If you missed my first post on the subject of paid book advertising, head over here first to get caught up. The short version is: the most sure-fire way to advertise books is to get your title included in one (or more) of the email lists that go out to thousands of readers on a daily basis. My previous post mentioned a few websites that will list your book for free, while this second installment will delve deeper into the paid sites that are most likely to provide a return on your investment.
The big dogs
If you hang around with other independent authors for long, you’ll soon hear them singing the praises of Bookbub. Although this advertising service costs hundreds of dollars a pop, most folks find that Bookbub provides a positive return on your investment, and if you play your cards right, your book might even end up in the top 100 in Amazon’s store after being listed! Unfortunately, there are big hoops you need to jump through to be eligible, and Bookbub rejects a lot more submissions than they accept. So, if you can’t get into Bookbub (or can’t afford their high fees at the moment) where do you turn next?
In Write. Publish. Repeat. the authors explain: “We’ve had the most luck with BookBub.com, EReaderNewsToday.com, and FKBooksAndTips.com’s 99-cent promotion programs. We’ve also had lesser but substantial success with Bookblast.co (.co, not .com) and BookGorilla.com.” Let’s Get Digitial Author David Gaughran weighs in as follows, “After BookBub, the next biggest sites are Ereader News Today, Pixel of Ink, BookSends, and Kindle Books & Tips,” before warning that the value of promotional opportunities changes fast, and to do your research before plunking down any money. Sure enough, Pixel of Ink is not currently accepting submissions at this time.
There are also a lot of smaller advertising sites that I’ll mention later, but the smart thing to do if you’re committing to a paid promotion is to combine several promotions in short succession in an attempt to move up the ranks and stick there. The accepted wisdom is that you should first try to bring one of the big dogs on board, then you should plan the other services around the main event.
Preparing for the sale
Now it’s time for a healthy dose of “do as I say, not as I do.” The reports I’m going to present below are based on a promotional push I ran around the launch period of Despite the Gentleman’s Riches, and, with twenty-twenty hindsight, I’d do a lot of things differently. All of my previous books have been in the fantasy genre and (in contrast) Despite the Gentleman’s Riches is a contemporary romance, so I wasn’t prepared for my fans’ complete lack of interest (or outright disdain) for the new book. Previously, I’ve emailed my list to find interested readers a couple of weeks before launching a new title, had sent out review copies when I got the manuscript back from the copy editor, and had been able to count on at least 15 reviews averaging about 4.5 stars trickling in during the first week. Since you have to plan your promotions at least 14 days in advance, I just assumed similar reviews would appear on my new book in time for the blitz. Instead, several of my advance reviewers gave the book three stars, one of my preorder fans gave it one star (ouch!), and I went into the promotional period with a 4.2-star ranking. That doesn’t sound bad, but there’s a big visual difference between only four stars filled in versus four and a half, and fewer glowing reviews meant my new book had less perceived social capital. So, lesson 1 — don’t assume that you’ll have a great-looking product page soon after launch. A better idea would probably have been skip soliciting reviews from my fantasy-loving fans entirely, to let the book build reviews organically, then to pay for a promotional period at a later date when the book’s perceived social capital was high.
Similarly, I should have managed my pricing so that I was eligible for a countdown deal during the promotionary period. Most sale sites won’t accept your book unless it’s marked down to 99 cents, which you can either do manually or with a countdown deal, the bonus of the latter option being that for the five days of the countdown deal, you’ll receive a 70% royalty on the reduced-price book. However, since I’d been trying to get fans to consider a title outside their main genre during the preorder period, I launched the book at 99 cents, meaning that I had to make twice as many sales to break even with each ad (due to the 35% royalty). Again, raising the price to $2.99, waiting for the 30 days Amazon requires between price change and countdown deal, and then setting up a real sale would have been a better bet. As an added bonus, the countdown deal would have shown the higher price with a slash through it, so the customer would have known they were getting a great deal.
Summary: More patience on my part would have made this sale period go much more smoothly!
Mistakes aside, my paid promotions are still likely to break even by the end of the month. I chose 13 paid promotional sites spread out across 13 days, paid $370.50 for the privilege, and (if borrows bring in $1.33 like they did in October), I will make $260.51 for the first 18 days that the book has been live. I could have brought in quite a bit more, though, if I’d focused on the winning sites and avoided some expensive losers, so I thought I’d report my results to keep your own costs down. (Of course, keep in mind that the results of each promotional site is likely to be genre specific, and that some sites probably attract readers who were more turned off by my lack of perfect reviews than others. But, still, this should help you get started.)
Okay, the chart above might look a little daunting, so let me give you a quick text rundown. The two sites listed in green (Ebookhounds and Naughty List) were both free, but their results were quite good, so I added them to the chart. The other advertisers were all paid, and I listed the net earnings from each, using the assumption that I wouldn’t have sold any other books that day without their help (not a big stretch since the book basically started at nothing). As you can see, some of the cheaper promotions — Awesome Gang ($10), Bkknights ($5), and Sweet free books ($5) did better than the more expensive options. I added the little guys on at the last minute as a way of bringing up the rank of the book before the supposed big dogs hit, since Amazon is supposed to reward slow, organic growth of a book’s sales better than a spike in the rankings from one big advertising blitz. (The former results in a good sales rank that is supposed to stick around longer than the latter.) But now I’m starting to think that lots of these little guys might be a better financial investment than a few of the supposed big dogs!
Because, unfortunately, I was much less impressed by the more expensive promotions that I paid for. I stacked most of the big dogs together, so I have to guess which ones were and weren’t worth the money, but I’ll give you my informed opinions here. Having tried two different $15 promotions through Hotzippy on two different books and lost money on both, I’m now relatively convinced that Hotzippy is not a good use of money (for me at least). I also suspect that Book Gorilla and Kindle Nation Daily (both by the same company) are too overpriced at $50 and $100 respectively to be worth the cash. Finally, since so many people sing the praises of Ereader News Today, I’m going to assume that the expensive My Romance Reads ($75) that I layered on the same day is why that period’s advertising didn’t break even.
And, finally, here’s the cheat-sheet version of the advertisers I at least tentatively recommend:
Ereader News Today — Prices range from $15 to $45 at the moment, depending on genre. Sometimes called “the little Bookbub”, ENT is pretty choosy but is usually considered to be worth the price tag.
Free Kindle Books and Tips — 99-cent books cost $25 to advertise. They do waive their review restrictions for new releases, but they only send out new-release notices on weekends. I didn’t sign up for these guys because I didn’t notice the new-release option when I was first researching, so I have no first-hand data to report.
Booksends — Costs $10 to $50 for a 99-cent book depending on genre. They rejected me, so I can’t report any results.
Awesome Gang – $10
Bknights – $5.50
Fussy Librarian – $5 to $14, depending on genre. I somehow got my wires crossed on setting up my ad for this particular book, but have used them before and broken even.
Sweetfreebooks – $5
The good news of a “failed” promo blitz
Even though I came out a hundred bucks in the hole, I would definitely repeat this experience, with all of the caveats listed above (and a few more that I’ll mention in a minute). I’ve had nine new subscribers join my email list during the promo period, have already landed two new reviews (a four star and a five star — so my book doesn’t suck after all!), and the book seemed to be sticking pretty high in the rankings for at least a while after the promo period ended. Plus, more borrows have been landing in my dashboard daily, suggesting that I’ll be raking in the results of the sale-period visibility for at least a few more days to come.
Aside from dressing my book in its Sunday best before the promo, doing a countdown deal, and skipping the overpriced advertisers, what else would I do differently? Paid promotions are most likely to actually make money rather than just break even if you advertise the first book of a completed series. I’ll try out this hypothesis on Shiftless once Pack Princess comes out in about a month, and for this second experiment I’ll see if Bookbub will take my novel to the prom.
That said, I’m starting to think that a free period might have been a less expensive way to get Despite the Gentleman’s Riches off to a good start…and without spending a penny! So, perhaps the moral of the story here is to be patient, to use a free period early on to give your book legs, and to save the 99-cent advertised promotions for later in the life of a book.
Okay, I know this post got way too long (again!), but if you’re still with me, I hope you’ll leave a comment with your own advertising results. Do you agree on which promotions are and aren’t worth your money? Did you advertise a book in a different genre and see different results? Let us know so we can all save some cash next time around!