Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Great Mailing List Experiment

If you're an author--or even a small businessman--you probably know what a mailing list is. If you're a self-published author, you've probably been told, maybe a million times, that you need a mailing list. They are, after all, the secret to success. Everyone knows that.

Beginning today, I am going to conduct a little experiment regarding mailing lists. I am going to prove they in fact don't work and are a waste of time for just-starting-out authors. I mean, I've been doing this for four years. If I can't make them work, a newbie has no chance.

First up, some ground rules...

This is an experiment for ebooks. Nothing against print--dead trees are wonderful. But ebooks are the wave of the future and far easier to produce on one's own.

Secondly, this experiment is closed to smut. That is, romance novels. Folks who write romance are operating in a completely different ballpark. Quite frankly, all you need to do to sell romance is to self-publish it. There is such a huge demand for it, and the vast majority of ebooks sold are in the romance field.While there are marketing strategies for romance, they aren't as crucial as they are for non-romance. Plus, I don't write romance, so it would be presumptuous of me to apply these results to all genres. For the purposes of this experiment, we're going to focus on Speculative Fiction.

Finally, a disclaimer. Your mileage may vary. Even if by some insane twist of fate I'm proven wrong, and mailing lists do  work, don't assume they will for you. I'm not making any claim this will work for you. Actually, quite the opposite. I'm trying to prove mailing lists don't work. And that leads us into...


Writing isn't all that hard. There are rules, examples, and plenty of folks ready to tell you how to write. But once you have a masterpiece finished, you want to sell it. And that's where the problems bergin.

1. Distribution. In the old days, you'd vanity print hundreds of copies and sell thm from your trunk like a black marketeer. Today, Amazon, iTunes, Kobo and many more online sellers offer the way to distribute your written words to millions. Maybe.

2. Reaching Customers. Amazon has millions of books on their website for sale right now. They're broken into categories, sub-categories, and sub-sub-categories. But, customers aren't going to browse for hours and hours--they're going to buy what they find, that piques their interest, and start reading. You need a way to make sure your book is on of the first customers see, or find a way to let your niche audience know your book exists...

3. Marketing. This is where marketing comes into play. Rather than cross your fingers and stroke your lucky rabbit's foot in hopes your book is discovered like sunken treasure. Or... you can reach out to your target audience--the folks who would enjoy what you've written. Hopefully, you know who that is.

It's this third obstacles that is the big one. Tens of millions of Kindles have been sold, so it's not that much of a stretch to think you could sell a few thousand copies of your work. IF you can find your customers. And that's what brings us to mailing lists...

The general idea here, being so zealously preached, is that by painting blood on the floor in the shape of a book and burning Haagen Daaz ice cream--no wait... the idea is that you have people agree to receive emails from you, and then you send them emails, telling them about your new releases. Inspired by this information, they flock to Amazon, all buying your books on the day they're released. Their combined, simultaneous purchases then catapault your book from the lower end of the ranked sub-sub-category it's parked in, to the tippy-top of the overall Kindle rankings. Which means undecided folks who've never heard of you and are impatiently browsing for something to read, greedily One-Click you right into stardom. Once done with your book, these new converts to the heavenly prose you have published also sign up for your mailing list, and the cycle repeats with your next release and emailed fan notification.

At least, that's the theory.

There's a few logical problems with this way of thinking... First, how are people going to know your mailing list exists?

Well... those preaching from the Church of List claim that the Good Word of your list will draw folks in. Word of mouth. Oh, and free stuff. You see, you need to entice folks--who are probably reluctant to sign up for any more SPAM--by giving them things. Like free books.

Yes, you read right. To get people to buy your book, you need to create a mailing list, that you get people to sign up for by giving them a second, free book, so that when you write a third book, they'll possibly buy it.


NEXT TIME:  What it takes to actually make a mailing list. What you need, what it'll cost, and how much time it's going to take.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

THOR'S DAY RANT: The Long Way Around

Archimedes said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Well, duh. At least, you'd think duh. But apparently, some folks don't understand that. 

Now, obviously, sometimes the shortest distance isn't the best distance. I'll go an extra mile or three to take the expressway to a destination rather than travel surface streets clogged with traffic signals, pedestrians and idiot drivers. It's faster and less aggravating. 

When it comes to shipping goods, however, you'd think that sellers and shippers would adhere religiously to Archimedes simple line of reasoning. And you'd be wrong. 

I live in Southern Indiana. Right across the river from Louisville, KY, which has a major UPS hub. It takes me about twenty minutes to drive from my house to the airport. If there was no traffic and it was an Omega Man scenario, where I was the Last Man on Earth, I could make it in 10. Or 5--no speed limits!

Imagine my surprise a few years back when I discovered that goods being shipped to my from distant e-tailers were taking a rather circuitous route to my home. You see, instead of flying my packages from say, California to the Louisville Hub, then driving them across the mighty Ohio River to a distribution center and then on to my door, they were going a little out of the way. The packages made it to Louisville, all right, But then they were flown nearly a hundred miles north, to Indianapolis, then put on trucks and driven south to the local distribution center, put on trucks and thrown, er, delivered, to my doorstep. 

Say what?

I pointed this out to UPS in a friendly email. I was informed that they had determined it was more cost effective to deliver packages this way. I responded that a truck travelling from Indy to my town would need one-and-a-half hours, or more, travel time, while a truck driving from the airport in Louisville could do it in thirty minutes. Again, I was assured Brown had figured out the best route. 

What a load of brown.

Recently, I learned even my beloved Amazon suffers from the same map-challenged planning. We have a distribution center one town over. Prime actually gets delivered in two days from there. But not as easily as one might think. As I recently learned, a coat I ordered for my daughter traveled from Jeffersonville, Indiana to Hebron, Kentucky (near Cincinnati), again, almost a hundred miles away. To another Amazon facility. Next, the coat was tagged with a label for my house, which was ten minutes away from the Distribution center in Jeffersonville. The US Postal service delivered it to Louisville's main Postal hub--a journey taking a full day. Later that night, the package was smuggled across the Ohio (hopefully by truck and not airplane), ending up in my hometown's post office to be loaded and punted--uh, delivered-- to my doorstep by my friendly hit-and-run mailman (okay, maybe it isn't the same Postal employee who knocked my mailbox off the post and drove away last summer...). 

I find this particularly disturbing, given a lot of my "Prime" packages fail to reach me in two days, despite originating from an Amazon facility one town over. I emailed customer service, where Hadji, a.k.a. "Scott", typed back a profuse apology, offering me a $5 discount on my next order and extended my prime membership for one extra month. 


Can you imagine the money Amazon is losing with these insane routes? I mean, what else are they doing? Shipping package meant for Los Angeles from Seattle to Honolulu, then to Santa Monica for final delivery?! What kind of battery pack will their drones need to deliver goods in a year or two--can drones even fly that far?!

Anyways, the next time your delivery from an e-tailer is running behind schedule, just remember that it is taking the long way round and seeing more of the world than you probably ever will.