I recently conducted some modestly scientific research and I bring you the results: buying postcards in an attempt to support my books is a) far too expensive and b) utterly pointless if measured by ensuing book sales.
The only type of writer in a position to discover this is someone who has a self-published ebook-only books, because that is the only way precise, near-real-time sales can be monitored. With my ebook-only books, where I'm the publisher, I know for a fact whether I have sold an ebook in any given 24-hour period.
So, let me tell you two recent opportunities I had to test the value of giving away postcards to support a book.
TEST 1 - Mondays are Red
I do nothing to promote Mondays are Red and it sells the same (small!) number every week, with no variation other than an overall 10% decline in the last year. It is available only as an ebook and I will see every sale within a few hours.
Recently, I did a school event at a private school. 120 pupils in the audience, of the right age to enjoy Mondays are Red. Each pupil was allowed to pick up a Mondays are Red postcard, signed, on the way out. Each pupil did. So, 120 cards went into the world, carried home by a person who was a) fired up to enjoy a book (it was a very positive event) and b) almost certainly able to afford to pay under £3 for it.
Over the ensuing two weeks, how many extra copies of Mondays are Red were sold in the UK?
None. Zero. I know, someone might buy it later but I'd like to think at least one person was moved to buy it NOW.
TEST 2 - Dear Agent, Write a Great Synopsis and Tweet Right (all on one postcard)
I do a bit to promote these books, because they are featured visually on my Help! I Need a Publisher! blog, which gets good traffic and has 1600+ registered readers. They sell steadily - and by steadily I mean that I sell uncannily the same number every week. The weekly figure does not vary unless something has spiked it. Again, they are available only as ebooks and I will see every sale within a few hours.
Recently, I was speaking at the York Festival of Writing. There were hundreds of people there but I decided not to leave piles of postcards because I wanted to know they'd been picked up. I did leave one small pile but I also properly handed out 110 over 24 hours.
Over the ensuing two weeks, how many extra copies of any of those books have been sold in the UK?
None. Zero. I know, someone might buy them later but...
And yes, of course, we don't know whether those cards will find their way into other hands and whether sales might ensure but I'm not anticipating a pre-Christmas rush, tbh.
So, let's look at the cost of this embarrassing failure
I buy my cards from Vistaprint. Maybe there's somewhere cheaper (though they aren't known for being high-end) but I like being able to design them easily and I do take advantage of the special offers. (For example, if I want 500, I know that I should just order 250, because, when I've clicked "buy" I'll be given the chance to buy another 250 for a far cheaper price.)
But the unit cost of a postcard is still pretty shocking, even when bought in bulk. I looked at my last order, in which I ordered 250 of Mondays are Red and 500 of the writing/publishing one. And I worked out that each card cost me just over 13p.
So, it cost me £30 to fail to sell a single copy of four books. And when I think how many postcards I've handed out over the years... Well, I'd rather not, to be honest.
And that's why I won't be buying postcards any more. (Oops - see PS...) I'll be signing jotters and arms and scraps of paper and punishment slips, but not postcards bought by me. I may order some business card sized things, but not postcards. I can't afford the waste, pretty as they are.
What about bookmarks? Don't get me started on bookmarks. I researched bookmarks years ago and decided that, as well as the greater cost (usually) they don't work well as marketing tools because people
You see, don't get me wrong: I'd love to be able to give pretty presents to everyone who smiles at me and asks for a signature and if money flowed from my pen I'd happily go back to buying postcards. But I can't afford it.
I'd love to know what everyone thinks. I am sure loads of you will disagree with me, and you might easily be right.
*cough* The books mentioned above are available on Amazon, but, apart from Tweet Right, they are also available on my own online shop, which is the cheapest place to buy them and you get all formats in one package... But no postcards!
PS Added later: Erm, I capitulated. I just ordered postcards again. One for all my books on one card, including the forthcoming ebook of The Passionflower Massacre and Sleepwalking. Why? Because I ordered 1000, making them cost just under 8p, and because I like pretty things. I am a fool!