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As a followup to yesterday’s post about our bias toward survivors, skill, luck, and the creating of luck, I wanted to make one little note here about how wrong I’ve been on one aspect of book marketing.

It’s often said that publicists and marketers will do all sorts of things to get the word out about a particular book, but they know that 90% of it will be wasted effort–they just don’t know which will be in the 90%, so they do it all.

For me and a lot of other people, I suspect, this sounds like a poorly-researched, poorly-planned activity. How can you not know what works and what doesn’t? Why not just find out what’s effective? Do polling/market research/whatever to answer questions like: Do book reviews in Locus sell copies? Do convention appearances? Do radio interviews?

Obviously, this wouldn’t be easy but it sounds doable. What’s more, there’s money on the line and if there’s one thing that begs for careful research into the acquiring of it, it’s money.

But that’s because I hadn’t really thought about it correctly. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, people who are lucky tend to put themselves into new situations often. They’re flexible. They don’t try to control situations. They try new things.

Yesterday, while I was mulling over the prospect that it was my own damn choices that made the Twenty Palaces books so unlucky, it dawned on me that the whole point of “90% is wasted effort” is that it’s luck-seeking behavior. It’s putting information out into the world hoping that it starts catching people’s attention in a big way. People will say things like “I took out an ad on Reddit Fantasy” or “I did a guest post for [Name Author]” or “I got a nice review on [Non-Book Site]” but that’s a kind of suvivorship bias, too. The book was marketed and publicized in a lot of ways, but those were the times that luck hit.

Maybe that’s obvious to everyone in the world but me, but this is my blog, so…

Here I’ve been thinking that most marketing is Not Useful. Maybe I should rethink.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here but not there.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 29th, 2013 03:29 pm (UTC)
"Luck-seeking behavior" - Nice way of putting it.

I've come to think of it as "Keep rolling the damned dice."
May. 29th, 2013 09:11 pm (UTC)
The weird thing is that luck-seeking behavior doesn't feel like rolling dice. It's just a way of living.
May. 29th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
Marketing is the bastard mirror image of selling. Selling is typically done one to one, where marketing done well can be one to many. I'd argue it's not quite 90% of the effort is wasted, but probably at least 50% is and the holy grail of all marketing activities is to figure out what isn't.

That said, there are some great examples in the book world of people who do marketing for themselves well. John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross immediately spring to mind as people who get about a lot and get asked to comment on things or have Nobel Prize Winning Economists recommend their books.

The problem is it's still a dark art, and in some respects it follows the same rules as writing. Do the self promotion, keep doing it, don't stop doing.

So yes, while it requires luck, and quite a lot of it, it is a case that you can't get lucky if you don't do it at all.
May. 29th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
Those guys are successful because a) they can write and b) they're out in the world trying new and weird things, whether that's write a book that's heavily into economics or just giving a book away with a donation link on the page. The trick is simply that they're putting themselves into new and interesting situations.

I think.
May. 29th, 2013 05:03 pm (UTC)
Aw man, that makes a lot of sense, but I am not a person who likes 'new things'. This:

"people who are lucky tend to put themselves into new situations often. They’re flexible. They don’t try to control situations. They try new things."

is not me, I'm DOOMED!
May. 29th, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
It's not me, either, but I'm ready to change if I have to. If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to say YES to more things.
May. 29th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC)
This is also why publishers traditionally (before they were taken over by bean-counters) would have lots of books in the hopper that didn't look like all the other books (either in their own house or on the current bestseller lists). The real money is made with the unexpected hit. But you have to have ten or twenty books that lose money in order to find the one that you didn't know would suddenly take off.

This is what self-publishing is now doing. The percentage of winners is even smaller than with a professional publisher because there's NO vetting of any kind happening (that is, anyone can self-publish, now matter how awful their book is).

What will remain interesting is if the publishers figure out that they need to bring things to the game that self-publishers cannot. Marketing dollars are probably top of that list. But how do they justify spending equal amounts of marketing support on everything? And if you're an author who won't get the marketing support from your publisher, then why not just DIY? You'd have to do all the same marketing stuff regardless.
May. 29th, 2013 09:34 pm (UTC)
Especially since you can spend $45 on CreateSpace and get your books into the same distributor database as the majors.
May. 29th, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
There was an Italian economist whose name I've forgotten who came up with the 80/20 rule. It states "80% of your sales come from 20% of your efforts" The problem is that you've got to try lots of things first to see what the 20% that works actually is...
May. 29th, 2013 06:56 pm (UTC)
But the real problem is that the 20% that works on project A is different from the 20% that will work for project B, and so on. And even if you later do project A' (a project identical in all ways to A), the larger situation may have changed sufficiently that the successful efforts from A no longer apply and will not be successful.
May. 29th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
That's true: unfortunately you have to keep searching for the 20% for each product or you end up with Twinkie the Kid riding off into the sunset. Know who's good at that? The Bronner family. (I suspect that's why they let the food line stay dead.)
May. 29th, 2013 11:44 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine in Australia is still pissed about one of the Bronner food products he can't get any longer.
May. 29th, 2013 09:38 pm (UTC)
The way I heard that was "80% of your sales comes from 20% of you customers" which was a call to get rid of customers who didn't bring in much revenue but took up a lot of company resources.
May. 29th, 2013 09:50 pm (UTC)
I hate using straight Wikipedia (for sources it is a good starting place, but otherwise...), but here's a quick overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle. It looks like that version is one of several applied to business.
May. 30th, 2013 02:45 am (UTC)
Cool. Thanks!
(Deleted comment)
May. 29th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it can't be an easy task. I've seen some general information on what makes a reader pick up a book, and the answers aren't pretty for new/unproven authors.
(Deleted comment)
May. 30th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC)
Judging by my own (lack of) success, I really do think the best way to move books by a new author is: Co-op, a great cover, a great title. You've already got the latter two, so there's not much else to do but make it convenient for luck to find you, and keep writing.

I think you'll do great.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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  • 14 Jan 2019, 21:47
    Oh, yeah, excellent point.
  • 14 Jan 2019, 21:46
    Oh yeah. Like the lawyers who get obvious really venal criminals off because it makes their success rate look good. But those are not the ones I am referring to in meaning well. These guys are mixed…
  • 14 Jan 2019, 20:37
    This reminds me of the time my wife was injured and the insurance guy handling her case did everything possible to deny and stall the payment. We had to put her surgery on a credit card because this…
  • 14 Jan 2019, 19:24
    The creepiest part is that some of them are actually well meaning.
  • 14 Jan 2019, 19:08
    Yeah. It's godawful what people will do when they have authority and no fear about using it.
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