Paid book promotions worth their salt, part 1

ShiftlessI 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?”

Results of a free run

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

Watermelon SummerWhen 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!

13 thoughts on “Paid book promotions worth their salt, part 1

  1. Great post, Aimee, full of things to consider. I was thinking just yesterday about how the whole free book promo situation on KIndle select was probably not going to be something I pursue very often any more, especially not after the first few weeks of launching a new book. I had already made up my mind that the number of books I gave away was far more costly than the benefits of my sales boost. I did make it to the top 100 PAID list of ghost stories, and I did get a bump for several weeks afterward, but not enough to warrant giving away over $20,000 worth of books. At least not in my opinion. And though sales have tapered back down to a trickle again, I’m not wanting to give away more at this point, except in concert with my release of the sequel, perhaps.

    So many decisions to be made, and I want to re-read and study this post much more closely. And a million thanks for the list, too! I am going to look into every one of them. No way I can afford Book Bub, not to mention, I probably would never be selected by them. So it’s the smaller avenues for me, combined with some other tidbits of advice from Write. Publish. Repeat.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful, information-filled post, and I’m looking forward to Part 2!


  2. I couldn’t seem to find a less blunt way to say this, but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at the cost of free books. You didn’t lose $20,000 worth of books — the only loss was however much you would have made on the same title if the book hadn’t been free during that time period (maybe 15 or 20 bucks). In the digital age, many artists believe you have to give away a large amount of your output as advertising or as a good-will gesture…but luckily that doesn’t cost us much (or anything) since digital products are so easy to multiply. Instead, all of that “lost” product will bring new readers to your books, netting more income and a larger audience overall. The only reason I’m turning a bit away from free is because, after one or two free runs, I can’t seem to get a book to break the top 100 anymore, so I feel like I’m not giving away *enough* copies to make it worth my while.

    But, of course, that’s just my feeling on the topic. I know that many people feel differently about free (feeling that the price tag serves to devalue paid books, etc.), and, in the end, we all have to make those decisions for ourselves!

    I hope I wasn’t too argumentative. You seem to have struck one of my few book-marketing related nerves. I’m a firm believer in not holding too tightly to intellectual copyright, so I have similarly odd views on things like piracy (flattering and doesn’t cut into sales) and use of my words and photos on the internet (give me a link and I’m happy). Sorry to get up on my soapbox!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nope, not too argumentative. Just stating what you believe. And I understand every word you said, believe it or not. I just don’t think the value is there any more. And I misphrased the part about the $20,000. I didn’t mean to imply that I would have made anything like that amount of profit. Just that the retail value of the books given away was over $20,000. That’s a number that I find hard to deal with, more on an emotional level than anything else. But if it had garnered me a lot more sales and (especially) a lot more reviews, it would have gone down a lot easier. I just don’t think it’s the right answer after a certain point in the life of a book. I’m looking much more closely at the idea of funneling, as explained in the Truant/Platt book, when I get a few more products out there. And bundling. Even a small bundle (like 2) makes more sense to me. Also offering a book permanently free as a gateway to a series makes sense.

      I guess I just think things are changing and tactics need to change, too. I agree with a lot of what you mention, and I seldom worry about those other things. I just think there’s a point in the “life” of a book where wholesale giveaways might not be the answer. It depends on what your goal is, how many products you’ve got out there, and other factors, as well. However, even having said that, I never argue with success. If a tactic is working for someone, I say stick with it. If it’s not, then it’s time to look for a different approach. I’m looking. 🙂

      And you never need fear expressing a differing opinion here, as long as you aren’t being disrespectful to anyone else, which you certainly aren’t. Sometimes, you might even change my mind. 😀


      • Thanks for not minding my moderately argumentative reply! 🙂 Lots of good thoughts in your comment here — I especially like your gut feeling that you’ll need to use different marketing techniques at different phases in a book’s “life.” I haven’t run across any ebooks that really break that strategy down yet, but it’s been very true in my experience. Hopefully someone will come up with a scheme that really works, maybe do one or two free runs during a book’s first year, then change over to 99-cent sales with paid advertising, then….?

        You also have a good point about the emotional hangups that we have to overcome while marketing an ebook. I know that I have hangups of my own (like having a very hard time wrapping my head around paying to advertise free books, although many people report that has good results if you’ve got a funnel going). Plenty left to learn!


        • Sure wish WordPress would let me know when there’s a response here. As Administrator, I should get notices. But since I don’t, I check the box (Notify me of new comments). That doesn’t do it, either! GAH. So I’ll always be late, I guess.

          I don’t think we’re that far off in our thoughts, Aimee. I can definitely see a free run with a new book. (That’s why I’m still in Kindle Select.) But I really think there’s a point beyond which it isn’t helping and may actually be hurting, in that your potential audience may be nearly tapped out by the time thousannds of copies are out there. That’s just one thought. I have no idea how many sales I can reasonably expect with my books, but I’m guessing it’s in the thousands somewhere, and not in the tens of thousands. IF that’s the case, giving away over 8,000 copies in 2 promos seems excessive. And the lack of sales after the second one, which was far bigger than the first, worries me. So I’m thinking in terms of how best to move that book now, when the sequel comes out. And I suspect a package deal might be good. Or a permanent reduction in price. Or another tactic along those lines.

          I’m also thinking I’ll give away a free download of it to anyone who joins my Mail List. That might also produce a very small funnel into Rabbit’s story. I’m still playing with these ideas, but I doubt I’ll be doing any more big free promos of WRR, anyway. SO much to consider.


      • One correction here. I actually got it wrong the SECOND time. The $20,000 I calculated was what my royalties on the free books would have amounted to. (Just in the second promo. I never added in the earlier one.) Of course, that’s not net profit. And it might not be enough to worry anyone else. But to me, struggling on such a tight budget as we are, it was a number that just reverberated through my brain. Again, though, I realize I certainly wouldn’t have SOLD that high of a number. But since I also didn’t maintain a good volume of sales for very long afterward, and I didn’t garner nearly enough reviews, I think for that book, it’s time for a different approach.


  3. Awesome post Aimee, thanks. Am adding these to my list of possibilities to explore. I don’t have enough reviews yet (at, um, three) to qualify for a lot of the higher quality ad sites, but I’ve been investigating ways to promote my Kindle Countdown deal (which I really really wish they would let you do sooner than 30 days after release–so much competition in December!). I submitted to and actually paid for a Bknights listing.

    I know the latter was probably foolish but it’s cheap, and I’m still in the stage of having to see what works and what doesn’t, so I figured why not. I have no expectations. As a general rule, though, I’m not planning on much/any paid promotion for this first book. It seems to work better for people who have more titles to offer, so there can be a ripple effect from the one being promoted. Maybe for the next release. For now my sales have flatlined (not a complaint, not unexpected) and I think it’s time to just hunker down to the slow, patient work of building on one reader at a time, rather than hoping for some fancy magic. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jen, I’m SO sorry. I just realized that I forgot to put my review of your book on amazon! Oh, good grief! I’m a dolt and will do that shortly, I swear on a stack of switchel rings!! It was a solid 5-star book in my mind, and that’s just what I’m going to say on amazon.


      • OMG why are you sorry? It’s totally not your job! Write your book! (But thanks!) 🙂

        I actually took Amazon’s “no family or close friends” policy seriously and told everyone directly related to me, having the same last name, or mentioned in the acknowledgments that they were not allowed to review it. (Had I paid attention to this sooner, I might have acknowledged fewer people. ;))

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jen — I think you’re very much on the right track. As I’ll explain in my next post, I don’t really feel like the 18 reviews I had on Despite the Gentleman’s Riches were enough to fully leverage the paid advertising I tried. For that young of a book, perhaps a free run would have been better after all….

    I’m spoiling my next post right and left, but I don’t think you’ll regret the Bknights ad. They did a little better than breaking even for me, which means I’ll definitely try them again.

    And, of course, writing the next book is always the smart solution!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s okay with me if you repeat a bit, Aimee. A teacher once told me the average person needs to hear something new NINE times before it really sticks. I can use a couple of repetitions! 🙂 And I figure as long as I don’t ask for that TENTH one, I’m still at least average. 😀

    I hope to find time to explore some of these links tomorrow. Today’s been a crazy day. Love your in depth posts, Aimee, and so glad you are part of TWS. Thanks so much.


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