I started to write this post last week…and it quickly grew way too long and never got published. So, I’ve decided to break my rundown in half. This first post will cover why and how you might choose to pay for book advertising, and the next post (whenever I once again need a break from my work in progress) will dive deeper into the nitty gritty of specific advertising platforms that have and haven’t worked for me. So, I apologize in advance for any questions you might still have unanswered when you hit the bottom of this page! More is to come.
Why pay for advertising?
I should start this post by telling you that I’m a skinflint (if you haven’t already figured that out). So, when I started reading kboards and heard everyone going on about paid promotions, my first thought was, “No way am I spending money on book promotions.” My my second thought was equally unkind: “And isn’t that gaming the system?”
But the truth is that the old-fashioned method of gaining exposure — setting your book free and then notifying unpaid websites that report on free books — is starting to show diminishing returns. The chart above shows my excellent results for a free period (orange dots) during Shiftless‘s early days. Pre-promo, the 99-cent ebook sold a few copies, but quickly drifted down in the rankings. But I notified a few sites before my free period, gave away several thousand copies, and suddenly Shiftless started taking off organically. With no further promotion, the book began ranking around 5,000 in the Amazon store and stayed there (with the help of another free run) until I raised the price to $2.99 in August. (I may change my mind about that price hike, especially now that I almost have another book in the series nearly ready to go…but that’s fodder for another post.)
Anyway, to cut a long story short, free periods used to be golden…but their efficacy is much more hit or miss lately. Part of the problem is that Amazon’s affiliate program now reduces earnings for affiliates who send too many free-book buyers their way, so fewer and fewer sites are willing to list free books pro bono. Also, once you’ve had one or two really good free periods, you’ve somewhat saturated the market, and you’re less likely to spike into the top-100 free, meaning that you’ll catch many fewer eyes and won’t get as much of a boost from the promo.
So, what’s the solution? Well, writing more books is key since each launch will boost sales of previous books. But we can only write as fast as we can write, so many authors turn to paid promotions in the interim.
How (not) to pay for advertising
When I talk about paying for advertising, you may think of buying a billboard or signing up with google ads. But most readers find books via word of mouth, so these untargeted advertising campaigns don’t seem to work very well. (That said, one kboarder reported having great results with a very specific facebook advertising campaign, which might be worth a try if you spend a lot of time on facebook and want to leverage what you know.)
So, what does work? Book recommendation email lists. As a reader, I’ve signed up for several, but have settled on using Bookbub as my primary way of finding free books worth reading — something about Bookbub’s method of choosing titles seems to select for quality, and it’s much easier to comb through three daily freebies in the genres that I enjoy than to browse the entire Amazon free lists. Bookbub also lists books reduced in prize to 99 cents (or, sometimes to $1.99 or $2.99), and I assume the less skinflinty readers use my same methodology but actually pay money for these sale books.
Bookbub is the big dog in the book-recommendation world (and I’ll write about them more in a later post), but there are many smaller options for those of us with less ready money. In fact, some of the email lists will showcase your book for free…although you often get what you pay for. Here’s a sampling of the top services that will list sale books without asking you for a dime:
Awesome Gang — I actually paid for their $10 option, which I’ll report on in my next post, but they have a free option as well.
Books on the Knob — Didn’t list me.
Discount Books Daily — Charges for some genres. I paid and will report on them in my next post.
Ereader Cafe — Didn’t list me.
Ebook Hounds — Free until January 2015. I had quite good results from their listing — 8 sales and 1 borrow in 24 hours. While this doesn’t sound like much, nine units moved in a day can give a new book a leg up in the rankings.
Ebooklister — I was listed but sold 0 books.
Manybooks — Didn’t list me.
The Midlist — I’ve heard great things about the results of this free service, but I kept getting rejected at first. I do have a listing scheduled with them for January, though, so I’ll report back then. Although free, The Midlist is considered to be one of the medium-sized dogs — it’s worth changing your promotion date to match their openings if you can get one.
The Naughy List — Despite the name, this service lists all flavors of romance, including sweet, and they have given me quite good results – 5 additional buys and two borrows in 24 hours.
Reading Deals —
I’ve never tried them because they require you to tweet first, and I don’t have a twitter account. But some kboarders consider them to be in the middle to upper tier in terms of quality. Edited to add: I either got my wires crossed when I first wrote this (most likely), or Reading Deals has changed their twitter policy. During a promotion in December 2014, a free Reading Deals listing resulted in 1 additional borrow.
SciFiFantasy Freak — Will start charging in January 2015. I think their list is very small at the moment, though, because I didn’t see any sales at all from their ad on Shiftless (although I also hadn’t reduced the price).
Okay, I suspect that’s enough for you to digest, so I’ll finish up this rundown on paid promotions in a second post. Stay tuned for Part 2: How to decide if you’re ready to pay, and who to pay. And, in the meantime, thanks for reading!