Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

A few months ago, sometime around late February, I noticed a sudden spike in sales. It was shortly after the release of my short story, The Land Before Tim, so that may have had something to do with it. But unlike previous boosts in rankings from new releases, this boost hung around for a while. This was more than a sudden burst of existing fans gobbling up a new release. People were buying (and borrowing) all of my books at a significantly higher rate than they had been before, and I had no idea why. I wasn't running a promotion.  Googling myself didn't reveal any major geek sites discussing my work. I didn't notice any big boost in the number of people spamming my shit on Twitter.  What, then, was behind this recent surge in my popularity?

Time to dig.

If you've ever read my blog before, you probably know I'm a guy who likes to keep track of statistics, charts, graphs, lists, and the like regarding my sales and rankings. I'm in a constant state of marketing experimentation, and I like to know what's working and what's not.

Kindle Countdown Promotions: WORK!

Easter Egg Hunts: Not so much. (Still 20 eggs out there, guys. Just sayin.)

So I strolled on over to my Amazon author page and had a look around. My books were still making a nice, strong showing on Amazon's comedy list. Nothing new there. So I looked up at the other authors my customers also bought books by.

For the most part, it was the usual suspects. Renee Miller and Steven Wetherell are both fellow members of DeadPixel Publications. Drew Hayes and Rick Gualtieri are geeklit midlisters like myself. I've read their work and introduced myself to both of them, and they're both talented writers and nice people. But all of these people and I have been on each other's lists for a while. They weren't the answer to my sudden increase in sales.

Looking a little closer, I saw some other familiar names, but none of them jumped out at me. The first name I clicked on was Scott Meyer, an author I had, for some reason, never heard of. From the looks of his author rankings, it seems I might have been the absolute last person in the geekosphere to know of him.

Him, not me.

Him, not me.

Holy shit! What's a powerhouse like that doing on the list of a self-published schlub like me? Surely, a self-published schlub like me isn't on the list of a powerhouse like that.

Wrong again.

Wrong again.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown! Look at the other names on that list! John Scalzi, Brandon Sanderson, Hugh Howey, Jim Butcher, Ernest Cline, Neal Stephenson!

In this kind of company, there was every chance a casual observer might mistake me for a legitimate author of literature, rather than a humble peddler of fart jokes.

Going back to Scott Meyers, I clicked on his first book, Off to be the Wizard, to see if any of my books showed up on the list of books customers bought after buying that one.

Ummm... apparently we share some fans.

Ummm... apparently we share some fans.

Looks like I found the lead I was looking for. I just may have cracked the case. 

Naturally, I bought the book and read it in a couple of days. Good stuff. But then, most of you reading this are probably fans of mine, and are therefore already aware of this.

Eventually, I got to wondering if Amazon was associating my name with the names of any of these other big-time authors, and so I started clicking.

I clicked on all of the authors. My name was absent from all of their lists. No surprise there. So I started clicking on their individual books, thinking that maybe if I scrolled far enough, one of my books might be lurking at the ass end of one of their "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" lists.

It was a fruitless search for the most part. I had some fleeting hope that I might get lucky with Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, which you may have noticed I've been gushing about lately. More on that later.

Scrolling all the way through the 100 books recommended for readers of RPO, I found zero of my own books. Ah well. I wasn't really expecting to. Cline's out of my league. We might share a couple of readers, but not enough for Amazon to recognize a connection between us. It was silly to even entertain the slightest hope of such a possibility.

Or was it?

Or was it?

If  you're serious about making a living with your writing, entertaining unrealistic hopes had damn well better be part of your game plan. I had one last place to look. Cline has written one other book, Armada, which has yet to be released. It was a stupid long shot, but since I was already on his page, I took a look.

And there it was. Just as I had dared to hope, one of my books was sitting on the very tail end of Armada's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" list.

I had my connection. It wasn't a connection that was going to gain me any new customers on its own merit. Who the hell scrolls through a hundred recommended books before finding something that catches their eye? But it was a connection, and it felt great. 

As fun as that was (yes, sifting through pages and pages of recommended books searching for even the most tenuous connection between me and people more famous than me is what I call fun), it wasn't the sort of thing I could actively pursue further. I mean, this is passive promotion. All I could do was sit back and hope the connection strengthened over time.

Or was it?

Or was it?

After I wrote my post about Ready Player One and The Goonies, I noticed that a couple of my books were moving a bit higher up the list of Armada fans' recommended books. And, holy shit, I was even making a showing on the ass end of Ready Player One!

Then a very obvious thing occurred to me. By writing that blog post, and gushing about how much I enjoyed RPO, I must have incited a significant number of my fans to go and buy it, thus creating more shared customers between myself and Ernest Cline.

I shared this news with DeadPixel Publications, and one of my fellow members, Tony Bertauski, gave me the idea to go after RPO fans with a targeted Facebook ad. So any of you who happen to see this on the side of your Facebook feed...

... now know exactly how I'm attempting to manipulate you.

My own ad attempts started up kind of lame as I tried to find the best thing to say in the very small amount of space I was allowed. I think I finally pretty much nailed it with the image you see above, but then I accidentally included a bum link, so the first 187 people to see the ad were directed to a dead page.

Oops.

I've fixed the link since then, so we'll see how it goes from here.

But paying for ads isn't the only way I'm climbing up the ladder of more famous writers than myself. 

Little did I know, I was connecting with Mr. Cline via the back door as well. 

Sorry. I'll rephrase.

Sorry. I'll rephrase.

I was referring to audiobooks. I call it a back door because this post was getting a little long-winded and dry, and the wind was just right for a sodomy joke. But also because it's a route of connection that hadn't even occurred to me.

Here's what people see (at the time of this posting) when they look up the audio version of Ready Player One on Amazon...

In the interest of clarity, they probably don't see the words "HOLY SHIT!!!".

In the interest of clarity, they probably don't see the words "HOLY SHIT!!!".

I mentioned in an earlier post that, for the longest time, I couldn't be bothered with the effort of having an audiobook made. Who the hell listens to audiobooks? (Apparently, fucking everyone.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of you self-published authors probably feel the same way about having audiobooks produced. Not worth the effort. I'm here to tell you you're wrong. 

First of all, it's not a whole lot of effort unless you plan on reading the thing yourself. You make an account, select a sample of your work, and set up an audition. People will actually audition to read your shit. That's awesome! It's really fun (and sometimes surprising) to listen to how other people interpret your characters' voices.

And with so relatively fewer authors having audiobooks made, your odds of scoring a place next to more famous names increases significantly. Hell, because of this audio-association with Cline, my audiobooks are currently outperforming my ebooks on Amazon's Top 100 Comedy list.

Un-fucking-precedented.

Un-fucking-precedented.

So what practical advice can you take away from all this, fellow self-published authors? Go look at your own Amazon page. See what authors you're associated with. Go look at their books and how they're ranked. Find out who the most successful of them is, grab their leg and start humping it like you just got out of the pound.

Dude, chill. I was speaking metaphorically.

Dude, chill. I was speaking metaphorically.

"Doesn't it feel just a little bit slimy trying to hitch a ride on the coattails of better, more successful authors?" you might be asking. And the answer to that is "Not one fucking bit." That's not how my brand of narcissism works. On the contrary, I feel pretty clever, in spite of how precious little control I have over it.

Also, get those audiobooks produced. Leave no stone unturned. Reach customers any way you can. This is a hard gig. Be harder.


In between leg humpings, why not enjoy a good book?

Or if you're the multi-tasking sort, have a listen.

My leg can be humped here on Facebook.


Post Script: I just spotted this on my Facebook feed...

How's that for irony?

How's that for irony?