Winners and Losers in the Book Promoting Business

I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to promote my books over the last eight months. If you scour this blog, you can read about all of it in excruciating detail. However, I thought it might be useful to do a quick-hits post about what works and what doesn’t.

GoodReads Giveaways

The only reason to run a GoodReads Giveaway is to get your book on a lot of “to-read” shelves, so that it looks legit. This is pretty much guaranteed to happen if you make your giveaway book available internationally, because few authors do. The catch is that your winner is going to be far away, and if you are sending a signed book, you are going to have to cough up shipping (and fill out a bunch of export forms). Including the cost of the book, expect to spend $30-$40. I cannot fathom any reason to run more than one giveaway per book. But I think legitimacy on GoodReads does justify that original outlay.

LibraryThing Giveaways

These are different from GoodReads in that you are allowed to give away up to 100 e-books (GoodReads only lets you give away physical books). These are a complete waste of time. I only got 30 entries (vs. over a thousand on GR) and 10 of them didn’t respond to my emails. My objective was to get a bunch of ARC reviews for my sequel on Amazon. All I got there were a couple one-sentence reviews from people who I’m guessing didn’t even read the book. I did get one actual review on GoodReads, but this was way too much work for one actual review.

Amazon Giveaways

These are a good way to very cheaply build up a following on Amazon. The people who enter Amazon giveaways don’t actually buy books, though. So why bother? I’m not sure, but I suspect that the activity that surrounds being followed (Amazon direct markets your stuff to your followers sometimes) will improve the chances of your book showing up as a suggestion when people are browsing other stuff. And even if it doesn’t work, you can basically get 200 followers for $1, so why not?

Twitter Ads

Twitter ads rule. I did one post already about them, and I’ll do a follow-up about them exclusively once I’ve done more science. But the bottom line is that if you target carefully, you can get people to your book’s page for less than $0.10 each, and a lot of those people (because of the good targeting) will buy your book. Right now I’m spending about $0.80 acquiring each buyer. Since I get $2.04 right away, and another $3.44 if they buy the sequel, that $0.80 acquisition cost is money well spent.

$0.99 Sales

You might think that lowering the price of an e-book from $2.99 to $0.99 would result in more sales. I’ve seen no evidence of this. My conversion rate (the portion of people clicking through an ad who went on to buy the book) with Twitter ads was the same at the lower price. (I’ll be doing some testing soon, to find out what happens to conversion rates at even higher price levels. But for now I know that 0.99 and 2.99 are the same price in my reader’s minds.)

The only reason to run a $0.99 sale is so that you can place an ad in a newsletter. (Most newsletters charge outrageous prices to advertise full-price books, and many refuse to take those ads at all.) Although there are lots of newsletters that claim to run free ads, very few of them actually follow through. And those that do run free ads, don’t generate any sales. So you have to pay one of the big boys to run the ad. And of course you’re only getting a royalty on the reduced price, so you need to sell a ton of books to break even. I haven’t tried doing a paid ad yet, but I’ve read the results from other people, and I honestly don’t think it’s worth it. You are better off spending your money on Twitter ads.

I found these guys when I was researching Twitter ads. For $9, they tweet like crazy about your book for about 36 hours. They have lots of testimonials about how many clicks they get on these tweets, and it looks like 700 is fairly typical. I used them and got 2 sales. I’m not sure how many clicks I got, but I’ll update this post when I find out. It really doesn’t matter though. 2 sales for $9 is an acquisition cost of $4.50 which is 560% higher than Twitter ads. The bottom line is that clicks to your page do not matter if those clicks are not highly targeted. These guys get a lot of clicks by talking about your book on accounts that have nothing to do with your genre. Total waste of money.

UPDATE: BookTweeter sent me the stats. I got 1,405 clicks. If I got 1405 clicks on a Twitter ad, I would expect about 140 book sales (vs the 2 I got from this campaign). So there you go: a well-targeted campaign will results in up to 70x better conversion, I guess.

Free Days

The theory is that you can give away your first book for free, and then people will love it so much that they buy the sequel. I’m very skeptical about that logic, because although I have a bunch of free Kindle books, I’ve never read any of them. And I’ve asked a bunch of my friends and they say the same thing. You grab it because it’s free, and then you never get around to reading it. Plus, if you are the sort of person who looks for free books, you probably have more of them than you could ever get through. So if you do read my book, it seems really unlikely you’re going to go buy my sequel with all those other books in your to-read queue.

To make matters worse, giving away books for free is expensive. It doesn’t cost anything to actually give them away. Amazon eats that cost. But it costs a fortune to acquire the “buyers.” As with the $0.99 sales, you have to pay big bucks to get a placement in a newsletter so people will know you are running a giveaway. Once you are a few hundred out of pocket, the chances you’ll ever make that up on sequel sales strike me as slim-to-none. It’s a sucker’s bet, and until I find a blog where someone says it actually worked, I’m not playing.

Participating in GoodReads Groups

I had the good fortune to stumble upon an open call to participate in a “male authors in romance and erotica” week-long chat in a very big, popular GoodReads group. The people in this group are almost all top-1% reviewers on GoodReads. They quote your book constantly in status updates as they read it, and they write elaborate reviews. They also have tons of friends who see all this stuff, and will become interested in your book. There is a strong network effect, and it has resulted in a bunch of sales. The down side is that it’s a big time sink.

Interacting on Twitter

I didn’t get on Twitter as an author. I became an author after finding my voice on Twitter. So my situation might be somewhat unusual. By the time I wrote my first novel, I had hundreds of friends and acquaintances who were my built-in audience. It’s like how most people sell their first bunch of books to friends and family, except I sold mine to my Twitter friends instead. Personal relationships account for probably 100 of my initial sales, and of course many of my subsequent sales are a knock-on effect of those people recommending it to their friends and writing glowing reviews on Amazon.

When I released my sequel, I had a direct line to about 60 people who I am absolutely sure will buy it right away. And a dozen of those people RT’d my launch announcements and are posting testimonials about the sequel without my even asking them to. It probably isn’t something another author would be able to reproduce, because you need the social network in advance of publication. But it’s absolutely been key to what success I’ve had.


I’ve done everything people recommend to help sell books (except the stuff which just seems idiotic to me, like giving it away), and I can tell you that almost none of it works. None of it except Twitter ads and leveraging social networks (first on Twitter, and now on GoodReads). But even without the social networks, if you can get a good conversion rate on your book page (which you get with a great cover, blurb, and reviews), you should be able to sell hundreds of books a year using Twitter ads. I promise to do a follow-up soon, with more details on my adventures optimizing the Twitter ad campaign.


7 thoughts on “Winners and Losers in the Book Promoting Business

  1. I have tried all of these things too(with nearly the same conclusions drawn!) so I am glad to say I agree with you on just about all of it. The one thing I think you’re overlooking in your analysis is that getting your name and your work out there just for the exposure–not for the actual, measurable monetary gain yet–costs money and adds up in a way that can’t be counted exactly, like you do here. So all of this money you’ve spent experimenting with these various marketing platforms, has actually been better spent than you’re calculating, because you have to become somewhat of a recognizable name for the masses to buy your book. The only way to do that is to get your name and your books’ name/s out there over and over again, in whatever way you can, and to as many possible different people as you can, which therefore makes using all these different outlets, something of a decent value–even the ‘big boys’ that cost so much b/c they offer the widest exposure. (I think I must’ve had my Cheerios this morning because that was more optimistic than I usually am about spending money on all this! LOL) Thanks for the detailed and organized accounts of your endeavors. All the best to you and I look forward to reading more about how you target specifically with Twitter ads. I had a hard time knowing just how to do that…

    • In my real job, I’m in the marketing business. And I think that a mistake that a lot of authors make is to try to apply brand marketing logic to what they do. It’s folly. I’ve only written two books. Until a few days ago, I’d only written one. I’m not a brand. I’m nothing like a brand. Right now, I’m only a product. And if I eventually have enough content out there that I could be brand (if I even *want* to be a brand, which I’m not really sure I do), only then would it make sense to do brand marketing. The masses have no memory. Doing brand marketing when you are just a product is a waste of resources. Also, actual brand marketing is ridiculously expensive. So I’m pretty firm in my belief that any advertising I do that doesn’t convert to measurable sales is _actually_ a waste of money. (See this blog post for the full rant:

      As to your question on targeting, definitely read my previous post. The short answer is that you target people who follow authors and publishers that are popular in your genre. In my case, that’s EL James, Harlequin, Sylvia Day, and a handful of others. If you are targeting your version of those people but you aren’t getting clicks, then you need to tune your creative. If you are getting clicks, but they aren’t converting to sales, you need to tune your book page (better cover, blurb, or reviews).

      My next post on Twitter ads will dig into international differences, which I’m still sorting out. But it appears that consumer behavior differs wildly between US/UK, and that lowest bid that will get you a decent number of impressions is highly geography dependent. It’ll probably be a couple weeks before I have enough data to make sound conclusions.

  2. Wow, ok, hadn’t heard that before, but yes, most indie authors have been told to use brand marketing logic. It makes total sense what you’re saying. And it’s not often we can ask an actual marketing professional these kinds of questions. Thanks for your answers and I will definitely read your other post(s)!

  3. I was sorry that the character tweeting didn’t work. You talked about that in another post and I thought that the idea was sheer genius. I am so glad that free book giveaways sounds dumb to you too… I will sign books for free but I am only giving away a few books to the people that I refuse to take money from (wife and mother for starters). A friend isn’t much of a friend if they expect to save the $5 or $10 buying 18 months of my sweat.

    • Character tweeting did not achieve my original objective (engagement and interest). However, I love having the character accounts! They give me a place I can spam quotes and amazon giveaways and from which I can run Twitter ad campaigns. That allows me to keep my main account a lot less sales-y, so I can maintain and build the relationships I have on Twitter, without driving my followers away. If you look at the TL of most authors, they are just horrible. RT after RT of hashtagged book promos (theirs and others). It’s no wonder most authors have tiny follower counts. Also, since my books have BDSM themes, I can engage with that community from my character accounts without ending up with a ton of porn GIFs in my main feed. (Kinky Twitter LOVES their porn GIFs.)

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