No self publisher can succeed without marketing, but most of us focus on creativity and content in our approach to getting the word out. We think we're smart marketers because we come up with new ways of finding customers for our books and sometimes win in heads-up matches with the large trades, especially on Amazon. But pretty much all of the self publishers I know, myself included, need to go back to school when it comes to playing the numbers game. It's not so much laziness as lack of interest, and it's a serious failing.
Yesterday I received a nice e-mail from a customer who purchased my publishing book and commented that she figured it was time since she'd already used up a printer cartridge on pages from my site. That comment took me back to 1995 and my first online book marketing effort, when my entire marketing message was (paraphrase):
"You can spend $19.95 for an inkjet cartridge to print this book or you can buy it from me for $9.95 and I'll send you a bound copy."
I've detailed elsewhere why that venture failed and I ended up selling the book to McGraw-Hill but it began generating orders as soon as I posted it. It's really a good ad pitch in that it describes a problem (using up an inkjet cartridge) and a benefit (saving money and getting a bound copy), assuming the visitor is already interested in the book.
Good marketers tweak their ad copy over and over, a word here, two words there, and test the different ads in order to find which performs best. It's a numbers game, where the right ad copy might increase sales 20%, the right ad position on the page might do the same, not to mention colors and formatting. But it takes a lot of small increments and iteration to arrive at the best ad, and it's more of a mechanical task than a creative process. Self publishers just can't get excited about it.
That's a genuine problem because publishing is a super competitive environment, and the 10% here and 20% there would be contributing to more word-of-mouth and better positioning on Amazon. Yet the only real ad tweaking I've done in the last five years was trying different formats for linking to Amazon, and some very short lived text changes on my ordering pages.
Self publishers need to learn to be systematic about tweaking their ad copy, order page appearance and linking. Good advertising managers create tables or spreadsheets to track every change, to note every percentage gain or loss, and maximize the sales per visitor. I try something for a couple days and if I sell one copy less, I panic and go back to my old order form. That's not statistically significant and it doesn't teach me anything either. So I'm going to turn over a new leaf and start a systematic optimization of my order pages and ad copy, starting first thing next year.