As a book reviewer, writer and promoter of Christian books, I have begun to notice a trend lately, that I think every writer needs to know. Ebooks aren't as popular as you would think and PDF's are worse.
I remember when Amazon first released the Kindle and everyone feared that the way of the printed book was going to vanish and that bookstores were going to crumble. While some bookstores did crumble, it had nothing to do with eBooks in general, but in the easy online access for ordering a book. Why go to the store and stand in line for a book, when you can go online, read a chapter, then order it to be delivered? For Amazon's Kindle, shopping was easy, one click and you can download your book in seconds, without ever having to leave your home. This is why so many feared the digitization of books. Hard-covers and paperbacks would become relics of our past - like records, cassettes and videos which were replaced by CD's, MP3 players and DVD's.
Fortunately, all is not lost for the printed book and in fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, they are doing better than ever.
"The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.
How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.
What's more, the Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That's still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years. . .
A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book and that a whopping 59% say they have "no interest" in buying one" (source).
So what does this mean when it comes to marketing your book? Should you concentrate only on ebooks, printed copies or both? Sadly, I am seeing a trend where authors (especially self-published ones) are focusing their efforts on ebook sales alone. To their own detriment they are limiting their audience. For example, on my book promotion site Interviews & Reviews, I have occasional giveaways. The biggest draw of course for a giveaway is a well known author. However, people are still attracted to subject matter and a well-reviewed book. They don't care if it is self-published or not and they will still enter to win a copy of a book when they can. But here is what I am noticing: Those authors who elect to give printed copies away have more entries to win the book than those who rely on ebooks alone.
Another mistake self-published authors are doing in order to get their book noticed, is giving their ebooks away for free. Now, if you have hundreds or even thousands of people downloading that "free giveaway" Amazon will sit up and take notice. Your book will start to climb the Amazon Bestseller charts - even though it isn't a best-seller - it's just free. So it goes on Amazon's Top 100 Free Kindle List. But does this marketing strategy ever result in books sold? I'm guessing there might be a spike, but for the most part, people who download free ebooks aren't looking to buy. There may be the rare book downloaded that makes the reader want to buy more by the author, but as I say, I think that is rare. For myself, I know that I have downloaded free ebooks from time to time and now I have so many on my Kindle that I haven't read, that I have stopped downloading anything new. You see the problem with a Kindle, Nook or other ebook format, is that free books are quickly forgotten and they can stay in your Kindle for years. I have books I downloaded two years ago that I still haven't read. Why? I'll choose a print version over an ebook version every time. My Kindle is great to take to a doctor's office, on vacation or on a plane, but that's about it. It is, as the Wall Street Journal stated, "a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute."
Of course, the most important aspect about book sales, be they ebook or print, is the review. As a book reviewer, if someone asks me to review their book and they can only send me a PDF, they will probably never get a review from me. I'm guessing most professional reviewers feel the same way. If you can't send me a printed copy of your book or an ebook, so that I can take it with me to invest my time in reading it, then you aren't doing yourself any favours. I recently had the opportunity to review two books from well known publishing houses. Their choice to send it as an Adobe Digital Version (which meant I had to read it on my computer), resulted in my passing these books by. I strongly encourage authors (and publishers) to stop this practice because it does not do them any favours with reviewers. No reviewer wants to sit and read a book at their computer all day when they can take a physical book (or ebook) with them to the coffee shop, park or wherever they do their reading.
Some may disagree with me on this subject, but think of it this way, when it comes down to marketing your book, don't think about which version will sell more (ebook or print), think instead of how much time people are willing to devote to reading. The percentage of people investing time at their computer to read a book in PDF format or an Adobe Digital Version is very small. This will result in no review for you and no one talking about your book. That percentage increases when those readers are presented with an ebook, but only slightly because more often than not, ebooks are used as a supplement to reading print books (going to the doctors, on vacation, commuting, etc.). I will admit that people who send me ebooks to review don't get my attention as fast as if they had sent me a hard copy. Why? Because the hard copies are always there on my shelf staring me in the face, reminding me that I have books to review. But books on my Kindle that are waiting for review are, unfortunately, still waiting. I can get anywhere from five to 10 books in one week sent to me through the mail. Which books do you think I'm going to read first? The ones on my shelf taking up space or my Kindle? Plus, the added advantage of people sending me physical books is that after I'm done with them I don't keep them, I give them away to places like Ronald McDonald House where anxious parents need to escape into a book for an hour or two. I'm told when a new selection of books come in they fly off the shelf. The best thing about the kind of books I review is that they all have a message of hope and those authors who have sent me a physical book now have new readers. Think about that.
As far as marketing goes then, invest your time in both print and ebook formats for your book. To get your book reviewed, noticed and talked about however, a print version is the best way every time.
Every author is generally nervous about their books. Not because they might have written something controversial, but because it is an expression of so many things to them - their creativity, talent, beliefs and feelings to mention a few. For writers, it is particularly hurtful when a reviewer says something mean about their books. It's like a personal attack on their character. After months (sometimes years) of slaving away at a book, an author feels beaten down after pouring their heart and soul into it and editing and refining it until it is perfect, only to have someone say "it stinks". This can throw a sensitive artist for a loop and prevent him or her from ever picking up a pen again. The old saying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" applies here for those of you who review books. If you really can't say anything nice, then tell the author privately and gently as to what you didn't like about the book. Was it poorly edited or did the plot have holes in it? A wise writer will take critical words of wisdom over critical words of hate. Don't blab it all over Amazon about your hate for a book like some reviewers do. That's just mean and uncalled for.
But what if your book is controversial? For instance, as a prelude to his book release of Strange Fire, pastor and author John MacArthur had a conference called "Strange Fire". In the conference (as well as the book) he basically rakes the coals over charismatics. He is brutal in his judgment. He condemns some (not all) to hell by their behaviour in regards to the Holy Spirit. Some things I agreed with, but I think for the most part, Pastor MacArthur has confused Charismatics with Word of Faith people like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland or Todd Bentley. Whose antics have always been questionable in Christian circles. Instead, Pastor MacArthur has lumped all Charismatics under the same banner. He assumes they do not read their bibles, have no gift of discernment and that they all bark like dogs at their services.
Very controversial don't you think? To dedicate an entire book to attacking fellow Christians in such a way? Yet, his book was so popular when it came out that it had been translated into several languages and published in foreign countries before it came out in North America! And people talked. They reacted and you can be sure they bought his book to find out what all the fuss was about.
The same thing happened with Rob Bell when his controversial book Love Wins came out. Bell's book was popular because as a Christian he basically turned his back on God's plan of redemption by declaring that no one was going to hell and everyone no matter their belief system was going to heaven, thus making Jesus' death on the cross null and void. Talk about controversy! Yet it was so controversial that it became a very popular book at the time.
And what about the book The Shack? The author made God a woman! *Gasp* and well. . .some of the other stuff in it was really out there. . . but it was a self-published book that sold thousands and became a number one bestselling book due to it's controversy.
So, is it worth it to put a little controversy in your book from a marketing perspective? I did it unwittingly in Come to Me. Some Catholics (not all of them) hated me for it because I dared to make Mary human. Come to Me was compared to Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code by one reviewer, who believed I had blasphemed Mary. In her eyes I had because she was Catholic. But I wrote it from a Protestant perspective. Did her remarks hurt? You betcha! She said some mean things. Did it help my book? Yes. During the first two years of its release, it was in the Amazon Top 100 Bestsellers at least six times. So, in the end, a little controversy was a good thing. Even if it was unintentional.
However, I hate confrontation, so no controversy at all would be fine with me. I also don't like it when people think I'm a horrible person, or I've lost my senses. But, if I am faced with a choice between telling the truth and shading it, I will tell it like it is every time. Hence my nervousness about my latest book. As I expected some people were offended and raked me over the coals. But that's okay. I'll willingly weather the storm if God is glorified in the process. But can God be glorified through controversy? I think so, especially if it means people are picking up their bibles to discern the truth for themselves.
Is controversy necessary for every book or even a movie? Definitely not. Is it good for marketing? Unfortunately, yes it is. It didn't hurt Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. His movie was declared to be anti-Semitic before it even came out and people picketed the movie because of it. However, those who saw the movie, know that it was not anti-Semitic and in the end, it made $400 million dollars world-wide.
I don't think most writers set out to make their books controversial. I know in my case, the research I stumbled on for He Who Has an Ear had to be shared and well . . . it couldn't be ignored. I had a choice to make. Time will tell if it was a good decision or a bad one.