Here we are, now beginning our fifth month on the market with my newest literary effort How Far? on Amazon and a few other platforms. “So how’s it gone, Bob?” you ask. If you didn’t ask, I just asked for you otherwise I’d have no subject matter for this blog.
All in all, it’s going well. How well? Would I like to sell a few more books? The answers to those questions are “About as expected” and “Yes, of course I’d like to sell a few more copies.”
I’ll admit (and I did on a few podcasts and interviews I did right after publication) that I did allow some doubts to creep into my fragile brain regarding this book. My first book, Bats, Balls, & Burnouts, had the built-in benefit of a large established audience ready to buy it, thanks to my blog, my PR work, and my National DRAGSTER column. Those people, almost all NHRA Drag Racing fans, had gotten to know me and my work. They were the reason I became so well known and even, dare I say, a little “popular” in the sport. They tried my blog, and liked it. They started to follow me and my racing teams on social media, and liked that. They devoured my column in the magazine, and very much liked that. They saw I had a Kickstarter campaign going, to help fund the publishing and promotion of the book, and many of them pledged more than I could ever imagine or hope for. They were waiting for the word that the book was out, and we sold a large pile of them in the first few days. I’m not going to say I was lucky, because I have to give myself credit for creating that group of avid readers, but the publisher sure thought I’d hit a home run with the initial sales. So did Amazon.
So, a few years later after a couple of failed ideas and then many years and months of fleshing out a strange concept that turned it into a book in the Historical Fiction genre, I had to wonder if those readers were still out there. There is no racing in this book. No burnouts, no tune-ups, no beating John Force on a hole shot in the final round. It’s just two fictional guys, Brooks and Eric, in their own unique voices. Would it work? I had no clue.
It did work, and the first week or two were really rewarding, for me and for the people who had my back on this project. You know the names by now… Greg Halling, Elon Werner, Todd Myers, Terry Blake, Barbara Doyle, and many others.
What I discovered, after the first few weeks, was the need to keep promoting and to keep pushing. To hit the sales targets I’d secretly set in my mind, I’d have no choice but to find a way to break out of the mold created by that earlier built-in audience. I’d have to reach regular old human beings. Book readers. Folks who might not think they’d even enjoy a book about a hockey player and a baseball player who don’t even exist in the real world. Somehow, I had to get that word out.
One way to do that is advertising, but the math really doesn’t work out for that route in my case. It’s expensive. My royalties from Outskirts Press are more in the “cute” area. Sure, I accept the checks but nobody is going to risk moving up into a new tax bracket with this deal. I actually make much more (like 3-times as much) for each Kindle sale on Amazon, compared to the printed version from Outskirts. That’s kind of amazing, but I smile every time I see the latest direct deposit from Amazon after another burst of Kindle sales.
In the big picture, PR was the key. To get the word out I needed to reach those “publicity machines” that could touch a lot of people in a short amount of time, delivering the message that this book isn’t just for sports geeks. It’s a life story told by two fictitious guys I made up out of thin air. There are lessons in it, both good and bad, happy and sad, and life altering.
Brooks and Eric needed to come to life. The goal, and it was a lofty one, was to create two real guys out of my imagination. I needed the readers to believe in these guys, to think they were real. To suspend their disbelief, in other words. I wanted the readers to buy in to this concept and forget that Brooks and Eric were fictional. I had a clue that I could do that, but boy you never know until you sit down and start typing.
And throughout all of that, I learned about word-of-mouth publicity and how it can impact sales in ways I’d never really understood. Bats, Balls, & Burnouts kind of sold itself, in a way. People were waiting for it and it was a real story about my life and all the adventures it brought to me. How Far? was different, and I could understand that by the end of the first week when I saw my sales rankings on Amazon.
There are about 2.8 million books on Amazon, in total. That’s a lot. Those books are divided up into categories by Amazon, which gives the author a clear view of how sales are going compared to other works in the same category. Bats, Balls, & Burnouts was in the category “Sports Biographies and Autobiographies.” I figured that would be a stout group to compete with. How would my book stack up against releases that featured Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Dan Marino, Muhammad Ali, or Lionel Messi…?
It turned out we did pretty well.
Then, a few challenging years later and after eons of toil, How Far? hit the market and I learned a huge lesson. The Historical Fiction category was an entirely new animal. It’s the big leagues. It’s where award-winning authors with famous names put out works of sheer genius. I spotted that almost immediately.
It’s hard to know exactly how many books you’re selling in this gig. Once a quarter (yes, four entire times per years) I get a settlement from Outskirts Press that shows unit sales, royalties, and locations where the book has sold. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada treat me very well, thank you!
Early on, I noticed the huge disparity in the rankings with regard to my book’s place in the category, versus its larger placement compared to all the books on Amazon. It was eye opening. I felt like I’d been called up to the big leagues and the fastballs were popping faster than I’d ever seen. If my category ranking in Historical Fiction was the same as my placement in Sports Biographies and Autobiographies, I’d be an absolute best-selling superstar. There are that many more books in my current category, and most of them are written by people I can only aspire to emulate. It’s a tough group! Use your best Rodney Dangerfield voice and say “Tough crowd. Tough crowd. I gotta tell ya…”
So, I only focus on my overall ratings on Amazon rather than the category. To me, that’s a better indication of how we’re doing in the biggest of all big leagues. Early on, we were in the top 5% of all the books Amazon sells. We’ve been as low as the top 40%, but How Far? has not yet slipped into the bottom half. So, now I can see the value in PR and word-of-mouth when it comes to breaking through the noise and being heard. Hit a hot button with one interview, and the ranking on all of Amazon skyrockets again. We’ve been back up into the top five percent a number of times since that initial flurry. One of those instances was when the large feature story ran in the Roseau, Minn. newspaper. The Roseau Times has a circulation of just under 3,000. The town has a population of about 2,600. How can that move more books than the 15-minute interview I did on KCAL-9 in Los Angeles, in a market of many millions of people? Word of mouth. And that L.A. hit was huge. We sold a lot of books that week.
The book struck a chord up in Roseau. A few locals bought their copies. They told family and friends. Who spread the word at the diners and in living rooms. And pretty soon you’ve got a real spike in sales all thanks to a small rural town in the far northern reaches of Minnesota. Amazing, right? Roseau is pretty amazing. I picked the right town for my boy Eric Olson to be from. No doubt about that.
As the book continues to sell (or, as is the case some weeks, not sell) I keep looking for new avenues to spread the word. Word of mouth. It works. Looking back on my life as a reader, I can’t count how many times I bought a book because a trusted friend or colleague recommended it. And that could lead to more sales as I continued to follow authors and styles I was introduced to and liked. It’s so counter-intuitive in this age of social media and instant contact, but in the end it still works. It works like a charm.
So here’s my question. My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. I’ll be a prehistorically old 66-year old geezer. I don’twant presents, cakes, candles, or cards. I don’t really even want to be reminded that I’m 66. But I’d love some word of mouth.
If you bought How Far? and liked it, don’t be shy about recommending it to someone. It’s that word of mouth. If you really liked it, buy it for someone else who has a birthday coming up. They don’t have to be 66.
Let’s sell some more books!
At the very least, send friends a link to my website. Hopefully, my bio and the synopses of both books will motivate them to click on the “Buy The Book on Amazon” button. No fuss, no muss, no searching Amazon to find me and not the late jazz saxophone artist Bob Wilber. You’d think with a name as rare as mine I’d have little competition for space on Google. The other Bob Wilber made sure that wouldn’t happen. Bob Wilber was awesome. If you’re into jazz, give him some love in memoriam.
My “award winning” website is here: http://bobwilber.net
I call it “award winning” because I awarded myself kudos for “First Ever Website.”
Or, if your friends are skeptical and you catch that “Oh, I don’t think that’s my thing…” vibe, send them to my Amazon page to read the reviews and see all the 5-star ratings.
So spread the word. Here’s a review I’m more than flattered by and very happy to read.
Huge thanks to everyone who has bought it and recommended it. Word-of-mouth is magic.
And another easy way to spread the word is by clicking on the “Like” button at the bottom. More likes, more eyeballs. Consider it “word of eyeballs.”
See you soon! Thanks for all your support.