Business Musings: Found It!

I’ve been poking, poking, poking trying to find the new topic that will send newer writers, particularly indie writers, into high dudgeon. Topics like that expose the current myths and traps that writers can find themselves in.

I was beginning to think we had hit that point in the indie cycle where the writers had spread out and didn’t have the same assumptions or were no longer making mistakes as a group (besides the usual ones that we all make).

But, no. I found it.

Newsletters. The new free.

The responses I got to my newsletter post, both privately, in my comments, and on other blogs, made me laugh and made me sad at the same time.

First, let me clarify something about my Business Musings blog. I haven’t said this for quite a while.

When I write a post, I’m usually thinking out loud, looking for what’s best for my career—not your career. Not everyone’s career. I don’t believe that writers are all cut from the same cloth. We’re all different with different needs.

So when I say I’m going to do something, that means I have decided to something that’s best for me.

At the end of the newsletter post, I mentioned that I preferred the old-fashioned way of doing newsletters, getting constant readers and fans to sign onto my newsletter, not getting names and hoping to convert them to buying my books.

As someone said in comments on the newsletter post, it takes a year to convert one freebie reader to a regular (paying) reader. One. And heaven knows how many other potential readers got turned off with the extensive marketing campaign directed at them.

I understand the value of using mailing lists of potential readers, trying to get them to sample your work. It has a lot of value. As I said in the newsletter blog, it’s one way to do a newsletter.

The problem is so many new writers think it’s the only way.

A writer wrote to me personally and told me that she writes the same copy for all her readers, so the distinction I made is unimportant to her. The response I had, which I did not email back was, well, then, you don’t understand marketing. You’re doing yours wrong.

How do I know that? Years of working in and around advertising.

Sorry, folks. Writing newsletter copy, whether it is to regular readers or to people who have never heard of you, is marketing. Advertising.

I know you hate to hear this, but you must target advertising. What works for 80-year-old Millie in Des Moines doesn’t work for 25-year-old Jean in Paris. (And yes, we’re working on an international level. Remember that.)

Use your voice and your perspective in each newsletter you write, but write different newsletters for faithful readers than you do for possible readers. After all, you talk to your friends differently than you talk to strangers, don’t you? (Or do you? If not, you’re probably scaring people.)

As with all of these schemes—and they are schemes—you have to ask yourself how much time you can afford to spend on them. If your writing time is limited, then you really should tone down your marketing.

If you feel like you have more than enough writing time, then by all means, write a lot of newsletters and ad copy and whatever else it takes to acquire new readers.

I know of no writer who has enough time to write. But then, I don’t know every writer.

Newsletter sign-ups are seductive. They have real numbers, all people who seem interested in you or your work. You can get 50,000 newsletter subscribers to your list by giving them a free book and doing other promotions. That’s exciting.

But what counts are actual sales to actual readers. And not one-time sales. Repeat sales to the same customer. That’s what we all want.

Repeat business is the goal of retail, by the way, which is what we’re in when we sell books directly to the consumer. That’s why Amazon developed Amazon Prime, to entice repeat business. Once you have customer loyalty, you have a powerful tool.

The reason I like back-of-the-book newsletter signups is that studies have shown people who ask for targeted marketing are actual fans of the product. Those fans go out in larger numbers to purchase a new product.

When you email your newsletter to 100 people, and 80 of them buy the book you’re promoting in that newsletter, then you have real fans. That fan base will grow.

Slowly.

That growth is not exciting, unless you understand that each person who signs up to a fan-base newsletter wants to be on the list because they like your work. They’ve actually read it before they sign up.

These days, no one wants to think about growing a fan base. Nor do they want to think about a career that lasts longer than a few years. Who cares what happens ten years from now, writers think. All that matters is right now.

Sigh.

I could copy and paste the blogs I wrote five years ago about free and permafree and put the arguments right here. They are the same arguments I would use about “growing” a newsletter. When you “grow a newsletter,” you’re not cultivating readers. You’re cultivating subscribers—to a newsletter.

Yes, I know that growing a newsletter to tens of thousands of names is the current thing. The problem is that it’s not how to effectively market, not at the numbers I’ve seen.

Did you note that when I wrote about Debbie Macomber, I said that she innovated almost every marketing thing that romance writers do? For Debbie, those things were incredibly effective. Something new is usually effective for the innovator and a handful of early adopters. After that, the effectiveness rate goes down exponentially.

And the current thing becomes passé pretty quickly.

I could, if I wanted to name names and point fingers, show how the gurus of 2011 with their marketing schemes are either gone or quietly writing the next book.

None of the people who are giving marketing advice to writers today—the infomercial kind of marketing advice (see below)—have had careers long enough to actually understand how the advice works in the long-term.

These people are promoting instant success. Which, granted, they’ve had.

And that success will vanish once their tried-and-true system becomes “so last year.”

What do I mean by infomercial marketing advice?

Think about infomercials for a moment and the promises they make. Even better, tonight, after you’ve read this blog, watch a few infomercials. Listen to the words the infomercial marketer is using.

Here are a few examples of infomercial marketing advice:

  • If You want To Make A Real Salary—From Home—Order Our Free Booklet!
  • Gary The Photogenic Infomercial Guy Stumbled On A System To Flip Houses. He Made Millions! He Is Now Willing To Share His Easy Five-Step System So That You Can Make Millions Too!
  • Tired of The Grind? Want To Be Your Own Boss? Learn Susie’s Day Trading System, Karl’s Make-up Tips, Amway, or A Million Other Similar (if weird) Things. And In Less Than Thirty Days, You Will Be Able to Quit Your Day Job And Pay All Your Bills!

Here’s the thing: A lot of those infomercial guys? They give great advice. Their systems are pretty dang good.

For the short term.

You, the writer and potential marketer, should cherry-pick their advice, and see what applies to you. What can you do—and still write enough books to actually have a career?

These gurus—whether they’re writing gurus or marketing superheroes or promotion geniuses—are all about the marketing, not the writing. They write enough books to have a little bit of product, and then, rather than write the next book, they learn how to promote the hell out of their product.

That kind of promotion works. You can make a lot of money in a short period of time doing whatever they tell you to do.

But then, everyone jumps on the new promotion bandwagon, everyone does the same thing, and the audience (be they readers or TV viewers or the average person on the street) gets tired of the repeated calls to buy something they already have.

What you saw from me in newsletter post was pretty simple.

I’ve been hearing from all kinds of sources about the “new” way to do newsletters. As I said in that post, I was confused as to how people were writing those newsletters, and it turns out, most writers were confused as well.

They never thought about their target audience.

The writers thought about growing the numbers on their newsletter, hoping to convert those people to readers, and once those people were converted to readers, they got the exact same newsletter—which is not the right way to do it.

As I said last week, some of the gurus recommend segmenting a list, or splitting off a new list to deal with the new names, which is the right way to do it. But all that culling and list maintenance? You have to be pretty diligent, and you have to do it the right way, or you’ll lose the very people you’re trying to cultivate.

As more and more people discussed the post and newsletters on various list serves, in the comments, and in my email, I got startled and a little worried. These writers are willing to spam their potential readers. Sending a newsletter every week? Every two weeks? Spending months hitting up potential readers until they get worn down and buy the product that they’ll probably never read?

Why?

And…as Anne R. Allen said in her most recent blog…you hit the readers too many times with your newsletter, and you’ll be classified as spam. There’s a hefty fine per email for spam.

She also pointed out something I did not know: writers are sharing their email newsletter sign-up names with each other. I shudder at that. I finally understand why I’ve been getting newsletters from writers whose work I dislike. I knew I had never signed up for their newsletters, so why do they appear in my email?

Apparently because I had signed up on the wrong list.

Don’t do these things, people. And think about what you’re doing here. Make sure you’re not spamming people. (Most of the gurus’ advice is spammy, scammy advice, by the way.)

Let me give you one last example.

The marketing tricks used in the “new” way to do newsletters are as old as time. We used a lot of them snail mail at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction when the publisher had some extra cash to put into promotion. The exact same marketing tricks, done through a slightly different medium, but with the exact same results.

Here’s how it worked:

We would buy subscriber lists from other magazines. We would then send snail mail to those subscribers, a post card perhaps, or a flyer, offering a free issue in exchange for a cut-rate subscription.

A lot of those subscriber lists were from similar markets: when I edited at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, we would often buy the science fiction subscription list from Asimov’s and Analog. Sometimes we’d buy from other magazines or magazine services.

The subscriber lists would cost a hefty chunk of money, as did the mailings, so this was always a big marketing investment.

In order to get the free trial, the potential subscriber had to actually pay money. The subscriber would get—say—13 issues instead of 12. The first issue would be free. The subscriber would then have to cancel before getting the second issue, which a lot of people were too lazy to do. It’s like a gym membership. You forget that you’ve paid for it after the money is gone.

If the free-trial rate from one of those lists was less than 40 or 50%, then we tossed the list. We would never go back to that list.

What you wanted was at least 50% free-trial subscriptions. We would see if we could hang onto them the following year, for renewals, when subscriber would pay more money for the magazine. If we were doing our job, we would receive renewals at least 70% of the free-trial subscribers. (How did we know? We knew when we had done the marketing campaign. We would know when the subscribers needed to renew.)

The biggest marketing drive I was a part of in those years ended up retaining 85% of the free-trial subscribers. My publisher was extremely pleased with me that year, because he had not seen a resubscribe rate that good in a decade or more.

These days, I’m seeing conversion numbers from writers with huge newsletter “subscribers” of less than 10%. (By conversion, I mean names on the list that turn into actual book buyers. One-time book buyers.) Some conversion rates are even less than 1%. One blogger told me he had about 100,000 names on his list and he could count on 1,000 of them to buy the next book.

That 1,000 is enough names to get on an Amazon bestseller list for a day. And that’s nice. Everyone would like to get 1,000 sales. But he didn’t tell me if those 1,000 bought the books immediately or spread out over time. Nor did he realize that he was probably spamming 99,000 people (if they even bothered to open the newsletter).

When I was doing magazines, if we only got 1,000 free-trial subscribers off a list of 100,000 subscribers, we would consider the money we spent for that list wasted.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You think you’re not spending money.

But you are. You’re spending writing time. And I know most of you don’t think of your time as valuable, particularly your writing time, but it is.

I realize not every one of you is following the gurus’ advice to the letter. I also realize that some of you are having good success with your discoverability newsletters. (You know: those newsletters sent to people who have never read your work before). That means you’re doing something right. Good for you.

The rest of you? Get off the bandwagon, evaluate your time and the return on your investment, and figure out what’s best for you. Some of you will return to newsletters. Some of you won’t.

A lot of you dismissed what I had to say about advertising and advertising copy because I decided not to jump on the get-50,000-names-for-your-newsletter bandwagon. Instead of looking at the analysis and thinking about the ways you write your newsletter copy and what the point of your newsletter is, you dismissed everything I said.

Um, why? What myth did I puncture? Why did you work hard at looking away from any analysis at all?

My newsletter post was me thinking out loud about what’s right for me.

I would rather write new work than spend every few days composing more advertising copy. Or, as most writers call it, writing a newsletter. Writing ad copy is still writing. And it’s not nearly as valuable as writing the next book.

I know. I’m easy to dismiss, because let’s see…pick a reason from the list that appeared in the list serves after the newsletter post. I’ve been around for a long time so I never had to build readership. (Um, what?) I’m not on any Amazon bestseller lists. (How do you know? I have more than 400 titles. I don’t even know if I’m on a list.) I don’t like newsletters. (Actually, I do, when they’re done well. My favorite is from Ad Week—yes, Ad Week, and damn they’re good. [They better be, given the source.])

I love the folks who say I’m not making money at my writing. For the sake of my bona fides, let me say this. I’ve been a full-time fiction writer since the mid-1990s. I have made more than six-figures on my writing alone since the mid-1990s. That doesn’t count the money I made editing or the small amount I make when I teach. (Usually I lose money teaching. I consider teaching paying forward.)

I make more money the years when I sell a lot of subsidiary rights, like foreign translations or movie options on my work. Those things don’t show up in an Amazon bestseller list. Or any bestseller list, for that matter. (Well, the translations do sometimes, and I’ve been on bestseller lists all over Europe. I haven’t checked to see if my novels in Asia or Latin America made any lists.)

So, yeah, these gurus make money on their marketing. But at the moment, because most of these gurus have only written a few novels (all have published fewer than ten), the money the gurus are making is short-term money.

Until I poked at the newsletter topic, I hadn’t realized how deep it had permeated the indie world. The anger. The gnashing of teeth. The comments saying that I don’t understand.

And yet, I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Anne R. Allen says in the comments on her blog that she had finished her newsletter blog, titled “Author Newsletter vs. Author Blog: Five Reasons I Prefer a Blog, and Six Reasons You Might Not,”  before mine hit the light of day. She modified hers to reflect a few things from mine.

Which means that the newsletter thing has risen to one of those everyone should do it this exact way to be successful myths. And the gurus of these methods—who say “Do it my way and you’ll sell thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of books,” are infomercial marketers, and nothing more.

When someone gives you a prescribed way to do something, guaranteed to give you a great result, without knowing anything about your business…folks, I’m sorry. That’s not good marketing. For anyone. Except the person perpetrating the idea.

They’re marketing themselves and their system. Not their novels.

Yes, you can get some good ideas from these people. I’m taking a few ideas from one of the current gurus for a project I’m working on. But only a handful of his ideas, and certainly not the way he wants me to do so. And I haven’t paid a dime for his expensive guaranteed system.

His system is so time-consuming that I’d lose most of my writing time chasing names on a newsletter. That’s not even gaining readers. That’s gaining email address that might or might not be valid.

So please, think before you take some of the advice from these gurus.

And before you take advice from me.

You need to make the right choices for your business. But please do a business analysis of those choices. Do a profit and loss. Figure in the cost of your time. (If you’re not earning money from your writing yet, bill your hours at minimum wage or what someone earns at an entry level position at your day job.) Then factor in how many hours of writing you’re losing.

Compare the cost of those hours to the amount of money you’re making from sales of books that occurred solely because you took someone else’s advice on newsletters. If you can’t make a direct correlation between the newsletter and sales, then you are doing something wrong.

I know, I know. Numbers and data and statistical work. I’m asking you to look at your writing business like a business.

Numbers are great when they inform what you’re doing. Numbers can be a trap when you’re chasing something illusive.

I’m pretty sure Debbie Macomber has 50,000 newsletter subscribers or more. I’m also pretty sure that Debbie’s subscribers buy her books. If her publisher was willing to give her a coupon to send to them in 2010, then she was guaranteeing tens of thousands of book sales in the first week.

You want to build a fan base, folks, not get names on a list.

How do you build a fan base?

Write great stories. Publish them. Rinse. Repeat.

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“Business Musings: Found It,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / jgroup




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18 responses to “Business Musings: Found It!”

  1. ironagesf says:

    As someone who’s heard all the guru’s free advice and implemented some of their strategies, some successfully, some less so, I have to say that the thinking in this article is “last century.” Certainly writing is a business, and books are a product. What product is marketed the same way today as it was 30 years ago? Most likely, unsuccessful ones on the verge of vanishing. Fact is I have collected a great many emails of potential fans, always careful to use methods that get me those who are interested in checking out MY free books and not “winning a free Kindle,” etc, and always careful not to spam them. And that’s how I’ve found hundreds of true fans. True fans start out as potential fans. If you gather 50,000 well targeted emails (my number is much lower!) by giving out free books, and your work is worthy, you will likely have gained thousands of real fans, and then guess what: suddenly you have a career where you didn’t before, and those hours spent will have paid off big time. The other 40,000 or more who don’t become fans are free to unsubscribe, ignore, write back nasty messages, or whatever they like. Just like I unsubscribed from Petco when they sent me one too many ads per day.

    When I started out publishing in 2015, I asked a few recent self-published authors who dominated the bestseller lists (and still do today) what was the key, all of them said: mailing list. All of them. So with all respect to the opinion presented here — I get where it’s coming from — it’s not a fit for 2017. Yeah, some of the gurus are phoney & salesy, and all are in search of profit for themselves, but there’s also lot of truth to their methods. I’m not writing full-time yet, and not impatient about getting there, but I am on the path. I can already tell that when I do make it, my newsletter will be a big part of the reason.

    Best, P.K.
    ironage.space

  2. Colleen says:

    As a reader who doesn’t write, I obviously have a somewhat different reaction to newsletters, and it is in the process of changing as newsletters seem to be changing.

    I recently made the mistake of entering a contest for a bundle of free books. I did so because a couple of the books were by authors I enjoy and I thought, “Oh, why not? I might find a few more writers I’d like.” The contest stated that I’d be consenting to receiving newsletters from each of the authors associated with the contest. Well, ouch. The group of writers weren’t as much a similar group as I’d thought, and there were more of them than I’d realized. I immediately got emails from about 5000 writers (okay, it was really more like 50), trying to sell me 5 to 10 books each. To make matters worse, the blurbs for those books weren’t really specific enough for a reader unfamiliar with their work to know whether or not I’d like the book, love the book, or be disappointed. If I wanted to more information, I needed to go to a sales site and read the full description and the reviews of each book. It was just too much, so I immediately unsubscribed to most of them, kept a few that looked really promising. Then I started getting more of the same from those few writers – and I mean that they sent me emails at least weekly, sometimes more often, with similar formats. I’ve now unsubscribed from nearly all of them and even the few remaining are starting to be annoying. I read a lot, but I don’t want my inbox to be overwhelmed by marketing flyers! Lesson learned. I do subscribe to a few newsletters, but I’m getting pickier and pickier. Now I’m more likely to follow a writer I enjoy on Amazon or Bookbub – they’ll send me information about new books and I don’t have to wade through so much in my inbox.

    For what it’s worth, unless I know someone personally, I’m not interested in a writer’s politics, lifestyle, recipes, or vacation travels. I just want to know what they’re writing about and when I’ll be able to read it.

  3. […] I’m leaving you with some writerly links – Chuck Wendig’s advice after 5 years and 20 books: 25 lessons (special mention #1 and #5, the latter being what I discussed above). David Farlands tips – One Impossibility (to keep in mind when writing SFF, haha!). 14 sites for book cover design @Digital Reader. And more business advice from Kris Rusch. […]

  4. Yeah, let them have the newsletter. I send one but I don’t rely on it. It’s just one of many things I do for a new release. I love it when people assume we all think the same. That means they’re not doing the things that work for me and me alone.

  5. I take a different approach to my newsletter than many writers. I only advertise it in the back of my books and wherever else my author bio appears. I do not do any of the list growth tricks being flouted on the Internet, and I don’t share my list with other authors. My newsletter comes out every two months or so, and each issue includes a travel article, a short story, announcements for any new books, and a coupon for a free or discounted book. That’s it, that’s all. So basically it’s a mini-magazine by yours truly more than an advertising platform. I’ve only done two issues so far and my list is small, but I have a high click through rate (80%). My readers are interested readers. We’ll see how it goes.

  6. Terry Mixon says:

    I created a mailing list for new release information and sales announcements the day I published my first book under my own name. I had hopes it would help me out as I released new books, but I didn’t expect much.

    Boy, was I wrong.

    It grows a few hundred names with each new book, with me having just almost 1,400 names at this point with 10 books out. All attracted by the notice in the books themselves.

    Those folks changed everything for me. I never send them a note unless I have a new release of some kind ora very rare, very short sale on the first book in one of the series.

    I’m told that having 60-70 percent open the email and more than half of them click through is unheard of and I’m so happy I created the list and don’t use free content to add to the list. These people know me and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

    Or this blog. Thanks, Kris. I’m always so happy when Thursday rolls around.

  7. Rachel Leigh Smith says:

    Newsletter building stuff is all the rage in the romance world. I’ve done two, and haven’t seen enough of a return on it to think doing any more is a good idea. The two I did, it was made very clear to anyone who signed up how many authors were getting the list, and entrants also had the option of picking and choosing who they wanted to sign up for. If that’s not an option in the event, I won’t even finish reading the signup info. I even had someone solicit me earlier this week for a list building promo, when I’d never expressed any interest whatsoever in their service, and I hit reply to tell them I was marking it as spam because I never gave them my address.

    I did learn a strategy earlier this year that I’ve tweaked to match me, and I’m trying it out with my list. I can’t say it’s succeeded, but I’m also not done with the sequence. On the other hand, the subscribers are getting a lot of similar stuff at the moment. I’m doing the same thing on different segments, and the smaller segment that’s better leads has higher open and click rates.

    I refuse to run ads to get subscribers. I’d much rather have people sign up from the back of my novels, or from my website. If they’re on my website, they’re signing up because they find me interesting and want to learn more. I also don’t do much with FB or Amazon ads for my novels. Don’t have that kind of money, and the better way to spend my time is writing. Not playing with ads and spending money I don’t have.

    I also refuse to do anything with a lead magnet. Too many people out there who sign up to get the freebie, then mark you as spam the next time they get an email. The paranormal romance world is sharing the names of anyone who does that.

    The author newsletter I want to emulate is Nalini Singh’s. She has a legion of loyal fans subscribed to it, and she gives us exactly what we want in every email she sends. I want to be her in general when I grow up, because she’s awesome.

  8. Some of what I hear about newsletters feels very much like 20th century thinking. I can see why they worked well pre-Internet. How else were you supposed to find out when your favorite writer came out with her next book? I remember going to the bookstore every week to see if a new book for a particular writer was out, because that was the only way available for me to do so.

    But today, you can just search for a name or a book title and find all kinds of information. In fact, everyone probably receives too much information, and that’s what most of the writers don’t understand. They’re looking at the numbers and counting them up like they’re a prize without connecting it to the bigger picture. They don’t have any idea if people get the email and just delete or ignore it–and that may be from someone who wants it. I get the Tor email, and I still don’t read it every time it comes in. There are so many intrusions on are life that if you do a newsletter, you don’t want it to feel like one.

  9. D J Mills says:

    “Write great stories. Publish them. Rinse. Repeat.”
    Yes, exactly. But I would add “keep learning to improve my story telling abilities”. 🙂
    At the moment the fad is paying for Facebook and Amazon ads. What I have noticed is ads appearing on my book pages that have nothing to do with my books. I can’t figure out if they are using my author name, or just the genre and sub genre to link to my books. 🙂
    And, the rate of sales on ad click through to book pages (or sign up to mailing lists) has gone down dramatically from even 6 months ago. i suspect it is because the expensive courses on how to set up an ad on both sites has students practicing or using the ad process and swamping the systems.

  10. C.D. Watson says:

    I’m baffled every time someone says, “If you want to be a success, you have to follow this exact formula.” As you said, what works for one writer may not work for another, and it’s up to each of us to figure out which is what for our own business.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      I’m one of those rare people who, if you tell me it has to be done this way, I’m gonna find another way to do it just to prove you wrong. I find it very personally satisfying.

  11. a reader says:

    I have unsubscribed from many newsletters when they started cross promoting their “friends” books … 6-10 additional authors per email.

  12. Maree Brittenford says:

    Thank you so much for this.

    I’ve been told recently (after I expressed my goal to publish 4 books and send out 20 stories by the end of the year) that perhaps I should stop writing so much and work on building a following on social media. Grow my newsletter subscribers. You know, focus on marketing and promotion.

    That is horribly stressful advice for me. I am boring and cagey about personal details on social media. I don’t have much to say in blog posts. And newsletters? HA! I am always lost when it comes to writing anything besides fiction, so writing ad copy or blog posts always takes me 3-4 times as long as writing the equivalent words of fiction. It literally eats my writing time and keeps chomping into time that should be spent on other work. I never have time enough for it. Yet I’m told I should be doing it more?

    A writing group I’m part of offered to do a newsletter list swap and I wanted to clutch my precious subscribers to my bosom. My tiny list signed up for one reason as far as I can tell. They wanted to know when the next book comes out, and if I’m running a promotion. (Ok that’s two.) It would be a betrayal of ethics to just swap that list with others (and probably illegal considering that I say right there in the sign up that I won’t share their info) That’s all I send out newsletters about anyway. I don’t think anyone cares if they get less promotional emails.

    But I’ve been hearing about newsletters so much and how Nancy X added 500 subscribers from a promotion and that was a disappointment, it should be bigger than that for the money spent. Jeff K got 1000 out of it. I have been dazzled. I didn’t realise that this sort of thing was only getting a 1-10% sell through. That’s terrible. That means if I only have 10 fully invested subscribers that it could be getting equal response to someone who has 1000 who came from some sort of promotion? I’d rather have the 10.

    I needed to hear this. It seems you always post something so completely grounding just when I start to doubt the slow and steady growth approach.

  13. LindaB says:

    I hope people listen to you. I’m one of those who wasted an incredible amount of time and enthusiasm doing promo when I should have been writing. When I started, the voices yelling “promo, promo promo” overpowered the few voices saying “write more books”. I’ll never get back that lost time, and my enthusiasm has become non-existent. Too late for me, but, I hope, not too late for others.

  14. Prasenjeet says:

    Hi Kris. A great blog post. Exactly what I was looking for. However, I need to add something. Writers are not only losing writing time but also actual money. So many gurus nowadays are teaching writers to use Facebook or Amazon ads (which costs money) to increase subscription. A dollar for acquiring a subscriber is considered great. Which means if you want to get 1000 subscribers, you’ll spend a $1000. For 10,000 subscribers, you’ll need to spend $10,000 assuming everything goes fine. Now, if your conversion rate is less than 1%, I believe you’re losing money.

    But I have a question. Some authors get subscribers as a safety net. Their argument is that if Amazon and all e-book retailers disappear overnight, what will you do? If you have thousands of subscribers, you can still sell your books to them via your blog. What do you say of that?

    • davidelang says:

      If Amazon and all existing e-book retailers disappear overnight, it’s going to be because some new e-book retailers eat their lunch, so you just start selling on the new retailers

      Unless you believe that e-books are just a fad and are going to disappear, and if that happens, the retailers are disappearing because the readers aren’t interested in e-books and you don’t need to worry about how to sell your e-books as nobody will buy them.

      either way, there’s no need to panic and worry about how to reach your readers once Amazon goes out of business.

      David Lang

  15. Jane Steen says:

    I recently sprang for a very expensive course from one of those gurus and I’d say about 90% of the course is stuff I could work out myself fairly quickly. 10% teaches you how to annoy your readers with spam, and the other 10% plus the access to the closed Facebook group is worth paying for. Is it worth paying two weeks’ income for? Probably not.

    But I’m not going to be asking for my money back. The 10% is value for which the course author should be paid, since I’m going to use it. Plus, the amount of money invested means that you bet I’ll work hard at implementing the non-spam strategies. The course was for an area of marketing I was ready to move into, so there are many actionable items there. I’ve learned quite a bit already from the course author’s free materials (podcast and webinars) so I’m ready to pay that back. And that Facebook group is mostly people who are sufficiently savvy already to make their investment worthwhile, so I’m learning from them.

    I feel that many of the authors climbing on the newsletter bandwagon are far less ready than I am to do the marketing right. After eight years learning how to write fiction, I’m only just really beginning to understand who I am as a writer and where my potential readers are. Along the way I’ve picked up a lot of 5-star reviews (yay!), a bunch of less favourable reviews that have helped me improve my writing, and a few forever fans. If I’d jumped on those bandwagons before I was ready, I’m not sure I would be so happy with the way things are right now, or so sure about what I need to do to get myself to the next level of sales. The factor that’s missing from so much of the guru advice is knowledge: self-knowledge and market knowledge. You can ONLY get that by yourself.

  16. Lisa Nowak says:

    Thank God someone I respect and admire said this so I can give myself permission to stop feeling so damn guilty about not being able to make the newsletter thing work. It took you pointing out that time is money for me to realize there are people out there who don’t know this. To me, it’s so obvious I assumed it was common knowledge. Guess that’s what I get for making assumptions.

    Like you, I’ve noticed that many of the people who sell courses on how to market books have very few years of experience. They also often stop writing fiction once they start selling courses. One individual even sold a course on how to sell a course. I have no doubt the processes these people came up with worked well for THEM, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone (even every early adopter). Much of their success was due to being in the right place at the right time with a great number of variables lining up in a specific way–which of course is impossible to replicate. They use inductive reasoning to argue that “Since I did X, and I sold a lot of books, you’ll also sell a lot of books by doing X.” They fail to realize the correlation does not imply causation.

    I resent the implication that I can’t make these programs work because I’m not trying hard enough, yet I also beat myself up for being unable to find enough time to do all the things these others seems to be able to accomplish. What I love about you and Dean is that you give practical, no-bullshit advice that’s backed up by DECADES of experience. Of all the experts out there, whom should I choose to trust? Hmmm, seems like a no-brainer to me.

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