Part 3: Free Promotions, Discount Promotions, Stacked Promotions, and Reviews
Previously, on Part 1:Forums, Groups, and Blogs, Guest Blogging, Blog Tours, and Endorsements.
And Part 2: Mailing Lists, Giveaways, and GoodReads
“But,” you protest, “I don’t want to take 5 years to build a fan base! I want to know about promotions I can whip out in the next few weeks!” Okay, let’s start with the currently-most-popular ways… but even this is an arena where professionals are setting the stacked promotions up two or three months in advance, in order to get in at bigger sites. Again, balance the money / time availability for your own circumstances.
You can promote your books by putting one at a discount up to and including free. I don’t recommend this approach if you only have one or two books out. If an author only has one book, and they give it away for free or near as, how will they make any money? If readers get one free or deep discount, and then buy and read the next, they’re likely to forget who you are by the time you have a third out. If you have five books out, then binge readers and new fans deliver four sales for every free download. Also, they’ll be more likely to remember you and come back to check for more stuff later.
Backmatter becomes very important, too, when promoting a book as a loss-leader. You need to make it as painless as possible for readers to find the rest of your catalogue. Therefore, make darned sure you have links in the back of each book to your others, and it wouldn’t hurt to repeat the blurb in the front matter. I know, some readers are annoyed, when they’ve just downloaded something, to read the blurb they’ve just read on the website. However, it’s very useful to the people poking through a massive To-Be-Read pile and thinking “Why did I download this book six months ago? Why was it interesting enough to pick up?”
If you have a few days free and little to no money, and a series of linked stories, then you can try offering the first in the series free of charge. Such promotions aren’t nearly as popular as they were before Kindle Unlimited attracted most of the readers who couldn’t afford their reading habit, but you can still boost your sales by getting people to download the first book free, and then, if they like it, buy the rest. This will take a fair amount of time in terms of finding promotion sites and mailing lists that accept free ebooks, and filling out the forms.
There’s one major drawback to this technique: most people don’t value things they get for free. There’s no urgency to get their money’s worth of entertainment out of reading it, and they may never get around to it. Conversions from promoted free downloads to paid purchases usually range between 1-3% (in scifi; other genres have a wider spread.) That is, for every hundred downloads, even if you correctly target the market, only 1-3 readers is likely to buy another story of yours within the next month. That makes this technique a numbers game. If you give away 54 copies, you’re not likely to earn back the money spent on promoting your book ($5 here, $7 there, those 4 free places, $15 over there). If you give away 30K free copies, then you’re likely to have a pretty good ROI.
If you have a little more money available for promotions, you can run a campaign for a discounted book, usually priced at $0.99. Why does this cost more than a free promotion? Because the promotion Web sites and e-mail lists usually charge more for discounted-book slots. The brass ring of this particular carnival ride is a slot with Bookbub, who have the largest mailing list, with a good solid track record on their typical click-through, and the data to prove it. (Beware: there is no such thing as guaranteed sales. Some people have completely lost their shirts on Bookbub promos. If it’s their fault you may get a refund, but you might end up scheduled on a school holiday when no one’s buying, or not ‘click’ with their readership. There are no guaranteed success.)
Even though 99 cents isn’t much for a book, it’s still more than free, and buyers are statistically much more likely to actually read the story, and to buy the next in series.
I have plenty of sales data. None of it can give me an ROI for a single site, because I stack the promotions. Thus, when you ask me, “How many sales does Ebooksoda give compared to Ereader News Today?”, the answer isn’t something I could tell you.
What is a “stacked promotion”? It’s a technique that leverages multiple individual promotions per day for several days, with your sites most likely to give you the most sales / downloads toward the end of the promotional run, in order to create increasing sales/downloads & visibility on the popularity lists for several days. The goal is to hit the bestseller lists in subgenre, and if applicable the Hot New Releases list.
Amazon’s Web site is designed (as is iTunes) to show people the most popular stuff, because that’s most likely what people want to buy. The sales you make through the promo sites, if you gain good visibility, will be between 15% and 50% of your total sales during the promotion period and up to two weeks afterward, as the visibility boost remains for a while. The rest will come from browsers on the retail sites noticing your book’s improved sales rank, recognizing it as a hot item, and clicking over to check it out.
To achieve this, I set up a 3-5 day run of promotions. I usually schedule 3 days of promotions, with a day on either end to give me ‘padding’ in case the promotions don’t start on schedule, or in case the reduced price cuts back to full price earlier than scheduled. The ‘padding’ also provides a pre-promotion baseline for sales, and provides additional time for those who open the promotional e-mail late to click through to the book on the last day of the sale. If I can give the promotion lots of care and attention, I’ll sometimes schedule 5 promotion days, with everything carefully checked to make sure the discounts kick in before the advertising emails are transmitted.
The first day or two goes to lots of small, lower-hitting campaigns. Here you hit the money-versus-time tradeoff, as you can spend a lot of time filling in forms and spending $5-$15 here and there, with a sprinkling of free promo sites. Ideally, as the promotion progresses, I use more and more heavy hitters, with the biggest reach & sell-through anchoring the very last day. Often, though, when trying to get a promotional slot only a month away (or less) it ends up slightly randomized as to the dates each site has available.
If your books are in Amazon’s KDP Select program, you must absolutely make sure that your proposed promotion isn’t crossing a rollover period – the boundary between the 90-day periods for which each book is enrolled. You’re restricted from changing the price of the book within so many days of starting or ending one of those periods. You don’t want that restriction to affect your promotion schedule, so plan the latter accordingly.
Let’s talk real numbers. Advertising at a free site is likely to net somewhere between 0-5 sales, with 15 as the outlier. Advertising at some of the smaller sites results in 0-30 sales, with 50 as the outlier. The numbers vary by genre, as well as by site. There’s a much smaller market for military science fiction than cozy mysteries, in total, and a site that has a bunch of space opera fans may not have much market penetration among, say, urban fantasy even though they’re in the same SF/F category.
Thus, I can’t say with a straight face “You’ll get 5 sales out of Betty Book Freak and 15 out of bknights.” At best, I could say “On Day 1 of the stacked promo, I advertised in 6 places and had 35 sales. On Day 3, I had my heavy hitter site and 4 smaller ones, and had 1,545 sales. ”
Do Not Track The Success Of Your Marketing Campaign On The Sales Of The Discounted Book Alone. (Or the number of free downloads.) You can reasonably expect to “lose money” on the small sites, and “barely break even” on the larger sites. But if you don’t have the ramp-up of visibility from the smaller sites, Amazon’s algorithm will see your popularity suddenly shoot up, and will spike it back down just as fast. (There’s also a bunch of market research on the number of times a consumer has to see a product before they’ll buy it. That was lies lots and lots of research from the soda and beer companies, and it’s heavy going. There is something to it, though, and there are readers who say “Well, after I kept hearing about X, I took a chance and downloaded the sample to see if it was any good.” Instead, track all sales of all your books for the week prior to the promotion, and for up to 4 weeks afterward.
“Betty Book Freak? Bookbub? Ereader News Today? Where do I learn of all these places to promote?”
Start here: http://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promotion-sites
Once again, this is not only about click-through and purchase percentages, and but also about sell-through, otherwise known as how many people read Book 1 and then buy Book 2. When you were giving away Book 1 for free, it was pretty obvious that you couldn’t measure the return on investment by how many people paid for book 1, as it was free. Authors tend to get confused when they’re selling at a discount, but the principle is still exactly the same. The money is all made, and long-term fans gained, by getting them to buy books 2, 3, 4, and so on.
When promoting discounted books, you’re going to sell a whole lot less than you would have given away for free. However, readers as a whole tend to value what they pay for, and a much higher percentage read the book (and read it much faster), and go on to buy more books.
A minor note here: there are two types of sell-through rates. “Organic” sell-through rates are what happen between promotions, as people find your books by whatever means (word of mouth, seeing you post or comment somewhere and liking you enough to look up your books, browsing also-boughts, running across an old review, whatever). Organic rates vary by genre, as well as by writer, but they usually are 50-90% on paid books (this percentage isn’t dramatically affected by first in series being 99 cents or full price), and 3-10% on permanently-free first-in-series to the paid second in series. “Promoted” sell-through rates happen when you run a promotion, and they generally vary by genre and promotion from 0.01% to 15%.
If you just looked at the percentages, you’d wonder why anyone does promotions – but it’s a numbers game. 15% of 20,000 eyeballs is a lot more than 85% of 20 eyeballs.
Each successive book in a series is another checkpoint for sell-through numbers, and they’re all about your writing and blurb instead of promotions. By the time a reader goes from Book 2 to Book 3, the sell-through percentage should pick up dramatically. If it doesn’t, then something in your writing in Book 2 is losing them. We’ve all picked up a sequel to an exciting first story, only to experience the “sagging middle” in the trilogy, or the sequel where the creators gave us what they thought we wanted, but with nothing of what we actually enjoyed. (Let us all nod solemnly, and agree that there is no Highlander II. If we ignore it, maybe it’ll go away…)
By the time readers go from Book 3 to 4, they’re hooked. Sell-through percentages should be in the 80’s to high 90’s. As the series stretches on, you’ll have some fall-off, but it should be pretty consistent. Major changes in sales patterns are indicative that something went wrong – a cover that didn’t clearly signal it was part of the series, concentrating on a character that the readers don’t care for, a dramatic change in series tone, killing a popular character in the prior book… detection is easy, diagnosis is harder.
When you get wrapped around the axle and think that the discount promotion lists are your only option for discovery, then the mandatory number of reviews and ratings suddenly seems like the biggest, most terribly cruel dictates. They’re not, any more than posting a 5mph speed limit in a parking lot with a day care is “the man keeping you down.” The sites are just trying to set a minimum bar so they can say to their subscribers “Everything we recommend has at least this much recommendation and indication of quality going for it.”
Instead, look around, and try something else. There are other ways, and time will often give you the reviews, as readers accumulate. Nobody is going to kill your cat if you don’t have 10 reviews by the end of the first week, and nobody’s going to make you wear a scarlet letter if you don’t sell 1500 books and get 150 reviews by the end of your first month. As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to run 1 review per 1000 readers. Some genres, and some authors with a lot of audience engagement, it’s closer to 1 in 100. Others, not so much. Treasure your fans who leave reviews, but don’t harass them to do so and drive the ones who faithfully buy but don’t review off, eh?
Next week: advertising – sidebar, keyword, banner…. yeah, all that stuff you installed adblock to ignore, and still can’t get rid of? That’s a promotional method, too.