Would you buy a book from this man?

Posted: May 26, 2013 in Author Promotion

It was only read by an old lady on Sundays

I’ve just finished a fascinating promotion of FURIES on Bookbub, a relatively new service for writers and readers. It has been far and away more successful than any other promo I’ve run, with almost 16,000 books given away in a single day. Yes, yes, it would have been nice to have those as actual sales, don’t remind me, but giveaways are part of the deal in this gig. They drive awareness, readership, reviews, ranking and therefore sales.

And 16K books is 4X more than my other three promotions. Combined. On a per day basis (since the bookbub promo ran for 1 day while my other events went a total of 6 days), it was 12X more effective  It’s already paid for itself, and it’s only a day after the promo finished. So how did it work?

For all the pleasures of self-publishing, it has its challenges as well. One of the biggest being how you effectively promote your books. I would love to just focus on the writing – Lord knows that’s challenging enough. But that Sleeman ain’t going to buy itself, folks.

On the surface, I should be pretty good at this.  I have a quarter century (ahem – how is that possible?) of sales and marketing experience at a Fortune 50 company under my belt. But that’s nothing compared to the cut throat world of online book promotion. The challenges are worthy of a Harvard Business School case study.

  1. You start well back of the pack given minimal recognition and no support from publishers to back you up.
  2. There are hundreds of thousands of new authors publishing their own masterpieces every year.
  3. You don’t have a big company behind you anymore – it’s just you, Shakespeare.
  4. Twitter, Blogging, Facebook and Blogger reviews don’t drive sales. I do them anyway, and I am not discounting their value one iota (and I LOVE all the Book Review Bloggers), but they don’t drive sales. They just change awareness. It is 10X easier to change awareness than behaviour. Look it up.
  5. The rules are changing every freaking day. So are the opportunities.

We all used to rely on KDP free days and free kindle sites to do everything for us. It was so easy. I ran a promo for Chalk Valley last fall that was hugely successful, put me at or near #1 on the Kindle Free list, was #1 Mover and Shaker (on the same day JK Rowling released her new book, mind you), got me lots of fans and readers and followers. I figured hey, this ain’t so tough. When I released FURIES in December and ran a new promo for both it and Chalk Valley, I figured I’d have the same level of success. I did exactly the same things as before. And had an exactly different result. I was listed on the same sites as my first very successful promo, same basic deal – what changed?

I assumed it was a fluke. So I did it again. Crickets. Then I tried to do it smartly via Ebook Booster. A very convenient service run by very nice people who did exactly what I asked – got my promo listed on 40+ sites, saving me hours of time. Yet the same lacklustre result.

Yes, Amazon’s KDP policies have shifted, such that the free kindle sites won’t make the money they used to in listing free books. But that wasn’t the full answer. The real answer is –  I have no idea. But my training tells me that this promo model had a core flaw to begin with. These free sites are shotgun, going out to everyone about everything. My honest belief is that success was all about dumb luck.

So what about Bookbub? This service started up last fall, and has had outstanding uptick since then. The concept is simple. Readers subscribe to their newsletter (so they ask to get it), select the genres they’re interested in (pure targeting), and that’s it. Every day thereafter, they are sent nice, neat emails offering them deals. Either free books (as with FURIES) or at a significant discount. The editors select the best offers so readers are assured of good quality selection. And that’s it. They are now up to 1MM+ subscribers. And writers are flocking to have their books listed. To be clear, we pay for the privilege, and it isn’t cheap. For context, I paid $160 to list FURIES promo and have it sent to the 200M+ historical fiction enthusiasts on their subscriber list. But it paid for itself in one day. My understanding from authors who have run discounted (vs free) promos is that they are also very effective and pay for themselves plus plus.

It is so refreshing to have a service that actually does what it says it will do.

For comparison sake, I also paid for a Goodreads ad for Chalk Valley – $150. It hasn’t even come close to paying out. I’m still selling fine, but not via the Goodreads ad. It too is targeted, but because it appears as pop up ads for people looking for other things, it isn’t nearly as effective as a service that gives people. Rule of thumb in corporate world is to get a 3:1 payout minimum – that takes care of your time and effort and gives you some actual return.

Is Bookbub perfect? No. Minimal activity from outside US sites. Bookbub would be wise to offer better service in major non-US sites like UK, Germany and Canada. And it’s got quite a sticker shock – high price of entry. I don’t blame them, they are a unique service (so far) and the law of supply and demand still reigns. Still.

And those are my thoughts for a Sunday morning.

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