I have been an indie author now for 3.5 years. In that time I have published six, full-length novels, two of which I've broken down into a series of novellas (more of that later). And though I would say I have worked quite hard at it, I have yet to break even - financially. And, one of the main reasons for that is likely because of the amount of experimenting I have done with marketing that didn't work. Great sell for why you should read this blog post, right? Well, maybe. It is easy to find articles around these days by authors who had nailed it, made a lot of money, or otherwise figured it out. I know, I've read A LOT of them. Well, everything to be learned from these articles has yet to avail me (I don't plan on ever giving up, btw), and in fact, it has been in many cases, posts like the one I'm about to share that have done me most good: to know I am one of many, many, struggling indies still trying to figure out what works for me, and perhaps just as importantly, what doesn't.
But I'm not here to commiserate, rather, I'd like to share what I've learned. Here's the story for this post. This month (March 2018) I decided to build and run my own promo-stacks, as I've called them, in order to create my own Bookbub. That was my goal, anyway. In three years of attempts to land a Bookbub, I have yet to get anything other than that email that begins, "Thanks for your submission. Unfortunately . . . " You know the rest.
Promo-Stack #1: YA Fantasy (The Shadow Tribe Series)
In early March I stacked promotional sites for five days of a Free Kindle Giveaway of the short novella, Part 1 in a series of novellas that I have published in KDP Select. I also lowered the price of Part 2 and 3, and did a Kindle Count Down for Part 4. Part 5 was published a week before my promo-stack. (Explanation: I have published the series this way for plot reasons, and so that I could group Parts into Books that are available wide, instead of only in KDP Select).
Notable Factors: (1) I had given away Part 1 in this series back in October 2017 with a great deal of success. I primarily used Freebooksy, so I thought that 6 months later there would be enough market and audience change in the promotional sites that I used, Freebooksy included, that I would be able to give away a lot of copies. (2) I chose Young Adult or Teen & Young Adult as the genre category for all of the promotional companies I used.
Here are the promotional companies I used:
Pretty Hot Books
Discount Book Man
FKTB (Free Kindle Tips & Books)
Book Reader Magazine
Just Kindle Books
Bargain Booksy (Paid Promo)
Fussy Librarian (Paid Promo)
Genre Pulse (Paid Promo)
So as to share and show my warts, I will tell you that my total cost of booking these was $340. Several weeks later, I can tell you, I have NOT recovered very much of that amount, even with KENP being factored, and here are my present conclusions, having studied how things went down.
1. There are only a handful of consistently GOOD promotional sites out there. Its not always easy to tell who they are, but by and large, the quality of their website really does seem to match the quality of their service - with very few exceptions. Also, some are far better in specific genres, whether they admit it, or actually sell it. In fact, the more info an email promotion service gives about their lists, the more you can trust them, and expect decent results.
2. Teen & Young Adult lists are pretty weak almost anywhere you go - even Bookbub, I might add. Some of this I theorize as being because most YA Fantasy in particular, is really NOT YA. It's written for a far more mature audience, and then categorized as YA because it's less competitive, or, it's simple writing, i.e. lower reading level. But, I wanted to sell to the right audience for a myriad of reasons, and though it may have benefited me in finding real readers (as opposed to free book collectors), I'm out a good chunk of change.
3. Novellas may not be the way to go in book promotions. This maybe should have been obvious to me, but, the more I learn, the more I find that there are fewer rules to the game than experts and "experts" may purport. Especially with Kindle Unlimited, you are always going to do better to give away more than less. My short novella didn't give away well, and
4. Six months is probably not enough time between free giveaway promotions - especially with the same promotional company. I hold that Freebooksy is easily one of the few best free book giveaway promotional companies out there, especially if you pick the right genre list for your offer. I think the short interval between my promos with them really hurt me. But here's another thing. When I ran a giveaway in October 2017, I went with their Fantasy list, not YA Adult. So, that is something to be considered. I found little benefit from the giveaway I did in October, partly because I thought perhaps the genre list was not the right fit. Hard to say, but I hold that you need to be careful about running too many free promos within a certain range of time, especially if you use the same promo companies for both.
5. Paid Promos don't work that well for books in the middle of a series, where the story is continuous. The last three promotional companies I listed were all for a Kindle Count Down on Part 4 in my series. They did . . . poorly. That is a very generous way of putting it, let me tell you. Well, now I know first hand.
Promo-Stack #2: Mystery (The Nobleman)
In late March, I made another promo-stack. And, I'll start this one by confirming that it really probably is in the indie author's best interest to write only in one main genre when trying to become an established writer. Having written a 3 book series that is epic fantasy, a stand-alone mystery/drama/thriller blend, and part of a YA Fantasy series has not done me any favors in building a steady audience. But, since I've tended to write whatever I want to write, and I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, writing a mystery was on my to-do list in a serious way. So, I wrote a 600 page mystery with an ambiguous title, and far more artsy cover art than most mystery novels tend to use. Some lessons to learn there, like, maybe, don't do what I did. : ) On to the promo-stack . . .
Notable Factors: (1) The Nobleman is in KDP Select. (2) Because it is a Mystery, and that is one of the largest genre categories in any promotional game, I was already a step ahead of my YA Fantasy promotional experiment. (3) I ran a 7 day Kindle Count Down deal, holding the price at $.99 the whole time, while the list is $4.99.
Promotional Companies Used:
eReader News Today
Not wanting to get out of hand on marketing costs this month, I kept this promo stack short, and tight. I spent a total of $206, and I can tell you, with a day and a half of the Kindle Count Down left, this one did worlds better. I'm not break even, but I'm on my way, and I have sold more copies of the book in five days than I have in 12 months. Here are my conclusions on this one.
1. The market for Mystery is just vastly larger than YA Fantasy, and that gave this effort a better chance. It's a better market, with more readers, and they read a lot more than some other genres.
2. I was offering a 600 page novel for $.99. That's a pretty, stinkin' good deal. So, I had that going or me.
3. Paid promotions may not boost KENP counts for a title as well as free promos do. This is one I have yet to see the true results for, but I suspect its true because far fewer people are going to end up with my book in this paid promotion than would have if I'd given it away free - by miles.
4. Robin Reads & Bargain Booksy marketed their Mystery lists as being large and/or performing well, and it was true. The day that those two promos ran, I have double the sales of any other duo. I highly recommend them, especially for Mystery. There's that transparency thing again - if they are willing to name numbers, of lists and results, you can more easily trust them, and you can expect the results to be decent - assuming your product is decent.
1. Unfortunately, there is nothing like a Bookbub, but a Bookbub. There is nothing even close! You can't build a "similar affect." I kind of already knew that, but, hey - I'm stubborn, and I wanted to see what would happen.
2. Stay away from book promo companies that: (1) Brag of large Social Media following. If they don't, or won't talk about their actual email list, then expect small things from them. (2) Sell themselves to you in five different ways under five different names. Even if their lists are legit, it is likely that they have been buying them, not growing them, and therefore, they are mostly hot air. If you buy one promo and they try to sell you on another list, then another, etc, they are of a far lesser quality - or they are actually terrible. (3) Beg or otherwise ask you to promote the promotion you just paid them to run. In other words, they ask you to get the word out about their promotion of your book. Ummm . . . that''s what you are paying them to do, is it not? Yeah - not a good sign.
4. Here are the companies I can highly recommend using for any title, in any genre, and more than once: (1) Written Word Media (Freebooksy, Bargainbooksy, Red Feather Romance), Robin Reads, Fussy Librarian, and eReader News Today.
Well, there you have it. I hope some of what I've tried and learned benefits some of you other indie authors out there. I haven't ever written a post like this, but, it was about time, and this was a good month to stack up some lessons with my "promo-stacks.
If you have thoughts, questions, objections, or comments, please fell free to write them here, or look me up on Facebook or Twitter.