Book Marketing: What’s Working, What Ain’t

1234025_on_targetI’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile now and share some of the things that have and haven’t worked for me on my (brand new!) self-publishing journey. When I began (about four and a half months ago), I published two YA books at once, but took very different tracks with them. You can read about that here.

To level set, both books were professionally edited. So the interior quality is the same. The variances (or so I thought) were in marketing approach and, potentially, cover design.

On to the results…

Season of Lies:

I went the fat ticket route with this one, throwing a bunch of money into the marketing, and I signed up for KDP Select.

I started off with Book Rooster, and hoped that readers would review my book before my free days. Might entice more people to download, I reasoned. Well, by the time my promotion rolled around (almost six weeks later), I still only had four or five reviews out of the ten I was promised. As of this writing, I’ve still only received eight of the ten (again, four and a half months later). But, I will say that most of the reviews were very complimentary and really made my day. And lest anyone think they were fake reviews, think again. I also got a few “didn’t like it” reviews from the same company. So they’re offering unbiased comments. You have to take the good with the bad.

I then turned to various book bloggers to review my book. I got a few people who said they’d put it in their TBR pile, but that this was no guarantee of a read. I got a bunch of people who didn’t bother to reply. And I got one review from Yawatta Hosby. Super sweet person. She and I met through this blog. If you’re an indie author, she does reviews for quite a few people.

Next, I paid for a Kindle Nation email sponsorship for my first free promotion and watched my downloads spiral upward. My numbers weren’t stellar, but they impressed me, earning me the number one spot in my genre and #263 in the overall store. Two days later, I got that coveted bounce. When the dust settled, I basically covered the cost of my sponsorship. So it was a wash. And if you know how much the sponsorships cost, you know I didn’t make gobs of money. On the upside, the guy who runs Kindle Nation was a joy to work with.

The second time I did my free promotion, I was feeling rather miserly and decided to promote using only free outlets. Of course I tried Pixel of Ink (can you hear me laughing?) and then turned to Indie View and Big Al’s Books and Pals. They featured me in an interview and listed my promotion on their blog. I can’t say enough nice things about Big Al. He’s doing so much to promote indie authors and if you haven’t checked out his websites, do so now. With that, I saw almost as many downloads and my ranking shot up almost as high as with my first promotion–almost being the key word. I think I gained the #2 position in my genre, but hovered around the 500 to 600 range in the store. And that, my friends, delivered no bounce. Ouch. At least I wasn’t out any money. Post promotion, the book dropped back into a black hole where it lives today, peeking out only occasionally.

Would I buy a Kindle Nation sponsorship again? Maybe. But only if I had something squarely in an adult genre.

Would I hire Book Rooster again? Maybe. But only if I had a book that couldn’t get any reviews after several months. If someone else has had a different experience with them, I’d love to hear about it.

Would I try to find book reviewers? Yes, but only if they’re known for reviewing indie books or I had an “in” with them. Otherwise, it’s a time suck that delivers very little on the backend.

Now on to the second book…still with me?

Universal Forces:

I went the “release it and forget it” route with this one, though I did contact a few book reviewers. I also didn’t sign up for KDP Select. Instead, I chose to release my book onto Barnes & Noble and Kobo as well.

Two things came of my book review submissions. Someone from Big Al’s website decided to do a review (after I reached out to them for a Season of Lies interview) and another book blogger confirmed he’d blog about my book in April.

Other than those two bright spots, the book languished on the Amazon charts, collected very few customer reviews, and saw very few sales. And I sold zero–z-e-r-o–copies on B&N and Kobo. Blech. Clearly, the “release it and forget it” path, the path of least resistance, didn’t work for me.

This prompted me to sign Universal Forces up for KDP Select, re-do my cover, do another free promotion, and use the services of ebookbooster. I went for broke and used all five days at once. Even though I reached and stayed at the number one spot in my genre for nearly the whole time, I only gave away a few hundred books and never climbed any higher than #2,500 (or thereabouts) in the store. And there was no bounce. NO BOUNCE, I tell you! Arghhhhh!

Would I sign up for KDP Select again? Absolutely, but only as a marketing tool to “hook” my book into the store. In the future, I will have absolutely no expectation of making money post-promotion and will not likely spend any money to announce it (unless it’s free or cheap, like ebookbooster). I also wouldn’t schedule all five days at once. I’d schedule two days–max–and wait. If I’m gaining on the second day, I’ll add another promotion day. If I’m winding down, I’ll save the rest of the days for a second promotion.

Would I use ebookbooster again? Yes. The guy running it is pretty nice*, and it’s cheap enough.

I read on another blog that unless you’ve already achieved a high ranking in the store, it’s useless to do a free promotion because you’re not likely to see any meaningful boost in sales afterwards. I now completely concur. Though it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? How can you achieve a high ranking if you don’t do any promotions? Maybe it happens organically for some, but it hasn’t for me.

So why did one book (sort of) succeed with the free promotion and the other fizzle? The only thing I can think is that Season of Lies is more of a crossover title and Universal Forces is straight-up YA. When thumbing through the “customers who bought your book also bought…” listings, it was clear that adults were buying Season of Lies and teens (or big fans of teen literature) were buying Universal Forces. This leads me to believe that adult readers pay attention to things like Kindle Nation and free book sites and teens are relying mostly on word of mouth for what to read. I have very little data to back this up. Mostly just a hunch, but it’s pretty strong.

My final take-away? I’ve got to do something to promote my books. The “release it and forget it” model just doesn’t work. At least not for me.

Are there people uploading bizarre stream-of-conscious novellas about the fluttery qualities of Sonic Ice, complete with hand-drawn book covers, who are selling the crap out of their stuff with absolutely no effort? Yeah. Makes me want to write one. But until I do, I’m stuck doing things the hard way. And waiting for my luck to kick in.

In the meantime, I’m working on a new project in an adult genre. One that I’ll be releasing under a pen name. The results should be interesting!

*additional note: I just realized how many times I talked about how nice someone was in addition to what service they offered. Well, yeah. If you’re a jerk, I definitely won’t give you my money.


Anyone else out there have experience with the vendors I used? Anyone else out there have marketing techniques that worked for them? I’d love to hear about them.


11 thoughts on “Book Marketing: What’s Working, What Ain’t

  1. During the first six months or so of KDP Select, the sales after free promotional days was amazing. Then, Amazon changed their algorithms and it gives virtually no sales bounce anymore. Sigh…

    • BowieFan: I can only dream of the glories of long ago (ie, six months). Naturally, I entered into the market just weeks after all that algorithm business crashed.

      It’s frightening how a writer’s income is so easily manipulated by outside entities.

  2. Hey Monica,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. That sucks that some reviewers didn’t follow through–maybe they have a backlist and is just slow in response. If you ever need me to book review for you again, you know I will 🙂 Looking forward to your new project. Is the genre thriller/mystery?

    Have you checked out under the ‘Self-publishing’ and ‘Book Promotion and Ideas’ tabs. I’ve found a lot of useful information on marketing from self-publishers–activities to stay away from b/c they don’t help one bit and activities that help tremendously.

    Keep smiling,

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  4. Very interesting article. I know several self-published authors who could benefit from this information. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. Hi Monica,
    Great article – very helpful to hear what works/doesn’t work these days from someone other than Joe Konrath! He was advising using all the free days on KDP Select at once, but now I’m wondering if that’s such a good idea. It’s good to know about Kindle Nation Daily as well. I write women’s fiction, so might have more luck (or might not). This book will be my first using the KDP Select program and I’m interested to see how it goes.

    I used BookRooster for the first time over a year ago and had a good experience at first. It was cheaper then, too. Plenty of reviews poured in that ran the gamut of “loved it” to “meh”. Fair enough that some loved it more than others. Since then I’ve used BR twice. On the next book I’ve gotten TWO reviews after almost a year. ONE review is all I’ve gotten on the latest order. No other reviews. Yet paid much more (67 bucks). For what? This was obviously a good deal once upon a time and now they’re taking on far too many authors for the number of willing reviewers they have on their mailing list. They don’t reply to my emails either or give the promised progress reports. I don’t plan to use them again. It was my first positive experience that made me have hope, but it’s clearly a different story now and I would tell any writer who wants honest reviews to research other methods…

    • Tara:

      Wow. After reading your comments, I consider myself lucky to have gotten the Book Rooster reviews I have. FWIW, my first complaint email was actually answered. My second email was patently ignored. No use sending a third from what I can tell. I’m almost at my ten reviews anyway.

      As for the free days… I shot all five at once based on the “Konrath” method. Won’t be doing it again! As he often says, “your mileage may vary.” Boy, did mine ever. 🙂

  6. It’s good that you got almost ten reviews and even got a reply to one of your complaint emails (you’re right about not bothering with a third try – I tried emailing them multiple times and not a whisper). I’m not sure if I’ll try the all-five-day bonanza method Konrath style or break it up the way you plan to. It seems like everyone really have a different experience depending on their genre and other factors. It seems like the best thing to do is try everything!

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