It’s the stuff that makes for a great story and grabs people’s attention who enjoy one: The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The stories about the fabled mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains has fascinated any number of people and inspired as many as 8,000 people a year to go looking for it. Everyone thinks they will be the one to find it. Some people have died looking for it, even in recent years. The mystery and danger keep people fascinated as well as the promise of riches and fame.
The story has dubious beginnings, none of which seem to play out to anything substantive. It’s named after a German (“Dutchman”) named Jacob Waltz who supposedly worked the mine and was found dead in the mountains or thereabout. Since then, rumor has led many people to look for it, some of whom wound up dead in mysterious circumstance – seemingly. There are older stories that include a mine originally run by the Peralta family as well as Native American legends and curses. To date, no one has found any such site, if it ever existed.
Whether there is actually such an old mine in existence is debatable but it makes a great tale to base around a good book if you are so inclined. But today, I’m not so much interested in the mine or writing about it (though it makes for a great starter). Instead, I’d like to address the author’s version of the mine – marketing.
There seem to be a lot of people out there hawking lessons and books about how to become a bestseller and I don’t purport to have any special knowledge about these or marketing. However, let me pass along some useful tidbits I’ve learned over the last few years.
Nothing is as it seems, or how it’s presented by other people. Some people do well in general while others do not. But I learned very quickly that you must lower your own expectations. No, lower than that. I mean to rock-bottom, maybe up a box-canyon. It’s not as easy as some make it out or they wouldn’t be selling a how-to for so much money.
Will all those courses work? Maybe, maybe not. There are lots of factors involved in marketing and they change constantly. There are some basics like a good blurb, good book, newsletter, blog/website and several others that should be mastered over time. You won’t build your author brand in a day but work at it daily.
When I published my first book, I expected it would not gain much attention at all. I knew this fact going into the release of the book. But the sound of crickets afterward was still deafening and disappointing. I knew it wouldn’t do well since I had no audience but the long line of no sales on the reports was soul-crushing.
Months went by and I determined I would do something to work on those sales, mostly because I had more time after some professional and personal projects ended. I set a goal of getting to 3-5 sales a day. That was May of 2016 and the month ended with about 1.5 sales a day; not what I targeted but better than my previous nine months.
After Labor Day of 2016, sales took off into the thousands for several months and it was ranked highly on Amazon. I’ve been there with a book, my first book no less. But how did that happen? Well, that’s a mystery to me but here are a few thoughts. First, when I lowered my book price to 99 cents for an extended time, sales took off during the prime selling season from Labor Day through the end of the year (acutally into February of 2017). Next, I had also spent several months working on getting reviews of the book but sales helped that more than anything. Last, marketing was a key element that included being on a number of paid newsletter services and other marketing over social media. Most of all, traffic to your book sales page is important, followed by conversion rate (see the Amazon ads book link below for more information).
Sales slipped over 2017 until the release of my next book in April of that year after which I raised the price of my first book back to $2.99. It was still a good year for sales as I released my third book in October of last year. More books made it easier to market but sales were not what I wanted and, looking back, I probably should have reduced The Bow of Destiny back to 99 cents during September-December but that’s hard to do when you’re out of work.
But marketing had changed during the year so some of what I had done previously proved less effective. Also, I had less money to sink into marketing since I was out of work most of the year. But there are some takeaways that I’ve gained by continually researching what can sell books.
- Newsletters: your own, other authors and paid services can be a big help because your book lands right in front of people.
- Social Media: not near as much of a return as newsletters though some help from other people is great and some services can help.
- Ads: this is a slippery slope since you can
spendwaste a lot of money with little return if you are not careful. But done well, ads can help if you achieve the correct ROI.
What is my current approach? I continue to seek out the wisdom of others and I have a few resources listed at the end of this post. I keep a steady stream of low-cost ads running each week. My Facebook ads are on a low spend and geared toward getting traffic to my books. They seem to garner a good number of clicks so I keep them running at a low cost. I dabble with Amazon ads, again working to get traffic to my book pages. I work to grow my newsletter subscribers, but mainly this is an investment for future releases.
One of the main decisions I made late last year was to shift away from listing my books anywhere other than Amazon. The reason is clear based on my accounting of sales. Other sites combined did not add up to 20% of my total sales. I shifted to Kindle Select and put the books into Kindle Unlimited. This keeps a pretty good income stream flowing each month. It’s been enough to plan my marketing budget better and save for the production of more books.
Some people might say that they make lots of money from books and they just might. In my experience, more books published means more sales. Writing a series seems to bring in more sales (and KU downloads). But the ultimate answer is that you need to have steady traffic to your book sales pages to achieve regular sales. That means you need dedicate some time and money to marketing. Regarding the latter, some sort of part-time side-income or savings can help seed your efforts.
What would I have done differently with my initial book? I would have had a better marketing plan from the start. Lesson learned. I would have lowered my price much sooner since it was the only way to gain sales for a first novel by an unknown author – this grew my audience. Who is your audience? The readers of your highest selling book in each genre in which you publish books. The drawback of 99 cents is a much lower return on your marketing investment and it only gets better with subsequent books.
Continuing with lessons learned, I would have put more time into a newsletter sooner but that is an ongoing effort. Also, I obsessed over marketing during much of 2016 to the detriment of writing another book. If I had published book two sooner, things would have also improved sooner for overall sales income. I would also have more books published by now.
Instead of expecting large numbers of sales all at once, I now look for long-term sales while I add more books to my list. But it is important to dedicate yourself – time and money – to marketing. How much should you spend? As much as you are able while bringing in a viable return. But, you must take personal responsibility for failure as well as success, while understanding that things keep changing. One thing I can say is that you should be careful to target readers in your genre in your every approach because this makes a difference with sales on Amazon.
I cannot direct anyone to the lost mine and I think that those who do should be taken with a grain of salt since some may well be working off affiliate marketing of courses to make a living. Does the information presented by such courses help? Probably, but in varying degrees.
Here are some resources I’ve used that help me with the least expense:
- Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide
- Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books
- Udemy Courses (note: some claim high sales but check the rankings of the books they actually sell and Udemy has sales days when you can purchase these for as low as $10).
I’m not a marketing guru but I try to approach things as practically as I can while I work diligently at it every day. I can say that a business should become profitable (make some money) after five years. I’m in my third year and things are slowly changing for the better but I have a long way to go and more books to publish. What are your marketing experiences? What ads or services work for you? Do you budget for marketing? Do you market for everyday or just special days and releases? Thanks for reading today.