Over the years, my writing partner Angie and I have tried many strategies to create brand awareness about Counios and Gane. Although we've had a few successes, many of our ideas didn't work. They either cost us too much time, money, or focus, or we lacked the proper knowledge to pull them off.
So to celebrate our failures and offer some insight, these are the ways we tried to market Counios and Gane but failed.
I was told early on that social media was important for an author's brand, but I've never had much success. I know it's worked for others, but I couldn't find a balance between the time and effort required to pay for itself.
Whether it works or not, I do believe if this is your only strategy, you need to expand. Putting all your eggs in someone else’s basket is a horrible plan.
At the start, before our present website, we used to run a blog for several years. We had few readers, but we never connected with a larger audience. Again, I don't think we were doing it right, but the effort required wasn't leading us to our goals. Eventually, we shuttered it.
The Counios and Gane show
Near the end of our blog's run, Angie and I changed up the format and played with YouTube. Often, it was the two of us sitting on a couch, riffing on a different writing topic each week. We did over forty episodes, and they were fun to do. Yet, we never found an audience, and the work needed to produce and edit the show was substantial, so we ended its run.
This is an odd one, since we are still trying it in multiple ways. Counios and Gane runs a newsletter. Our open rate is good (the percentage of subscribers that engage with it), but we've never seen an uptick in subscribers. We continue playing with the format, but I continue to question its effectiveness.
Of course, I also run a newsletter. It's still new, and I've only begun to share it with others, so it's too early to judge its worthiness.
Over the years, Angie and I have done many book readings and neither of us are convinced they work. Attendance is usually low, many people aren’t listening, and some only come to steal your food. Even if our goal was only exposure, the results are limited.
Newspaper, magazines, TV, and radio
Our best successes have been appearing on TV or radio or being interviewed by someone for an article. They are lower effort on our part, and we connect with people who've never heard of us. (We have had some duds in this space, but that's a whole different story.)
The times we aren't convinced works is when we write the articles and submit them to local papers. A lot of effort is required, and there is no guarantee that it will make it in.
A while back, we made t-shirts and stickers, and hoped to make a whole line of goods. While I like the product we created, the effort to execute was too much.
As well, we were no longer focused on writing ad selling books; we were now store owners trying to sell our products. We needed to let it go.
Other Author’s Books
Last year, I played with selling other people’s books in our store. I thought it might help readers find new books, and it might draw in the author's audience to us.
Again, this put us in the merchandise business and not the writing business. It was drawing time and attention away from our real work.
Side note: If we had the money and inclination, we could've hired someone to run the store, but it went against our desire to keep the business small and simple.
For a brief while, we played with a membership program. Reader could earn points buying books and writing reviews, that they could then use towards future purchases.
I forget why we canceled this except it made the website feel too salesy and bloated, something we didn't want for our brand.
Discounts, sales, giveaways
Price is a major issue for me. I think too many self-published authors give their writing away. The strategy is to boost awareness, but it is unsustainable.
Yet, despite my issues with it, I still tried it. We tried several deals—including free—and none of it worked. We never saw an increase in awareness of sales.
Hiring a marketing person
This was one of our mostly costly failures. We tried multiple times to find ourselves someone to help us build a better marketing strategy.
Our first person offered us a bunch of ideas—many of which focused on social media—but none of ever lead to growth. We also struggled with follow up, and when we quit contacting her, she never did follow up.
The second person we really liked. She was local and had worked for a top Saskatchewan business. When we met, she had started working remotely, taking on multiple clients.
We’d meet over video calls, and were building our strategy, when she decided to return full time with her old company, and ended our partnership.
We tried a few more people after that, but after our two initial failures, we’d grown jaded with the process and eventually quit trying.
What did work?
Despite all these failures, we did have a few successes that I'd recommend to everyone.
Our domain name and website
Getting a domain name early on that we owned was key. The next step was treating it as our home base. All traffic should be driven through here, and all our other efforts, like social media could be linked through it.
This allowed us to move easily the old blog to our Shopify store, and if we decided to move again, our readers can find us.
We’ve never found a better way to sell ourselves than to simply talk with people.
Appearing in front of groups works nicely, because we can be ourselves, but our real bread and butter is working at a pop-up or a market. We can turn over a lot of books in a couple of hours, even on the worst turnout of customer.
It is the least scalable thing we do, but it is also the easiest way to communicate who we are. We riff off each other so much, people are able to see the dynamic that makes us.
I think the best lesson I’ve learned from all our failures is to focus on a few things rather than doing too much. Every type of marketing we chose had a cost (time, money, effort/energy) and we needed to weigh that with our goals.
Once we knew what we were comfortable with and worked, we stripped away the rest and really focused on it. That saved us a lot of stress, money, and work and is finally starting to pay off.