After making love, how about a nice cup of tea?


It is now two days since the end of the free giveaway of Love, Death and Tea. Has it been a success?

It depends on your definition of success, but I am happy with it. Here are the hard numbers:

  • We spent $164 and seven euros on paid advertising
  • We gave away 3,988 free copies
  • Plus at least four Kindle Unlimited downloads.
  • We have sold seven books at normal price
  • We have had one new review so far
  • More than 20 people on Goodreads have added it to the “to read” list, bringing the total to 90
  • 4 people on GR are currently reading it

We do need to exercise a little caution with these numbers. Many of those 3,988 copies will never be read. Some people do collect freebies and then not touch them. Ditto with the Goodreads “to read” and “currently reading” lists.

Over the next few days, hopefully we should see an increase in reviews and other book sales. It will not be a sudden Harry Potter overnight success sort of deal. We are building.

Then another splurge of publicity for the new book on 24 October. Slowly, steadily, building a readership and getting my name known.

It is what the marketing geeks call a sales funnel, where a lot of marketing contacts filters down to a smaller number of sales. For my book, the numbers look a little like this:

I bought advertising which potentially put my book in front of about 100,000 readers through various websites, emails and newsletters.

Not all of those 100,000 will be potential customers. Some will be fellow authors who only join a website to promote their own books. Not all of the 100,000 will have read the email or looked at the website on that day. So let’s guess and say that half of them saw the link for my book. That reduces the number down to 50,000.

Those 50,000 will look at the author’s name, cover, title and blurb. And the majority will decide in an instant that it is not for them. It’s an author they have never heard of, a genre they don’t like, the title doesn’t appeal. Looking at the other books around mine, many seem to feature gentlemen with chiselled abs who don’t know how to button their shirts. And for some reason, most of these gentlemen are so annoyed with you that they want to put you over their knee to administer a good spanking.

calvin klein

Red! Red! Red!

Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes, of the guesstimate 50,000 who saw the book, I know that 3,988 clicked on the “yes please” button. Which sounds like a euphemism but isn’t really.

Let’s round this up to 4,000 to make the maths easier.

A goodly proportion of these 4,000 will never read the book. Some will read a few pages and decide it is not for them. The number will dwindle down to, oh I don’t know, a few hundred perhaps who will read the whole thing.

And what do they do when they get to the end of the book? Some will shrug, say “meh” and move on to the next book on their freebie list. Maybe one featuring chiselled abs and rosy cheeks. But a small number will not be crying “red, red, red” after reaching the end of Love, Death and Tea.

They will want to know what happens to these characters next. When is the sequel coming out?

  • They will want to read some more from this Will Once chap. Has he written anything else?
  • They might be tempted to write a glowing review.
  • Tell all their friends about it.

And that’s the point of advertising. We contact a large number of people. Most ignore us, but that doesn’t matter. We don’t want the ones who had difficulty sitting down. We want the ones who are interested in a Pratchett-esque comedy.

Then through a series of processes we reduce that big number of contacts down to a small, but perfectly formed, number of sales. Our initial 100,000 might give us 100 or more satisfied readers.

Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

In marketing speak, it looks a little like this:


But here’s the bad news. Advertising alone does not guarantee success. The marketing dollars buy you the big number of contacts at the start of the process. But then you need a good cover, blurb and title to draw people in. Then you need a well written book to give them a good experience. Only then will we get the results at the bottom of the funnel – the satisfied customers who will buy more from you. In other words:

Market hard and wisely to get the book in front of as many potential readers as possible.

A good blurb, cover and title to convert the initial contacts into downloads.

A good book to convert the downloads into fans who want to buy something.

I managed to convert 100,000 contacts to 4,000 downloads and I don’t yet know how many sales and reviews. Other authors may get a better or worse return, depending on whether your cover, blurb, title, book is more or less appealing than mine.

There is one other thing we haven’t talked about, and that is the value of the author’s reputation. A new book from JK Rowling or Stephen King will get sales even if the cover and blurb aren’t all that good. Whisper it quietly, they will get bucketloads of sales even if the book isn’t all that good.

That’s the hidden point of advertising. It isn’t just the immediate conversion of contacts into sales. It is the slow and gradual process of getting your name known. We will almost certainly not achieve that through one marketing campaign (unless we are very very lucky). It will take several. Most overnight successes have spent years working hard to get their big breakthrough.

Marketing can feel like this:

stone up a hill

We are busting a gut to squeeze out a handful of sales. It hardly seems worth the effort, especially as we have to push lots of rocks up lots of mountains.

But what we are hoping for – something I am a long way from – is to achieve the opposite. We push a snowball down a hill and it gathers in size until it become an avalanche.


That is when our satisfied readers recommend the book to their friends. They read everything you write. They sign up for newsletters, start fan clubs, evangelise on the author’s behalf. That’s when marketing becomes a lot easier.

But before you can push a rock down a mountain to start an avalanche, you first need to get it to the top. We need to put in the hard miles. Vertically.

One last sobering thought. There are supposedly 700,000 books published every year. Most will disappear into obscurity because no-one will know that they exist. They may be perfectly brilliant little books, but that does not mean anything if we don’t find out about them.

Marketing pushes a book to more people, which in turn means more sales. That doesn’t necessarily mean that marketing will make a success out of a bad book – you still need the title, cover, blurb, contents.

But if everyone starts to use paid advertising in this way, a few unwelcome things will happen. First, the overall quality of the marketed books will fall. Then readers will start to ignore the marketing. And finally we will get to the point where authors have to market even more vigorously to get noticed.

I think we are in the middle of self-publishing’s second gold rush. The first gold rush was when people started to take self-publishing seriously. Authors found they could make money from a growing industry, sometimes from books that – let’s be honest here – were not always all that well written.

Now I think we are in the second gold rush where authors are starting to learn the value of marketing. That is leading to an increase in the number of marketing websites. The authors who can use these tools will do well, at least until everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

But it will not last forever and it will get tougher.


2 thoughts on “After making love, how about a nice cup of tea?

  1. I think you’re right about the second gold-rush. Given the speed with which the first one ‘happened’ I’d give it two years at the most before the marketing website phenomena is ‘burned out’.
    I can well imagine that it might even get to the stage where people shun various parts of the internet because all you get are authors screaming ‘buy my book’ with differing levels of professionalism


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