I decided to call last month Marketing March, because who doesn’t love a good alliteration?
Since the release of To the North in December of 2015, I had done very, very little to promote it. This was deliberate. Everything I have done to this point has been deliberate. The fact that I’m even writing a series/anthology is all a part of my long-term marketing plan; I knew it would be wasted effort to spend a lot of time promoting a debut by an entirely unknown author unless it: a) already had some good reviews, and b) had some companion pieces at the ready.
So I didn’t bother doing much. A couple of Goodreads giveaways, free Kindle days, the occasional tweet. I always knew that I would start amping up my marketing efforts once the third book was released and the fourth was in progress.
However, I incorrectly assumed that doing nothing would have given me stronger results. Imagine that. I had anticipated about 20 reviews on Amazon in the first year, but as we know, that didn’t happen.
I’m working on the third book now, and because I wanted TtN to be in a better position by the time it is released so I can play them off of each other, I took a slight detour in my plans and tested several new marketing tactics last month. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my primary objective was to boost my Amazon reviews. My secondary objective was to sell a few books, and my tertiary objective was to expand my mailing list.
Here’s what I tried, and how it went:
Objective: Get More Reviews
Follow-Up Emails; Or, “I’m Really Sorry to Bother You, But Remember That Book I Sent You?”
I did my first LibraryThing giveaway in January. Considering it was my first try, and I was offering a book that had yet to be reviewed on the platform, I was fairly pleased with the result. I had 38 signups, and half of them had redeemed their downloaded copies within a couple of days of my first email. But, as of March 1, only one person had left a review.
Despite how much I loathed the idea, it was time to give them all a nudge. I sent two follow-up emails: one, to everyone who had not yet downloaded their copy, reminding them that they had won a free eBook on LT; two, to everyone who had redeemed their copy but had not yet left a review.
Did it work? Sort of. A handful of people redeemed their copies, and I got one more review within a couple of days. I even got a few mailing list sign-ups. Better than nothing, but I still feel like I’m playing the waiting game.
As someone who signs up for (and occasionally wins) giveaways myself, I feel a moral obligation to post a timely review, but it appears I’m in the minority in that regard. I make sure to read giveaway books promptly after receiving them in the mail, and cross-post reviews as soon as I’m done. I feel like it’s part of the deal – they give me a free book, I write a review. It’s tit for tat.
But on the author side of things, it feels like I’m giving an awful lot of tit and getting very little tat. Only about a quarter of the people who have received books through my Goodreads giveaways have left reviews (and mostly just on Goodreads; they don’t cross-post to Amazon very often), and my percentage with LT so far is a whopping 5%.
That doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I did another LT giveaway in March, which had even more sign-ups than the last, and I’ll probably keep doing them every couple of months or so until the interest drops significantly.
Submitting Book Blog Review Requests; Or, Is This Really Worth the Time and Effort?
A few weeks ago I got an email from someone inviting me to beta-test his method of getting reviews from book bloggers. I nearly ignored it, but he had clearly gone at least so far as to read my bio before cold-pitching, and as a beta tester he was basically going to share his “tried and true” technique for getting hundreds of book reviews. I signed up, because what the hell? This was Marketing March, and that meant trying new things.
And I did try his method. For about 7 minutes. But as I perused his materials, I grew more and more skeptical and less and less interested, and dropped it after the first few modules.
The thing was, I had already been pursuing book blog reviews on my own as part of my Marketing March. I had found a database of book bloggers, searchable by the types of books they preferred to review, and had been systematically contacting all those who might be interested in a (however reluctant I am to label it as such) YA fantasy book like TtN.
Some had forms to fill out on their website, some had detailed instructions for sending emails. I spent a few days on this project, personalizing requests by looking at their other reviews to show them I had done my research, following directions to a T, rewriting my book description to try and pique their interest. The method I was beta testing was essentially the same thing, just using search crawler to find blogs (which I had already found through a database) and mail merging to send multiple customized queries (which I was already doing).
But it wasn’t the method that was the problem. It was the whole concept. After a few days of researching book blogs and sending in review requests, I decided this was a Giant Waste of Time.
Even if I do get a couple of reviews out of the dozens of requests I submitted, the ROI isn’t worth it. There are far too many book bloggers for any one of them to really raise my book’s profile – and if they are big enough that they could, then they are likely drowning in requests from other authors just like me.
Book blog reviews occupy this strange space, perceived as being more influential than the Average Jane somehow, but they aren’t. A review from butterflyboooklovrrrgrrrl.blogspot.com isn’t worth jack shit, as far as lending credibility. They are all weighed the same on Amazon. A single review from a professional and well-respected publication – the Times, or even Kirkus – can be extremely worthwhile. But in the long run, a single review from an individual is more powerful as part of a whole, and taking the time to custom-craft messages to dozens or even hundreds of book bloggers just so that one or two of them might post a review is a huge waste of time. LT giveaways give me a much higher ROI for much less headache, and those reviews will do just as much for me in the long run.
Objective: Sell More Books
Paid Discount eBook Services; Or, Desperate Pleas for Attention from People Who Don’t Really Give a Shit
There are a lot of services out there that all promise to do the same thing for indie and self-published authors: market your book to their plethora of devoted fans, usually through their “daily deals” email blast, social media posts, and a listing on their website. Most of them boast about the size of their reach – “We’ll share your book with our 50K followers on Twitter!” – and most of them offer a paid option that guarantees your spot on any given day, or a free option that’s sort of like a lottery.
My most successful free Kindle days for TtN were those when I was listed on one of these sites. I had never actually made the effort, but a few times my book was found by some crawler and posted, resulting in hundreds of downloads in a single day. So I thought I might as well see if I could wrangle some sales out of those same sites.
When I say there are a lot of these services, I mean hundreds. I decided to try one paid, guaranteed spot site and then try the free lottery option on a bunch of other sites, to see if there was a drastic difference between the two.
For the paid, guaranteed spot, I forked over about $30. In exchange, I was promised a boosted Facebook post linking to my book on Amazon, as well as a featured spot on the website homepage for 5 days. To save time on the lottery option, I spent another $30 on a tool that would fill out the forms and/or send the emails for me to a couple dozen different sites. One of them actually accepted my book, so I essentially spent that $30 for a single listing, too.
Between the two, I managed to get a few sales. Nowhere near enough to cover the $60 investment, and none of those sales have yielded reviews (yet). While BookBub and some of the other expensive sites might guarantee results, making the gamble more worth it, I won’t be using this method again. Instead of feeling like a big fish in a small pond, I felt like an amoeba in an ocean. There’s just too many other authors trying to do the same thing for me to have any kind of results from things like this.
Besides which, the people who subscribe to these lists are getting these emails every damn day. Very few people read each email, and very few of those bother clicking the links, and very few of those will decide to purchase once they visit the Amazon page. And the Facebook and Twitter stats aren’t much better. FB initially pushes posts out to about 4% of a page’s followers, and only pushes it further if it gets some reactions. But the people who follow these accounts are, again, seeing these daily deals every damn day. Eventually they just become white noise, because they all look pretty much the same. So of those 50K people you’re paying to reach, maybe 2K will get the post in their feed. Of those, maybe 200 will stop scrolling long enough to actually look at it. Of those, maybe 20 will bother clicking the link. And, if you’re very lucky, 2 of them will buy the book. Suddenly that big social media presence doesn’t look very big at all.
Goodreads Ads; Or, You’re Not Quite As Clever As You Think You Are
Oh, Goodreads. As an indie author, I am full of love-hate for you. You offer so much promise to help me reach new readers, and yet you seem determined to make it difficult.
Goodreads ads are basic. They’re pay-per-click sidebar ads, and let you target audiences that have either liked a genre or specific authors. They show a picture of your book cover and a couple lines of text.
I ran two ads simultaneously – identical except that one linked to the Goodreads page, and the other linked to Amazon. You would think, with Goodreads being under the Amazon umbrella, that this wouldn’t be a problem – but the Goodreads ad was displayed 10x more often than the Amazon ad.
Everything else about them was identical – same bid price, same content, same cover image, but Goodreads clearly favored the internal ad. When I disabled the Goodreads ad and just let the Amazon one run, thinking it would absorb the displays that the other ad had been receiving, my entire campaign pretty much stalled. Even bumping my click bid by 300% did nothing except cost me more money. I never paid less than my bid amount – even though I was getting more clicks at a lower rate initially.
This was frustrating. Goodreads claims visiting your book page on their platform is better (of course they do), because you can get people to add it to their to-read shelf. But my books have been added by over a thousand people, and only 24 of them have left reviews. Most will never read any of my books. Most will forget they ever added it in the first place, lost among the hundreds or even thousands of other books compulsively clicked onto their to-read shelf. But if they visit the Amazon link, then my book stands a greater chance. It sticks around in their “recently viewed” library, as well as being displayed in “customers who viewed this also viewed”. And, at only 99 cents, they might even impulse buy. So Goodreads deliberately choking my Amazon-linked ad is a bit of a dick move.
Objective: Expand Mailing List
Facebook Boosted Posts/Ads and Twitter Ads; Or, I Know I’m All Up In Your Space But Please Don’t Flag This As Spam
I hate Facebook. This is no secret. But I was actually pleasantly surprised by some of the results I got from using it more deliberately last month.
In order to build my mailing list, I decided to do a giveaway – signed copies of both To the North and To the East, as well as a sneak peek at the cover art for To the South. All it took to be eligible was to sign up for my mailing list by the end of the month. And to also not be my mom.
I tried both a boosted post and a Facebook ad to spread the word, and one thing became immediately clear: boosted posts are a racket. The ad gave me much more control over my audience and gave me more impressions for my dollar – way more. Many times over more. The boosted post got more “likes”, but those likes didn’t translate to signups. Neither, for that matter, did the ad – but if the end result for both was just the number of eyes I got, then the ad is a far better bang for my buck.
Besides which, being my first time doing this, I messed up. I selected the wrong type of ad, which means I wasn’t paying for clicks on the sign-up button – but Facebook does give you the option to pay for the type of results you want. Website clicks, page likes, etc.
Twitter Ads, on the other hand, were a total bust. While I had the same budget for both Facebook and Twitter, I ran through my daily spend limit on Twitter by 8 or 9am every morning, and Facebook was much more evenly spread throughout the day. Twitter’s ad manager is unwieldy, as well, and made it really hard for me to see what exactly I was getting for my rapidly-depleted money.
I did get some ideas about how to use Facebook ads in the future, so I’ll have to test out some theories the next time I do a marketing push. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Facebook ads are obnoxious. No one wants that noise. My most important goal will be to only do them when I have a compelling ad that won’t make people feel like their feeds are being violated.
Reviews – I got a couple. Hopefully I’ll get a few more out of my latest LT giveaway, which just ended a few days ago. But reaching out to book bloggers? Giant nope.
Sales – Again, I had a few. Nothing to write home about – my $6 in royalties only covers about a tenth of what I paid for direct promotions. I’m sure that the more reviews my book had, the better the results would be. But, I’ve also come up with ideas that I think will work better for less money.
Mailing List – Better than expected. I actually had a good number of people sign up. It’s still pretty small, but it’s a start.
I’ve weeded out several methods that are not worth it, found a few others that might be if I learn what adjustments to make, but overall have arrived at the same conclusion I’ve had since the beginning. Until I get more reviews, most of the marketing and promotion I do isn’t going to result it any real sales. So it’s back to the grindstone for me.
The learning curve on this self-publishing thing is long and steep, my friends.