Monday, August 25, 2008

The Noble Art of being Dead Wrong

There are times (and this is one of them ... and one like this is worth three ordinary ones) when your instinct is dead wrong.

About a month ago we were tweaking the whole sales machine thing, on the website -- this is going to be fascinating and chilling to the writers among you who are looking at marketing your own books on the internet, or are maybe doing it right now with more or less success. No need to learn from your own mistakes. Take notes here ... learn from mine!

I take full responsibility: it was Keegan's Idea, and one of the few which fall into the category of Not Very Good Ones. Mea culpa.

You see, I've always believed that if you want to sell applecake, you give people a slice of the thing, and make it a good, big slice, so they get a taste for it and just HAVE to buy the rest of the cake. On this same theory, if you want to sell books, let people read enough of the book to fall in love with the characters and HAVE to get the rest.

Maybe 12 or 15 years ago, this theory was put to the test (not by me) and worked fine. There were several sites where you could get 75% of the story free and gratis, take it away with you ... but if you wanted The End, to see how it turned out, you had to pay a few dollars. For a fee, they'd give you access to the last 25% either on a webpage or a password-protected file.

It was a good idea, and at the time it worked. I don't think it would work now ... perhaps because the Internet is so satiated with fiction of every description??

Anyway, following along in the wake of this theory (which I could see the sense of), I decided (mea cupla) that it could only be a good thing to "get readers hooked" with a large slice of each novel, online for the clicking.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we know things now that we didn't know before. (What's all this "we" business?! Okay. I. Me. Myself.)

Now, like me, you'd have thought that if you were given 40% of DEATH'S HEAD or DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, you'd be hooked like a trout. Right?

In fact, readers probably are. But apparently these same people read sloooooowly. In fact, they read so sloooowly that before they've finished the sample (and hence might be expected to buy the book and finish it), something called Real Life has invariably intervened, stuck in its nasty snout, and distracted them. By the time they get back from the Emergency Room, or get the car back from the garage, or get the computer fixed, or nurse the kid through the pneumonia, or get the TV fixed, or settle into the new job, or [fill in the blank, ad nauseam ... you know what Life is like; we've all been through it], they've completely forgotten about the book they were just about halfway through and were supposed to buy.

And this is fair enough. No one understands better than me how Life can go utterly haywire and stay that way for weeks, months. Longer.

To be honest, I've noticed in many places (for example, Diesel Ebooks, which is my own favorite ebook bazaar), the vendor's idea of "read a sample of this book" is about two pages. And I do believe the penny just dropped. Keegan's pet theory had been along the lines of the web publishers of the mid-90s: you get readers hooked, till they can't stop reading, and they'll buy a lot of books. In the real world of physical bookstores and in-hand copies, this is probably still fairly true. But the virtual world of the Net is very different. Ephereral is a word leaping to mind.

Okay. This one is a fairly easy fix, and it's being done today. We've reverting to a chapter or two as the samples, which is is how we had the samples organized before (and sales were very good).

Oh -- all the Adbrite code is gone from the site; Google Adsense is up and working, and the ads are sorta kinda contextual, in a way. The engine is keying on the word 'books.' Never mind the fact that the keyword 'gay' appears maybe 20 times on the page while 'books' appears maybe 5 times, and the whole keyword is 'gay books.' At least the SF pages are getting ads for an SF bookstore, and get your book publised, and buy ebooks. We're maybe halfway there. Maybe. And (!) we got our traffic back, and more besides. Traffic on the website is very good now, and can only get better.

So, Monday morning finds me gnashing my teeth a little bit about the marketing side of the business, but the good news is --

THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is flying along. Delicious gay heroes, loads of meaty human angst, fantasy backdrop, magicks about to happen, battles on the way and, right now, an in-depth exploration of cultures in collision, some of them primitive, even savage, others fantasy-mediaeval.

Stay tuned for delevopments.

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