Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Self-Publishers: The Problems with Statistics

by Stella Atrium


I had a screaming fight one time with my brother about which brought in the most money – Chicago sports franchises or Chicago museums.  My stubborn stance was that museums had long hours and no off-season.  He insisted that one need only look at the stadiums and know sports fans live here.  Soldier_field

Chicago is home to great sport franchises – Chicago Cubs (go Cubs!), White Sox, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawk and more.  Then we have the college teams including DePaul Blue Demons (yeah, Demons!).

Chicago is also home to world-class museums – The Art Institute (of which I am a graduate), The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, The Planetarium, The Museum of Science and Industry – and those are just the ones along Lake Shore Drive. 

So… which brings in the most money? Care to vote?

Art_InstituteOf course, I wouldn’t blog about a fight that I lost – dead giveaway.  The museums bring in half again as much money as sports in Chicago.

Statistics can be surprising.  Before computers were ubiquitous enough to compile cross-platform statistics, information was gathered in a more casual manner.  An urban legend holds that for music lists, compilers called their favorite stores along the East Coast and asked the store owner what was selling.  Of course, the music store owner named his favorite artists as best-selling – in rock, funk, classical, rap, or easy listening genres.  When the real statistics were published for the first time in the late 1980s – Garth Brooks outsold them all.

Here’s a caution for self-publishers.

Statistics that include all ebooks for a quick look at what’s selling are impacted by the fact the romance novels outsell all other genres.  The most successful indie ebook writers/marketers are women, because the biggest fan base is women who read romance.

For non-fiction writers, maybe with a story about the struggles of raising a child with cancer, do you really want to follow the methods used to sell romance? Racy cover, short paragraphs, paced story with few surprises, long backlist for branding.

For fantasy writers, do you really want to follow the methods used for selling Hunger Games?  If you have read the hype, but not the story, it’s about teenagers killing each other for sport.
My publisher tried to sell me a module where my new release HeartStone sits on THEIR website in a colorful page with bells and whistles about searching for favorite characters and tweeting friends for which page you’re currently on.  The sales person – selling me – said more than once: “This is how Hunger Games did it.”

Yes, and Nicole Kidman and I have the same color hair.  So why aren’t I married to a country-western star?

Here’s an alternative method of developing a fan base.  Look at what books are successful in your genre.  Non-fiction is especially treacherous for follow-the-leader because books for marketing that reach out to confused self-publishers sell almost as well as romance.

Fantasy writers should look at the successful marketing strategies of Robin Hobb (Farseer Trilogy and more) and Lois MacMaster Bujold (Curse of Chalion and more), for example.  Brandon Sanderson used this method, in part.  He’s from Australia but joins the conversations on Reddit where Hobb and Bujold are certain to appear.  He piggy-backs on their fan base to promote his similar works.

I like Mistborn by Sanderson. I like Theft of Swords by Sullivan.  I watch them for marketing techniques and to puzzle out what might work for me.

I’m not making my hair black, though, to fit into that group.  It’s me and Nicole Kidman all the way on that score…


Hildred said...

I think this is a great point to make. Just like how it's important to know where your story is coming from, it's important to know where the advice on how to market it is coming from. Even though my series is about death and destruction throughout the universe I wouldn't market it the same way as THG. I'm more likely to get a bigger response if I marketed it towards LGBT readers (who like fantasy, of course.) As for what happened with you, I saw it a lot during the Harry Potter hey-days when every YA fantasy book was somehow marketed like HP. Ended up with a lot of disappointed readers.

Stella Atrium said...

Hey, Hildred... I also had a marketer who wanted to lock into reviewers of romance because there are so many, and women...

The reviewers didn't like my story and didn't get the fantasy elements. Why weren't the men character acting as expected?

So be careful who you solicit for reviews. LOL

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