Marketing for Muppets – Part 7

The last Marketing for Muppets post appeared in March – it’s here if you’re interested: Part 6. I talked about my international BookBub deal and indicated that I probably wouldn’t do another marketing post unless I was successful in obtaining a BookBub deal in the US. So, yep, you can guess what happened.

Since being accepted in January for the international deal, I’d been applying for a US deal every four weeks and been refused every time. After a while, such regular knock-backs start to wear you down and when the reminder popped up in my calendar in mid-October, I almost didn’t apply. Just as well I did and it shows that persistence can pay off. I was offered a US deal on 16th November, which I accepted with alacrity. As before, it was for The Cleansing at a discounted price of $0.99.

I turned off the ad for the book on Amazon because I wanted to see whether BookBub still lives up to its reputation without the results being skewed by any other forms of promotion. In truth, the Amazon ad had been dwindling in effectiveness for a while—to put it into context, I’d sold the grand total of two copies of the book on Amazon.com in the previous thirty days. Advertising on Amazon is becoming tougher unless you have deep pockets, but that’s a possible topic for a future post—maybe Part 8 will make an appearance at some point although, as I said in the last part, I’m heartily sick of talking about marketing.

BookBub featured deals are not cheap. For a deal in the US for The Cleansing, the cost was $594—that’s £461. To break even at a sale price of $0.99, I’d need to sell around 2,000 copies. But that’s only if you look at direct sales arising from the promotion and ignore sales resulting from increased visibility and sell-through of the sequels. I wasn’t concerned about recouping the cost on the day, though I hoped to achieve around a thousand sales in total so that I’d stand every chance of good sales of the sequels.

In fact, I sold exactly 1,000 copies of the book on Amazon.com on the day. In addition, I sold around 200 copies on the wider channels, thus exceeding my hopes.

At the start of Saturday, 16th November, the book was ranking at around 126,000 in the US store. By the early hours of Sunday, the book had fleetingly gained an orange bestseller tag on Amazon.com for one of the science fiction sub-categories (thank heavens for screen shots) and peaked at 103 in the entire US Amazon store. (It might have climbed a little higher, even breaking briefly into the top 100, but if it did, I didn’t see it—this was all happening after midnight UK time and I had to snatch a few hours sleep.)

Around 60 copies of the sequels also sold that day and all three books have been selling steadily—on Amazon and in the wider channels—at their usual prices in the US since. There has been a knock-on effect with an increase in both audio and paperback sales of The Cleansing.

So, is BookBub worth the expense? I can only speak for myself (remember Proposition 1), and I’ve only had featured deals with the Earth Haven books, which have a high sell-through rate, but the answer is a resounding yes. Proposition 6 bears repeating:

Proposition 6: BookBub is an effective promotional site, especially for authors with sequels or a substantial back catalogue available to take advantage of sell-through.

And that’s enough about marketing. Unless I ever do feel the need for a Part 8, I’m going to concentrate on topics I find more appealing; anything else, then, essentially.

Till later…

Marketing for Muppets – Part 6

In Part 5, I mentioned in a footnote (because it happened after I’d drafted that post) that one of my books reached the top 500 in the Amazon store (not in the US) and gained the No. 1 Bestseller tag in three countries in various sub-categories of science fiction. In this post, I’m going to talk about how that happened.

One thing: as with all these marketing posts, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and vice versa. For instance, I know of authors who swear by the power of Facebook ads, or being visible on social media, with neither of which have I found a great deal of success. On the other hand, I have heard some authors say how disappointed they are with Amazon ads (AMS), which have worked quite well for me. Each of us has to try different methods until we hit on the one that is effective for us.

The proposition in Part 1 bears repeating:

Proposition 1: What works well for one author, won’t necessarily work well for another.

As mentioned in Part 5, I was already seeing increased sales through AMS and the knock-on effects of greater visibility the ads brought me. As of 26th January 2019, I’d already had a good month. A couple of days later, my sales for January had more than doubled.

How? In a word: BookBub.

BookBub has long been held up by the indie-author community as the crème de la crème, the Holy Grail of book advertising. A few years ago, I’d applied—twice—and been turned down. If the relationship between me and my then-publisher hadn’t stalled, I’d have carried on applying. As it was, I grew unwilling to incur the high cost involved when I wouldn’t be the only person to benefit from any resulting success, so I stopped applying.

And, yes, it is pricey. The cost of a featured deal depends on what category (genre) your book fits into and the price to which you’re discounting the book. The highest cost (as at 12th February 2019) is for a book falling within the category of ‘crime fiction’—to advertise such a book at a price of $3 or more will cost the author $3,983. That falls to $783 if the author is running a free promotion. That’s almost $800 to give a book away.

With all rights in my books reverted back to me, I decided to apply again. Although my sales had been growing steadily, it was mainly in the UK, while sales in the US remained sporadic. The Earth Haven trilogy had been popular in the States a couple of years ago, but for reasons mentioned in previous posts I hadn’t been able to maintain interest across the Pond. Thus my primary aim in applying to BookBub was to raise sales and visibility in the US.

On 11th January, I submitted the first book in the trilogy, The Cleansing, to BookBub for a featured deal at the discounted price of $0.99. I heard back from BookBub that same day. To my excitement, they offered me a featured deal to run on 27th January. To my disappointment, it was what they call an ‘international’ deal, meaning it would only run in Australia, Canada, India and the UK, but not in the US.

There was a silver lining: had I been accepted for the full deal, the cost would have been a whopping $754. The international deal alone was a far more modest $160. Nevertheless, I almost turned it down. I had heard other authors say they’d lost money on international deals and the sell-through had been nothing to write home about. But, thankfully, I decided to go with it because, remembering Proposition 1, I needed to find out for myself how good or otherwise it actually is.  

27th January was a Sunday. I discounted the book’s price in Australia, Canada, the UK and India in plenty of time and waited impatiently for Sunday to arrive.

I reckoned on needing to sell a minimum of 400 books at the discounted price to come anywhere near recouping the cost of the promotion. I didn’t expect to achieve that, but hoped to boost visibility to improve sales in the weeks to follow. Long story short: the promotion comfortably exceeded my expectations—not only did I recoup the cost, but made a modest profit.

The book reached number one in the Amazon bestseller charts in most science fiction categories for which it was eligible in Australia, Canada and the UK, earning the orange No. 1 Bestseller tag (which disappears again as soon as the book drops from the top spot—thank goodness for screen shots). It reached number 300-odd in the entire UK Amazon store; number 50-something in the Canada and Australia stores.

My books are distributed wide through Draft2Digital and I also publish directly to GooglePlay. I’d never done any promotions specifically aimed at readers who shop at places like Kobo and iTunes and my sales in those wider channels had been pitiful. In fact, I don’t think I’d sold a single book through D2D or Google for the previous three months. Much to my surprise and delight, my sales increased massively in all wide channels that day.

What about sales since? That’s where the real value of the promotion has come into play. My sales on Amazon approximately doubled post-promotion from where they were before it. They have started to falter a little—not unexpected, though I thought the tailing away might happen sooner—but remain higher than they did pre-BookBub. In the wider channels sales, though low, have been steady. Considering I wasn’t selling anything at all wide, that’s an infinite improvement.

Time, then, for another proposition:

Proposition 6: BookBub is an effective promotional site, especially for authors with sequels or a substantial back catalogue available to take advantage of sell-through.

That, of course, remains subjective—while some authors have reported greater success with BookBub promos than I experienced, others have said they didn’t feel their promo was worthwhile. As always, remember Proposition 1.

Let’s remain realistic. The fleeting appearance of the No. 1 Bestseller tags was fun; to reach the top 100 overall in the Canadian and Australian Amazon stores was exciting; to see the balance in my business account go up instead of haemorrhaging makes a nice change. But I’m not getting carried away. There’s still a long way to go to achieve my dream of making a living at this game. At best, I’ve taken a stride closer.

And I think these marketing posts have run their course. It’s not that I no longer consider myself to be a muppet when it comes to marketing—far from it—but I’m less of one than I was a year ago. It has taken a lot of trial and error but at last I feel I’m on the right track to gain some visibility and achieve steady, if unspectacular, sales. I’m going to keep applying for a BookBub promotion in the States—if I secure one, I’ll probably report back in one more Marketing for Muppets post. Other than that, I want to blog about other stuff and host more guests.

As for ongoing marketing, I intend continuing with the AMS ads for as long as they remain productive and cost-effective. For now, at least, I’m not going to give away more books in return for joining my mailing list. I’m not going to join any author cross-promotions. US BookBub aside, I’m not going to apply for any more paid promotions.

More importantly, I need to publish new work. I am hoping that I can now concentrate on finishing my works in progress without being constantly distracted by trying to improve sales of my existing books.

Then there is the small proofreading/copyediting business I can afford to devote a little more time to. There are book covers to design and editing of my own work to do. And there are always more stories to tell. I can’t wait to write them. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and crack on.

Till next time…