Book Promotion – The Gambler’s Dilemma

I just did a book promotion. I had my book listed in several newsletters. I had some sales, not what I’d hoped, and I saw my book rise to #3 in YA Steampunk and I think #14 in Fairy Tale. The experience was interesting, and I found myself going through some of the thoughts below. The more I thought about it, and had people asking me about how my promo was going, sharing their experiences, the more I realized that there was something I needed to call out, to blog about.

We’ve all heard about the fabled people who made THOUSANDS from a great newsletter. They make it sound like it was simple. I actually know a guy, and I’ve spoken with him face to face and I believe him, who made $18k. It’s not a joke, it’s not an exaggeration, he did. Thing is, it was about a year and a half ago which is eons ago in online marketing terms. Second thing, he’d also sold 90k books over a few years so he had a bit of a name.

There’s a real dark side to all the indie book promo stuff, a dark side that uses our fear of doing something wrong, our hope to succeed and then, our fear of shame, against us. There’s an enormous industry out there that all it does is feed off of prospective writers and indie authors.

“Hey buddy, you got a book? How’d you like to be rich? All you got to do is this…”

Red dice and playing cards on a casino tableWhere we start

You want to promote your book. Maybe you can get on BookBub, the most famous of the newsletters? You look at their website and your imagination goes wild over the stats they have that say how many copies the average book in a particular genre newsletter usually sells. If you got only half of that, or a quarter, you’d be laughing. Before you consider submitting for it, you’ve got to think about price.

First there’s the question of whether or not you offer your book for free or for $0.99, or maybe for $1.99. Sales have crawled to a stop where there seem to be more and more days between them. You’ve got two books, so maybe you decide to go free for one, hoping that the other one will get followup sales. There are a lot of blogs out there that say this is the thing to do. But on the other hand, there are the blogs that say you’ll get a lot of free-hogs, coming in to download your book ONLY because it’s free and not doing anything other than raising your hopes, or potentially leaving you terrible reviews because they didn’t like that your book about fairies had, you know, fairies in it.

You decide that you only people who are willing to actually buy something, to have a level of commitment, and so you set the price at $0.99. You decide to use Amazon Countdown deals, even though that will isolate anyone not in the US or UK because Amazon doesn’t support it. Amazon makes it sound like when you do a Countdown deal that readers are somehow going to be able to find it, that you’ll get some exposure, but you doubt that’s true and yet, even though, you hope. Alternatively, you could go to all the sites you have your book on and set the price to $0.99. It takes some planning and work down ahead of time, and everything’s set.

freshicon_393The Newsletters

You start with the best, BookBub. You fill in the online form and submit your book’s promo. You should get in, you’ve learned since last time, but when the email comes in, they haven’t accepted you. There’s no rhyme or reason given, you’re just not in. That’s okay, there’s a lot of others out there.

You sign up for 8 free newsletters and stop yourself, as you find the audiences are getting smaller and smaller. The last one you filled in had 3000 people and you wonder, from the 1997-esque type of website, really how many of them read it. None of these guys have data to show like BookBub.

You sign up for two paid ones. One’s $10 and the other’s $20. Then there’s that new book startup you heard about on Twitter. You check them out. They want $40 to get into their newsletter, discounted (supposedly) from $100. They have 75k people on their newsletter. Okay, it sounds worthwhile. Then you discover on KBoards that an author you really admire has his pet list of newsletters, and you’re only on one of them. You sign up for them too, another $50.

You realize that you’d planned to spend $50, but now you’re $120. You do the math and figure out how many books you need to sell to break even. It’s more than you’ve ever sold, but it’s okay. It’s possible. All you’d need is 5% of the readers of all these newsletters to buy your book.

Then a website you subscribed to offers ads at a discount, FIFTY PERCENT OFF! You know enough about marketing to know that people usually need to see something several times over before they commit to a buy. The ad’s only $40 and it’s for a whole month. They will have you on their sidebar, shining nice and all pretty for their users. Heck, their name even has Kindle in it, and they seem to have their marketing act together. Okay, feeling a bit guilty, you’re in. $160 spent, but all in all, you figure if you don’t sell, at least you’ll get good exposure.

vector-t-shirt-design-with-dice-on-fire_fJDAYb__The roll of the dice

The date comes up and everything starts. Like an addict, you’re refreshing the stats on Amazon KDP’s site and others to see how the sales are doing. There’s nothing at first, and you realize that everyone’s at work. You’re being an idiot, you need to chill out. You remember that podcast where they said not to do what your doing.

At the end of the first night of the three days, you look at the total with disappointment. Four. Four? Really, four? Well, most of the newsletters are coming in tomorrow, and your books rankings have improved on a couple of sites. You start second guessing the synopsis you used for the ads, the timing. You started it during the week, you’re an idiot, right? Should have had it starting on Saturday, or should you? It’s too late now.

A new follower on Twitter is another newsletter. You can’t help yourself and you click on it. Their site is really good looking and they claim to have a serious number of readers. They also have a Twitter broadcasting service, and in desperation, you sign up for it. You know that you get most of your sales from there, so little extra help should work… though deep down you doubt it.

The second and third days do better, but you’re not near your breakeven mark. What’s worse, you have no way of knowing what newsletter was effective, or was it just you tweeting your heart out? You realized in the final hours that it was pointless posting to the Facebook book promotion groups because new posts show up within seconds of yours, stuffing it way down the list. It’s like zombies jumping on top of each other to get over a wall.

Girl With Her Head In Her Hands Sad And Unhappy About SomethingRemorse

The top spot you got for your book felt good, for a moment, but you slipped back down quickly. The fifty new readers you have will hopefully, one day, move on to your next book. You don’t want to discuss your experience with anyone, and wonder how many other authors feel the same, like there’s a dirty, dark secret to the whole indie thing that no one wants to share. Maybe there’s too much money to be made off of people like you for people to be honest. Maybe your synopsis wasn’t good, or maybe the day was wrong. Maybe you shouldn’t have done the Countdown deal because it was too confusing and none of the newsletters handled that properly, or maybe you went to broad and wide with where your book is. Maybe it was just a bad week, or maybe… maybe you didn’t have the right newsletter. Maybe you should have added those last two you found at the last minute who, for only an extra $10, could have added you in as a Featured Title.

Hammer Hitting Computer Showing Angry With LaptopMy experience

I didn’t get into Bookbub, and I went with about eight newsletters. One of the newsletters was a startup company but I’d had several interactions with them and thought I’d try them out. All in all, I spent maybe about $90 bucks and sold about 70 copies at $0.99 and a few at the Amazon Countdown stepped up price of $1.99.

The thing is, I know that I had 725 clicks on my own Twitter and Facebook book links. I had pretty good retweet support, no sharing on FB but good sharing on Google+. So did anyone click on the newsletter links? I don’t know. Did I sell most of those or did a particular newsletter do that? I don’t know. All of the newsletters stripped the links I gave, or just asked for the ASIN of the book, so that they could wrap their own associates link around it (i.e. get a commission on any sales). None of them give me any data as to how many people opened the newsletter mine was in, how many clicked on my link. That would at least be something.

My book went up to #3 which was great to see, and because of its existing sales and continued trickle of sales, it’s hovering around #16, moving up and back down and then back up. Here’s the thing, that hope you have as you rocket to the top of a chart if it’ll suddenly catch fire, it didn’t happen. Does that type of thing happen anymore? I don’t know.

Did I make some tactical mistakes? Sure, but figuring out what they really were is something I’ll only figure out through further experimentation. Was an Amazon Countdown deal the right thing to do? I think not, because the newsletters have no support for the idea of price changes. Was it right to charge for my book, rather than give book 1 away for free? I think it was. Should I stay Amazon exclusive? I’ll be blogging about that.

I knew I’d done the wrong thing when I got talked into having some Tweet support for $25. I’d been talking with the owner of the author/reader site for a while and in a moment of weakness, he talked me into adding tweets to my campaign. Now, it wasn’t complete weakness. I paid a very discounted rate to be a member of their site almost a year ago. It was a final opportunity to show me some value, and it failed. Paying that $25 saved me more money.

When I realized I’d paid for the tweeter support, that’s when I started thinking about the whole gambler mentality. If you do nothing, nothing will happen. But if you do something, something will happen. If you do the right things, a LOT of good stuff is supposed to happen… right?

At the end of the day, nothing beats making direct connections with potential readers in social media and in real life. Can newsletters and promos be helpful? Sure, but which ones? And for which genres? And in which months? And… and… and… When is it just rolling the dice?

Check out my books

Check out the trailer for The Yellow Hoods

4 thoughts on “Book Promotion – The Gambler’s Dilemma

  1. Alexis Radcliff

    > At the end of the day, nothing beats making direct connections with potential readers in social media and in real life.

    I think that’s the honest truth. My sense of things is that all social media efforts should be driven towards making real, 1:1 connections with people if you really want to sell books. And to do that, you have to be a little bit real and give back to people. Not just sell to them.

    Platforms are critical, but it’s not much of a platform if you’re endlessly retweeting into a void.

    1. Adam Dreece Post author

      I agree 100%. There are lots of blog posts and people who say “in 2013 I did this and it worked amazing,” and fail to point out how much the world has changed and adapted. That’s even if these ‘tricks’ worked.

  2. Stanislava

    Thank you for sharing, Adam! I do honestly believe that marketing is not easy. It doesn’t come easily to most of us and so I appreciate your honesty.

    And yes, when someone is giving me advice/ piece of their mind about publishing and marketing and their info is based on sales and experiences that are outdated and no longer relevant, it pisses me off.

    With BookBUB only 2 things matter. Having over 50 reviews & having a review from a fancy place ( like Kirkus or Washington post ). That’s the only two things they care about and they won’t accept anything else. Unless you have previous bestselling status or a review posted by Stephen King ( which yeah, I don’t have his phone number on a speed dial ). 🙂


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