Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sound and fury, part deux

In last week’s blog entry, I talked about response rate in direct mail advertising. The reason I did this is that we need to be aware of what we’re dealing with when we do promotion on the various social media sites most of us are using. You cannot be depressed when you look at the actual numbers. Low numbers are the norm.

One other comparison I could have made is bookstore signings. Unless an author is a Someone who attracts a line of eager book purchasers and the store has done some effective promotion for the event*, the author can be faced with no lineups and people walking by the table with nary a glance. To cut to the chase, this is the live, in your face version of Direct Marketing, and it’s pretty humbling. I’ll be the response rate in this sort of situation is pretty much the same as anything else we can do to promote ourselves, maybe even worse.

But I’m not here to bring you down. I just want everyone to be aware of from where we’re starting. Whether you use social media or book signings to promote yourself, the returns are not going to be great, generally, but they can be worth it.

How effective are your efforts? I believe that’s the thing we all want to measure. Was the 45-minute drive to the bookstore worthwhile? How about the 45 minutes I spend on Facebook every day? Or all that Tweeting?

The Direct Marketing industry (whether they use mail or some other medium) is always aware of tracking effectiveness, and they’ve developed some very clever ways to do it. Believe me, they know how effective their efforts are. They have to if they want to stay in business.

How do they do it? Well, the simplest method is the “response device”. What’s that? Well, for a magazine subscription, it might well be a free gift. Ever get a magazine sub offer with a free gift if you subscribe? Did you think twice about ordering? I’ll bet you did. Or maybe they offer a better deal when you order 2 or 3 years. Ever take them up on that? Those, my friends, are response devices.

I’m sure you can see where this is going, and I’ll bet many of us have done it or seriously considered doing it: giving something away to increase response. It’s simple and it can be damned effective. Give away an ARC of your new book, a free copy of your new book, whatever. It’s simple, right?

Wrong. That’s only the first part of the deal. You have to keep in mind that your expectations have to be in the same low range as Direct Marketing, although not quite as low as the 2-3% range I mentioned last week. But you probably won’t have hundreds of people visiting your website or contacting you in other ways for that free whatever. You may get a few dozen, though, and that can be very useful in several ways:

• they are now more aware of you and your writing
• they feel a connection to you
• you might well have their email address (if you’re not against doing some data mining)
• you might well have interested them in buying the book anyway
• if you’ve driven them to your website, you have lots more options (assuming your website is any good) to get them interested in buying your wares.

And I’m sure we can all come up with other good outcomes.

The point is, if you have a response device, you can then measure how effective it was by the response rate. The pros then tweak that and test again. They test over and over in an attempt to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

It’s simple and effective. The only thing you have to invest is your time. We all know the old adage about selling our books one copy at a time.

* I remember wandering by a large downtown Toronto bookstore a number of years ago and seeing a small poster that Michael Connelly was signing. I thought I’d stick my nose in the door to see how long the line was. Lo and behold, there was no line-up. Michael was sitting there all alone looking rather glum (just like I have so many times). I went over, got a book signed for my wife, and we chatted. He invited me to sit down and we chatted some more. Actually, we talked for about 20 minutes, very occasionally interrupted by a book buyer. Seems the bookstore didn’t have their act together and the event had hardly been promoted. Michael had a line-up for about 10 minutes and that was it. Holy crap! This is one of the most successful writers and even he had situations where he just sat there. I felt a lot better at my own signings after that!

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