Sales, Marketing, and Traffic – Closing the Loop

Today we are in the post-LA Festival of Books wrap up. It has been a week since that fantastic show—and here we are with nothing to show from it except a learning experience.

This could seem a bit like ‘hard cheese’, but really, there were some vital lessons learned. I’m going to share them with those of you who are interested, even though it’s something you have probably heard many times before.

We spent a substantial chunk of our small marketing budget to make certain that we had a good representation at this festival. We worked with a major company’s publicity group so that we could avoid making any rookie mistakes. The most we’ve done, ourselves, by way of in-person publicity is some minor signings. Typically, we focus on a much more guerrilla marketing approach, as it’s a good way to get sales with minimal investment.

Our Guerrilla Marketing Expert
Our Guerrilla Marketing Expert

From this, and from careful analysis of the traffic patterns, sales, and discussions with the major company, we have gathered a few nuggets of wisdom.

  1. A company’s size is no indicator of their effectiveness.
  2. Effective tracking is the most vital indicator of success.
  3. Never pay someone to promote themselves.
  4. You don’t get what you pay for. You get what you take.
  5. Pics or it didn’t happen.

Now, that list is a little tongue-in-cheek of course, but the heart of the matter is that we paid a big marketing department to basically just market themselves. We got screwed, frankly. We were told “Authors aren’t allowed to be at the booths”. We were told “We will handle all the marketing and publicity for you”. We were told that “thousands of people will see your materials”. Well— the first should have been a warning. The second seemed reasonable, given the price. The third is unverifiable, and therefore false.

After the event, we scoured our site stats. We scrutinized visitors, IP addresses, locations, and sales. We analyzed logs and records. We determined—and this is being generous—two additional visitors from the Los Angeles area looked up the book within 3 days of the festival. 1 ebook sale was generated  as a potential result.

What a disparity! $2 in profit over $500 in marketing? Obviously, we contacted the company. That’s a completely unprecedented flop in our books, we’ve never had a failed campaign generate less than 75% of the cost. We were told literally that the marketing department and the sales department had absolutely no way of correlating sales.


Now— be honest with me. If I were to come up to you on the street and tell you that I would charge you $500 to stand on a street corner and show off your product to passers-by, you’d tell me to shove off. Right? Yet you would probably be willing to hire a billboard or a bench advertisement from a reputable company? That doesn’t make very much sense, does it?

That was my expensive lesson. I learned it, and I learned it well. I grew up marketing in the era of Google, Bing, and Twitter. I want to know precisely how many eyeballs have been exposed to my ad. I want to know exact demographics about who clicked on it, and I want absolute correlation and proof positive that clicks lead to sales. In other words: I want not just cost per view, but cost per click and cost per sale. Don’t you?

Well I have taken these lessons to heart. We will of course do many more public appearances and sales – but we are going to do them properly. At an appropriate convention, with actual foot-traffic tracking and exact correlations with the costs and the benefits. With heavy author involvement (signed copies and all), with immediate ebook fulfillment options, with immediate physical books and assorted materials for sale, and interesting things to give away. If it fails, we will know precisely why, and be able to do something about it.

So— that’s the story of our expensive learning experience. I hope dissemination of this will help prevent other indies from making similar mistakes.

If you want to sell books:


5 thoughts on “Sales, Marketing, and Traffic – Closing the Loop”

  1. Always obnoxious learning the “expensive” or “difficult” lessons. Yet those seem to be the ones that stick with us the longest. Bummer about the poor (non-existent?) results this time through. Still, I appreciate both your “I’m going to learn from this and not make the same mistake again” attitude, as well as your willingness to share with others. Here’s wishing you a “sell out” at your next event.


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