Social media and the law of diminishing returns: ebook publishing part four.

This is the fourth and last in a short series of long posts about ebook self publishing, based on my own experience.

In my last facetiously-titled post about ebook publishing (10 hot killer dynamite ways to attract cretins to your blog), I briefly discussed the difficulties of promoting a self published ebook if (a) the subject matter was such that it would probably only appeal to a small percentage of the population and (b) the difficulties of using social media to try and find that audience.

As I said last time, I don’t do Facebook and Twitter, but since my last post on the subject I’ve been experimenting a bit with using someone else who has access to a large Facebook following about books to notify her followers about my two ebooks.

Fairly obviously, I was interested to see what effect if any these Facebook postings might have on visits to my website and, most importantly, any resulting book sales.

I have long suspected that my distaste towards Facebook and Twitter – based on the types of messages that seem to proliferate there – was intuition on my part that the type of people who sent those messages would be highly unlikely to be my target audience or be interested in my types of books.

But according to the multitude of blogs and posts and businesses spruiking the critical role of social media in promoting an author’s books today, if you aren’t using Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and whatever else is the flavour of the month, you have no chance whatever.

So somewhat cynically, I gave it a try.

The Facebook lady is very professional and has a regular audience numbering in the thousands, and at the end of the ‘campaign’ she provides a brief snapshot analysis of the number of times the post was sent out, plus the number of likes and shares that were generated.

Someone like me can then take a look at Google Analytics and see what changes in my website visitor traffic might have taken place at the time of the Facebook postings or soon after, and then see what, if any, book sales have resulted.

So for my ‘Back to Life Again’ ebook I got posted to 552 people, 71 liked the post and 142 shared it with others.

For my other ebook, ‘A Month In India’, I got posted to 523 people, 48 liked the post and 138 shared it with others.

There was a definite spike in visits to my website corresponding to the Facebook postings, although the exact numbers are difficult to separate from ‘background’ traffic.

But let’s call it a fivefold increase as a pretty good guess.

Resulting book sales?

Zip. Not one.

So to me this is very interesting and confirms a number of factors that I have long suspected.

First, it seems to confirm that only a tiny minority of the social media generation are likely to be interested in the kind of books that I write.

I already suspected that, which is yet another reason why I have refused to waste time on Facebook and Twitter, quite apart from my own prejudices against them.

And it’s interesting that although my books received a reasonable proportion of likes and shares compared to the total number of posts that went out, and some of those were motivated enough to visit my website, that’s where it quickly ended.

So what’s causing that? Do I have a crap website? Do people suddenly decide that they don’t like me after seeing my picture on the bio page and run away screaming? What is it?

I suspect that it’s a number of things all working together and reaching a critical mass at my website, which in terms of whether or not to buy one of my books, is crunch time.

First, my potential audience on Facebook and Twitter etc are probably not really the sort of people that would buy my books.

They ‘like’ what they might quickly read on the post or see on the front cover image in the fifteen seconds they might spend on it, and because they’ve been almost conditioned to do so, some of them might also ‘share’ it with their friends almost as a matter of course.

You know: ‘smiley face, I like it, hit the like icon, hit the share button, let my friends know that I’m active and on to the next thing’.

Some of them took it a bit further and visited my website, and zipped through a few pages before zipping back out again – probably back to their Facebook pages to chat to friends again.

My website is certainly not the best in the world but it’s certainly not the worst either, so I don’t think it’s that.

And my books get fabulous reviews from the people that find them and read them, so I don’t think it’s that either.

Let’s assume that some proportion of the people that visited my site saw that I’m an old bugger and exited there and then: nothing I can do about that except take my picture down or upload a fake one. (Hmmm…. Monty Burns? Justin Bieber? Kate Winslet?)

Until recently I thought that just having my ebooks only in the iBookstore might be too limiting for non-Apple readers, so I’ve also made a PDF version of my books available too, so we can assume it’s not that.

No, I think what is the real nail in the coffin is that when ‘kind-of-maybe’ interested Facebookers and others get to my ‘Buy’ page and see that they’ll (a) have to pay to buy the books and (b) pay more than $2.99, they’re out of there so fast you wouldn’t believe it.

In the FAQ section of my website I have explained to some extent why I charge more than lots of people commonly pay for their usual badly written pulp fiction ebooks full of typos and turgid plot lines, but clearly that doesn’t wash with the social media generation.

(Naturally, my abject apologies if you’re in the tiny minority of exceptions to these somewhat sweeping generalisations.. but I think you know what I’m getting at.)

It has been my belief for a long time now that the whole internet and social media explosion, coupled with ruthless, relentless pressure from retail book giants like Amazon, has engendered an expectation amongst a growing number of readers these days that quantity is infinitely more important than quality, that any book that isn’t free is a rip off, and that anything above five or six dollars is out of the question.

Giving your books away for free is great for Amazon’s traffic and advertising revenue and great if it’s the only way you’ll ever get to have a chance of persuading anyone to read your brilliant unheard-of first novel, but for anyone who wants to earn a living from being a real author it is utter madness.

That’s one of the many reasons I won’t have a bar of Amazon (I tried it for one day before I’d read the fine print properly and promptly deleted my book and called myself a lot of very rude names), but there’s a lot of other authors and booksellers who are far more vitriolic about it than I am.

Anyway, my point is that although I’m clearly in the minority and happy to be so if it means I get to maintain my integrity and live my life the way I want to, I think that authors who are thinking about self-publishing should not assume that social media or any other form of internet-based marketing is automatically going to be the route to success that so many others are claiming it to be.

As ever, you’ve got to know yourself, know your potential target market, trust your gut instincts and, while being prepared to test them just in case you’ve got it wrong, don’t be frightened to reject what everyone else is doing just because they say it works for them and it will also work for you.

Nothing is certain, apart from the fact that it’s almost certain that, like actors, most authors will never earn enough money from it other than regard it as a time-consuming and enjoyable hobby.

Anything else is purely a bonus.


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