Crowdsourcing Book Promotion: Scott Nicholson's Social Experiment With $$$

I heard what Scott Nicholson had planned for September a couple of weeks ago, and I was intrigued.

Ok, I wasn’t just intrigued, I was jealous. It’s a superb idea and I think it’s going to work very well for him. Scott is very clever, always looking for an angle, and we are fortunate to be able to stand on the sidelines and watch and learn.

Without further ado (can you tell I’m in the middle of writing a wedding speech), here’s Scott.


Indie authors have the same tools—content creation, formatting, editing, graphic design, and distribution—as publishers when it comes to developing ebooks, whether the indie author tackles the job alone or outsources some of the tasks.

However, publishers still have an advantage in the toughest part of the entire writing business, and that is putting the book in the hands of a reader. Any writer who has sat in a bookstore for two hours trying to sell paper books to strangers understands what a challenge it is to find your audience. I always say, “You think selling a book to a publisher is hard, try selling one to a reader.”

Even a year ago, being active on message boards and in social media would help build an audience. Now, with tens of thousands of newly minted authors screaming for attention, messages tend to get lost in the crowd, especially when they all start looking alike.

“On sale for 99 cents for a limited time!” “Here’s my latest five-star review.” “Now #47 in Kindle books in the ‘Presidential Time Travel Fiction Fiction, Millard Fillmore’ category!”

It seems every writer has taken the “You MUST use social media” as a commandment, not understanding either of the words in the term. And while some social media gurus will sell you formulas on how to author-tweet your book ad for maximum sales effect, or you sign up for their collaborative project that costs more time than you will ever recoup in sales, ultimately your individual market reach is limited. Even with a loyal base, your messages are likely to just reach that same base over and over, a mistake that too many people make when they look at social media as a “sales outlet” instead of a place to expand your base and connect with new people.

And, clearly, audiences are not only exhausted from such messages, a violent backlash is building against authors because of it. It’s almost like everyone wants to huddle into a ball when they hear “I have a new book out.” Look. Everyone on the planet has a new book out. That’s the good, the, bad, and the ugly of the indie era.

Speaking of Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite quotes is by his Dirty Harry character: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” I do pretty well with book blogs, circulating valuable content and contests and giveaways while avoiding direct sales pitches as much as possible. But I still only reach a few thousand people, far from the hundreds of thousands needed to truly go viral.

But I was thinking “What if my few thousand friends told their few hundred or few thousand friends?”  It’s likely those people aren’t exhausted by “Buy my book” messages, because most of my readers aren’t authors and may be happy to tell their friends. Indeed, that is what happens with true word-of-mouth phenomena, such as the Youtube videos of cute kittens playing guitar, the Star Wars Kid, Songify, and other pop culture hits—the audience not only does the selecting, it’s doing the selling, even if no money changes hands.

My “Be Nicholson’s Agent” event in September is designed to reward the people who support me. It’s a way for me to pay back for all that readers have done for me, both in selling and sharing my books, and also to inspire those who want to do more. I am giving away 15 percent of my ebook revenue in a crowdsource promotional experiment, using one book blog to “rep” each book, sharing 5 percent of that book’s income with those blogs. Unlike other giveaways, where you have no incentive to spread the word about the actual giveaway (because your odds of winning go down), this giveaway has an ever-rising ceiling.

I kicked it off with a $200 gift card giveaway for people who “Like” my books at Amazon and, which will share my books with their friends. The links list and simple rules are on my blog so that anyone can play fairly quickly—as much or as little as they want, no purchase necessary. The more sharing you do, the better your odds, as it should be. The only ground rule is that nobody should do anything that makes them uncomfortable—if anything feels like a hard sale, avoid it. The total giveaway goal is $1,000, but I’ll happily give away more if sales escalate because of this user-powered campaign.

I also have a “Team Scott” of authors who are helping in exchange for some promo help and a listing in one of my ebooks—sort of a paid internship. Some of the events will be launched from the book blogs and others will be posted at my blog this month or announced through my newsletter. The crowdsource experiment is fairly unrefined at this point, but I am open to ideas. Feel free to share them in the comments section, as I’ve shared my ideas here.

Or, if you have a great plan you want to put in effect, send me a short write-up, the audience your promotional plan will reach, and how much you’d like me to pay for your effort. Now that readers sell books instead of agents, you deserve a cut, right? And why let publishers have all the fun?

And I challenge other authors to find ways to thank and reward the people who have made the indie era so wonderful for so many of us.


Scott Nicholson is author of more than 20 books, including three Kindle Top 100 bestsellers. His thrillers Liquid Fear and Chronic Fear will be released by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint on Dec. 20. He’s also collected his experiences of turning indie writing into a fulltime job in his guide The Indie Journey. His website is Haunted Computer and you can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Drop back on Friday for a very special guest post from Bob Mayer.

Note: This post was scheduled to run in my absence while I am doing my level best to resurrect the Portuguese economy by having five meals of grilled fish a day washed down by copious amounts of vinho verde. Please have at it in the comments.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

11 Replies to “Crowdsourcing Book Promotion: Scott Nicholson's Social Experiment With $$$”

  1. This is a fantastic idea, and I truly admire and respect ingenuity. Your comments about authors shit-bombing everyone on Twitter/Facebook with self-promotion struck a chord, because I just released my first novella and I should probably try to scale back the hard sell. This is a much more attractive option, and you’ve challenged us to think of a new marketing idea. Perhaps I could offer a free car wash or something to anyone who publishes a review. I have to do some more thinking.

  2. It’s as if all indie authors are told before they upload, “Join sites! Tell everyone you have a book! They’ll love you and buy it up by the shitloads!” Inevitably they get bashed over the head with “Don’t spam!” The best advice I’ve ever got about the screenwriting world was: “Its about relationships, not what you can get from people.” In indie publishing, it’s about the long haul and It’s about building relationships.

  3. Hi, Paul, good idea–the simplest rule of social media is look to give before you take. Give content, information, and entertainment. Then you won’t even have to “sell” your books. Plus selling on Twitter is a waste of time. NOBODY is on twitter to buy stuff! If they wanted to buy stuff, they’d be at Amazon or somewhere else.

    Christopher, that’s a good tip–it can be time-consuming to build relationships but it’s also a choice, and you can find out pretty easily who your real friends are. This is why I practice quality over quantity. Better to have a few hundred friends who care about what you say than 100,000 people who never even notice you are a “friend.”

  4. I beg to differ upon your sweeping dismissal of Twitter. Some of my best readers (and ultimately, reviewers of my work) are people I engaged with on Twitter. I’ve found it much more effective than Facebook in terms of reaching out to new readers. Your idea is unique. I wish you good luck with it.

  5. I’m one of those people who, even as a writer, is *sick* of nothing but dozens of book promo tweets all day every day. I’ve actually started un-following people who do nothing but tweet links to their books and their writer buddy books. More social in social media, please.

    I’ve also been watching the progress of a writer in my genre who is about #2900 (last I checked) in paid Kindle books. Her website is bare bones. She rarely tweets. Not much of a social media presence as far as I can tell. I only discovered her because of a review on a book blog. Her book is so good, though, that I’ve gotten two friends to buy it and I’m planning on talking about her book on my blog. I’m *excited* to have found a really gifted indie writer.

  6. Great idea! I agree entirely with your assessment of the situation – there are so many of us indie-authors out there right now that the noise-to-signal ratio is huge. I’ve decided to take a step back, build up the book catalog and slowly build up my reputation among my ideal reader market, then once that’s at a reasonable level (the meaning of reasonable to be decided still), release the books. I look forward to seeing the results of your tactic.

  7. Katherine, you pointed out exactly what I meant–you “engaged” people. That’s what Twitter is great at! I’ll bet you didn’t buzz your sales link 10 times a day until you broke their spirit and they got out their credit cards. Considering your thoughtful post, I’d say you actually talked with them and they eventually became interested in your work AFTER they became interested in you.

    Alex, I agree, this will probably be my last big promo event for some time (And I’ve been a big proponent of such big events–to stand apart). But I am still not sure whether the time is better spent just writing.

    Margo, there are people who sell without selling just as there are people who sell yet are generally regarded as obnoxious and pushy people. Most of us fall in between, I believe. Great for you to share a book you’re excited about. That’s what all writers would prefer!


  8. I’d love to read your books, Scott. I’d like to read Joe Konrath’s books too. But they are a genera which doesn’t entertain me. Lots of readers are reading suspense and thrillers and gory accounts of ghastly paranormal things but this kind of book simply scares me. Being afraid doesn’t entertain me. Whereas it is plain that some people enjoy those feelings. So while your marketing concept is an excellent one it omits this particular fact – that not everyone can handle reading the kind of books you write.
    As a reader, I have to seek out the kinds of topics that do entertain me, the writers who intrigue my mind, who make me think and don’t scare me. It is a part of the challenge of both being a writer and and a reader – to connect the two and realise that we can only sell to a part of the market. To the readers who like to read our work and enjoy it. This isn’t everyone.
    Trade publishers would always reject books which did not have a wide enough appeal. Now as authors we can find readers for generas which did not exist previously. Yet the numbers of people which are in those reader groups are limited. This is why such books would be rejected – not enough readers.
    Now with Amazon and Smashwords we have a much larger readership potential – and it is world-wide, not simply in our own country. So the chances are we can sell more books – yet those books will sell only to people who want to read that kind of book.
    I don’t think there is any kind of book which I can say has universal appeal. Afterall there are still lots of people around who simply do not read. My family is full of non-readers.
    I’ll be interested to hear how your promotion goes for you.

  9. I saw this idea a couple weeks ago Scott and to be honest for a quick second, I hated you. I hated you because I didn’t snag this idea first! 🙂

    Seriously though, you are right. We have to find new ways to reach our readers. Tweeting links is wasting time. I’ll get a little burst of sales here and there if I do, but it can’t be constant.

    I’d love to know the “behind the scenes” of you project… how you track the sales, etc.

    It really is a wonderful idea.


  10. I’m an author who’s won various awards for my work over the years, and currently working on two pieces, a nonfiction the other, a contemporary fiction. I’m clearly not opposed to indie publishing, in fact, I’m a newbie in my IWU group, so I’m learning this end of publishing, after years of focusing on the traditional ways of the industry. Articles like these are the best kind of learning too for me, so I say thanks, and hope to see more of these type blogs in the future.

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