When we started publishing in March 2010, we believed that the way to sell books was to build a lot of background awareness through blogging, word-of-mouth etc. - the classic book marketing model.
All evidence since then is that this is not how you sell books, unless you have a huge budget.
Which actually isn't that surprising as most marketing for any product doesn't work the way people assume it does either.
If you have a lot of promotional budget, you make a big noise in the market with mass media advertising and high visibility promotions. In itself, this big spend barely sells a book. But what it does do is to get the major newspapers to review your book – that sells books. It gets you prominent visibility in book stores – that sells books. It gets you into everyday conversations around news and magazine stories – that sells books. It may even get you a movie – that sells more books as well as earning you box office income.
The book promotion sales model is not 'Advertise book => sell book', it is 'Advertise book => entice the media to get you into the run of ordinary conversation and create significant point of sales display => sell book'.
This difference is critical to understand if you are an indie publisher/ writer because you are never going to have the promotional budget to enter the 'water-cooler conversation' unless you get a lucky break.
It is like the theory of one rotten apple causing rot in the whole barrel of apples. At best it is only a partial truth. Apples, like all organic matter, rot from the inside not from the outside. When an apple is picked it, in effect, dies, and so starts to rot, albeit slowly, because its life support system has gone (which would be true even if it stayed on the tree). You see apples increasingly rotting throughout a barrel because they all died at the same time and will rot accordingly. Rotting is not contagious.
Similarly, we believe that book marketing works according to a direct publicity model, but it doesn't, whatever people tell you and however many there are of them who tell you it.
As any indie publisher / writer will have a very hard time accessing everyday 'water cooler conversation', then the only real marketing opportunity is point-of-sale promotion.
The easiest place to promote yourself is via Kindle, getting a direct Kindle promotion or one from a Kindle satellite recommendation site such as Daily Cheap Reads or the Frugal eReader.
The trouble is that you cannot manage Kindle promotions yet, except within the Kindle Select programme. Kindle do their own thing. Many volunteer but few are chosen. There are ways you can try to entice Kindle into running a promo of your book, e.g. by setting up a price differential between Kindle and other distribution sites, but they are sort of like lying naked in the street shouting 'Take me, take me'. Kindle has to find you attractive. Nowadays you can buy promos via the Kindle satellite recommendation sites, from $25 for the Frugal eReader to $100+ for Kindle Nation Daily. The trouble is that these channels have huge demand. The other problem is that Kindle sales are increasingly driven by promotions, so you promote, you get a big sales hike, then your sales 'decay' rapidly.
What is the answer?
Well, I am hoping that Kindle Select is a test for Kindle to offer a general paid promotional tool, so that we pay, say, $25, and can promote our book at will for a day. As Night books tend to promote well, we would nearly always make our money back, and generally make at least a small profit, and sometimes a large one.
In fact, I am surprised Kindle aren't already doing this. They might well make almost as much money selling Kindle promos as selling Kindle books. If ever there were low-hanging commercial fruit for Kindle, this is it.
On the other hand, the core Kindle strategy is to take on the Apple iPad, and the core tactic is to offer free content (i.e. books). This also helps make them dominant in the book market.
It is a strategy that appears to be working, but it doesn't appear to be that immediately profitable.
So, do us a favour, Kindle – sell us your promotions and make yourself loads more money while you try to rot the Apple in its barrel.