Now that I’m a self-pubber, promotion and marketing are 100% in my own hands, and I decided to take the dive into paid promotion. Since getting back the rights for Bone Flower Throne and republishing it myself, sales have been very sluggish; sales weren’t good with my publisher, but I think they were probably even worse since I took over. Of course, I wasn’t doing much promotion other than letting people know that “Hey! The paperback and e-book are back on sale again!” I made a handful of sales, and my sales rank on BFT at Amazon had been pretty atrocious. The book had basically zero visibility and was languishing, not really a good thing with the second book on the verge of coming out.
So I decided to do a temporary price drop on BFT, to hopefully generate some sales and move the book up Amazon’s ranks. I definitely started selling again once I did this, but it was a trickle; maybe two or three sales a day. I just didn’t have enough eyes in my own social network to bring in any significant numbers of readers, so I needed some help. And that’s when I decided I needed to pay to get in front of more sets of eyes.
Bookbub is the big daddy that everyone wants to get into, but quite honestly, I don’t think I have enough reviews yet to get into their listings, and it’s expensive; people do swear that it’s a giant boost for sales, so it ends up paying for itself (and often more), but I’m already quite a few bucks in the red on BFT. At this point, getting a Bookbub would double that. Besides, there’s quite a few low-cost options to try first, so that’s what I’ve done.
I made the decision to go paid by the end of the first day of the promotional pricing, and so picked out a handful of sites that I saw good things about on the KBoards. I was really skeptical about being able to secure slots at such short notice, but it turned out not to be a problem for the most part. As of today, I have secured 5 promos, and I could probably get another before the end of the sales period (though I think I’ll wait until my next promo to do it); only one site I applied to hasn’t gotten back to me yet. The sites I booked with are Bargain Booksy, Fussy Librarian, Ebooklister, Genre Pulse, and Digital Book Spot (also called BKnights). Since I was doing this on such short notice, I had multiple promos running each day, so I can’t make any definitive determinations on which promo was producing sales and which was not, so my conclusions will be based on whether or not I was able to break even on any given promo given my sales numbers.
Wednesday January 7th
The first of two days of paid promos. I had a Bargain Booksy and a listing with the Fussy Librarian for this day, and I needed a total of $49 dollars in sales to break even on these. Both promos had both email and site exposure, and they are segregated lists, which means that email subscribers decide what genres they want to see and receive only those books in their email, so for a cross-genre book such as mine, I had to pick one genre and promo it as that. I chose fantasy, because while the book has heavy romance elements, it’s not technically genre romance thanks to no HEA. It might be interesting to try switching the genre category and see if that makes a difference, for I definitely think that genre has a bearing on how effective the promos are, but more on that later.
Over the course of the day, sales picked up, and at one point I made nearly ten sales in an hour. That really had me hopeful. Sales soon tapered off though, and I ended up with a total of 27 sales–21 at Amazon, 6 at B&N. Not great numbers, and only enough to break even on the Fussy Librarian listing. Given this, I don’t think that the Bargain Booksy is effective. It’s too pricy for the results. Fussy Librarian might be worth a second try.
At the beginning of the day, I checked the sales ranks of all the other books on the promo list, particularly the ones in the two genres my book is. Most were kind of low like my own, into the 100k’s, but when I went back and checked them again at the end of the night, I found the rankings of the books on Bargain Booksy had improved greatly compared to those on Fussy Librarian. In fact, mine and a historical romance seemed to be the only ones that had significant number changes on Fussy Librarian. This would suggest that probably the lion’s share of my sales actually came from Bargain Booksy rather than Fussy Librarian, but even if that’s true, the number of sales I did get from Bargain Booksy doesn’t come anywhere close to recouping my investment in the listing. Fussy Librarian is cheap enough that further testing could be worthwhile whereas Bargain Booksy is a bust with this book, financially-speaking anyway.
The day did wonders for my sales ranking on Amazon though. For the longest time, the only way I knew I’d sold something on Amazon was by seeing that the sales rank had shifted, and even after putting everything under my own kdp account, I spent more time watching the sales rank on book’s listing than checking the sales report on KDP. It seemed that the sales rank always moved in the correct direction very soon after the sale, within the next update cycle, so I was really puzzled–and worried–when my ten-an-hour sales came in and my sales rank was actually getting worse! This was a huge disappointment for me at the time, especially since I wasn’t getting the sales numbers I’d hoped, and it was even looking like I wasn’t going to get the sales rank boost I was hoping to get either. Eventually though, the sales rank dropped, and it dropped dramatically (over 100k drop in one cycle). I went from 135k at the highest all the way down to 15k in the middle of the night; and the rise back up has been pretty slow. I also made the front page of lists in both romance (historical romance/ancient world) and fantasy (myths and legends/Arthurian). On the fantasy list, I was rubbing shoulders with Mists of Avalon and three separate Dark Tower novels–a personal high point for me. It hasn’t really produced sales as far as I can tell, but hopefully the next set of promos will help my ranking climb even higher, and get onto a few more lists with better visibility.
My impression thus far is that genre has a great bearing on how successful promos with a lot of these places are. There’s a lot of romance listed whereas there’s really not a whole lot of fantasy (and when it is fantasy, it tends to be urban fantasy). And checking sales ranks seems to suggest that the romance books do really well. Maybe romance readers are more willing to give things a chance than fantasy readers are (which would reinforce the statistics that say romance fans are veracious readers). I’d be willing to retry Bargain Booksy when I finally publish my historical romance novels.
Thursday January 8th:
I had three promos running this day: Ebooklister, Digital Bookspot (BKnights), and Genre Pulse. I needed to earn a total of $41 to break even, which amounted to 118 sales at $.99. I ended up selling a total of 13 books, and I know that at least one of them wasn’t due to the promos. I had 12 sales at Amazon and one at Kobo (which may also be independent of the promos since none of them featured a Kobo link, though too it could be carry-over from the previous day’s promos which did include Kobo links. There’s just no way to tell.)
Needless to say, this day was highly disappointing and I won’t be using any of these promo sites again for this book. The sales I did get kept me up in the ranks all day though, so that is a bright light. Another positive is that Genre Pulse does something very cool for its authors: they provide a bitly link that tracks the number of clicks your promotion receives, and if you sign up for a bitly account, you can see where the clicks are coming from too. I wish all promotions included this feature, for it would take a lot of mystery out of this. Seeing the number of clicks I got compared to the numbers other authors reported in the Genre Pulse thread at KBoards gave me a lot of confidence that Genre Pulse was not a good fit for my book, but also I’m still getting clicks this morning, so maybe there’s a long-tail worth keeping an eye on.
Now for the negative, and there was a lot on this day.
Ebooklister offers free promo on their website, but you can purchase a relatively cheap paid promo that gets you featured prominently on the website, and gets your book into the newsletter they send out to subscribers. In the end, I feel that I would have gotten just as much out of the free promo as I did out of the paid. Even if all my sales came from Ebooklister, I didn’t come anywhere close to breaking even there.
I bought a one-day app-only promo from Genre Pulse, and initially I was pretty excited, since I was seeing clicks and even getting some sales very shortly afterwards. My gut is that the bulk of my sales yesterday came from Genre Pulse, since I watched the Bitly link quite closely yesterday and often saw sales on my kdp dashboard shortly after an increase in clicks. As of this morning I have a total of 28 clicks, compared to the 200-300 other authors doing the same promo reported at KBoards. I downloaded the app to my Kindle, so I could check it out, check out my ad, and maybe try out a new avenue for finding discount books. The app seems cool enough, but I found it troublesome on a technical level. None of the promo titles would load for me, so even if I wanted to purchase them, I couldn’t because I couldn’t access the links to buy. I tried clearing the data several times and even reinstalled the app, but still wasn’t able to get to the promo titles to load. At one point I did manage to get to the buy link on my own book, but it was such a pain and frustrating exercise that eventually I just gave up on the app. If other users were having these same issues with the app being only intermittently reliable, then it’s little wonder I got only 28 clicks. And given that this was an app-only promo, this issue makes me very grumpy. I never was able to access any of the other promo titles, so any sales those other folks might have gotten from me were lost to frustration. I don’t think I would use the cheaper app-only promotion again for any book thanks to these technical issues.
Finally, we come to Digital Book Spot (BKnights). This promotion cost me more than the other two combined, and at this point, I didn’t get my money’s worth. BKnights does business through Fiverr, so everything they do is $5 a pop, which is super cheap. But they offer a lot of individualized services, to help increase the exposure of your promotion. So while $5 will get you listed on their website for several days, for another $5, you can get a Facebook post, and for another $5 they will tweet about your sale to their followers. I ended up buying 4 services, to increase the exposure. And if they’d actually delivered all of the extra services I bought, I’d have no good reason to complain. But they didn’t deliver my facebook post, or my twitter post; I have no way of telling whether they delivered the newletter listing since I’m not a member, but I’m willing to let that slide. But when I don’t see a facebook post that I paid for, nor a tweet that I paid for, I get miffed. I’m in the process of finding out why those didn’t go out, and possibly trying to get a refund on those two services, since today is the last day of my promotional pricing. My advice: don’t waste your time with the extras. Though I wouldn’t exactly recommend this service in general, not for fantasy or SF anyway. Update: BKnights ran the facebook post and the twitter post on the 9th, a day after the original listing, so that issue is resolved and I’m satisfied. I think I might have gotten a handful of sales from them, though I was doing some minor promoting on FB and twitter, letting folks know that Friday was the last day for the promotional pricing, so I can’t say for sure what produced the 10 sales on Friday–9 at Amazon, 1 at B&N, but so far it’s looking unlikely that I’ll recoup the cost of the promos with BKnights.
So, my first foray into paid promotion seems to be an utter failure; only one promo might be worth revisiting at a later date. And while I improved my sales rank and got on the front page of some lists, that doesn’t seem to have resulted in an increase in sales. Without promos running, my sales have tanked down to zero again, and so far I haven’t seen any increase in book two sales, which was really the purpose of doing promo; though maybe it will take a month or two to start seeing an influence in that arena. I’ll be returning the book back up to regular price tomorrow, so if you want to still get Bone Flower Throne at the sale price, today’s the day to do it.
And now it’s time to put the promo aside and get back to the really important work: delivering the final book in this series for those readers waiting for it.