I published my first novel, A Fistful of Evil, on August 18, 2014. Since then, I’ve tried a plethora of marketing techniques, and I’ve had months where my novels have sold 100 copies a day and months where they didn’t even sell 100 total. As anyone in the industry will tell you, it’s not always easy to find a direct correlation between a marketing technique and sales (how can you tell if a review bumps your sales if the sales don’t happen on the day of the review?), but I’m going to try.
Disclaimer: I cannot measure the effect of things like changing a book blurb or Amazon category/keyword, mainly because I didn’t note the days I made those changes. This is merely my attempt to do something more than cross my fingers and hope for the best. (Or for a BookBub ad.)
Overview: Income vs. Expenses
Let’s take a look at gross income vs. net income first. All novel-related expenses are lumped into the month of the novel’s release for the most realistic view of income and how it correlated with a book releases. All other expenses, such as my business license and business cards, are noted in the months I paid the bill. All marketing expenses are lumped into the months where the ads or events took place.
The starred months show when I released a novel. Also you can see there were some startup costs offsetting the first two month’s income.
Full disclosure: I did not have A Fistful of Evil or Magic of the Gargoyles copyedited before I released them. I spent the previous decade as an editor, copyeditor, and proofreader. I had the ability to make my novels pretty clean, and I didn’t have the money at the time to invest in my novels (it can take anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for the edits of a book the size of FOE). However…as anyone who has edited their own work knows, you miss stuff. I wouldn’t recommend anyone skip this step, and I’ve since gone back and had my novels copyedited and proofread. Every novel from A Fistful of Fire onward has been (and will be) edited by someone other than myself before being published.
October 2015 was the release of A Fistful of Fire, and you can see that my costs on that novel were far greater, thanks to using a developmental editor, copyeditor, and proofreader.
Obviously, I’ve had some stellar months and some lulls. Some of it is due to a standard book-release high followed by the tapper off of sales as purchases slow and the books move back down the ranking chart and out of sight to the casual book shoppers. But what about the spikes I’ve had? What about the wild success in January 2015? Let’s drill down and see if there’s a pattern.
Paid Marketing: Ad Campaigns
In February, I ran an ad for FOE without dropping the price and had moderate success; in April and November, I dropped the price to $0.99. March and December were ads for Magic of the Gargoyles, where I dropped the price to free, so the ads were more about gaining exposure for my novel and reviews.
This chart makes it appear that ads did nothing for my sales, but that’s a simplistic view. For starters, I don’t know how much lower my sales would have been without the ads. I also don’t know how much of a tail these ads had, though I think it was pretty short. Until October 2015, I didn’t have a sequel to either of my novels. I’ve seen a better ROI of ads for FOE now that the sequel is out.
This chart also doesn’t show that for every ad run, the number of newsletter subscribers increased, which means the next novel’s release is likely to go that much better.
Was it worth it? You betcha. I’ll continue to run ads because it’s a great way to introduce readers to my series.
Caveat for the newly published: I didn’t spend a lot of money on ads the first three times (no more than $150 total). My goal was to raise awareness that my novels existed, make a little money, and gain a bump in the charts. I don’t think spending hundreds of dollars on each ad campaign would have been worth it when I had only one novel out in each series. Now that I have two novels out in my Madison series and four novels total that have some cross-series appeal, I tend to spend $100+ per ad campaign because I have a greater chance of making more sales across my novels. When you’ve only got one or two novels out, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to spend a ton on marketing. Write more, and spend your money on edits and free marketing (see below).
Since my funds were tight, I did as much free marketing as possible. I started by requesting reviews from book bloggers.
I ADORE book bloggers. They dedicate so much time to building an audience of their own, reviewing novels for free, and promoting authors books on their sites—it’s incredible.
To date, I have sent 250+ review requests for FOE and 100+ for MOG, and 25+ for FOF. As you can see, I don’t have quite that number of reviews reflected above. *grin* Requesting reviews is not for the faint of heart or those short on time. I spent almost 100 hours in 2015 to get those 38 reviews. If I had a full-time job on top of writing, it probably wouldn’t have been feasible.
Was it worth it? I never saw a sales spike on the day or day after a review posted. Based on the chart, there’s no correlation between sales and the number of reviews. But like with ads, I still feel it’s worth it. My novel got in front of people who might otherwise have not seen it. Most of those reviews continue to exist online, unlike the ads. Most bloggers also post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, too, helping future readers decide if they want to read my books.
Furthermore, I’ve made a few fans of my reviewers, and they’ve been kind enough to review novels I didn’t request them to, they’ve become my beta readers, and they’re happy to tell their fans about my books. It’s flattering and wonderful.
Reviews are spectacular, but sometimes it’s easier to get a spotlight on a blog. Spotlights are blog posts featuring the novel’s cover, blurb, and purchase links. I’ve lumped cover reveals into the same category, though they are typically used to boost pre-orders.
That’s not a typo for September 2015. In honor of the release of FOF in October, I ramped up on cover reveals and spotlights in August and September to increase pre-orders. It worked, too: I had over 800 pre-orders! A lot of this is due to giveaways that ran in tandem with the spotlights (see below).
Was it worth it? Dismissing the September to October sales jump that corresponded to the release of FOF, I see no clear correlation between spotlights and sales, nor did I see any day-of or day-after spikes in sales. But like reviews, having my novels featured on blogs put them in front of readers who might otherwise not have known they existed. Also, the greater acceptance ratio of spotlights by bloggers (75 requests to 36 spotlights) makes this is a less time-consuming marketing plan, which makes it more feasible as an ongoing strategy.
For a more personal touch and for a chance to share a bit of my personality along with my novels, interviews provided a great opportunity. Some of these interviews were on sites exclusively dedicated to interviews; others were on book blogger sites.
Interviews are as time-consuming to find/request as reviews, and that take additional time to fill out. However, interviews have a better shelf life than reviews or spotlights, in my opinion. I still get Twitter notifications of people linking to old interviews, and they often come up in Google searches for my name. In other words, they’re a great way for people to find out I exist.
Was it worth it? I don’t think there is a correlation between interviews and sales. I will likely continue to do them, but only by request. I’ve ceased to hunt for interview opportunities on my own.
A cousin to blogger and website interviews, author interviews are a cross-promotional strategy with a very precise audience. Here’s how it works: After seeing who is in my novels’ “Also Boughts,” I contact the authors and we interview each other on our blogs.
This was the first (only?) type of marketing that I felt had a trackable result in sales. Short of sending a targeted email to each other’s newsletter list, this was the most direct marketing possible for me and the author I swapped interviews with. The interviews put my books and theirs in front of readers who were extremely likely to take a chance on the novels.
I stopped doing these interviews because they’re even more time-consuming than regular interviews. I had to hunt down the authors who met a very specific criteria: authors whose novels appeared in my Also Boughts and my novels appeared in theirs (which is not always the case), who had blogs, who posted regularly (no point in swapping interviews if they don’t have a readership), who were interested in cross-promotion. Then I came up with the questions, filled out the answers for their questions, exchanged cover files, created the post, and marketed it.
Was it worth it? Yes. Like I said, this was incredibly targeted marketing for free. It takes more time than buying an ad, but it’s potentially more beneficial. Plus, I made some author friends, and that’s a huge bonus.
For a time-sucking task with marginal to no benefit, try writing guest posts. Not only do you have to do all the same work hunting for sites that take guest posts and sending requests like you do with reviews and spotlights, but you also have to write an engaging post within the word-count perimeters of the blog.
I believe guests posts work best if you’re a nonfiction writer or if you can land a spot on a huge site that will promote your post like crazy. Otherwise, I’m not sure they make sense. I have done five, and all have been on book blogger sites where they’re mixed in with reviews and spotlights. I don’t know if the readers of those sites care so much about the guest posts and who wrote them.
That said, I might have done my guest posts wrong (see my In the Press page for links to my posts). I’ve seen some that have basically been hard-sale pitches for a novel creatively written as advice or as an extended blurb. If you’ve done guest posts and felt you had sales because of it, let us know what you did and how. I’d love to hear it!
Was it worth it? No.
My favorite form of free marketing: giveaways!
Again, September 2015 is not a typo. As part of the pre-order bonanza for FOF, I ran a month-long giveaway with three winners receiving both FOE and FOF, and it was featured on 20 sites. In August, all 5 giveaways were also linked to one prize. All the other giveaways were for a single novel on a single blog, in tandem with a review or spotlight.
The time needed to set up the giveaways on a single blog can be lumped in with general review or spotlight requests. The time needed to set up a giveaway across multiple blogs takes more time, but like spotlights, bloggers are typically more responsive. Bloggers want to give their readers a treat as much as I do.
Additional benefits: If you use Rafflecopter and set it up yourself, you can have the entries direct people to your social media sites and newsletter. I was hesitant to include my newsletter as part of the entries, not wanting to falsely pad my list or have a whole slew of unsubscribers at the end of the giveaway, but I’ve had really good results. In my last giveaway (not shown on this chart), every subscriber stayed. Some might drop off later, but this way I have the opportunity to stay on their radar. If they didn’t buy my book the first time they saw it (in the giveaway), maybe they will the next time in my newsletter.
Was it worth it? Yes, and there might be a way to make it more worthwhile: Based on this chart, I’d say that running the same giveaway across multiple sites works best. I will need to do more tests to make sure I’m not mistaking a pre-release bump for a successful marketing strategy, but I’m definitely continuing with the giveaways.
I had two other major factors that contributed to sales. In September 2015, I entered all my novels into the Kindle Unlimited program. After a year of having my novels available across various retailers, I found that 96.7% of all my sales came from Amazon. Going all in with Amazon was a no brainer. After that, my number of sales dipped, but my number of pages read more than made up for it.
The other special factor was in December 2015, FOE and FOF were selected to be a Kindle Daily Deal in Australia. I’d already been selling well in Australia, but it didn’t compare to the sales I saw that day. The novels both dropped pretty quickly in the ranking after the deal ended, but it was fun while it lasted.
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
Let’s take another look at that final chart.
- pink = giveaway
- teal = author interviews
- yellow = interviews
- purple = spotlights
- green = reviews
- red = guest posts
- A = ads
- star = book release
Here’s what I feel this chart shows:
- Marketing is best done in batches. My two worst-selling months were the months where I did only two things. My best months had a lot going on.
- It’s not any one type of marketing that increases sales; it’s the combo of techniques.
- Author-swap interviews get more results than regular interviews.
- Multi-blog giveaways help drive sales.
Are any of these conclusions correct? I don’t know. I need to repeat them to check my results. The only conclusion I can make with complete faith is:
Releasing books sells books.
I would love your feedback! What have you learned? What’s worked for you? Do you think my conclusions are accurate?