Once you’ve written a book, edited a book and published a book, you need to promote the book. We know this, but how?
You can go asking and begging for book reviews, you can try marketing/PR stunts, you can go on a social network and blogging frenzy to drum up some business and you can also try the old fashioned, uncreative method of paid advertising.
I’ve tried all these but here is my sorry tale of paid advertising, so you can save your money, or at least, better target it. Also, many, many ‘experts’ go on about the vagaries of online marketing, lovingly vomiting the latest buzz phrases to build up an impressive wall of hyperbole without actually nailing their colours to a mast. Here I’m skewering my colours to a sinking ship.
My budget was miniscule. I didn’t put a hard and fast rule on it because if I’d said, ‘£100’, that would’ve seemed a lot straight off the bat, so I kept my eye out for deals and experimented here and there. I could’ve put £100 into targeted Facebook ads but that was putting all my eggs in one basket, not as experimental and to be honest, £100 ain’t going to get you far on Facebook.
So here is a list of all the places where I paid for a text ad, a ‘banner’, newsletter or tweet. A combination of websites and Twitter accounts, in the vain hope of discovering those unrelenting hordes of hungry ebook readers;
I finally get a Bookbub promotion approved because I said I’d give it away for free. Goes against my Taylor Swift-like instincts but I put it down as a marketing cost. I’m selling fuck all at the moment anyway, so profits aren’t going to be hit.
I set a date and then log in to Amazon. I’d wrongly, dumbly assumed I could set the price to zero. You can’t. Only if you’re taking part in KDP Select, which I had done about 8 months previously. You can re-enter KDP Select but you have to give Amazon exclusive rights to your book and I’d just paid to get my book listed at all the other retailers, so fuck that.
Bookbub states that listing your book for free elsewhere might get picked up by Amazon’s price match and therefore get your ebook listed for free on Amazon. So I tried that by listing it for free on Apple. Amazon’s price match ignored me so my Bookbub promotion went out with just the Apple iBooks link. I got 2 downloads at a cost of $40.
Amazon’s pricing restrictions have now resulted in me INCREASING the price of my book for a few months so I can then go back to Bookbub with a 50% discount enabling me to then reduce the price to 99p. I feel like a sofa salesman!
A book that wasn’t selling has now increased it’s price.
A book that wasn’t selling on Amazon so got listed on other retailers is then expected to remove itself from those retailers to price the book for free via KDP Select to stimulate sales? I think not, old son.
If an author much more popular than I, wanted to promote a book for free, they can on other sites. They could drive people into the loving arms of another retailer, forcing them to register an account and breaking down the barrier to them getting further books from that site in the future.
So how is Amazon’s restrictive approach to pricing helping Amazon?
I can understand Amazon don’t want to become a repository for free books to sponge off their huge traffic, but then again, I don’t think authors ideally want to give away their books for free either. It’s a marketing technique, a traffic driver, a sales stimulus, an interest piquer, a chance to gather some much needed reviews; not a business model.
This would also help authors with a backlist, they could give away the first book in a series to hook readers into the buying the rest of the series.
Amazon should allow ebooks to be sold for free without having to enroll in KDP Select to help get the sales ball rolling. They could add time restrictions (1 month per year), sales rank restrictions (no book in top 1000 can do a free giveaway), review restrictions (no book with more than 100 5 star reviews can do a giveaway), so not everyone takes the piss but enabling a vital sales tool to be used by authors struggling to get themselves out there…like me.
Authors and Amazon want the same thing, increased profits, so why not do all they can to help facilitate this?
The second half of the year didn’t go much better, in fact, probably worse.
- I’ve sold 11 copies over the last 6 months on Amazon, 27 in total for the year.
- I doubled the amount of reviews on Amazon to 8.
- My 4 reviews on Goodreads has remained the same.
- My first review on iBooks.
- My first email from someone who liked the book.
- Sold one paperback copy, but I know who it is so that takes the shine off a little, even though I do appreciate it.
- Didn’t get any new book blog reviews but did get shortlisted for book of the year at SFBook.com.
- Gave a copy of the paperback to my local library who confirmed they would stock it but I haven’t seen it out in the wild yet.
I contacted a whole load of book blogs for a review with a low percentage of replies or acknowledgements. I sent a couple of hard copies off to real world journalists in a Hail Mary attempt, neither have paid off in real terms, but I did get one thank you, which was nice.
I also entered the world of paid advertising. With a small budget I wasn’t expecting great things but it’s worth an experiment, it wasn’t crazy money. I’ll go into more detail in another post, but suffice to say; the ROI was negative and only a couple of outlets actually resulted in a sale.
I also expanded my reach by submitting my book to other online retailers, you can read more here – ‘In A Right State’ on iBooks, Nook, Kobo and more…. Anyway, this has gained me 4 sales across Google, Kobo and iBooks plus a couple of libraries in the US have downloaded it 4 times too.
All in all, pretty uninspiring.
This is all despite lowering the ebook’s price and getting an ad on Bookbub.
So what lessons have I learnt? I’ll let you know in another post (one of the lessons I learnt is increasing blog post count 🙂 ) but I guess this story of mind-numbing mediocrity is a more common story than we might think because not every author can have a debut bestseller rise up out of the blue. There’s a lot of media/Twitter coverage when someone does get into the top ten of any list but if you look closer, they’re very rarely there on their own, without a gimmick or a ‘backstory’, purely through the merit of their writing alone, for a debut novel, especially a self-published one.
This isn’t bitterness, just a fact. It’s another lesson I’ve learnt. A debut author of any book is swimming against a huge current of established authors, celebrity authors, books that have hit the zeitgeist, books with budgets and great contacts, books with good reviews in national publications and a myriad of other reasons.
This is just the beginning. I’m not a one book wonder, I’ve got 2 others on my hard-drive, finished in various drafts. This is the first few steps into the realm of being a writer and ‘In A Right State‘ is something I’m proud of and it’s taught me a lot about both the writing process and the publishing process, as the first steps into any venture would.
I’m downhearted but I’m encouraged. I can do better next time.
Although if you check out a post I wrote before all this started, Self-Publishing: My goal & defining success, then I’m only just short of what I initially defined as ‘Success’ (Selling 50+ ebooks and getting 5 or more 4/5 star reviews on Amazon).
Whatever happens, I hope to have another book out next year. Write, edit, publish, promote, repeat. I get a sick pleasure out of it 🙂