Monday, 4 June 2012

Discussion: The Secret to Selling Books

Come, my lovelies, let's discuss how you sell a book.

Now, I'm not a book seller. I'm not a PR or marketing professional. I don't even have my high school diploma at the moment. But, I've been a book blogger for 2.5-3 years (I know I wrote my first review as a freshman, but I didn't call myself a blogger until December '09) and I like to think I've gotten a good number of people to pick up a book. However, at Book Blogger Con this year, there was a panel about demystifying publisher/blogger relationships. I was following the hashtag out of curiosity and what I saw kind of made me angry.

Kelly over at Stacked Books (who is a very smart lady), was also following the tag. She summarized what the panel was about, according to tweets:

While this has always been a truth to me, it kind of frustrated me. The conversation went to the idea that publishers believe our numbers sell books. People with lots of followers = people who sell lots of books.

Pardon me while I call bullcrap. My numbers are not putting books into the hands of readers. In fact, I'd be willing to say half the people I get to pick up books don't follow this blog. Maybe they visit once in a while if something interests them, but you know what?

I have over 2,000 twitter followers compared to the almost 950 blog followers. All of those people clearly aren't following me on twitter because they like me as a blogger.

The thing about numbers is they just aren't a good measurement. If Lanna or I post something and it gets retweeted a lot on twitter, we're going to have a lot of page views for a day or two, which skews our weekly average. If we have a major giveaway, even if we don't require people to follow, we're going to gain followers. This isn't just our blog, this is true of every blog. I've seen some blogs that started around the same time we got serious and now they have thousands of followers because they host a lot of giveaways. When I see a post retweeted a lot, I'll check it out because clearly it's something worth reading. But what does ANY of that have to do with how many books I helped put in the hands of readers? Nothing.

So, clearly it's the cover reveals, the interviews the guest posts, right? Well...not as far as I can tell. Lanna and I don't do these often because they don't seem to get a lot of traffic. To us, we don't see it helping much. We're happy to help authors and publicists we like, happy to promote books we love, but we don't think these are the best ways to do it. Most bloggers I talk to feel the same way.

Then how are bloggers helping book sales?

Because we are readers. We aren't afraid to be excited, to be passionate, to threaten to push books down our friend's throats. When we love a book we want EVERYONE to read it in some way that is legal.

Why? Because we think the book is amazing. We think the book deserves attention. We want to help the author so we can read more books from that author. We want the publishers to know this is a genre to invest in because we want more like it. We want to shout our love of the book from the rooftops so we can discuss it with everyone we come across.

Have you noticed that The Hunger Games is now something you can discuss with almost anyone you meet? They may be someone who hated it, they may be someone who loved it. Maybe they refuse to read the books or see the movies in principle because God it's just everywhere and they're sick of it. What makes this discussion possible? Enthusiastic readers. Fans of the series who want the books and movies out there. Fans of the books helped there to be an increase in sales, which lead to interest in a movie. Do you see what kind of power we readers have? We play a part in these movies happening. These movies that break records may not happen if we weren't so enthusiastic, if we weren't pushing them at everyone possible. It's what we do.

Finding a book I fall head over heels for is kind of like finding nirvana for me. I just want to stay in that world, that cozy little bubble with characters I adore. And I want my friends, my followers, my readers to find that same kind of ecstasy I just found and I pray that they find it in this exact book.

"Nonsense, utter nonsense, Julie!" you may be saying. You may think I'm mad for saying that my excitement and passion will sell a book. Well, let me show you something.

I asked on twitter if anyone had every bought a book because I or another blogger or an author was excited about it. The response didn't shock me.

















Note that this was a pretty quick survey and I asked at 4:00 EST on a Monday.  Lots of people working, at BEA, at school, etc. Yet within about an hour, I had this many responses.

Personally, I buy books in part for myself, but largely because a blogger or author I trust loved that book. One of my favorite publisher's is EgmontUSA partially because the editor I talk to is always so excited about their titles, unlike some publicist's I work with who don't seem to care.

So then, how can we get the right books into the right blogger's hand so they can start spreading the excitement? I'll let Lisa Schroeder, an author, take this one:

I agree 100% with this idea. Authors know which bloggers are genuinely excited and which ones are in it for free stuff. Authors form personal relationships with bloggers, they form friendships. They know which bloggers have been anxiously waiting for months, maybe even years, to read a sequel or just the next book they put out. They know which bloggers are seriously passionate about helping that author's works get out into the world.

The funniest part about this is? A blogger's goal isn't about money. You could say our motivation is selfish, that we want more books like it, more books from that author, more people to talk to about it. But I say, we're just being readers and that's working the best for us. 

--Julie

Lanna:

Julie has already said a lot of what I wanted to say - we simultaneously ranted about this topic in two seperate posts and are now combining them, so I'll try not to be too repetetive.

What We Post/How We Promote Books:

As far as book blogging goes, we know what makes us want to pick up a book. We know what kind of things we like to see on book blogs to promote books and we know from comments and things readers of our blog have said what a lot of other people like to see too.

What we post on the blog is based on that: what works for us (and seeing as some people follow the blog, it seems to work for some of them too).

Julie showed me a tweet about Book Blogger Con that said this:

"A "mature" coverage of books is more than writing a review. Is also posting covers, QAs, promoting the book as much as poss. #BEAbloggercon"

Guest posts, Q&A's, blog tours, cover reveals, book trailers... none of these things have ever really made me read a book. When blogs I follow post one of these things, unless it's for a book I'm already interested in or an author I already adore, I tend to just ignore those posts now (sometimes I like to read those sorts of things after I've read and loved a book, but it never convinces me to actually buy or read a book).

What book bloggers can do* that makes me want to read a book is write honest reviews/opinions. They don't have to be the best written, the review doesn't even have to be positive, just honest and if it feels honest to me then a review can sometimes make me want to pick up the book just to see what is being talked about by the reviewer (whether it's good or bad).

Now, maybe those promotional things work for some people but they don't work on us and so we don't post much of that here. It's a personal preference. We post the things on the blog that we enjoy reading on other blogs (reviews, discussions, book hauls etc.) and stuff we don't like so much is kept to a minimum or off the blog completely (the guest posts, the Q&A's, the cover reveals).

If I love a book, then I will pimp it out to the max. If I don't like a book or think it's mediocre, then I review it and I tweet my review and pretty much leave it at that (unless it comes up in conversation or I know someone that may like it more than I did) because I'm not going to excessively promote something if I don't genuinely love it.

I've lost count of the amount of people that I've gotten to read books I love and, out of those people, some of them then went on to recommend them to other people and then some of those people recommended them to their friends and so on... and I continue to recommend books to people long after the book is released. I still get people to read books that I read and loved years ago.

It's a book recommendation domino effect and all it takes is one person reading one genuine review/recommendation to set it off. This is what works for us and it's how we like to promote books.

Basically:

I don't like being told how I should review a book or how we should run our blog or what we should or shouldn't post on it - because it is entirely subjective. We do what works for us, other people will do what works for them, something for everyone (and let's not forget that we do this out of a love of reading, it's not our job). You can't just shove book bloggers and readers of book blogs into a catagory and say that posting X, Y and Z will sell books because it doesn't work like that.

Stats:

Another thing mentioned was blog stats. 

And yeah, I do understand the logic behind a publisher preferring to give review books out to blogs that get more traffic or have more followers but at the same time... that isn't always the best way to judge a blog.

It doesn't bother me that stats matter, but what's on the blog should matter too. If you take a look at two blogs:

  • One has a thousand followers and one has one hundred.
  • The hundred follower one posts mostly reviews. The other posts mostly memes/blog hops and contests (maybe with follow/promote for extra entries on those contests)

Out of those two blogs, which one would you rather have promoting a book for you?

I'd choose the one with the less impressive stats because the content of that blog and the motives of the people following the blog are more suited to genuinely promoting a book.

If a blog posts mostly contests (with extra entries or promotion of the blog as an entry requirement) or blog hops (which are basically just like the book blog version of those old skool "Myspace whore trains" where people follow4follow) then you know their followers mostly follow for contests or to get their own follower count up. But if a blog mostly just posts reviews then you know their followers are probably reading that blog to read those reviews and are probably looking to this person as a source of book recommendations.

Questions:

1. Do you like blogs with lots of guest posts and cover reveals and that sort of promotional thing? 
2. What do you like to see on a book blog? 
3. What convinces you more to read a book, reviews or guest blogs/blog tours/cover reveals?
4. Stats: do you think they're the most important thing or should blog content also be a factor?
5. Anything else you want to add?

Later.


Just a little extra note: all of the publicists I've been in contact with in the years we've been blogging are lovely, seriously and this post is in no way aimed at them (they've never tried to dictate how I review books for them or how I promote books or forced me to post anything I didn't want to post - seriously, they're awesome), it's purely a response to some of the stuff being said on twitter/at Book Blogger Con. (Same goes for Julie.)

*I say "what a book blogger can do" because a lot of the time, the summary is enough to hook me but if I'm on the fence about a book or never really considered reading it, a review is what can be the deciding factor for me.

7 comments:

  1. I totally agree. I was very put off by this year's (and my first) Blogger Con. I hate hearing that my blog is only the sum of its stats. I hate being told what I NEED to post in order to be successful. The whole thing was just very awkward, and on the whole, unhelpful.

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  2. I find this to be so disheartening. In the beginning I tried hosting frequent giveaways, posting blog hops, anything to gain followers. But like most bloggers, I realized quantity IS NOT better than quality. Who cares about thousands of followers if they're all breezing through looking for free crap? It's definitely not why I started blogging. I did it because I wanted to talk about books. And whether it's to one person or a million, talking about books is what we ultimately care about - it's what we should care about. When I hear about publishers/publicists/authors saying negative things about bloggers, I'm usually able to brush it off. Blogging without ARCs or other freebies from publishers really wouldn't be the end of the world. They'll all be finished copies one day waiting for us to support our libraries and local bookstores, and there are enough backlist titles to last hundreds of lifetimes of reading.

    Also, to answer a few of your questions, I don't pay attention to interviews unless I've read the book and want a behind-the-scenes look. I've hosted interviews, but only because I really support that particular author (they never get me many pageviews anyway). I like thoughtful reviews that have a personal touch. They don't have to be overly critical, but when they're repetitive or only contain synonyms for "awesome," or are clearly pushing the book for the sake of pushing the book... it will lead me to quickly unfollow. I appreciate honesty the most.

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  3. Sometimes guest posts can be interesting. But only if it's a topic that appeals to me. But cover reveals and other promotional things usually bore me. Especially since 30 other blogs in my feed reader are posting the exact same cover reveal and promotional things. I look at one, and then I don't bother with the other 29. Sounds like that kind of promotion is not affective if I'm overlooking all of it.

    Real and honest opinions are the types of things that draw me to a book blog. I love well thought out book reviews and discussion posts. Those are the types of things that keep me coming back! These are the things that encourage me to leave comments and support. And it's the reviews that convince me to buy and read a book. Not cover reveals. What do those say about books anyway? Not TBR pile posts or In My Mailbox posts.

    I understand why stats play a roll. Publishing companies was to make sure their product gets out to as many people as possible without dishing out too many promotional items like swag or ARCs. But, I think these companies are fooling themselves if they think followers are a good number to go from. Giveaways are a great way to bribe people to subscribe to their blog. A blog can get a couple hundred followers from one good giveaway. But, how many of those new followers will return? So, I'd have to say both content and how viewers interact with that content should be taken into consideration. Are their comments coming in? Are the posts generating discussions?

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    Replies
    1. Oh, I agree that guest posts can be interesting if the topic is good, there've definitely been some I've liked in the past (same with author interviews) but a guest post has never convinced me to buy someones book (more often than not, guest posts only catch my interest if I've already read the authors book and want to hear more from them).

      I enjoy reading TBR/IMM posts, because they put books on my radar that maybe weren't there before. Same with wishlist posts, upcoming releases and posts like that - but with those, the summary has to hook me (just like browsing a book store or something) and if it doesn't, then it's reviews that convince me whether to read or not read a book.

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  4. I practically snorted my coffee out at this: which are basically just like the book blog version of those old skool "Myspace whore trains" where people follow4follow.

    Also I have had my tab of this post open for days and am sorry about the two week late comment, but this is some great food for thought.

    1. Do you like blogs with lots of guest posts and cover reveals and that sort of promotional thing?
    I like guest posts, but I always skip past cover reveals in google reader. But I like doing cover reveals myself, but those are rare.

    2. What do you like to see on a book blog?

    Lists, REVIEWS, discussions, IMM.

    3. What convinces you more to read a book, reviews or guest blogs/blog tours/cover reveals?

    Depends. I have been convinced because of reasonings on Top Ten Tuesdays. And I have been convinced over well thought out guest posts, like when they do playlists. And obviously reviews.

    4. Stats: do you think they're the most important thing or should blog content also be a factor?

    As someone with great stats (I usually average over 1000 page views per day) who has never ever participated in a giveaway hop and hasn't done one of those blog hop things in over a year, I do think stats are important and you can have great stats and great content and I am not really sure I care for the idea that if you stats are great you must be a contest follow4follow blog. But, I think that overall as a reader, I tend to check out the blogs who are posting reviews, who are enthusiastic and who are not a part of the publicity machine. I actually think I read more "smaller" and "low stat" blogs than I do big blogs. None of the blogs I read do giveaway hops, so I guess that means something too.

    5. Anything else you want to add?

    Um, sorry for the super late, long winded comment?

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    Replies
    1. "I am not really sure I care for the idea that if you stats are great you must be a contest follow4follow blog."

      I should've made that part more clear, I didn't mean that popular blogs must have gotten that way using blog hops or giveaways - there's a bunch of blogs with good stats that I follow (yours being one of them) and they got their readers by posting good content and not taking short cuts.

      I guess I should've said it more like this:

      A blog with good stats but bad content vs. a blog with lower stats but good content = in that situation, I'd say that the stats and followers are less important and the blog with the good content is the one I'd choose to promote a book.

      But, if it's two blogs with equally good content, one with good stats, the other with less impressive stats... in that situation, I'd choose the one with the better stats.

      Basically: stats should be a factor, just not the only factor and it's easy to tell by looking at a blog whether they've gained their readers through giveaways and blog hops or not.

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