Thoughts on Promo for Indie Authors

One of the things I love in reading other author’s blogs is when they share stories of the road they travelled to get to where ever they got. Since I enjoy reading them, I thought it was time for me to do the same…hopefully some of you can find something useful in my experiences.

imagesCA7TDBJHIt is now a little over a year since I published my first novel, On Unfaithful Wings. It was December, 2011, and I didn’t know much about this new-fangled self-publishing thing (okay, it was new fangled to me, not necessarily in the general scheme of things). I knew enough about writing to have my manuscript professionally edited, but I designed the cover myself and did nothing in the way of promotion. Consequently, I sold fewer than 20 copies of my book in the first two months (actually, that was the novel and a collection of short stories combining to sell fewer than 20)…turns out if you do nothing to sell a book, then you don’t sell any books.

Over the ensuing months, I learned how to use Facebook more effectively, got myself a twitter account, and signed up for Amazon’s KDP Select program (if anyone doesn’t know, Select means an author trades exclusivity with Amazon for the right to set your book free for five days of your choosing in a 90 day period). I waited too long to join the select program (read about it in this post on Scott Bury’s blog), but still had a good number of downloads the first couple of times I did it. In my third month of publication, I ran my first free promo, gave away over 8000 copies of On Unfaithful Wings, and sold over 4 times as many books that month as I had the previous two (please keep in mind that 4 times almost nothing is still not much). Excited by the relative success, I ran another free promo the next month and came close to 10000 downloads, and sold even more…enough that Amazon was forced to send me a cheque for my earnings, something they don’t do until you’ve cleared the $100 mark.

You mean I can write and get paid for it? Sweet!

The next month, May 2012, I didn’t do any free promotion (you only get 5 days in a 90 period, remember), but played around with price points, including varying my regular price between $2.99 and $4.99 and running the occasional 99 cent sale. It worked that month, as I had my best sales up to that point, but in June the bottom fell out. July’s ass was saved by the release of the second Icarus book, All Who Wander Are Lost, but it was beginning to become evident that the effectiveness of free promos and the accompanying sales bump were starting to diminish.

Why did this happen? I see two answers to that question:

1. More authors taking advantage of free promo, both through the Select program and Amazon’s price matching policy (if your book is free on another site–Barnes & Noble or Kobo, for instance–then Amazon will change the price of your book on their site to match). With so many free choices out there for readers, they became more selective about what they jammed their ereaders full of, and the downloads got spread around.

2. A few of the powerhouse places that listed free books–notably Pixel of Ink and eReader News Today, a listing in either of which at one time guaranteed free promo success–changed their listing arrangements. Not surprisingly, after building their followings into the hundreds of thousands, they wanted to make money. The number of free books they listed each day declined while the number of featured books–paid ads–increased

At the same time, the impact of Facebook has declined. No matter how many friends you have, no matter how many people click the ‘like’ button on your fan page, only a handful of them see whatever you post. Have you noticed the little ‘seen by’ notification in the bottom left corner of your fan page posts? Are they ever more than 10%? Now many authors have switched to creating events…for their book launch, for their cover reveal, for their free promo, when their book is on sale, when they upload a new version because they realized that, on page 126, they wrote ‘their’ when they actually meant ‘there’, and they want everyone to know its been fixed. I always want to support my fellow indie authors but, to be brutally honest, there are days I receive so many invitations to these events, I want to throw my laptop against the wall. That would be a bad thing…my handwriting sucks.

And Twitter? Did it ever really have an impact as a promo tool? I have over 2000 followers, and most of them are other authors. I know authors are readers and its possible some of them might buy my books, but my Twitter feed is so clogged with gratuitous self-promotion twitter-follow-achiever(including my own) that I rarely even look at it anymore. I watch for my name being mentioned (I recently gave a copy of one of my books to a fan because of a twitter comment), and I monitor a few other feeds, but I’m not convinced that the time/effort to results ratio makes it worthwhile. Don’t even get me started on all the other social networks out there.

To recap: KDP Select is no longer very effective; you need a huge fan base on Facebook for a few people to see what you’re up to; Twitter is so full of promo that people skip over it. So what is a writer to do?

I don’t have 100% bulletproof answers, but here is what worked for me recently.

1. Write more books. I know you’ve heard that before, but the difference in my sales from having two books out to having five is astounding. I’m writing this on Feb. 7, and my sales so far this month with five books available are almost twice my best month with only two out and already more than my best month with three published.

2. Write what sells. Before you call me a money-grubbing hack, I don’t mean drop your literary fiction and take up YA paranormal romance. I’m talking about looking at what sells best of what you write, and do more of that. My epic fantasy novels are far outselling my urban fantasy books, so guess what my next novel is? If you guessed epic fantasy, take a break to grab yourself a cookie.

3. Invest a little money. I’ll pause a moment while the murmuring in the crowd dies down…done? Okay here’s my story:

For a month or two, I’ve been hearing about BookBub. When you sign up with them, they ask your reading preferences then, when they send out newsletters, they are genre specific. Interesting. I decided to do some research, so I signed up for their newsletter and kept an eye on the rankings of books they listed. The majority of the sale books they list end up in the top 1000 on Kindle, lots of them in the top 500 or top 100. Similarly, their free book listings almost without exception end up in the top 30 free. The problem? Advertising with them is pricey, anywhere from $40-$1150, with free promo listings being the cheapest and the price climbing with higher sale prices and the number of people it will be going out to ($1150 is for a $2+ mystery/thriller that goes out to over 300000 people).

Back to me…first I tried to list one of my epic fantasy novels on sale for 99 cents, but it doesn’t have enough reviews, so I submitted On Unfaithful Wings to be listed for a free promo at a cost of $60 to me. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant about investing the money to give something away, but I swallow around the lump in my throat and decide to make the investment. Here’s the key for me in doing this promo: I dropped the price of the second Icarus book to 99 cents, along with one of the epic fantasy books, and made note of the sale in the description for On Unfaithful Wings. My thinking was that I’d be advertising my sale books to all the people who took advantage of the free promo.

619-Collins-1024x768It worked. In two days, I gave away over 8000 copies without being listed by any of the other big blogs. More importantly, I sold enough copies of All Who Wander Are Lost at 99 cents to cover the cost of the ad and then some. Sales since the ad ran have continued at a higher level that they were prior to doing so.

Of course, that’s what worked this month. Check back in a month and we’ll see what’s changed.

PLEASE NOTE #1 – I am in no way affiliated with BookBub. I am only sharing my experiences. I have heard similar success stories from people who have paid to feature their books through Ereader News Today, Pixel of Ink and others. You decide which might work for you and where you should spend you hard-earned dollars.

PLEASE NOTE #2 – If you haven’t completed step 1 above (write more books), I don’t suggest moving on the step 3. Paying for an ad for your book–especially to advertise a free promo–will probably not be worthwhile if you don’t have other books available for purchase. Save that money for editing your new books, or a kick ass cover, or a massage to relieve your writer’s cramp. Wait to invest in advertising when you can see more advantage to it.

To finish up, would I do it again? Absolutely, but this time I want to advertise the first book of my epic fantasy trilogy on sale for 99 cents to see not only how well it can do, but how many of books 2 and 3 will sell. Problem is I need a few more reviews first. Anyone out there read Blood of the King? Anyone want to read it and willing to leave a review?

Leave a comment…we’ll talk.


19 thoughts on “Thoughts on Promo for Indie Authors

  1. As usual, great information, Bruce, and thanks for sharing your experiences.
    For what it’s worth, I ran a promo with Ereader News Today (their .99 cent sale) and had similar results as yours. I’ve held off paying the bucks to bookbub but with the diminished effectiveness of KDP I might just have to bite the bullet.
    Thank you my friend.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Martin. Am I wrong in remembering you do a blog somewhere about your ENT promo? If you did, I’d be grateful if you shared it here for everyone.

  2. Bruce, I love this post! I love reading about what other authors have found that works and doesn’t work for them. I’m working on editing up a new novel myself, but there is no denying the more books you have available the better your sells. Thank you so much for sharing your success, and trials with us.

  3. Great post Bruce. As the Founder of StoryFinds and an Indie author I hear you about promotions, keep on writing and find something that works for you. Cross-promotion, blog tours and cover reveals all help. Don’t forget we love to promote your books on StoryFinds and our prices won’t break the bank. For a company which started eight months ago our reach is expanding on Google Plus, Facebook and twitter. I hope we can highlight your books again soon. – best – Renee

  4. Great post as always. It’s good to remind people that different things work for different people and at different times.

    Ok which of your books do you consider Urban Fantasy?

    I will try to read and review Blood of the King… Soon. So many books I’ve grabbed from friends to review, won, and to read to research my field better…

    1. Thanks Tasha. There’s a lot of ways out there to promote, and it seems like what’s working today for someone is different tomorrow.
      I consider the Icarus books urban fantasy, the three in the Khirro’s Journey trilogy epic fantasy. Hope you enjoy Blood of the King when you get to it.

  5. Boy do I know what you are talking about! There’s another similar website I think they want $50/month, but I’ve already decided to write more books before I start spending that kind of money for promotion. I tried KDP with my first release, and priced it at 99 cents in the beginning. It wasn’t worth it for me. It’s too hard to promote a single book like that.

    And getting five reviews together! One of my books has a single 5 star on Amazon, another 5 star on goodreads, and two private 5-star messages! (I’m still trying to convince everyone to post a review on Amazon so I can hit that 5 count.)

    I put two of my books in bookstores, but I’m not getting the kind of display I expected for them.

    I’ll just give it time, and during that time, regret that I didn’t keep writing straight out of college (I went into music instead, and picked up writing again 30 years later.) I can only cross my fingers and hope I have enough time to wait…

    1. It sounds like we have similar backgrounds, John. I remember living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a week while I was on the road in my early 20s. That’s somehow better than being a writer?
      Leave the regrets behind, put your head down and write…that seems to be the best solution. The more work you have out, the easier it is for people to find you.

  6. Thanks Bruce! We really appreciate when authors share what works for them, what they wouldn’t do again, and what they are trying out right now. So many things to do and consider besides writing the book, lol!

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