Friday, February 17, 2017

Marketing Do-Over

Background

I originally published my Jura City trilogy between 2010 and 2013 to extremely limited sales (they sunk like lead weights). Over the years, I tried copious cover replacements, blurb rewrites, and marketing, all to minimal effect. I sold a few copies per year. The turnover for my first in series permafree was sub 1%, however, the turnover for KU was over 90%.

My piggies needed a rebrand. As the books had sold few copies, I felt as I had a good opportunity if I could apply a little lipstick.

Rebranding

Replacing the covers proved very difficult. I shopped premade covers for years, but nobody sold any premades which were appropriate to the series.  (Dwarves aren’t particularly popular in photography.) I considered custom art, but I found no artist producing anything which fit what I needed. Nothing was comparable. Not being able to find the right style or artist stymied my efforts.

My branding breakthrough came when I was shopping for art for an unrelated book. While digging through stock photos, I thought to search for paintings. I’m sure that I had done this before, but this time I when I searched for “woman watercolor”, I discovered a Polish artist named Bruniewska (http://www.shutterstock.com/portfolio/search.mhtml?submitter=722569). Her images of women dropped my jaw to the ground. They looked beautiful, lush, mystical, and abstract, all without looking tartish in the least. Among them, I found enough similar paintings that I could cover an entire series, uniting the covers into a single brand.

THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART. With these new images came a change in thinking. If I had just gone and recovered my books like people advised, I would have wasted my money because I would have commissioned the wrong images. I would have been selling the wrong product to the wrong audience. The reason that I responded to these Bruniewska covers was because they caught something about this series that I hadn’t previously identified. This series was ultimately an  interior of personal journey. My marketing of this series hadn’t addressed this at all. If I could market them as such a journey, then my reader’s expectations would more closely match the book that I wrote.

How to set their expectations more accurately? I needed a better series name. Jura City focused on the place while I needed to focus on the person, so I changed the series title to Dwarf Shamaness. This would give any reader a far better idea of what the novels were about.

With a focus on the shaman’s journey, I next needed to rewrite the blurb focusing on that journey. Hopefully the burbs work. I’ve been getting better at them.

With all this rethinking, I looked at genre again. Under fantasy, there’s the Visionary and Metaphysical category, so I looked that up, and this series seemed like a natural for this category. Even better, the category didn’t seem popular, so with a little permafree, my first in series should rise above #100.

After that, I put the first in series into permafree.

Theory

There’s no such thing as a problem book, there is only problem marketing. If a book disappoints the reader, then the marketing has failed to communicate an important trait of the book. The purpose of marketing is create an expectation for the reader that matches the experience of book. This expectation will drive away some readers and attract others. You want to drive away readers who dislike the experience while attracting those who want the experience.

It seems counterintuitive to drive away readers, but branding and genre does that all the time. A dedicated romance reader may skip over horror because it’s just not her thing. That’s why genre exists, so that readers can find certain books and books can be presented to eager readers.

If you move away from the tent poles of a genre, you need to communicate that up front. That’s how sub-genres get made. Shakespeare does this for all his tragedies. You know from the get go that the hero dies. So it may seem unpopular to kill the protagonist, but Shakespeare’s biggest plays all do exactly that.

Results

Fairly modest free book downloads moved Weeds Among Stone to the bottom fifth of the top 100 for Metaphysical and Visionary. Yay. My book started advertising itself. I moved 1 free book per day, sometimes two. This part worked as designed. One freebie per day kept me on this list, but I dropped off the list in 5 days, hoving between 110 and 130, and hovering between #20,000 and #30,000 in the whole store. I let that run for four weeks to get a solid set of numbers under it in order to get some stickiness to my future advertising and establish a baseline for assessing ads.

Next came a Fiverr gig with BKKnight. I paid $15 for a bit of extended service, then advertised as permafree. On the first day, I hit 125 downloads, taking me very close to the 10 cents a download number. The book went to #14 in Metaphysical & Visionary Fantasy, #22 in Epic Fantasy, and #1406 Whole Store free. The book stayed in the top 100 for three weeks.

The bad news is that I received no additional reads or sales following this promotion. Even with the low bar that I set, I failed to record a single turnover sale. My piggie, alas, has remained a piggie, even with new lipstick.

Even with being a piggie, I earned out what I spent on covers and advertising, producing my first profit. Not bad.