book promotion, book sales

Another Report from the Front

Having seen my book sales stall spectacularly over the last year or so (big news, I know), I decided to hoard my pennies and buy some ad time to promote some free giveaway days on (I know, I know. The irony of having to pay to give your books away is not lost on me, but I don’t want to get into that.) Simply making your books free on Amazon will get you bupkis in terms of downloads, ‘cuz who’s going to notice? So you pay for attention. The hope? That among those who download the book for free will be a fair number that will actually read it, maybe review it, maybe like it well enough to buy your other books and give them to all of his friends, including the indie movie director looking for fresh product for her next feature film production.

You get the idea. To be honest, I have done this before and reported on it here.  The results never actually pay for themselves (nor did they this time) but a giveaway does generate a few sales after the fact, and some royalties from folks who read the books on KU.

I did things a little different this time. Mostly, I made both of my older titles (Spark and Flight of the Wren) free at the same time, and ran a variety of promotions, both free and paid. I did not promote the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, and I do not think I missed much by not doing so. I’ve never gotten a noticeable bounce from posting in either location, even when I used Facebook’s paid ads.

So where did I promote? Robin Reads, Awesome Gang, Free and Discounted Books, ebooklister, Digital Book Today, Ask David, Bookangel, Frugal Freebies… Basically, a bunch of websites and emailing services that exist precisely for that purpose (Including the rather ominously named Ignite Your Book).

Basically, it goes like this:  You make your book free for up to five days (as a member of KU, you can do that every three months). Your promoters list your book as being free in their promotional material (some are email lists, which can be pretty effective. Some are simply listings on their websites, which tend to be worthless.) Readers notice, and go to Amazon (hopefully with a simply click) and download your book for free. This downloading causes your book to climb up the Amazon lists, specifically the Top 100 Free in Kindle Store list. Only that list isn’t nearly specific enough. Your book will begin showing up on the sub-lists, like Top 100 Free Historical Fiction list, or Top 100 Free Genre Fiction list. But even that isn’t specific enough. You may get to those lists eventually, but the lists that really help you get noticed break it down even farther than that, because these lists have 100 titles (right?) which are spread out over five pages, and who’s got time to search five whole pages? No. You want to get on page one, preferably near the top.

Fortunately, the sub-category lists are made to make this possible, and your book will end up on several of them, depending on what categories and keywords you chose when you were publishing your book on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Here’s how it worked for me. On KDP, I listed Spark as Fiction>Science Fiction>Alien Contact. Since you can put it in two categories I also listed it as Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction. These aren’t optimal, but you only get so many options to choose from. Under Keywords, I chose: female protagonist, high school, parallel universe, gnosticism, paranormal, extraterrestrial, girl’s basketball. I know, this is a pretty funny list, but I was trying to cover the bases. I wanted both some popular lists (on which my book would be obscure) and some obscure lists (on which my book would be popular, or at least prominent). During the giveaway, Spark made a good showing on the Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction>Aliens list. Also the Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction>First Contact list. It also got some play on the Paranormal, Occult, Supernatural list. It got to #1 on all of these lists and #4 for the Top 100 Free Science Fiction list. Even on the BIG list (Top 100 Free in Kindle Stores list) it made a tiny splash, topping out at #74.

Genre Fiction>Society>Marriage

Obviously, appearing on numerous lists in higher positions perpetuates more downloads, causing your book to climb even higher, and so on and so forth. This is what drives downloads once the initial push from promotion peters out (and it does quickly). Flight of the Wren didn’t do as well as Spark, only reaching #99 on the BIG list, but it did spend considerable time on page one of Teen & Young Adult>Coming of Age list, and the Genre Fiction lists, getting as high as #20 for Genre Fiction, putting it in company with a considerable amount of rather generic looking chick lit and a lot of gay smut. (For a long time, Renny’s face floated among the chiseled male torsos of fire fighters, navy seals, and rodeo ropers.) Spark, on the other hand, spent most of her time bobbing around among such titles as Earthkid Hero, Mickey the Martian, Starship Conquest, and Deck the Malls with Purple Peacocks.

Then, after your giveaway times out, it all ends. Abruptly. My download totals were as follows: Day One — 1822 downloads. Day Two — 2203 downloads. Day Three — 798 downloads. Day four had 26 downloads, but those were just residuals, because I had ended the promotion by then. In the three weeks since the promotion, I have sold nine books. (Don’t be jealous, kids.) Also, and more importantly, I have had 5798 page reads through KU. Probably, these have already peaked, but they could continue for a while. I’ve had a couple of near zero days, but only four days ago I had a 575 page day, so you never know. For the record, KU considers my books to have 426 and 411 pages respectively, so 5798 pages is equal to almost 14 complete readings, and royalties are roughly equal to that many sales.

So, worth it? I dunno. Certainly I lost money, but I knew I would. But for every reader I know about, there might be dozens more. Nearly 5000 people downloaded my books, and some of them will read them, eventually, maybe. Some isn’t many, probably, but it has to be something. A mere two percent would be one hundred readers.

We’ll see. It takes time. I’ve gotten a few reviews already. That takes time too.

But that seems like the subject for another day.


30 thoughts on “Another Report from the Front

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Thank you for the detailed and honest report, Atthys. Knowing your experience helps us all.

    I have to wonder where this idea came from that free books promote book sales. (The reason free Browser and free Search worked for Google is that they make money off advertisements.) Apparently, the “Top 100 Free in Kindle Store list” promotes Kindle and makes money for Amazon. That may be the ONLY reason Amazon offers it.

    Your report makes it clear that giving away books is not the way to make money.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Perry Palin says:

    My thanks, too, Atthys, for your report. What you’re telling me is that, in my narrow little corner, I need not bother publishing an ebook. Mine are only in trade paperback, and I can sell more books and make a little money from a table at a community festival or at the library.

    It’s frustrating to know how hard it is to get ahead in this game. I have some readers, a few anyway, but I’ll never make any real money. I’m thinking of diversifying into selling hand-tied trout flies and into beekeeping. I can lose enough at those, for tax purposes, to balance my small gains in writing.

    Will any of us in our group ever have an agent? Last spring at a Friends of the Library fundraiser I won the right to be the main character in a short story by noted St. Paul, MN mystery writer Wm Kent Krueger. He recently sent me the story, which will appear in a mystery short story anthology in 2018. Does Krueger have to go through all these marketing headaches? Nope, he writes his books and stories and turns them over to his agent.

    Still, Atthys, if this is the best course for you, for now, stay with it. We’re rooting for you.


    Liked by 4 people

    • Well, that’s certainly the model a lot of media sites have adopted — Netflix, YouTube, that sort of thing — though Netflix charges you AND gives you commercials. I know you’re joshing to some extent, but sometimes it’s worth considering the absurd notion. All joking aside, I wonder if there is a way of using sponsorship ithat wouldn’t simply turn readers off.

      Liked by 1 person

      • GD Deckard says:

        Start our own book club?
        Seriously, I just accepted an invitation to join a private Facebook group of writers dedicated to exactly this question. This is the group’s first day & there’s already been posts of specific experiences. They seem to be as serious about the business of writing as we.
        I’ll happily pass on successful bits.

        One such bit is that authors of series are saying their books sold much better after the series was completed. They think buyers wanted to be sure they could read the complete series.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. mimispeike says:

    In terms of marketing, we have to go with our gut. My impression is that the ads and the announcements on Facebook are a dead end, going nowhere. Because I know I ignore them, and I can’t be the only one to give them the brush-off.

    I have accomplished my goal for New Year. I have placed a promo/preface for Sly! – assorted hopefully intriguing remarks – on The title is – 1/1/2018: I Get The (Fur) Ball Rolling.

    I’ll let you know how that goes.

    I plan to upload a chapter every two to three weeks, the interval determined by my ability to create art for each. It doesn’t have to be a major image, it can be a spot illustration, a small character study. I just want a visual to catch the eye.

    Liked by 5 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      You’re exactly right about the Facebook ads. Authors are always complaining about the lack of results and I’ve yet to see anyone posting good results.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Originally, back in the golden age of self publishing, one could get impressive results by listing your book for free. The strategy of listing a previous book for free as a way of enticing readers to buy the next in the series is still touted as effective. It’s never really worked for me, but then I’ve never written a series.

    In truth, I think the whole book giveaway thing has become a bit played out. People have hundreds, if not thousands, of books already downloaded into their machines, and they’re no more likely to go back and read them than they are to simply download something new. There are thousands of digital copies of my books sitting in kindles all over the world, most of which will never be read.

    Again the question: is it worth it? Depends on what you mean. When I say I’ve sold nine books since the giveaway, that’s compared to approximately zero sales in the months prior. Add in the readings from KU, and that represents a (comparitively) robust month of sales. Sure, I lost money, but I got some readers, and that has to be worth something, right?

    Liked by 4 people

    • The free book route is getting so crowded that the returns have diminished to something close to nil. On the other hand, the alternative route is a lonely trudge along an arduous path where the returns are bound to be nil. So now I’ve become resigned to giving the books away, in the hope that one or two people will let me know they liked them, and maybe even post a review. Once in a while – every couple of months, maybe – it happens. I say to myself I’d rather have 1000 people getting it free, with a few dozen actually reading it, than the one or two who might buy it. At the current rate, I’ll start gaining some traction in about 25 years – yippee!


  5. mimispeike says:

    News flash: none of this is easy. I tried to submit to a publication on Medium, and was told 1. they want material with, and I quote, ‘deep, existential content’ (no fantasy, please, in an online magazine named The Rabbit Is In! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.) and 2. they only take short stories. Other mags want nonfiction. All kinds of stuff they don’t want, I haven’t seen ‘no cats’, but I’m sure it’s there.

    I chose the place for the inviting name. I read a story: ‘Hi. I’m God’, which has the same wink-wink tone as my work. I noted a series, ‘Lost Boys’ chapters one through six, so I thought they were open to a serialization of a longer work. (The editor explained the author was an early contributor and she’d made an exception.)

    OK, I have a new idea. I post images and a few juicy lines from Sly, and a link to my story, all over the place. Pinterest, Facebook, Medium, Instagram: The online equivalent of a bumper sticker caught sight of in traffic. Heaps of random placements, my cutie enticing some percentage of spotters to check him out.

    Then it’s on the story to close the deal. But that’s the way it is for all of us.

    I’m a bit discouraged. But tomorrow is another day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re bound to catch a few eyes. Whether they follow your lead is another question, but you have to try something. Hell, try anything. I believe that, in terms of public awareness, there is a critical mass which, once reached, will cause an avalanche of attention. Of course, me believing it doesn’t make it so.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Hey Y’all,

    I know I am late to the party, very sorry about that. I might be slow but you guys are much faster. Anyway, glad to be here.

    I have two thoughts about this article although I have done none of this so take it with a grain of salt.

    1. I don’t think that any of us can throw a single book out there and expect that it will hit pay dirt for us no matter what technique you use because it ends up being a single book and it can only give one stream of income. GD probably summed it up when he said that a series might sell after it is all out because the readers can read them all at one time. Perry has something working for him when he sales hard copies one at a time. The readers can connect with him and the book at the same time. That probably makes a longer lasting impression. I guess what I am saying is that you have to do everything to generate sales. Free books…face to face sales…sales on your Facebook site….and maybe self purchasing some to give away to people who can help you connect to readers like the local library, schools, churches, VFW, Rotary Club, local coffee shop and whatever else there is in your area.

    2. Ads dont work but they do bring in some revenue. They probably irritate readers but they are not unexpected. If it brings in income and only runs off a small percentage of readers, then they are worth it as those readers were going to leave and take their money with them.

    3. Mimi, dont let one group of snobby editors/gatekeepers ruin your day. There are literally thousands of snobby gatekeepers so nothing makes that particular snobby gatekeeper special. “Up their nose with a rubber hose!” Keep shopping that story with the killer title.

    4. This is a co-op and while I have only been here a short time, this is certainly more than a rag-tag group of writers. There is real talent in this little area of the internet and there is even more real love and respect for each other than you will find on twitter. (But that is a low bar to jump over). I think it would be fun to co-write an anthology and publish it collectively. It could be a group story or it could be a collection of short stories with a common theme. Planning far enough in advance, it could be edited and published a couple weeks in advance of the target day with little drama.

    5. Atthys, I wonder what would happen if you pulled your books off the internet. Slapped a new cover on them and put them back up? Don’t change anything but the cover and if you can change the categories. I dont think your target audience is homosexual, Navy SEALs, who chase aliens and read teen fiction. Maybe Im wrong but your cover might not be attractive enough for that audience.

    So there are two thoughts plus a couple of bonus ideas. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 4 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Rob, we love having you here. You are great.

      The editors at medium are not snobby. I have misunderstood the intentions of the site, it’s my fault. But there may be a place for me. I’ll continue to hunt.

      Liked by 1 person

    • atthysgage says:

      I have actually thought about recovering (so to speak) the books, see what happens. Probably wait until my next book is ready for publishing.

      Ultimately, I think Amazon is pretty bad at targeting audiences, but I’ve always been a difficult fit, both in terms of genre and age group audience. And when you’re dealing with a category as broad as “genre fiction” (their category, not mine) you’re going to find some odd bedfellows.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. GD Deckard says:

    See ROBAKERS’ Point #4 in the post above. Now, there’s an interesting idea.
    Anyone else interested in publishing a Writers Co-op anthology?


  8. mimispeike says:

    Atthys, I have investigated Tomcat Murr and I don’t know how to thank you! This sounds so wonderful! Fantastic! For me, most definitely! How is it that I never heard of it before? I’m ordering today! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I hope this isn’t the book I wish I had written. It may be. It looks like it just may be.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. GD Deckard says:

    Re: Writers Co-op Anthology. We should be able to come up with a theme broad enough to suit all interested parties. “My Favorite Story” for example.
    Any Suggestions?


      • GD Deckard says:

        How about, “Stories From The Writers Co-op”
        Unless, of course there is a reason for a more specific theme? I’m new to this.


        • Just got back home, still catching up. Where I was, the internet was so slow only one person could use it at a time, and as there were six of us, in the end I just gave up.
          An anthology, yes! We’ve mentioned it a couple of times before, but not got round to doing much. I’ve edited two myself, selected from submissions to a competition, and this year’s competition will be the third and last, so I’m up for another approach. That said, sales have barely extended beyond the contributors to the anthology – but I guess we’re prepared for that. The ones I’ve done have had themes, but I see no special advantage to that unless it’s tied to a specific genre.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Pre-twentieth century, the only people who could afford to write were the wealthy. As we moved into the 1920’s and 1930’s, we started to see middle-class writers like George Orwell and DH Lawrence emerge. Now, technology is scrambling the market such that, if you aren’t writing a tell-all biography, then you’ll need a Hugo or Nebula Award to get any acknowledgement as a writer…

    Liked by 1 person

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