The Art of Being Broken has now been available to the public for two weeks! (get your copy here). It was a ton of work getting to the point of releasing it, with a variety of promotional avenues used. I spent a lot of time on other people’s blogs—authors, publishers, editors, etc.—reading tips and tricks and advice. A lot of it was helpful. I thought I’d share my experiences following that advice so that my journey can be helpful to someone else. The following is the good, the bad, and the ugly from five marketing streams I used.
The Art of Being Broken’s Facebook page went up several months before launch. On it, I shared a number of quote pics, progress updates, early reviews, and general thoughts about the book. I had almost 140 “Likes” on the page leading up to launch, about half of them personal contacts and half people I don’t know. I also distributed early e-copies to interested pastors in a group I belong to, and got some good feedback.
The Good: I had some enthusiastic supporters that shared a lot of things (as well as the page itself). The reach on the quote pics ranged between 250 and 900 people depending on how it was shared. Adding popular hashtags helped a bit.
The Bad: After initial enthusiasm wore off, there wasn’t as much interaction on the page. Despite the number of likes and shares, not a lot of people engaged in the comments.
The Ugly: When I tried “boosted posts” from Facebook, I’d invariably get shut down for having too much text in the image. Facebook’s policies made using it for advertising very difficult.
Thunderclap is a platform that links with people’s social media accounts to release a timed message. In this case, it was a launch announcement for the book. I’d heard good and bad things about Thunderclap, the bulk of the bad being that it could be really hard to meet their release goals (you need at least 100 people to sign up to use the free service, otherwise they want money). I managed to run a successful campaign, but it was very difficult. Most of it came down to personal requests… leaving public posts on Facebook or requests on TAOBB page got very little action. In order to get 100 supporters, I used my author mailing list from Noisetrade (400 people, more on Noisetrade later), my personal email list (600 people), and my personal facebook friend list (250 people), sending direct messages to everyone. Then I did it again with anyone who I thought a “likely supporter”. Then, as time counted down, I begged my most faithful supporters to beg their friends. With 30 days of daily effort, I got 103 supporters. (Link to campaign)
The Good: The Thunderclap came together with a theoretical social reach of over 182,000 people. That means that if everyone who Twitter follows or Facebook friends my supporters sees the message that means that the announcement goes in front of A LOT of people. The push for the Thunderclap announcement also gave me something to do for the month leading up to launch that felt useful and momentum building.
The Bad: No one knows what Thunderclap is. It was hard work to convince people it was safe and get them to follow the instructions to sign up. Also, the reach is theoretical. I don’t know how many people actually saw it, but of my 250ish Facebook friends, I only actively follow about 25. I assume that most other people are the same. To add on to that, a number of people who signed up for it had the Thunderclap fizzle… it was a dud… it never went off. They checked their pages, and the announcement just never appeared. It seems to be an issue with Thunderclap.
The Ugly: Despite it’s theoretical reach of over 182,000, the campaign generated somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 click-throughs to the sale page, 4 clicks-through to Amazon, and no sales. It was much ado about nothing.
I set up The Art of Being Broken with a page on Goodreads—a large social site for people to discover and review books. For pre-launch marketing purposes, I signed up for a Christian Authors review exchange (no quid-pro-quo, but a group of people exchanging books to review without directly reviewing someone reviewing your own. That’s a long way of saying there was no conflict of interest), and a “Goodreads giveaway,” wherein an author offers a number of pre-release print copies in the hopes that the winners will review the book an tell their friends. I listed 6 books, and Goodreads put up the giveaway. There were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 700 entries.
The Good: The review group generated some very positive reviews, although conflicting theology tempered one of them.
The Bad: None of the giveaway books produced reviews, despite Goodreads estimate that over 60% of the time they do. I spent about $60 printing and mailing the books.
The Ugly: On the day the book was launched, one of the books from the giveaway showed up on Amazon, undercutting my price. This was the first print copy “sold.” Since then, ALL of the giveaway copies I sent out have appeared in Amazon stores listed in “new” condition. It appears that it’s a cottage industry to enter ALL the giveaways, even ones you’re not remotely interested in, in the hopes of taking advantage of the authors/publishers and making some free money. I can’t stress enough how broken the Goodreads giveaway system is and would encourage authors to avoid it completely.
I’ve got a friend who runs a Christian radio station. He hooked me up with an interview and a list of names to contact at other stations, which produced another. I also did an interview for a podcast with a pastor I met online. I had a good time for all of them, and learned a bit about how to present myself and the book.
The Good: It was great “multimedia” to post, and I felt like it gave some legitimacy to the book for people that might have otherwise written it off as a flight of fancy. It obviously must have reached a fair number of people, as well.
The Bad: I had trouble coordinating the air times of the interviews, and two of them aired before launch. We thought it might help build momentum, but I think that it just meant that any impulse buys that could have come out of it were stymied.
The Ugly: Man, I can be longwinded. I needed better, more concise answers to punch up the interviews. Beyond that, I haven’t heard anything from anyone about them.
Noisetrade is another avenue that many people haven’t heard of. It started as a music-for-tips service, where people could download for the cost of their email address, with an optional “tip” of either a social media share or paypal donation to the artist. It’s since developed an ebook side, with full or excerpted copies available. I had already had a PDF of Worshipping Through John available there for quite a while, and released the first 3 chapters of TAOBB for free there, in the hopes of generating some interest.
The Good: TAOBB was tapped as “New and Notable,” and got a large number (200ish) of downloads through that. Between that and WTJ, I wound up with a mailing list of about 400 people to bug about the Thunderclap and the book launch. I received one enthusiastic email back from a reader, which was cool.
The Bad: The mailing list got an “open rate” of about 40%, which means that most people didn’t even open the emails I sent them. Beyond that, the click-through rate was pretty low. I’m not convinced that I actually saw any sales through this, although there might have been one.
The Ugly: Being featured as “New and Notable” isn’t free. Although it’s only available to works of a certain quality, by invitation, it still cost me $80. Overall, it was probably worth a try, but when you’re out of work and strapped for cash, $80 can be a sizable investment.
Reaching out to “influencers,” (bigger names who’s opinions would carry weight with my target demo) was a bust. Most were simply non-responsive, and the ones that accepted a copy for endorsement became unavailable after a few weeks of back and forth.
The upshot of all this, is that despite fantastic early reviews and enthusiastic responses from just about everyone who’s read it, my first two week’s online sales, in both print and ebook, amount to about 4 copies. As of yet, the only “real” success has come from personal marketing—friends, family, and church members who either attended the launch party or have since picked up physical copies from tables at a couple of churches. A part of me is afraid that, despite rave reviews, this will be one of the “typical,” “average,” self-published books that sells between 100 and 200 copies in its lifespan. I think I can be okay with that… my prayer in this all is that God will use the book as he wants. And as much as I want him to want me to be a best-selling author, what he wants to do with it is more important.
One cool thing to come out of this process is being tapped to do copy-editing and formatting for a self-published memoir from a friend’s father, detailing his service in the Pacific fleet of the US Navy in WW2 and how he dealt with post-war life. It’s really good, and I had fun with the project. It’s coming out in a couple of weeks, and if you’re at all interested in the period or genre, it’s worth checking out. Maybe I’ll find that what I’ve learned through this all will let me help some other people get their vision to print. That could be cool.
Also, buy my book.
Publishing The Art of Being Broken (coming June 15th, 2015) has been a very different experience than publishing Worshipping Through John. It’s not even out yet and I’m seeing a huge difference. One of the biggest is in my level of attachment to it. WTJ is a devotional book. It’s relatively short, very linear, and wrapped around the simple and specific application of scripture. TAOBB took so much more out of me. It’s my experiences, my (hopefully inspired) thoughts, my prose. It’s felt intimidating to start putting out advance copies to reviewers that don’t have any stock in making me feel good about myself and wait for their unbiased reviews.
Each time that one comes in, posted to Goodreads or Amazon or a blog, I’m unhealthily fixated on the resulting opinion. It can be hard to separate criticism of the book from criticism of myself. It’s not that they’ve been bad. In fact, the worst review to come in is 3 stars out of 5. I still took that hard, but I’m also very aware that I’m finding myself looking at the 5 star reviews for personal affirmation, and that’s not healthy either. I think that a piece of it is that I feel like these reviews are saying whether the past year that I’ve put into this book has been worth it or a waste of time. Even though I say (and believe) that the early readers and editors that have benefited from it make it worth it on their own, and the way I’ve grown through the whole process has been worth it on it’s own, there’s still a piece of me that is looking for outside validation.
So there’s that.
Really, though, this has been a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that reviews are starting to come in. Hopefully as the book launches in mid-June, there will be a solid body of positive reviews and people will buy it and read it and grow closer to God and embrace their brokenness and give me money because of them. So far, it seems that if the reviewers are right, that could well happen.
One thing that’s been made clear already is that some people aren’t going to “get it,” and I need to be okay with that. One review called it “rambling” and questioned my application of scripture. Another, more positive, one said that they had a bit of trouble understanding it because it lacks thesis statements and conclusions to each chapter with application points. Both of those things might be true, depending on your perspective. The Art of Being Broken is intentionally written conversationally and anecdotally, partly because I’m a person that doesn’t really like being told what to do, but if you walk me to it, I can appreciate truth and I think other people are often like that, too. It’s not that it doesn’t have purpose or flow, but that it’s slightly non-linear and doesn’t have point by point application. Every person that reads it is going to pull something a little bit different, and hopefully non-heretical, out of it. They already have. I love to hear about that.
Pastor Floyd Johnson posted a review on his book review blog today that I wanted to share, both because he put an exceptional amount of thought into the review and because it makes the book sound exceptionally good. He says things like:
Even as I read, I found myself recommending the book as I borrowed illustrations included therein.
The book should be required collateral reading for the college or seminary course in pastoral counseling.
the book offers valuable insight into the broken souls we all bring to the cross.
So I wanted to give a link to it and say a public “thank you” for the work he put into the review. I appreciated what he shared of himself, and it gave me some good things to consider as I move toward the launch.
I haven’t posted in a long time. I’m between jobs, but actively working on The Art of Being Broken (finally). I thought I’d post a chunk of the chapter I’m currently working on :).
I read an interesting article a while ago about the daughter of a surgeon in the early 1900s. She was a high school student and a budding entrepreneur. When I was in high school, I tried to have several businesses with my friends. They failed spectacularly, because we were in high school and didn’t understand about having things like business plans and marketing and things people would actually want to buy. This girl didn’t really either, but it didn’t stop her from trying.
The reason that it’s relevant that she was the daughter of a surgeon is that the thing she was trying to sell was a special chemical that her father used to keep his hands from sweating during surgery. The chemical had to be suspended in a red acid, so it could irritate sensitive skin, and could stain or even eat through clothes, but it would stop sweat for three days. I suppose if someone is cutting into someone else with a knife, then not having sweaty hands would be a fair trade off.
This girl, for whatever reason, decided to try sticking some on her arm pits and found that it worked just as well there. She found that she could reduce the irritation by shaving her arm-pits, and it stopped her from smelling in a way that she didn’t want to smell, because she was a little princess and odor was so peasanty or something. All the other girls had to do things like bathe and wear perfume, and now she was better. She figured she could make money making other girls want to be like her. The problem was that no one cared.
Other deodorants and antiperspirants had been around for a little while, but they were greasy and uncomfortable, and no one thought they needed them. Everyone smelled like that. That was the way bodies worked. They thought that blocking perspiration was probably wildly unhealthy too, and no one wanted to take the risk of stopping a natural bodily function. For men, it was even a particular badge of honour, announcing that they were manly men who did manly man work and had sweat-trophies to prove it. A few women bought her product, but not enough to make it worthwhile to sell. Poor girl. It looked like her teenage money making dreams were crushed.
Along came an advertising agency with a bible-salesman turned copywriter assigned to the case. He was brilliant. He started with the idea that people probably didn’t want to stink but were afraid to stop sweating for health reasons. His solution was to brand the product as something created by a doctor to stop the embarrassing medical problem of “excessive perspiration,” which was true in the way that a drunk driver might honestly announce that he’s only had two beers, without mentioning that it was after downing a bottle of whiskey. If a doctor said that sweating too much was a problem, and he’d gone to all the trouble of inventing a cure, then maybe it really was something that women needed!
With the new problem well developed, it was being sold internationally within a year. Of course, because there’s no such thing as enough money, he did a survey to find out why everyone wasn’t using it. It turned out that everyone knew about it, but only about a third of the women surveyed used it. The reason the rest didn’t? Sure, it wasn’t unhealthy any more, but they still didn’t think they needed it. They didn’t perspire excessively. It wasn’t just a matter of telling people there was a remedy for their underarm odor, he had the monumental task of convincing two-thirds of the people on the planet that what their bodies did naturally was a serious embarrassment.
He did it. He ran one of the greatest ad campaigns in the history of the world. It was so good that Satan called him up for lessons. He put out an ad telling women that they probably stunk and no one would tell them and that was the reason they couldn’t get or keep a man and even if they did have a man, their man probably didn’t like it and might leave them for a woman that didn’t stink. Playing on the insecurities of women and shaming them about their bodies was such an effective strategy that sales doubled and tripled and within a few years they were making millions. Women were shaving their armpits and rubbing them with acid and were grateful for it.
A hundred years and a bunch of marketing later, we are all thoroughly convinced that the hair in women’s armpits is disgusting, and that body odor is foul and offensive and needs to be hidden beneath layers of chemicals so that we can be around other people without making them sick.
It was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, and now it’s so ingrained in our popular imagination that it’s difficult to even begin to conceive of our world without it. The thing that scares me is that it’s not all that uncommon. I remember loving the song Misery by Soul Asylum when I was a teenager. It was the 90’s and it was very cool to be jaded. I was, as you might recall, very interested in being cool, so I listened to alt-rock by people in ripped jeans and lumberjack shirts and rocked out to their jaded lyrics.
In Misery, David Pirner sang the lines, “we could build a factory and make misery/we’ll create a cure; we made the disease,” and a generation of kids went, “yeah,” and grew up to be conspiracy theorists who believe that Big Pharma invents viruses so that they can make money selling the cures (I’m not convinced they’re wrong). At a slightly less sinister level, people in the know look at marketing as not so much about finding people with a need for a product and getting it to them as amplifying or creating a feeling of need for a product that didn’t exist before the product needed to be sold.
We buy security. We buy comfort. We buy convenience. We buy the trappings of lives we aspire to because we’re told we should. We do this because it’s become human nature.
The first sin was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist before the snake sold it. The first mask, the first shell, the first hiding of who we are and what we’ve done, was a solution to a problem that they made up. God had made them. God had loved them into being in his own image. They had walked with God just as naked as they were after eating the fruit, but now they needed to cover up the bodies that God had given them. Now they had shame. Who they were was embarrassing. God couldn’t see them like this. But God knew them. They weren’t really hiding anything. “Who told you that you were naked?” was God’s question. “What made you think that who you are needed to be hidden from me?” He was hurt, but he didn’t love them any less.
That wasn’t how he had left them, but he didn’t walk out of the garden saying “You screwed up. Now I see who you REALLY are. I’m done with you.” He started picking things up again.