Tag Archives: marketing strategy for ebooks

How to do a successful ebook promo (without BookBub)

Starting out as an indie author

As many readers of this blog know, I broke down this month and did a free promo for one of my Big Fat Fantasies again, Shadow of Stone, the second book in The Pendragon Chronicles. For a number of reasons, I hadn’t really wanted to go there anymore:

1) The reviews you get after a free run are sometimes downright depressing, since a lot of people are grabbing the book who are not your target audience.

2) The Pendragon books are REALLY long, and they took a LONG time to write. Something irks me about giving away all that work for free.

3) I don’t want to support the assumption on the part of a growing number of readers that the only good book is a free book.

Nonetheless, I decided to plan a free promo for Shadow of Stone. In the last half a year, it has sold less than 50 copies and had less than 20,000 pages read. Meaning that even though the book can be borrowed through KU, there were very few people taking advantage of the opportunity.

Shadow of Stone

I think part of the curse of my Pendragon Chronicles series is that the books are standalone novels. And it seems that when readers come to the tragic conclusion of Yseult, which ends with no cliffhanger pulling them on, they are not as compelled to immediately buy the next book — only about 25% of the people who buy Yseult also pick up book 2. So I really didn’t have a lot to lose by tossing SoS out there for free for the first time in years.

Before I scheduled the free run, I applied for ads with a number of sites where I’ve gotten good results before. A lot of places don’t want to advertise book 2 in a series, even if the novels are standalone, but I finally got approved for an ad with Manybooks.net for May 21, so I set up the free promo around that. Organizing a free promo is very different than a 99c sale, since with that you want to go out with a bang. Your sales ranking doesn’t disappear like it does when you’re giving the book away for free. I figured for the free run, I wanted my heavy hitter towards the beginning, so that Shadow of Stone would soon be high in a lot of top 100 lists, which in turn would (I hoped) lead to organic downloads also improving the rank. Around the more expensive ad, I scheduled a couple of inexpensive promos through Fiverr, and applied for as many free ads as I could. (You can see the list of free sites I usually apply to here.)

The strategy worked better than I imagined, even though I never heard back from a number of the sites offering free ads. Here’s the breakdown for my ads, other promo activities, downloads, and income during the course of the free run for SoS:

Shadow of Stone free from May 20 – 24

May 20 – Natali FB promo Fiverr ($5.50) – 185 downloads, $21.32 in earnings
NewFreeKindleBooks (free)
May 21 – ManyBooks ($25) – 685 downloads, $27.47 in earnings
EbookDaily (free)
May 22 – Posted to Facebook groups – 263 downloads, $22.94 in earnings
May 23 – Fiverr Bknights ($10.50) – 1382 downloads, $76.08 in earnings
Booklovers’ Heaven (free)
Blog post
Mailing list
More FB groups
May 24 – More FB groups – 363 downloads, $28.90 in earnings

Ask David (free) – ran Shadow of Stone from May 20 – 24

Applied for but no response:

Reading Deals
Frugal Freebies
SF Signal free fiction
OHFB (May 24)
Ebookshabit
Freebooks
Choosy Bookworm
EReader Cafe
Ebooklister
Freebooksy
Iloveebooks
Newfreekindlebooks
ebookasaurus
Armadillo
Freeebooksforme

I also tried to set up a Facebook ad based on impressions, since I figured an ad where I pay for clicks for a free book would hardly be worth it, *g* but it was never approved. That’s an experiment I would still like to try for a free book, but maybe with a permafree where time is not of the essence.

One more thing I did which helps explain the huge jump in downloads towards the end of the free run: just before I was intending to go to bed on May 23, I checked the rankings for SoS, and it was very close to breaking the top 100 overall free on Amazon. Since I’m in Central Europe, that means it was prime time in North America. So rather than shutting down as I had intended, I sent out pleas on Facebook and Twitter, asking people to share the word and help me break the top 100.

It worked.

Here are the rankings of Shadow of Stone when I got up the next morning:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > Fantasy
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

It was #1 in several other categories as well, but those are the ones Amazon decided to show me. 🙂

During the course of the promo, I sold 51 copies of Yseult, which had previously been limping along at about a sale every other day. Strangely enough, sales of other books not in the series picked up as well, something I rarely experience with a 99c promo.

But the fact remains that the vast majority of my income from this promo was from sales of Yseult. The way the Amazon algorithms are right now, I definitely would not recommend a free promo for a book that is not part of a series. The rank for SoS after its free run (where it broke the top 100) was #126,851. Yseult, on the other hand, was #7580 — at full price. The sales I’ve seen since the promo are mostly a result of the increased rank of the companion novel.

Of course, these numbers don’t come close to those to the profit you can make if you DO get a BookBub ad. But since those are few and far between (my last was in January), I’m very happy with the 4:1 ROI of this particular promo. 🙂

If you found this blog post helpful, perhaps you would be interested in the book, Starting Out as an Indie Author! You can learn more here.

 

How to develop a strategy for ebook sale promotions (Starting out as an indie author)

Once upon a time, when I first started switching from traditional to indie publishing, all you had to do to sell books was to offer your works free on a regular basis and get a few thousand downloads. After the free runs, the books would be high in the Amazon rankings, which would provide the visibility to sell a decent number of books daily for a while until your book disappeared into obscurity again. My biggest income month as an indie author is still from those early golddigger days.

In that carefree time when I first started out, way back in 2012, even a *short story collection* offered free was enough to boost visibility and garner sales for the more lucrative longer works.

No more.

Now it is hard to even give short story collections away on Amazon (although they do still sell on other venues). And for a free run with a novella or novel to result in any kind of significant bump in sales after it’s over, you have to give away tens of thousands of copies of your book.

So I’ve had to switch gears. In the last year or so, I’ve been testing various sites for advertising my books, as well as new book descriptions, new keywords, and new covers, and I’ve seen a steady rise in book sales, from income of under $50 a month to this:

I realize this is peanuts compared to really successful indie authors, but for me, it’s monetary proof that I’m going in the right direction. For about a year, from late 2013 to late 2014, I pretty much stopped marketing my books completely. I published Chameleon in a Mirror during that time, and it took off like a stone weighed down by a ton of bricks. But that does not seem to have had anything to do with the quality of the book — see my bestseller last month in the image above. 🙂

During my no marketing phase, my books were earning me between $40 – $70 a month. When I was ready to publish Island of Glass, I decided it was time to come out of my marketing slump and start regarding it as a challenge, an experiment, a puzzle I needed to figure out. Here are some of the strategies I’ve come up with during the last year of extensive experimentation.

Permafree

I had already put a short story from The Pendragon Chronicles up for free, but Gawain and Ragnell, even though it is part of A Shadow of Stone, has its own complete plot arc — and thus provides no compelling reason for anyone to read the other books, other than enthusiasm for my brilliant writing, of course. But it has no hook; it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Readers claim they hate this, but book 2 in a series is more likely to find buyers if book 1 ends leaving lots of questions unaswered.

Since my Pendragon books were meant to be standalone novels, I went a different way to attract more readers: I split up my monster book, Yseult (200,000 words, or 800 manuscript pages), into the four “books” I had already organized it in and published them each separately. Once I managed to make Part I free, I had a cliffhanger book to entice readers to buy either the next book or the complete “boxed set.” And I also now had 2 free “books” in the series that I could alternately promote cheaply or free. (See my blog post on promoting permafrees.)

With some experimenting along these lines, I noticed that as long as I could keep at least one of those two permafree books in the top 20 of the Arthurian Fantasy Free rankings, it helped get me regular sales of Yseult. The Arthurian Fantasy category is small, so it’s not as hard to stay high in the rankings, but by the same token, it doesn’t attract as many readers who will then pick up your higher-priced book or books. I’m pretty sure that if you can keep a permafree high in the rankings of a much bigger category like Epic Fantasy, you would see higher sales of the related book.

Organize promotions around effective advertisers

Don’t set your promo prices and dates and then go looking for advertising. Do it the other way around.

I invested quite a bit last year, in both time and money, testing various advertising sites for ROI (return on investment). You can certainly take my own recommendations as a guideline, but the thing is, your results might be very different. A number of advertising sites recommended on Kboards were a washout for me. Garnering a BookBub ad will pretty much always guarantee a good ROI. But not only are they hard to get, they are very expensive, and not all authors will be able to afford their prices.

Some of the places (besides BookBub) I will build a book promotion around are ENT, BookBarbarian, ManyBooks, and RobinReads. I’ve had less than stellar results with BargainBooksy and any number of sites other authors swear by. That’s why you can’t get around investing in your own experiments, at least a little. I started my experimental marketing investing in sites that authors on Kboards recommended — but of those, there were quite a few that for me had a pretty miserable ROI. You can read some of my results in this post.

The thing is, there is no magic bullet. But while a number of ad sites didn’t pay out for me, in those months I’ve seen a steady increase in sales — with no month that my investment was higher than the money I earned from my books. So as a whole, the increase in visibility is worth it.

After the last few months of experimentation in advertising, I’ve come to the conclusion that most indie authors who are serious about selling on a regular basis won’t be able to get around doing some similar experiments for their own books. Several of the advertisers I had the biggest hopes for turned out to be my biggest disappointments, while some less well known gave me surprising jumps in sales. Genre, cover, subscriber tastes — so much plays a role, it’s hard to say which book will do well with which advertiser.

Some generalizations I can make, regardless of genre and / or experience:

– Before paying money for advertising, try to figure out the reach of the web site or list. If they do not provide any numbers themselves, Alexa rankings might be a good place to start. I have a list of Alexa rankings here.

– Once you have figured out the advertising sites that work for you, apply for an ad with one of your favorites well in advance, usually about a month, and chose the option that your dates are flexible. If your book is accepted, plan your promotion around the effective advertiser, applying for some free or less expensive ads in the days leading up to it.

– Try to do a 99c advertising campaign with at least one of your books a month. (I don’t advocate free anymore, except for permafree.)

– Don’t use the same advertiser and the same book every time. Ads are much more effective if you haven’t advertised a book through the same service in at least six months. Obviously, this strategy works better the more books you have to advertise. If you only have two novels published, concentrate on getting more out before you start experimenting with advertising the way I did. To remain visible as an author with this strategy you would probably need at least four novels or longer novellas, preferably more. (Short stories and collections do not work to boost my visibility.)

Description and Cover

If you can’t get any of the big, more effective advertisers to accept your book, despite the fact that your manuscript isn’t riddled with typos and you have a fair number of positive reviews (don’t believe the myths circulating about the astronomical numbers you need to get a BookBub ad), then it might be time to re-evaluate the presentation of your book.

I am convinced that the single most important thing for selling books is your cover. It’s the first thing your potential reader sees, and if it isn’t interesting or eye-catching enough for him or her to click on it, you’re losing sales right there.

I’ve done several cover makeovers recently, one myself for Chameleon in a Mirror, and two for my Looking Through Lace Series with new covers designed by Lou Harper. All of those books saw dramatic increases in sales / downloads when I did a promo for the book with the new cover compared to the results with the old. Note: you can’t expect a book that’s dead in the water to come back to life with a new cover. If your book is in the lower dregs of Amazon somewhere that no one will ever see it, and you don’t do some kind of promo to increase its visibility, it will remain in the lower dregs of Amazon, despite its stunning new cover.

I have also seen significant increases in sales after changing my descriptions. One of the most effective things I have found for the new product format on Amazon (which only makes the first few lines of the description visible without the customer having to become active and click on “Read more”) is to start with enthusiastic “sound bites” from reader reviews. Here’s an example:

Once I changed the description to make a number of positive reviews plus a teaser prominent in the mini space which is now the Amazon default, I saw a much better conversion rate for the low-level ($1 a day) Facebook ads I’ve been using to try and keep my books from disappearing into obscurity. Now I just have to find formulas for my other books that are as consistent as Chameleon in a Mirror is right now. 🙂

But the operative phrase is “right now.” The thing is, the ebook market is constantly changing, and as an indie author, you have to be willing to change with it: keep abreast of marketing trends, and changes in Amazon, Kobo, Apple, or anywhere else you sell your books. If you really want to make a living selling your books, you’re not going to get around doing your own experimenting, or keeping abreast of changes in the market. You can take this information I’m giving you as a basis to do your own experiments, but my results are based on my books, my covers, my descriptions, and can’t be carried over 1 to 1 to your books, your covers, your descriptions. All I can offer you here are guidelines based on my own experience, some possible ways to develop your own strategy to lift your books out of the doldrums.

In Conclusion

During my Year of Experimentation (following my Year of Marketing Dangerously / i.e. Not at All *g*), I tried plenty of THIS IS THE WAY YOU WILL IMMEDIATELY SELL SH*TLOADS OF EBOOKS strategies. Some of them increased my sales, most of them didn’t. On the other hand, most of those strategies sold as get rich quick schemes have some basis is fact — but they don’t take the individual book or the individual genre into consideration. And many are based on creating cheap non-fiction ebooks written specifically to a niche market.

Those kinds of marketing strategies don’t really work for fiction. In my experience, you just can’t get around testing things yourself for what will work for your own books.

But researching the sites and strategies that have worked for other authors can certainly make the task much easier. And I hope those of you looking for better ways to market your ebooks find this helpful. 🙂