Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Old dog, new tricks.

When I wrote 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' and put it on Lulu, I did it in what can best be described as a fit of truculence.

It's not much of a book, a mere 30-page pamphlet really, and it happened because I kept reading 'manuals' that told the reader they'd need this or that device and they'd need this or that preparation and all of them were concerned with electronics and gadgetry

There is no such thing as a ghost detector. EMF meters measure electromagnetic fields and fluctuations in such fields might or might not mean there's a ghost around. They might mean the fridge has just switched on and caused a voltage spike throughout the mains. You don’t have to be in the same room as the fridge to measure it.

These new tri-field meters are expensive, and are sensitive enough to measure EMF changes caused by the cash in your pocket moving around. They are useless in the hands of anyone who is not used to handling such sensitive equipment and are a waste of money. They are not ghost detectors. Until we have some idea what ghosts are made of, we cannot devise any machinery capable of detecting them.

All that infrared gadgetry is likewise useless unless you understand infrared. When you point one of those infrared thermometers at a ‘cold spot’ it does not magically stop its measuring range just where you want it. It’s measuring the temperature of the first solid object it hits and the further away that object is, the wider the circle of measurement. That means moving it slightly can change the temperature reading because it’s averaging over a wide area. It is not, under any circumstances, measuring air temperature.

See? Just a mention of all that nonsense and I’m in rant mode at once. Don’t even get me started on orbs or I’ll run this post into thesis size. There is much more but I’ll save it for the revised version, which will be big enough to be actually worth calling a book.

The point is, I wrote that book, put it on Lulu and that was enough to get that rant out of my system. I did nothing to advertise it and forgot about it until Lulu sent me a tiny amount of money. It came as a surprise to find that people were buying it.

Well, now I have branched out into actual fiction and so I’ve had to learn about marketing. I had absolutely no idea where to start. It’s not something that science training is much help with – we investigate and write it up in a dry and dusty manner for a journal. Then we move on to the next project.

When I was just hobby-writing short stories, it was pretty much the same as writing papers except the papers were all in past-tense, impersonal, passive voice and the fiction needed an entirely different approach. Writing the occasional newspaper article had helped with that but even so, the attitude was the same as with papers. It’s done, it’s published, move on. There was never any point in ‘marketing’ a short story. I was paid at the point of acceptance and there was no royalty to push for.

I’m fortunate in that the first book – Jessica’s Trap – was taken up by a publisher, so they took care of editing and cover art and some marketing. However, I still need to push it myself because publishers release loads of books and don’t care too much which ones are big and which fail. They’ll concentrate on the successes and ignore the failures. That’s how business works. If you want to be one of the successes you have to work for it. That's how life works.

The other two so far are short story collections. I self-published those because unless you’re already famous, short story collections are nearly impossible to sell to a publisher. The first one, ‘Fears of the Old and the New’, was made up of stories I’d published in the past. The magazines and online sites had either scrolled those stories off the page or had gone out of business. The rights had reverted to me but with first rights already sold, there was no profit in hawking them round again.

I made that book so I wouldn’t lose the stories and again, was surprised when it sold. Then came ‘Dark Thoughts and Demons’, a second collection of shorts. By now I was starting to take writing seriously so this one, along with the earlier one, I put on Kindle and Smashwords as well as in print and PDF on Lulu. Look for my writing 'name' - H. K. Hillman - on those sites.

Writing, editing, proofreading, production, even half-decent covers – I can do those things. Maybe not proper artisitic covers but fairly presentable ones, I think. Still I had no idea how to market them. Finally I realised I was looking at it the wrong way. I was trying to think like a marketer, and I’m not one. Instead, I started wondering how advertisers managed to get me to pick up their ads.

Offer me a flyer and I’ll either ignore it or accept it and then drop it unread into the first bin I pass. Just as most people do. What gets me to keep an ad is if it’s attached to something that’s free.

Not something of great consequence or value. Just something free. If it’s a fridge magnet I might stick it on the fridge and maybe, one day, actually read it. I have bottle openers with ads on them, and pens and mugs and keyrings... but these are all costly to produce and difficult to distribute.

So what could I attach an advert to? Well, a story costs nothing to write. Nothing but time. Not so long ago, it would have been impossible to make use of this as an advertising medium because it would have to be printed and handed out.

Now, all it needs is a decent cover and it can go onto all the electronic distribution channels as a free short story – with ads for the full books at the end. Best of all, it costs nothing. Zero outlay, apart from a couple of evenings to bash out and edit a 3000-word story.

I have not worked out how to make things free on Kindle. The minimum price seems to be 99 cents but there are free books on there so it can be done. I’ll work on that. Hints would be welcome.

I can make it free on Smashwords which does (in theory) distribute to Kindle but that part doesn’t seem to work. All their other distribution channels work just fine. The Kindle format version is free on Smashwords anyway, as are all the other formats.

This, then, is a whole new game for me. I have, as yet, no idea of the rules so I’m working them out as I go along. One thing is clear – don’t attach ads to a rubbish story. The story is the advertisement and if it’s dull and full of errors, those reading it will assume the same will be true of the books.

While I didn’t pick one of the best to give away free, I made sure it was one of those I consider at least ‘good’. Will it work? I put it on Smashwords less than 48 hours ago and so far there are 91 downloads. It’s slowing as it scrolls down the ‘new free ebooks’ list but adding another in a few days might perk it up again.

I have no idea how many of those who read it will want to read more, only time will tell. As a marketing ploy, I have no idea how good this will be but as a cost-effective marketing ploy, it’s excellent. The cost is zero. Not many marketing techniques can say that.

So. Worth a try. If anyone has any tips on how to get books under the noses of readers, I’ll be interested to hear them.

This old dog is always willing to learn new tricks.


southernwriter said...

Please POST A LINK to where I can buy your latest, and accept my apologies for being distracted lately.

Listen, I need to send someone to you for your help. Please watch for him, and check your mail for a note from me.

P.S. the new blog design is nice.

southernwriter said...

That's actually a pretty good idea. I don't have a Kindle, though, and don't want one. I'm so old school; I love books. I'm sure I could upload it to my computer though, right? Where's the link? I'm sorry I can't stay and chat. I have to work tonight. I will be back to check for it, though. Didn't you mention a new book to me? I'm sorry, Rom, my life is in chaos right now.

southernwriter said...

There it is! Looks awesome! I can't wait. I have loved all your books.

ver: rumbie

Good description of my anticipation!

heyjude said...

Kindle seems to have a bunch of 'teaser' partials to entice the reader. Can you get in on that?

BTW I've downloaded the Amazon short stories to my kindle for making upcoming looooong flights more bearable.

southernwriter said...

Thank goodness for Heyjude. I was about to risk being annoying by commenting four times in a row to say I enjoyed the story of Jimmy and Javier. Thanks for giving it to us!

Romulus Crowe said...

SW - When I work out how, I'll have links in the sidebar. Preferably without filling it with pictures!

It's worth at least getting one of the free Kindle computer programs. There are a lot of free (out of copyright) classics on there. I have to admit I was disappointed in the Picture of Dorian Grey. Loads of dull lists of things he did, in between a good opening and a smart ending.

Heyjude - best not nod off while reading some of those tales ;)

heyjude said...

Hey Rom - If they make me nod off at least THAT will pass the time quicker - But I seriously doubt they will!

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