I’ve got to hand it to Marketing. They’re smart. Even if they screw up sometimes.
A few weeks back, they suggested a new campaign for the novel, all based on price. People will buy anything if you price it cheap enough, they told me, passing across the latest best-selling fiction figures. I scanned the list – John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Heather Killough Walden – each of them notching up thousands of $0.99 Kindle sales a week.
That could be you, Alain. Look, readers don’t even like the books much.
They had a point:
‘messy and predictable’
‘I would recommend this book for some mindless poolside reading’
‘a book that contains less than two dozen truly dirty words’
‘Too bad you can’t pick zero stars for the rating.’
If they’re selling thousands, you could be selling millions. All you need to do is come up with the right pitch.
And that’s how my Potato Campaign was born. “Buy my book because it costs less than a large potato.”
But my advisers were wrong. I didn’t sell millions. Or thousands. Or hundreds. Not even tens. It was time for a re-think. So last night, I called a team meeting. Marketing, Editing, the Publisher – they were all there. It wasn’t going to be easy. Marketing was already looking defensive.
- Guys, the Potato Campaign isn’t working.
- Says who?
- Says me. Here, look at the figures.
The Publisher took off his glasses, polished them carefully, put them back on, and read again. Editing sat low on their chairs, wishing they weren’t there. But Marketing came right back at me, bristling. They weren’t going to take this sort of thing from an author.
- It wasn’t exactly a campaign, was it?
- What do you mean? I did a blog post, didn’t I? “Why I won’t be selling my novel for $495“.
- I don’t hear you saying potato.
- Not in the title, no. But I certainly mentioned potato in the post.
- How many times do we have to tell you? It’s all about keywords. People don’t read posts. They read headlines. You gotta have your keywords in the headline.
- But people don’t care about potatoes.
- They might not care about them, but they eat them, right? Millions of potatoes a day. A potato doesn’t need love. It just needs to be affordable. It needs to be nutritious. And it needs to be there, right there in front of you, every time you step into the food-mart. So where was the potato in your food-mart, Alain?
- I’m sorry?
- How many times did you even mention potato in your blog?
- What, after the first time?
- After the first time.
- I didn’t.
- Well there you are. How do you expect us to help you?
He snapped a pencil in two between his fingers and slammed the pieces onto the desk. No-one breathed. But he wasn’t finished with me yet.
- The problem with you, Alain, is that you give us nothing to work with. We need something that people care about, something they think is important.
- What, like a potato, you mean?
- Forget the friggin’ potato. Like I said, that was just a pitch. No, what we need is less of that Look-at me-I’m-an-author-This-is-literary-fiction bullshit. We need believable characters – American preferably – a detective, a hero, a love interest. And maybe you should think about a rewrite for the YA market.
Someone in Editing was trying to catch my eye. There was an almost imperceptible shake of the head. So at least I had their support. I rallied.
- There is a love interest.
- And how does that turn out?
He didn’t even bother to reply. But then a thought came to me.
- Listen, I’ve been reading …
- Oh you’ve been reading again, have you? Sweet.
- Yes. Seth Godin.
With those two magical words, the initiative swung back to me. Show me a marketer in the world who can resist Seth Godin. They snapped to attention, leaned forward across the table, waiting.
- Seth said …
- Seth said: ‘It’s probably true that a low price increases the negative feedback. That’s because a low price exposes the work to individuals that might not be raving fans.’
- ‘Price is often a signalling mechanism, and perhaps nowhere more than in the area of content.’
We paused to absorb the impact of the words.
- So that means ..?
- That means that if we sell the book at the price of a large potato, readers may come to associate it with a large potato. That’s how we’re signalling it. Useful, convenient, but not an object of desire.
Still Marketing wasn’t convinced.
- But I thought the aim was to maximize the sales of your book. Who said anything about desire? You’re not trying to tell me you want people to read the thing as well, are you?
- That’s exactly what I’m saying. Seth says: ‘Mass shouldn’t always be the goal. Impact may matter more.’
That was the turning-point. Mistakes were forgotten, hostilities put on ice, and we were back working as a team.
- So we need to use price to trigger a different expectation. Not a potato, but …
- Two potatoes?
By this time, we’d clearly left the Publisher lagging some way behind, but our minds were racing.
- An object of desire with a price proposition to match, something our reader wants, longs for at the end of a busy day. Who is this reader, Alain?
- An adult. Gotta be an adult, male or female, probably mid-twenties upward.
- And this adult gets from your book? Remind me, Alain. What do they get? Gimme the words.
- Well … mystery, adventure … a hint of the exotic … humor … excitement … sex … danger … retro …
- I see it! I see it! I think I’ve got it. You know that ad they’re running on TV for the beer … you know the one – Triple Filtrée … a Smooth Outcome.
- Yeah, I see where you’re coming from. Sixties setting – the beautiful bored wife – the suave debonair hero sweeping her away from her husband – the sexy French overdub. That’s brilliant.
- But guys. My hero’s not suave and debonair.
- No matter. This is advertising. Nothing has to be true. D’you think when you drink the stuff you’re gonna turn into the guy in the ad? Or the girl? It’s not about truth. It’s about aspiration.
- Where are we going with this?
- It’s the price-point, don’t you see? Not a large potato. We sell it for the price of a large beer. And – God, this is amazing – that’s our campaign too.
- Go on.
- Triple filtrée. You ever seen a book promoted like that before?
- No, never. Er … maybe, I’m slow but I’m not getting it.
- Triple filtrée. So you say the book’s been edited three times. Not once, not twice, but three times … and now it has less than 3 really dirty words. We might even make it into the YA market, who knows?
This was getting exciting. Next we had to work out how to handle the Smooth Outcome, and we were all busy swapping ideas – when my wife suddenly popped her head round the door.
- Have you any idea what time it is?
- I’m sorry … were we too loud?
- Oh, is there someone with you?
- Yes. Have you met …
But as I swung back round to the table, they were gone. Every last one of them. Only the broken pencil remained on the table.
- Er, no. It’s just me.
- I worry about you. Don’t you think you should be coming to bed? It’s 2:30.
By daybreak, the new pricing was set, the campaign was in place, and we were ready to go.
That’s the thing about being an indie writer. You can make decisions quickly, change your mind if you’re getting the strategy wrong, implement immediately, call meetings any time of the day or night.
But if you’re doing it at night, just try to keep the noise down.
The Lebanese Troubles is now available for the price of a large beer. ‘Triple Filtrée … No Smooth Outcome.’
If you’re thinking about buying the book, DON’T. Marketing came up with a few other ideas, which we’ll be announcing here tomorrow. If you can’t wait to get started though, you can now download the first 50% of the novel free at Smashwords. Works on any e-reader or your laptop/PC.
If you can’t wait to get started with Seth Godin, the article is Compared to perfect: the price/value mismatch in content.
And if the story’s just made you thirsty … here’s the next best thing – for just the price of an e-novel: