How to Avoid “Death by Sales Funnel” in Fiction Writing
(Or: A Preliminary Conversion Pattern for Fiction Writers)
I found out during the last couple of weeks that I’ve been doing something horribly wrong for months. The first indicator is that my book sales have been very poor to get off the ground, while my subscribers were skyrocketing. Now the conventional wisdom is that you email to your list and then they find your links and rocket your sales.
And that didn’t happen.
Because my skyrocketing list was from paying to give my books away for free.
When I recalled the data I’d aggregated on how to list build, it said to get them from free books on Amazon and others. Meaning two things: a) your opt-ins were coming from a pay-for-it site. b) they probably read your book.
In the free book giveaways, people pick your book over others by your cover and marketing copy – about 800 to 2K characters of text. All designed to get them to select your book. But they go to these giveaways because they are free, and never have to read the text inside your book before they opt-in.
Those subscribers have no skin in the game. So they opt-out, or get weeded out as they never open (or quit opening) emails. And that gave me a 44% shrinkage of new subscribers in their first month alone.
And to keep them onboard, I figure that I have to keep offering them giveaways. So I was actually working for that giveaway company – and paying them to do so. Plus, it was a regular part time job keeping up with all the details.
So I shut all these down, and I’m just letting them run out.
Time to get back to working for myself. If I had to have a reason: it doesn’t make sense to pay to give away books for free. (And there is also the unexplored concept to ask yourself: When you get a lot of free books, what do you do with them? Right – store them somewhere “until you can get around to them.”)
Sales Funnels and Conversion Process
The term “sales funnel” is a lousy term, and I dislike it intensely. Because it dehumanizes the process. (Probably the point.)
Here are the steps to help a subscriber become your personal evangelist:
- A person opts-in to get something free. (subscriber)
- A person opts-in to a free membership.
- A person buys something from you, or of yours on your request (like from a book outlet.)
- A person buys a service – limited paid subscription.
- A person buys a big-ticket item from you.
- A person buys a continuing subscription.
- That person becomes an affiliate and starts promoting your products and services. (evangelist)
From that you can see how Mark Dawson has created his 7-figure income-producing business from book writing.
- He has books, some are free.
- He has a free podcast (with ads that plead for donations.)
- He runs ads to get people to buy his books – which all have an opt-in ad in them.
- He has a few courses that people can pay for once and then have eternal access to them.
- He has some bigger courses that cost a lot more.
- He has a lot of people saying how great his courses are – and has an affiliate sales program to pay them. (He also has a lot of great book reviews on Amazon – FWIW.)
The difference between any beginning fiction writer and Dawson, is either that he’s been at it longer, or they never built things up in this sequence like he did.
In Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc, your monetization occurs toward the latter half of the cycle, right after you are well into building the base. All fiction writers are also building a content-based online business. (Content Inc. book was built from finding how content-based businesses became successful – they all used the same pattern, knowingly or not.)
For fiction authors, this is when you both have found your own profitable genres athat ou like write in (sweet spot) and your own author’s voice (content tilt). Building the Base has to do with cranking out a great deal of backlist books, as well as asking your readers to join your mailing list. (And the shortcut of running massive free book giveaways starts to show the failure here. You want buying readers to join your list, not freebie seekers – however casual or addicted.)
You want them into your ARC group so you can send them advance reader copies and they can start leaving you reviews as well as buying your books. That’s your first free membership.
By surveying your list, you can find out what problems they are having and then produce a non-fiction course that helps them solve this. That’s a paid, limited subscription.
And begins your monetization.
Then you build bigger and more expensive services or products, and get them to buy from you. Meanwhile, you’re running affiliate offers so that your buyers can start spreading the word about your products and services.
And you also continue to write more books, which make the earlier books in that series sell even better. More books, more courses, more affiliates – the whole scene just continues along and you pass 7-figures if you do it right and pay attention to details.
The Beginning Author Should Do What?
- Start with reading and writing what you love. Then get into sites like k-lytics.com to find where people are buying books and stories like yours. Tweak your production so that what you are producing is closer to that readers expect from the genre’s closest to yours. (Of course, you are always continuing to work on your craft and make each book better than the one before.) This is also where I pitch that you should be writing short stories to both improve your craft and be able to quickly shift between good-better-best markets. You hone your production habits so that you are regular, if not prolific in your output. A large body of work starts now – and shows up some decades later – otherwise, get into another line of work. (And a tip here is to put your books all pre-scheduled and then post them in parts on Medium and Wattpad with links to the book outlets, as well as where they can buy it from you meanwhile.)
- Set up some simple ARC membership. I did one yesterday which just consists of a static password on a single page with downloads on it. (And when I have time, I’ll get my web-host company’s lousy how-to articles figured out – as I did it somehow the first time, but can’t get it to work now.)
- And probably start running positive ROI ads to increase your sales on the book outlets.
- You’re then tracking (best is blogging/podcasting) about the problems you have run into as an author. These then become the raw material you can use to build your first non-fiction course. And you build that by iterations. There’s your first paid service/subscription model. You invite your list to have an inside view of it and beta-test, then tweak it up and do a wider launch, etc.
- Run this (and keep writing-publishing) for a while and you’ll get into something with more teeth to it and you can charge more for. Most of the course providers incorporate affiliate marketing into their back-ends, so that is where this starts. You can always use evangelists, even when you’re just starting out.
- If you can, set up your output to generate some ongoing paid subscription membership – like Patreon, etc. Then you have a great way to keep going. That’s real commitment to your art. Like shipping people hand-signed first editions of every work you publish in print, as well as the ebook versions. Can/has been done. Has to cost less than your production costs, of course. And not kill your time. In my scene, it’s possible as I create a bi-monthly collection of all my short stories. Six Anthologies a year that are routinely bigger than 250 pages (last one was nearly 350 pages.)
See how this works?
My problem was not sitting down and figuring out this sequence, then sticking to it as I went. Because I got off onto the “free giveaway” scene for a few months instead of just working on the above. Of course, the second-best time to start (re-start) is now.
As covered elsewhere, I’d tell a beginning fiction writer now to just work out how to pay their bills for a year and then concentrate on simply getting your writer sweet-spot and content tilt down – with ads in the back of your books for opt-in’s and a free ARC membership being requested of everyone that opts in. That builds a backlist. Those are your three basics to work on first. (And it wouldn’t hurt to podcast about every book you write – and also port your books to Wattpad and Medium while they are all in pre-release everywhere else -but tell your subscribers they can buy from you direct meanwhile and not have to wait. All more promotion so people can find your books.)
So, What About You?
You are what these articles are for. Just so you can avoid the worst traps and get to making stellar income on your own much faster. You don’t have to be talented beyond dreams, but you do have to be persistent…
Also published on Medium.