Is your book a high-value item, or a low-value item?

Last week I attended MidAmericon II, the 74th Worldcon, which was held  in my home metro area of Kansas City.

A very small segment of the MidAmericon II Dealers' Room, including a small press booth.
A very small segment of the MidAmericon II Dealers’ Room, including a small press booth.

As the author of a recently-finished (but not yet published) novel, I was a bit more finely attuned to the crosscurrents (perhaps “riptides” would be a better description) of opinion about publishing that could be observed in action at this convention than I have been in some time.

Between the panels, the readings, the parties (such as they were) and the Dealers’ Room, I encountered a wide cross-section of opinion about the “best practices” in publishing today.

More booksellers--or are they author collectives, or are they small presses?--in the MidAmericon II Dealers' Room.
More booksellers–or are they author collectives, or are they small presses?–in the MidAmericon II Dealers’ Room.

One practice I found particularly curious was the free book giveaways. Many of the smaller operations seemed to think that a good way to attract new readers was to give away books.

Samples, you know? So people can see how “good” we can write, and love us, even though we haven’t had a copyeditor look at our work, much less a competent beta reader–or even (God forbid!) a professional editor.

Yeah, no.

If on the first few pages I encounter characters using each others’ names in dialogue (“Fred, as you know, I always write good,” Ellen cried. / “Why of course, Ellen, your writing is always just dandy,” Fred gushed), and alleged words such as “alright,” then SURE, I’m absolutely going to love it (NOT). In such cases, the free sample is worth every penny I paid for it, and it is going to make me take every effort NOT to bother with that person’s work ever again (even if they later take a writing class and get a clue).

This is the kind of “indie” publishing that gives indie-publishing a bad name, because no gatekeeper–no qualified second opinion–was ever allowed in. This is usually because the author is afraid to do so.

"No! Please! Don't make me edit my book! I might have to murder some darlings!"
“No! Please! Don’t make me edit my book! I might have to murder some darlings!”

“They won’t understand” or “I swear, it gets better by Chapter Five” just doesn’t cut it. For God’s sake, people, study the craft! And beyond that, study best practices in marketing! Yes, I know, you are a Creator, and Heaven forefend that you should have to trammel your muse with such mundane things.

You have a choice: go on giving horrible warnings away for free, and dragging down the value of the product for all the rest of us. Or you can take a different view.

Two kinds of products: High-value and low-value

Okay, I’m taking a deep breath now, centering myself, and thinking calm thoughts. The main purpose of this post is to call attention to a basic marketing guideline I learned years ago when I was a direct marketer.

The rule of thumb goes:

If you are marketing a LOW-VALUE ITEM, you give away free samples and offer discounts. 

If you are marketing a HIGH-VALUE ITEM, you offer premiums, up-sell enhancements, and offer tie-ins. 

How does this work in practice? 

If you are marketing a LOW-VALUE ITEM, you give away free samples and offer discounts. A low-value item is a cheap throw-away. It isn’t worth much, but if you sell a whole honkin’ lot of them, you can make a profit on the cost-markup margin, because of the volume. Such an item doesn’t cost you much to give away a free sample, so it makes sense to give away a few, in the hope that people will like it, tell their friends, and buy more.

This is a standard in the marketing world. Experienced consumers (i.e., most of us) know how to interpret a free giveaway. If you give your book away, it places your book in a category I doubt many indie-pubbers want to be placed into.

If your book is a cheap, throwaway, piece of crap, then perhaps the free-giveaway marketing ploy is your thing. Do you write dozens of them a year, and fail to do any research? Okay, then! You’ve found your strategy! In my humble opinion, if you give your book away, you are as good as labeling it dreck.

Is this what you're selling? Then freebies are probably your best avenue.
Is this what you’re selling? Then freebies are probably your best avenue.

 

 

If you are marketing a HIGH-VALUE ITEM, you offer premiums, up-sell enhancements, and offer tie-ins. In this case, the item itself is far too costly to give away, and has a high intrinsic value. It takes a lot of time, effort and (dare I say) skill to create the item, and it can add lasting value to the owner’s life.

I would like to argue that a well-written book is a high-value item. The author has invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, and effort into it.

A book is a high-value item. It should be marketed that way!
A book is a high-value item.
It should be marketed that way!

First, there have been years of learning the craft and creating the best possible story. Then this author has engaged well-read beta readers, possibly a copyeditor, and ideally an outside, professional editor to vet and perfect the product.

In the marketing phase, discernment and effort have led to the production of a high-quality, well-edited edition, with an attractive, appropriate cover, and high production values.

Appropriate premiums might be a first chapter as a teaser (a time-tested approach used by big-name publishers), an author autograph, or perhaps background, “insider” information. Up-sell might include an illustrated, limited edition, a signed and numbered slipcovered collector’s edition, etc. Tie-ins could include an author’s newsletter, pins, prints of the cover or illustrations, short fiction related to the major work, etc.

Your marketing strategy is up to you, of course. But I’d say it pays to think carefully about your approach.

IMAGES: The photos from MidAmericon II were taken by yours truly. The “Wow! Free Stuff” image is from a UK coupon company page called Wow Free Stuff. The photo of  the distressed writer contemplating editorial scrutiny is from Margaret Snow’s blog post on the Damsel in Distress archetype. The “Horrible Negative Example” quote image is from The Quotery. The ironic sign-failure CRAPBOOKS photo is from the Stuck on Stupid Pinterest Board, via Curiousread.com and Thisisbroken.com. The wonderful image of the girl hugging the book is by ToucanPecan, and may be found on ToucanPecan’s deviantART page. Check out the whole gallery, while you’re there!

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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