Friday, December 11, 2009

Promotion, Social Networks, and Going Viral

As I've said many times in the past, getting people to find you on the world wide web is no major feat if they're looking for you in the first place.

Sure, you should have a website, and assorted billboards that point to your website (like social networks and blogs), but if someone Googles your name and finds you, you really haven't won any major battles.

The goal is to get people to find you when they're looking for something else. When that happens, you're spreading your brand.

As long as I've been on the Internet, I've been playing around with various ways to get people to find me while looking for something else.

The pinnacle of this idealogy would be to do something that went viral--that spread word-of-mouth and captured millions of viewers.

Hasn't happened yet. Might never happen. But I have thought about it.

For as long as I've had a website, I've been giving away free ebooks. They've been downloaded tens of thousands of times, and recently the frequency is picking up. But I haven't gotten huge volumes of new surfers because I give away ebooks. It's worthwhile, but hardly viral.

I've played with videos a few times, releasing my video to Hyperion on Youtube a few years ago, and last year doing a book trailer for Fuzzy Navel. All total, these have been watched about 5000 times. Not viral at all.

I went heavy into MySpace a few years ago, getting more than 12,000 friends. Then MySpace started to suck, so I spend my effort on Facebook and Twitter. I have a few thousand friends on those, but I'm not a "must see" destination, even though I try to make my daily updates amusing.

I put a funny little Flash game on the Jack Kilborn website, to promote Afraid. It's gotten over 1600 hits, but that's far from viral.

My goal, from the beginning, was to do something that encorages word-of-mouth. Something funny, different, goofy, and unique enough to stand out, while still resonating with the majority of people who see it. I've tried to do this with my writing, from the very start. My books, named after drinks (hook) are funny and scary (hook.) Easy to remember titles + a unique approach to thrillers.

They've caught on, but not virally. It's tough to reach a large audience when you've never had coop, or been in Wal-mart.

With Afraid, I didn't try to write a horror novel. I tried to write the scariest novel of all time. Did a blog tour (a hundred blogs in a month this March), which lead to better sales than my previous books, and over a hundred ratings on Amazon. But again, it didn't set the world on fire.

I wrote a novella with Blake Crouch called SERIAL, and that's the closest thing to viral I've done. I haven't seen the latest numbers, but I estimate it has had over 200,000 downloads. Nice, but it hasn't made Jack Kilborn a household name.

Keep in mind, aiming for viral is a lot like buying a lottery ticket. You can try, but don't have high expectations it's going to work. The stars have to align.

Still, the key word is "try."

My detractors (and I have a few) will often point to the many things I've done to promote my writing and say, "But all that didn't make you a bestseller."

I never thought it would. But I knew I'd sell more books by trying than by doing nothing, and the more I try, the more I do sell.

Which brings me to a new experiment.

Two days ago, I listed an auction on eBay for signed copies of all of my books. I've mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, and now I'm mentioning it here.

There have been eBay auctions that have attained viral status, either by selling something outrageous (like a Dorito that looks like Michael Jackson), or by using a funny description. My old high school friend Dawn Meehan sold a baseball on eBay in a humorous way, which lead to a blog, an appearance on Good Morning America, and a book deal. She went viral, using only her wit.

So I decided to give it a shot. The main goal of the auction isn't to sell the books. It's to introduce people to my sarcastic brand of humor. The product description is essentially 500 jokes.

The point, of course, isn't to be viewed by people who alreayd know me. It's to be viewed by folks who had no clue who I was before looking at the auction.

So far, I've had over 200 hits on the eBay auction. That's a lot of hits for eBay, but nowhere near viral.

Here's the auction link:

Feel free to check it out, and spread the word. I'm really curious to see if being a smartass, coupled with the social networks I'm already involved in, can translate to a lot of traffic, both on eBay, and by extension, on my website.

Worst case scenario: I sell some books.

Best case scenario: Billions of people visit the auction, leading to my being elected ruler of the world, where I will encourage public nudity and legalize drugs.

Please do your part to help.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Konrath,

Did you happen to see the USA TOday article about competing e-readers? Very interesting.


Anonymous said...

just like buying lottery tickets
is a waste of perfectly good money,
spending time trying to "go viral"
is a waste of perfectly good energy.

it would be much better to spend
your time and energy on writing,
and strengthening your bond with
your fans, rather than taking them
for granted and looking for more...

your fans will do word of mouth,
for solid and steady growth, and
that's a much smarter approach...


Jon Trout said...

Joe, a great post. It was Self Marketing 301 and should be read by every author out there. I think unless you write the blockbuster novel, the tsunami of recognition may never come. You've done a lot of work for the hits that you have in the various media streams and you already have an established brand with a lot of books as a platform. It is cetainly a reality check on the limits of the internet for the rest of us.

That said, you keep trying new things and you share them with us newbies, and bless you for it. If you do enough of them, and get some response on each outlet, you'll eventually get enough to pay not only the monthly mortgage but maybe the car payment as well and someday the kids' tuitions. And that's what we all strive for. JT

Anonymous said...

I went to my sister's house for Thanksgiving, and she had one of your books sitting on her dining room table.

She checked it out from the library, so there's no profit, there, but her reading of your book was a direct result of the exchange we had on the Internet.

So, the internet does, in fact, work - if not in sales, than in terms of word-of-mouth (whatever those words might be) marketing.



Bobby Mangahas said...

"Best case scenario: Billions of people visit the auction, leading to my being elected ruler of the world, where I will encourage public nudity and legalize drugs."

Let me know if you need a campaign manager, Joe. I'm sure we could work something out.

Stacey Cochran said...

The closest thing to "viral" that I've seen on my front has been the book trailer for CLAWS, which has received close to a half million views.

200,000 downloads of Serial on Kindle is phenomenal, Joe. I hope you realize that. That's just astonishing, and that success has surely translated into sales of your other Kindle titles.

Whatever the case, you're always an inspiration to us, Joe.

Have you ever gotten close to the NYT extended list? (I thought maybe with AFRAID, you might have.)

Anonymous said...

Jeez, Joe-- 200,000 downloads? How is that NOT viral? I would love to sell 200,000 of anything.

So, you're a midlist author. That's more than most of us can say. And it seems you've developed a following already, so if you continue writing what your fans enjoy, your sales will continue to compound upon one another.

Success in this business is 10% luck and 90% hard work. You can get lucky with a "Carrie" or a "Harry Potter" ane never work another day in your life. Or, you could do what the rest of us do and bust your ass every day writing and collecting a monthly royalty.

I'm doing the final edits on my new book this month; it's a fast-paced book on Accounting Practice-Management. Sounds exciting, hunh?

It pays the bills!

Guernican said...

I think describing some of those as "jokes" is stretching the term a little.

Still, best of luck, Mr Konrath.

JA Konrath said...

More than a dozen folks retweeted the auction, resulting in over 700 hits.

Not viral, but not bad. And the only cost to me was the time it took to list the auction, which took about 15 minutes.

Are 700 hits worth 15 minutes? I dunno.

My website hits have been a tiny bit above average for the last few days. My Amazon numbers have also been up a bit, but that could be attributed to the holiday season, not the auction.

All in all, it was an interesting experiment. I may try it again, if I can think of some spin to put on it.

Oh, and the auction went for about $200--a little bit above my cost for the books. So we're talking break-even money.

Stacey Cochran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Nicholson said...

yes, those who work hard seem to get a lot "luckier" than those who sit around waiting for lightning to strike...

I did a giveaway of three of my teeth--real, honest to goodness teeth removed in dental surgery for my novel They Hunger. I couldn't think of a kookier, rarer giveaway. But it somehow didn't seem to strike much of a chord. Or maybe I am just weird.

Keep hitting up all those great ideas--cumulatively, they can achieve the same effect of a viral hit, plus you won't have TMZ reporters prowling your trash cans.

Stacey Cochran said...

Hey, folks, I've just broken into the Top 100 overall on Amazon with a free downloadable version of The Kiribati Test.

BTW you can now read Kindle on your PC for free. The app takes about two minutes to download and install. And it's free.

Audrey (the Hepburn House) said...

So sad your auction is over, I would have bid! I love your books and became a fan after Printer's Row years ago where you encouraged me to purchase a signed paperback edition opf Whiskey Sour, and I did and loved it! And have read every Jack Daniels book since.

I really, really hope you publish the next installment soon, and not just as an ebook, because as a lifelong avid reader, I just can't get behind reading a book on a screen-of any size.

How can we, as your loyal readers, help you achieve your viral dreams?

Ann Summerville said...

Great post - I hope you don't mind but I've added a link to your resolutions on my blog post for today.