Gauging Success

So, the basic question here is How do you tell if something you’re doing is a success?

The specific circumstances aren’t all that important, but at the moment, I’m looking at authors doing giveaways on Amazon or other websites.

The Dream is this: Give away a book in the hopes of selling other books on your list, or others at a later date. Building a readership that you can cash in on, the next time around.

From time to time, a friend or acquaintance is generous, and I get to see real numbers. The rest of the time, I have my own Kindle, and a whole lot of speculation. And either way, I have my doubts.

I’m a born skeptic. You should know that, up front. I hated selling stuff I didn’t like, and didn’t believe in, when I was a kid, and in college, I remember coming to the realization–after a long day of “fundraising” that my group could have raised more money by each giving an hour of our income than we did by giving four hours of our time.

In order to call something a success, I want results, and I want measurable results.

And I don’t mean that at the end of the day, I’ll know exactly how many copies of my books I gave away. Or how many copies of my other book I sold.

A million years ago, my grandfather owned a service station. Sold Skelly Gasoline and Armstrong Tires, but when he did a promotion?

He gave away watermelon.

The rule, back then–I can’t say I think the rule ever changed–was that you don’t give away the thing you make your money on.

I don’t know how that applies to writing. Maybe, if novels are your money maker, you give away short stories. Maybe, if you’re making money on short stories, you give away limericks. Or watermelons. Maybe it doesn’t apply to writing, at all, and I’m clinging to nostalgia.

My grandfather knew the cost of the melon, and the amount of gas he sold that day, and the amount of gas he sold any other day. There’s a lot to be said for assigning value to the thing you’re giving away. Especially if you’re going to try selling that thing later on.

I’m a still a cynic, but a lot of the time, I don’t get the impression that writers, and especially Indie authors, are putting real, live, monetary values on the books they’re giving away.

I know pricing digital goods is tough. But if I give away three thousand books at three or four bucks a piece, that’s a ten thousand dollar promotion! Even if you figure wholesale, and value the books at half of the cover price, that’s five thousand dollars.

Success would be selling the most books possible for the amount of money you’re pouring into it. The most name-recognition. The most sign ups for your email list.

1.) Writers should know, in terms of money, how much they are spending on their giveaways. They should know this in advance. There’s a lot of difference between “I will give away $500 worth of books,” and “I will make my book free for three days.”

2.) They should know BEFORE the promotion, what their average, baseline sales are. If you make ten dollars a day with or without a promotion, the promotion isn’t a success, if you’re making ten dollars a day.

3.) They should know how much the promotion makes them. (Or how much they lose!)

4.) Their goals should have a time limit. At some point, you have to stop to look at what you have.

So, when you do a promotion–for writing, or for your day job, or for a charity, how do you define success?

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