Book Promotion Tip of the Week #12: Get Lucky, and Live with the Guilt

To Warn Prospective Buyers or Not To Warn: That Is the Question

This week, the outstanding American novelist Claire Messud published her fourth book of fiction. It is entitled The Woman Upstairs. My first novel (1989) is also entitled The Woman Upstairs.

The publication of Claire Messud’s new novel is an event that I, along with thousands of others, have eagerly anticipated. I read The Emperor’s Children, and was impressed. Messud has won several prestigious writing awards and, according to Wikipedia, was even “considered for the 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list, although none of the three passports she holds is British.” That’s how good she is.

Little did I know that the publication of Messud’s newest book was going to be of some modest financial benefit to me. But it has been: ever since the pre-promotion started on her latest novel, sales of my first novel have increased. Not enough to save me from financial ruin, by any means: we’re talking maybe ten books a week total on amazon, including both the Kindle version and the paperback. (And who knows? Maybe one or two of those book buyers really did intend to buy my book.)

Nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable. I feel like my book is selling under false pretenses, and that I should put some kind of warning on my book’s page on amazon – BEWARE: THIS MAY NOT BE THE NOVEL YOU THINK IT IS!!!

On the other hand, my name IS on my Woman Upstairs. I’m not trying to impersonate Ms. Messud. And I was there first, having chosen my title very carefully many years ago. (It refers to three entities: to the mother of my protagonist, who is dying in an upstairs room;  to the protagonist’s landlady and friend, who lives on the main floor of the house where Diana has the basement suite: and — of course — to the female correlative of “The Man Upstairs,” which is how some people refer to God.)

Occasionally someone returns a copy of my Woman Upstairs to amazon, and I can hardly blame them: in fact, I am surprised more of the people who have bought my book by mistake have not returned it. Maybe they don’t know they can.

Friends and loved ones tell me I should not feel guilty, but should just accept it. Not much else I can do, short of adding the warning, which is a silly idea really. (Titles are not copyrightable, by the way, and even if they were, I wouldn’t, so don’t even go there.) I sometimes wonder what will happen if Claire Messud’s Woman Upstairs wins some big award.  (You go, girl.)

I also hope that, having bought my book by mistake, perhaps a few people will accidentally read it, and will like it enough to purchase something else I’ve written  — like The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel or The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid.

On the other hand, they might well intentionally read my novel, like it, and then go off and buy other books that Claire Messud has written. I guess that would be fair.

In the meantime, I’ll use some of my ill-gotten gains to purchase The (Other) Woman Upstairs, and maybe that will help to salve my conscience. Even though I was going to buy it anyway.

And I guess I’ll get back to work on my next novel (working title: Moby Dick).

The Day before Day 1: Anguilla’s First Ever Literary Arts Festival

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I have arrived on the beautiful island of Anguilla, where I have been staying with friends for a few days – getting some work done for clients while enjoying the tropical breezes.

The first session of the Anguilla Lit Fest: A Jollification is tonight — a reception/meet and greet for the presenters/authors and the organizing committee. I am looking forward to meeting all of the people who have spent so many months putting this together on behalf of the Anguilla Tourist Board, and to chatting with my fellow presenters, who include:

Stay tuned… I’ll keep you updated when I can!

A Book-Promotion Experiment: The Book as Soap Sample

My first novel, THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, is a story about a young woman who must go home and confront her past when she learns that her mother — to whom she has not spoken in several years — is dying. It won the Writers Guild of Alberta award for excellence in Writing, Novel Category waaay back in 1988.

As a promotion of the impending release of the Kindle version of THE WHOLE CLOVE DIET, The Woman Upstairs is downloadable on Kindle at no charge for four days only (March 25 to 28, 2012).

In other words, I’m using my first novel as a free sample for a few days, like a little box of soap flakes, to promote my new novel.

Last year I rereleased The Woman Upstairs (NeWest Press, 1987), which had been out of print for two decades, as a POD and an e-book through CreateSpace. It only cost me a couple of hundred dollars to have it scanned in. Plus I had a new cover made because I didn’t own the rights to the visual. I have done nothing to promote it aside from posting links here and there: I just figured that it was available and maybe some day, when I published another book, it might sell a few copies.  I wanted it to be available in case.
As most readers here know, I am self-publishing my next novel, The Whole Clove Diet (it’s available now as paperback). I decided that, in anticipation of the release of the Kindle version of The Whole Clove Diet, I would test out the Kindle Direct Publishing “Free Promotion” option with The Woman Upstairs. This allows ebooks priced at $2.99 or more (which is the price point for accruing 70% royalties; anything less and you are down to 30%) to be given away for up to five days. (Of course, no royalties accrue on these books. Nothing times 70% is the same as nothing x 30%.)</div

So I started the sale Sunday morning, and I did not notice where the ranking was at that point, but I would guess The Woman Upstairs was probably a millionth or so on the best-seller list, like the paperback is. It was at about #4000 in the Kindle Free Store when I first started watching a few hours later.
I have been promoting it as much as I can on the social media, but that does not explain what has happened to it — there must be a lot of people who are finding it on some “free books” list somewhere from which they download everything in sight. In the past day it has moved up to #11 in Kindle Literary Fiction and #17 in Kindle Contemporary Fiction. But what really blows me away is that 1200 people have downloaded it. That’s almost more than the first print run, I think.
Who knows how many people who have downloaded it will ever get around to reading it, and better yet like it enough to pay for the new book (which is my master plan), but it’s been an interesting process. Here’s the link if you’re interested in watching what happens.
At the end of Wednesday, it will go back to $2.99, at which point I expect it to fall off the face of the earth again. But it’s the long term impact I’m interested, and I guess I may never know exactly what that is.

If you had told me five years ago (or even two) that I’d be giving my first novel away – even as an e-book and even only for four days – as a promotional device, as though it were a sample package of soap, I would not have believed you. But these are interesting time, and they call for creative approaches.

This is (one of) mine….

I’ll report back at some point on how this and other strategies for book promotion re: The Whole Clove Diet have worked out.

By the way, I have started yet another blog (my 10th, I think) for items related to The Whole Clove Diet, and diets in general.

And again, here’s the link to the free Kindle version of The Woman Upstairs.

(On March 29, it will go back to its usual astronomical ;) price of $2.99.)