the Seamus McCree series, and even before that day, I struggled with the best way to introduce people to the series. Barking Rain Press, a small publisher in Vancouver, Washington, published the first book. It received good reviews (4.3 on Goodreads), but sales were meh. When the second book came out a year later—also published by Barking Rain—I hired someone to promote the book. That wasn’t the mistake; the error was what I had her focus on.
She spent considerable time (and therefore money) building my Twitter following and setting up a bookstore tour. Problem was, she liked Twitter a lot, but I am not a 140-character guy. I enjoy more nuanced “conversations” and am much more comfortable with Facebook. That waste of time and money is minor compared to the bookstore tour fiasco. Perhaps this is the right time to mention that although I am a social liberal, I’m a numbers guy and a fiscal conservative. Well, usually, I’m a numbers guy. This time I let my ego get in the way—and that was a huge problem.
Michael Connelly or Janet Evanovich can generate lines stretching down the block for a book signing. As a mechanism to introduce lots of new people to an author, it is a colossal waste of time and money. First, there is the time and effort to set up the tour, which my hired publicist did. Second, driving to independent bookstores takes time that could have been more productively spent. Third, meals out and motels are expensive. The economics are terrible. Let’s say I had a terrific event (for an unknown) and sold a dozen books. Net royalty to me is about $24. But, whenever bookstores order too many books, the costs of returns to Ingram are ultimately charged back to the author. My net might even be negative!
I enjoyed those events, and if I do say so myself, I’m good at them. I’ve learned to only do local events with a natural draw. The net result on book two, you ask? A 4.3 Goodreads rating, a few more books sold, a lot of money lost.
My third published book won a Kindle Scout competition, which meant a bigger advance and an Amazon imprint would publish the Kindle version of the book. The Kindle Scout model is to give away copies of the title to those who voted for your book during a 30-day competition. Of course, I worked hard to get everyone I knew to vote for my book—which meant that since my fans already received the book for free, sales would have to come from people who didn’t know the Seamus McCree series. Exactly what I needed, and I’d have Amazon’s marketing efforts behind my book!
And therein lies my second huge promotional mistake. A math guy like me should have realized that Amazon is driven by algorithms with very little human intervention. Books that do well get major support to drive them to do even better. Books that languish are left to wither. The positive of all the Kindle copies they gave away was that I received more reviews for that book than for any of the others. The reviews for the book were excellent (average 4.4 on Goodreads), and sales of the other novels in the series also increased.
And then the whole engine died. I thought Amazon would drive sales with “If you liked this, you’d like . . . “ mine. Not so much. As with any publisher, Amazon controlled the pricing, and I couldn’t run price-promotions. I expected them to and then to advertise them. It didn’t happen. What I needed to do was invest in advertising right at the beginning to encourage more people to read that book. Without positive statistics, Amazon’s algorithms don’t kick in to help. It was a grand opportunity that I wasted.
Over time I regained rights to my books and introduced advertising and periodic price promotions. I increased my newsletter followers and reader by reader continued to add fans. I was confident (and I still am) that since readers rated the series well (4.38 on Goodreads over the entire series), I just needed to develop a wider marketing tool. If I could reach readers who like to read the kind of books I like to write, they’ll try my books and enjoy them.
Over the years, I have received some good newspaper reviews, and I thought one way I might reach new readers was through a national review. I have my own nano-press now and used my publishing arm to purchase a Kirkus review. It cost $425, which I figured would be money well spent if my book earned one of their coveted starred ratings. It did not receive a starred review (sigh), but every reviewer has his or her own perspectives, and what was promised was a fair review, not a great review. Okay, gamble lost. What was disappointing was the review contained two egregious factual errors and consisted mostly of a plot summary containing spoilers. Unusable, and one more lesson learned: despite the so-called level playing field of fair reviews, it’s still tilted against independent authors.
So, this time with a new book out, I’m reaching out to the blogging community, hoping my posts will encourage readers who like character-driven suspense novels to take a chance on a new author. I’d be interested to learn how y’all decide which new authors to try. Let me know in the comments.
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.
You can order paperback versions of his books from your favorite physical or online bookstore (or from his website if you’d like them autographed). You can find his Kindle books here.
In Empty Promises Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.
Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back the love of his life. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.