book promotion, book sales

Report from the Front Lines.

Nine Hundred and Forty-Two Million. According to Wikipedia, that’s the number of English speakers in the world. That includes 603 million people for whom it is a second language.

As a writer ever in search of an audience, my first crass thought upon hearing that statistic is: I wonder how many of them might want to read my books?

A study by the Pew Research Center reported that 23% of all Americans didn’t read a single book during 2014, and there’s not much reason to expect that number to improve. In addition, some of those other 77% who did read a book only read one, so they probably aren’t exactly hopefuls. So how many are real potential readers? Well, that same study showed that 42% of Americans read 11 books or more in the past year, roughly one a month. So lets use that figure. Let’s say 42% of 942 million.

That’s almost 400 million readers. Sell to a mere one percent of those folks, and you’re one of the most successful writers on the planet.

This sort of number crunching has been on my mind because I ran my first ever free promotion on Amazon a short while back for my book Spark. As most of you probably know, Amazon lets you sell your book for free for five days out of every ninety. I chose to spend the whole five days in one swoop. Here’s how the whole thing went down:

Day One: I decided to do Day One with a minimum of promotion. I was originally going to do none at all just to establish a baseline, but I got impatient so I did a couple of Twitter posts on sites that promote free books (maybe a dozen altogether). Day One total:  69 downloads.

Day Two: Here’s where the promotions kicked in. I chose two paid sites: Book Barbarian and Free Kindle Books and Tips. Total paid: $60. I set those up about a month in advance. I also submitted the book to a whole bunch of free promotional sites as well, about thirty. This was a very tedious and time consuming process. I also kept on promoting on Twitter, although not a lot. I have to admit, day two was kind of exciting, mostly because it was fun to watch the numbers climb. Day Two total: 1475 downloads.

(Note: some of the free sites posted my ad and some didn’t. It’s hard to be certain but I know the following sites posted: Reading Deals, My Book Cave (very helpful), It’s Write Now, eBookasaurus (but no cover picture), Bookangel, Ask David (very nice), Ignite Your Book (again, no cover), frugal freebies, discountbookman (first listing on the page. Nice.) and Some of these listings were little more than a postage stamp-sized cover on a page full of the same, and others were pretty nice. Next time, I’ll check them out a little more carefully beforehand, but hey, what d’ya want for free?)

Day Three: I kept on posting on Twitter and on a couple of free Facebook promotional pages, but I was probably mostly still riding the wave of my Day Two promotional push. I might have also been getting some downloads from Amazon’s own internal marketing machinery by now, because the book received pretty prominent placement on the Top Free Books lists. It was number one or two in Children’s Books Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Magic, categories like that, so anyone browsing free books in those categories would have seen it. I topped out at number 4 for Free Children’s eBooks overall, and was high up on that list for a couple of days.

(A note about that: Children’s Books is not the label I would have chosen. Young Adult, sure, but Children’s Books was a very confused category. Spark was, at times, sandwiched between The Lonely Balloon, How to Draw Sea Creatures and Sinful Cinderella (which wasn’t porn, despite the name.) I think it would’ve done better if it had been on the YA list, but I must have entered it wrong. (Incidentally, there were other YA books on the list. In fact the comparable paid list was mostly various Harry Potter. But still, it wasn’t the ideal category.)

My best position for the overall free list occurred on Day Three. For a few hours, Spark was the 88th most downloaded free book at the Amazon Kindle store. That was cool, but I’m sure my placement on the minor category lists got me a lot more looks. Day Three total: 752 downloads.

By Day Four things were slowing down. I continued to post on Twitter, and I did a boosted Facebook post which got a fair number of looks. It cost me eleven dollars, reached 1185 people, and garnered about 50 likes. It’s hard to know if it resulted in more downloads, but certainly no more than those 50, so that was clearly the worst-spent money in the campaign. But I got some new likes on my author page, and probably moved a couple of books. Day Four total: 409 downloads.

In the end, after five days, my downloads totaled 3061 units.

In truth, I’ve never been crazy about the idea of giving away my books. I know a lot of you feel the same. You worked hard on your books, and you believe them to be things of value. Giving them away is like saying “Hey! These are trivial and expendable! Have one!” And, as you’ve probably seen when established independent authors grouse about the glory days of two or three years ago, the free days don’t really work as well as they used to. Most of the people who love eBook giveaways have kindles already jammed with hundreds of books they haven’t read yet.

Kristen Lamb strongly discourages free giveaways, because it sets the expectation bar so low. People now expect eBooks to be free, which undervalues all of our work. I don’t disagree, but I also think that ship has sailed. It’s fine for me to refuse on principal, but who’s going to notice? The millions of people who are actively not buying my books?

You have to have an audience. You just do. It’s fine for Kristin Lamb to preach, and I’m glad she is, but she already has people listening. I don’t.

Look at it like this: I wasn’t selling books anyway. Now 3000 people have the book and might read it, might like it, might buy one of my other books. One percent? Two percent? Dare I hope for five percent? One hundred and fifty new readers?

I’d call that a start. Of course, I’ll never really know just how many, but I have sold six copies of Spark since the promotion (which is more than the week before. Hell, it’s more than the month before)  and over 3000 pages  have been read through Kindle Unlimited (plus 400 pages of Flight of the Wren, which UnknownI suppose was just a random occurrence). I’ve had two new five-star reviews  on my Amazon page and 33 people have added Spark to to their “to read” or “reading now” lists on GoodReads. So at the very least it means people saw it and wanted it, so it must be okay. The cover, the blurb, the Amazon landing page, they can’t be as unappealing as I sometimes think they must be, given the deafening roar of indifference I usually experience. So I’d do it again and I’d recommend it to others. And I’d recommend using as many forms of promotion as you can manage or afford. Make the most out of your giving. If my baseline of 69 books on Day One is any indication, my promotional efforts increased downloads by a factor of almost nine, so that’s highly significant.

I know it may seem odd crowing about how many books I gave away. Even odder that I spent money for the privilege. And it’s true, I spent $72 on my giveaway and so far I’ve made maybe 25 bucks back, but it’s only been a week or so. The books are out there. It takes time for people to read them.

This is the long game we’re playing.

I’ll keep you posted.


23 thoughts on “Report from the Front Lines.

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Once more, Atthys, thank you for sharing. Experience teaches and it’s useful to learn from others. (Not to mention easier, cheaper & time-saving 🙂 ) Articles like this add great value to the Writers Co-op.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. atthysgage says:

    Thanks, GD. The whole process gave me a new outlook on the whole Kindle giveaway experience. It’s not a game-changer in my view, just another arrow in the quiver.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mimispeike says:

    It’s good to have all these names of sites here, where I can find them easily. Keep it up.

    As for giveaways, I think the idea is to offer a freebie (a teaser/novella, maybe?) that starts a series, that you will charge for. Or, of course, to get people hooked on your style/POV.

    This kind of info must be a lure for new members. Not that you can’t find it elsewhere, but here you also get some good entertainment. I’ve posted our name on Writer Chat and Promotions on Facebook. A few other places too, can’t recall just where.

    We are almost a magazine, such different voices, many interesting discussions, the quality of thought marvelous. We have to make a name for ourselves sooner or later. In the meantime, it’s our sandbox. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

    Giveaways may actually be counterproductive. I buy books I have a real interest in reading. I don’t have time for anything but what really hooks me, taking into account the author’s reputation, an excerpt, etc. and those I am more than willing to pay for. There needs to be a site that promotes quick-case samples, all in one place. Give your best hundred word pitch and a page or two of story. If I could find such a site, I’d be on it in a flash.

    From a table of contents, you bop in and out of the selections: no thanks, no thanks, wow! This one sounds like it’s for me! So efficient. Like the serial sites, no big investment of time. Is there such a site? There ought to be.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. atthysgage says:

    I can’t dispute the possibility that giveaways may be counterproductive in the long run. And I’m entirely sympathetic to the notion that there’s something wrong with a model that makes giving content away normal. Writer’s should be paid for what they write. But sometimes you have to work within the system the way it is. Out of the 3000 plus folks who downloaded the book, there must be an enormous variety of people, some who are really interested, some who just like free stuff, and everything in between. It’s a shotgun approach, but I don’t really see the harm in that. The 90% of downloaders who don’t read my book after downloading it weren’t going to read it anyway. But the ones who do?

    I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve had almost 5000 pagereads through Kindle Unlimited since the give away. That’s roughly equivalent to twelve people reading my book who otherwise wouldn’t have, in about ten days. (And I get paid for those page reads. About half a penny a page, but still, better than nothing, which is what I was getting otherwise.) And those are just the ones I know about.

    I probably sound defensive. But hey, that’s why we’re here, right? To try and understand the plusses and minuses of writing, publishing and marketing in the modern media marketplace?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perry Palin says:

      Yes, Atthys, keep us posted. Your numbers are interesting and instructive. I wish you well.

      Today I attended a meeting of a local writers’ group. The most prolific and perhaps highest seller in the group publishes his own books using CreateSpace. Most of his sales are of print copies, sold one at a time at community festivals, writers’ conferences, and readings/signings in libraries and bookstores. He sells books, and he works hard at it. He has turned to ebook editions of some of his books, and has used the giveaway period as a marketing tool. He has not been able to link the giveaways with additional ebook or print sales.

      My publisher says he will be releasing my first two books in ebook editions later this year, and that I will earn more from them than I have from the print editions. I hope he is right. His promotion (such as it is) and mine will focus on readers who have previously purchased books like mine.


  5. this is good to know. I had planned to give mine away the first chance I get and as every time I release another book. Since it’s part of a series, I have no qualms about this. I won’t be giving away any of the other books in the series just the first one. I got hooked on some of my fav series that way–through free or very reduced books. So I know it works as long as the writing is good.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    There are readers for every genre, and there are readers who are looking for the non-formula, off-beat, even literary works. I am one of them.

    The discovery process has to be easier. Here’s the alternative, for me: I go to the library sales, I rampage through three or four tables of my particular style, pick up a book, thumb through, read three-four places, it’s in the box or back on the shelf. It takes me about a minute to make up my mind. I want something that easy for an online browse. I suppose the pay-page-by-page is a way to sample. I’m an old fogey who can’t adapt to this new online world.

    I’d give a lot more authors a chance if it were only that easy. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean they’d get read. I have my physical book stacks waiting to be read, and I’d have my virtual stack. It’s a game of, what is most likely to have a bearing on my own story? (History/style/vocabulary.) I can’t say that I read for pleasure, though I get a lot of pleasure out of it. I read for results.

    I am engrossed in a biography of Thomas de Quincy, and I’m highlighting hundreds of passages. He wrote, for a time, for a satirical newspaper. Edgar Allen Poe wrote an arch article on what sort of stuff they were looking for, and I have got some really delicious descriptions of what was likely to be accepted. This I can definitely use for Sly. What am I talking about, an easier discovery process? I’ve discovered more than I can handle already.

    I suppose that part of my problem is that I am looking to have my heart set on fire. There are centuries of great stuff. Given the choice, odds are I’ll go with Cervantes. I’m a gigantic pain in the butt, and I know it.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. mimispeike says:

    I take it all back, all my slams. FACEBOOK IS AMAZING!

    I have just discovered that a successful writer is married to a cousin that I haven’t seen in forty years. He made a friend request to me on Facebook. I noticed that he is friends with my brother. Odd, I thought. (My brother is the keeper-in-toucher of the family.)

    I went to his FB page. He lives in Somerville NJ. As a joke I asked (I have relatives in Somerville), you don’t happen to be married to my cousin Mary Beth, do you? (I guess I was putting two and two together in the back of my mind.) He answered: yes I am married to Mary Beth Hann. Whoa! Here’s his bio. I have invited him to look in on us.

    Jim Meirose is a Somerville, New Jersey author. His short works have appeared in leading literary magazines and journals, including Collier’s Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans review, South Carolina Review, Phoebe, Baltimore Review, and Witness. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, and one was runner up for the O.Henry Awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and his novels, Claire, Monkey, and Freddie Mason’s Wake are available here on and from other fine literary outlets.

    Most of what I see on his page looks pretty thriller, at first glance. One of his books, the description says surreal, absurd. Promising!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. mimispeike says:

    Well, OK, sure, whatever. It wasn’t Jim who made the request to connect. It was my cousin, using his page. And, he doesn’t talk about writing anymore, he’s at the point with his work etc. etc.

    I don’t think he’ll be paying us a visit, so I can say it. I guess anyone who is friends with Garry Doonsbury Trudeau is beyond our angst-filled discussions. Lucky him.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. mimispeike says:

    Oh, thank you, Atthys. You have lifted my spirits. I have the feeling he’s saying to his wife about now, please! Sic no more of your writer relatives on me, please!

    He has a pretty impressive small group of friends, publishers, English professors, Doonsbury, and I would definitely not qualify, but for my long lost cousin, who surely didn’t know what she was getting into. Still, she had to recall that I was the loopiest of the loopy side of the family. Maybe she thought I’d calmed down, aged to be more normal.


  11. mimispeike says:

    One more comment and I’ll shut up. I have read a short story by Meirose, Mr. Lucas’ Punishment. I do love the rambling train of thought. I don’t buy the premise. I’m anal about a believable foundation. This one, I can’t swallow it. I’m working out in my mind what it would take for me to buy it. I do really, really, like the meandering this and that. I do a lot of that myself.

    Maybe I’m cranky today. The heat is horrible, and we just discovered our window air conditioner does not fit into our new-bought windows. It’s an inch too tall. I’m pretty damn miserable. Jim, if you see this, forgive me for being a jerk. I do really like the way you think.


  12. Thanks for some great information there, Atthys. You’ve done a lot of groundwork and are not only several steps ahead of me, but more methodical, I think. I hadn’t even given much thought to all those promotion sites, but now I have a little idea where to start.

    Liked by 1 person

    • atthysgage says:

      In some ways it’s not as methodical as I’d like. As a controlled experiment, I’d really only use one promotional method or site at a time and see what works best, but that’s just so time-consuming. You only get so many promotional days per 3 month block. So now, I’m just throwing everything I can find at the wall and seeing what sticks. Then I scrape the rest of it up and throw it at another wall. It isn’t very scientific, but it keeps the wall painters in business.

      Liked by 1 person

      • atthysgage says:

        There’s a hidden benefit in the giveaway for those of us signed up in Kindle Unlimited. Some of those people who pop over to download the freebie download it through KU instead, which means when and if they actually read it, we actually get paid. It isn’t a lot, but I have seen a steady trickle of readers since the giveaway. I even hit a thousand pages one day, but that’s unusual.


      • Yes, to be scientific about it would require more time than any of us have. I’ve put together my first Facebook ad which will run in a few days. I don’t expect much to come of it but I if I don’t try, I’ll never know if I should have done it or not.


  13. mimispeike says:

    Atthys, I’ve read that they calculate by the farthest along page read. If someone opens and jumps to page 200, that’s what they count. Is that so, or have they changed it?

    I tend to bop around, sampling, as I do with a book in a bookstore. How does that register with KU?


  14. atthysgage says:

    I’m no expert but I’ve been told that they can track it pretty carefully, so much so that skimming is detectible. I know there was an issue with authors putting their tables of content at the end of the book possibly to try and trick the machinery, but I think they fixed that. I don’t know how they deal with skipping around, but my guess is they have some way of detecting it.


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