Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sound and fury

I was having a chat with another author recently about the effectiveness of Facebook and the other social media. (Sidebar: notice how myspace.com has fallen off the map? Boy, am I glad I didn’t invest any time in that!) “How the hell do I know it’s doing any good? I spend about an hour a day on Facebook to give me as much exposure as possible. How do I know I’m not completely wasting my time?”

I understood that cri du coeur at once and sympathized completely. How do we know we’re not spending a lot of valuable time doing nothing? I must admit I’ve thought the same thing. I’m certain we all have. Facebook is a fun and easy way to keep up with our friends and acquaintances, but is it an effective way to promote our writing? By the way, this discussion extends to Twitter and all the other social media out there.

Some of you know that I fill the empty hours of my life by doing graphic design. A lot of that design work is for the magazine circulation industry. Along the way, I’ve picked up quite a bit of information on how the people behind what you might call “junk mail” do their jobs and test the effectiveness of their efforts.

To cut to the chase, there is something they call “a response device”. That means something that gets potential customers to do something, in this case, order a subscription to the magazine. In its simplest form, they return the attached order card, and for that one person, the direct mail package worked. When a suitable time has passed, the circulators count up how many people responded to the offer comparing it to how many packages were sent out. (And believe me, they know that number!)

Do you know what they consider success? A 2-3 percent response. That’s right: 2% is good; 3% is amazing. If the number of subs is over 3%, you can bet they’re dancing in the aisles of the magazine’s office.

Pretty sobering, isn’t it? All that effort and money for that small a response? Imagine that sort of success rate in any other business. You’d get shown the door pretty quickly if you only managed to be successful 2 or 3% of the time.

Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of what we’re trying to do. My “friends” list on Facebook is pushing 400. I put up an announcement about my new book (and I will be as soon as I get the new pub date). If I do my job well, I might sell a dozen books, based on the success rate magazines experience with direct mail subscription packages. More likely, it will be fewer.

So should we all throw up our hands and wonder just how the heck we can successfully market our books?

Next week, I’ll have some possible solutions.


KD said...

This is a great post and very eye-opening! They say for every XXXXX amount of flyers or emails you send out XX may read it and X may respond. So reading this only confirmed that.


Vicki Delany said...

I suppose the question is, how many extra books would you sell if you Didn't mention them on Facebook. None. So it's all a bonus.However, time vs. return has to be considered.

Rick Blechta said...

The numbers are really quite astounding. These DM packages are very expensive to produce. Multiple components have to be designed and printed, stuffed into a compelling outer envelope (if the receiver of the package just chucks the unopened envelope in the trash, you've completely thrown away your money, and then the mailing lists have to be rented and they cost a ton.

"So you spend, say, $25k on a DM promotion and your expectation is to get back how much?" I remember asking that question of my boss when I first got into this business. It seemed insane...still does.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

Rick Blechta said...

You're absolutely correct on both counts, Vicki. Same thing goes for signing books in bookstores.

Diane said...

I find marketing a bit overwhelming and am looking forward to your next post. Thanks for today's info, it helps.

Linda L. Richards said...

Terrific post, Rick. It helps put things in perspective.

For my part, I adore Facebook. For some reason, the equal amounts of silly and sensible fit my personality entirely. And I like that I can take a few minutes from my work and hang out at the electronic water cooler with friends -- old and new. Sometimes I talk about my books. More often, I do not.

In my own experience, Facebook is about building (and being part of) various types of community, but Twitter can be amazing for actually moving people around. One is not better than the other, but -- in a marketing program -- must be seen as part of a cohesive whole.

Hannah Dennison said...

I love this post because you have voiced my feelings 100%.
If Facebook went the same way as Myspace, I'd be relieved - and I know that's a bad thing to admit. I love keeping up with my friends and family - but I'd rather talk to them on the phone or meet them in the flesh! Now I'm paranoid that everyone will de-friend me ...

Rick Blechta said...

I'll never de-friend you, Hannah! What a minute. Is that even a word?

I can echo agreement on pretty well everything that's been said here. I like and loathe Facebook.

However, one thing I do like it for is at least letting some people know what I'm up to writing-wise. I may be yelling into the wind, but it's something. Take away these kinds of things (social media, book signings, etc), and what do we poor authors actually have control of? Pretty well nothing. Facebook is something we can do ourselves, and as I'll show you next week, there are a few tricks for figuring out who might be listening and responding.

Thanks everyone for weighing in with your thoughts!

Donis Casey said...

I really dislike spending much time online, but I have to say Facebook works on me - it's quick. Facebook posts do get me to look at people's blog posts and have directed me to websites - and thus authors - I would never have known of otherwise.

Linda L. Richards said...

Hannah says, "I love keeping up with my friends and family - but I'd rather talk to them on the phone or meet them in the flesh!"

Then do it. You can. It's not an either/or type of thing and no one is requiring you to make a decision. Used with care, social media enhances your human interactions, it doesn't replace them.