Book Promotion Tip of the Week #9: Figure out how many copies of your book you want to sell before you start promoting.
(You can always adjust your targets later.)
After floundering around in the book promotion literature for quite a while now, and blogging about what doesn’t work, I am learning that one principle is more basic than the rest: if I don’t set some promotion goals for myself, I’m never going to get anything done. I could continue to research promotion forever, rather than doing anything about it.
Not that I’m giving up the research, but I’ve decided that even if I haven’t read and learned everything that’s out there yet (by a long shot), the moment has come when I must start to make a focused effort on the actual promotion.
A key word here is “focused” — because I’ve also come to the realization that the goal I set for myself cannot be “to sell books.” That just isn’t a very “SMART” goal. If “to sell books” is all I’m striving for, I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s like setting myself the goal “to lose weight” or “to read Tolstoy” or “to learn another language.” Those are ultimate goals, but they are not specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-sensitive goals, which is what SMART stands for (more on S.M.A.R.T. goals later).
First I need to decide what I want to do with my promotional efforts. Do I want to get to number one (which I think is the general hope that most of us have as we set off on our non-specific promotional adventures)? If so, what does this mean? Do I really think I am going to sell 300 copies of my book EVERY DAY on Amazon? According to this article on Salon, that’s what it takes to make a book an Amazon bestseller. I must face whether that is my specific goal and intent, or whether that is a pipe dream.
And even if that IS my goal, then how many days of 300 sales/day am I aiming for? Would I be satisfied with 300 sales for just one day? – enough to get my book to the top of the Amazon list just once, at which point I could legitimately say (for promotional purposes) that my book had been an “Amazon bestseller” (as in, “My book was once an Amazon bestseller”)? How much practical good is that going to do me in the long term?
Maybe it is The New York Times bestseller list to the top of which I wish to climb. That one is far more prestigious, of course, when it comes to putting a plug about it on my promotional materials. The NYT list is based on weekly sales of books and ebooks across the USA, and no one really knows how many copies of each book must be sold before you make it to the top of that particular mountain, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than I can realistically plan to sell at this point.
Maybe I just want Don Valiente to top the list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon for a day, or for The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel to appear and then stay in the top-ten list in women’s fiction. Maybe I’m eying a local newspaper’s weekly posting of the top ten fiction books sold. (Or maybe I’ve written a family history and I’m not interested in top-ten lists at all: maybe I’ll be happy if I sell ten books, period.)
According to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry on “bestsellers,” the term is relatively recent and means so many different things in different contexts that it actually means nothing. The entry points out that, depending on the venue, in the U.K. a “bestseller” can mean anything from 4,000 to 25,000 copies sold. In Canada, 5,000 copies sold (ever) constitutes what we call “a national bestseller.”
Why do the numbers matter anyway?
There are a couple of reasons why the numbers of copies of books sold matter (quite aside from the royalties that accrue). First, purchasers do respond to books that are at the top of bestseller lists, even though such lists have nothing to do with quality. (I go back to my Fifty Shades of Grey example which proves that book-buyers can be total sheep exhibiting no taste, and no sense of literary or even erotic discernment whatsoever.)
In addition, and of equal importance, in the case of Amazon when you reach a certain level of sales, the site starts recommending your book to other people who have bought or looked at similar books – which means that Amazon is now doing some of your promotion for you.
And yes, once your book has made a bestseller list, you can call yourself a “bestselling author,” and no one can ever take that away from you. (Although I guess they can demand to know which list you were a bestseller on, and for how long, and they could ask you that in a radio interview, so be prepared.)
It is for such reasons as these that some writers are paying to get onto bestseller lists which – as I reported last week – you can do if you have enough friends and money.
Does the number of books you want to sell affect your promotional efforts?
I think it does, even if you aren’t aiming for the top of a bestseller list. This is the crux of the question when it comes to this week’s Book Promotion tip.
In recent days, I have been thinking about S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is a term which has been in use in the business world for decades, and which I keep coming across in my reading about marketing and even in some of my editing for clients. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. Many experts consider these five attributes to be key indicators when it comes to establishing and attaining goals in such areas as personal and professional development, project management, employee performance, etc.
If your goals don’t have these five attributes, such experts would point out, how can you possible attain them? “Selling books” has none of those attributes, and therefore it’s a lousy goal. (For me it also leads to madly riding off in too many directions at once, as I have several books to sell, not to mention my podcasts on grantwriting, and dozens of places I could sell them, and dozens of ways I could approach the promotion in each case.)
So for me, here is what I am setting as my first S.M.A.R.T. goal: Within six months, to attain at least thirty days of sales of at least ten copies a day of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (Kindle version). I have chosen this number because I estimate that this will get us onto the “top 50 Westerns” list on Amazon for those 30 days, which will help to propel us towards ongoing sales with diminished effort.
This goal is Specific because it says I am going to focus only on Don Valiente and ignore my other books for now, and it also sets a specific number of sales per day for a specific number of days.
This goal is Measurable because six months from now (mid-September) I will be able to tell whether I have attained the goal. I can see on my KDP page how many copies we are selling. (I can also track our progress vis á vis other western novels on Amazon. If we need to up the sales numbers per day to get to the top 50, we can do that.)
This goal is Attainable — with an attractive promotional campaign that targets readers of Westerns, given a consistent promotional effort for six months that (at no significant cost to us) positions our books in as many places as possible, I believe that this goal is attainable.
This goal is Realistic. It allows for the fact, for example, that if I send out a review copy of Don Valiente, even if someone does review it, the review will likely not appear for three to four months at least. On the other hand, hitting The New York Times bestseller list is not a realistic goal. I don’t even think that getting into the top 10 list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon would be realistic, when I consider the competition. And I know me: if a goal doesn’t seem realistic, I am going to give up on it very quickly.
This goal is Time-Specific. I have given us six months. (I am now putting a memo in my calendar to report back to you here then, and let you know what happened.)
Do you have a SMART goal for your book promotion? Do you want to declare it in public here so we can cheer you on?
Do you think that setting goals is necessary or of use?
Let us know! I love your comments and so do my readers.
Next week: a book promotion tip that is more specific — that takes less time to write. :)
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Hi Mary – Just poking around the interwebs this PM and came across this article, a cautionary tale really, that I thought you might be interested in seeing. http://www.avclub.com/articles/neal-pollack-on-rebounding-from-massive-hype-and-s,93689/2/ Keep up the good work.
Thanks — Yes. I noticed what Neil Pollack was doing a few years ago and connected with him on FaceBook. He’s fighting in the trenches and he’s going to be fine. This interview is a good and worthwhile read. Thank you.
An acronym taken from business-school jargon doesn’t necessarily help. For me, the key questions have to do with isolating what techniques work in selling books, and giving heavy emphasis to them. In my “case,” I am talking about Amazon ebook novels. As far as I can tell, what matters is cover design, book description, and pricing. Provide an image that engages the eye even as a thumbnail, produce an intriguing description, and price low rather than high. It’s also important to have reviews, but only as a number, not really as a source of validation for the quality of the book. Until a writer has established some kind of readership, social media probably count for little or nothing. Regardless of what “experts” say.
Agreed. I’m just suggesting that if we don’t set ourselves some book-sales goals and consider how we’re going to get to them, we can end up doing nothing.