Sunday, 26 March 2017

Book Marketing 102

First, a quick status report. I should have the MS back from Dave for his final critique within two weeks. He said it's looking good so far, so I have my fingers crossed that he won't see the need for any large changes. I've uploaded a draft copy to Amazon this weekend to make it available for pre-order at the end of April. If I can publish it before that date, of course, I will!

And this time I remembered that you have to explicitly link the book to your author page in author central or it won't show up. So I went to the 'Books' tab on my Author Central page and clicked "Add a book", entered my ISBN, clicked Go, and said "Yep, that's my book!".

Okay, so now, let's proceed to the main topic of this article — what I've recently learned about marketing, in particular about free and discount book promotions, and Thunderclap.

Reviews are important

So today I'm writing about some new stuff I've learned about marketing for the self-published author. My approach is still not to advertise in the formal sense, but to rely on word of mouth. That said, being noticed or discovered remains the first key hurdle for an almost unknown author such as myself. I think my books are good, though they're certainly not to everyone's taste.

The right reader

Which is a worthwhile point to make: if you somehow convince someone to read your book when it's not the kind of book they'd want to read, you're very likely to get a negative review. My own experience is that most reviews are about how much the reader liked the book, not about how good the book is (setting personal taste aside, since that's hard to do). Which is fair enough… but a one star review is still a one-star review.

So if you push your book to someone who won't like it, you've made a marketing mistake. You're more likely to get negative word of mouth spreading, than positive. So any time spent making it easier for people to know whether your book is one they might like, or hate, is time well spent.

Dishonest reviews

Some people buy reviews, frankly. There are teams of people in India and elsewhere who offer this service. I feel very strongly that this is a terrible, terrible thing, and I congratulate every author who resists the temptation, and every publisher (like Amazon) that works hard to uncover fake reviews and counter them. Dishonest reviews undermine the whole industry, because self-publishing relies so heavily on honest reviews.

But I recently discovered there is yet another kind of fake review. On Amazon, there are "top reviewers", who achieve that "rank" by reviewing lots of products. For some people, this is a booster to their self-esteem, so they spend a lot of time doing reviews for the purpose of becoming a top reviewer. I'm sure a lot of the top reviewers, probably most of them, are genuine, and write great reviews after buying and trying the product. But there is I believe a small percentage who review for the sake of getting the rank, and just pump out plausible-looking reviews as fast as they can. For books, they may not even purchase them, just "Look Inside" or even just read the book description, and then write a review based on what they can guess from that. These people can probably be detected by the number of books they "read" and review per day.

Amazon could probably stamp that out by only counting reviews for certified purchases when counting points to award reviewers with "Top reviewer" status.

The Power of Free

Some very interesting articles by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, have been very helpful to me. I read this one first, and found it packed full of interesting information: New Smashwords research.

In summary, free books seem to be the best way for an unknown author to get discovered by readers. If you write well, and the right people try your book, then that means the small percentage of readers who write a review will translate to a decent number of reviews; which is what you need. The pricing "sweet spot" for a book is either $2.99 or $3.99 — i.e. the author earns the most in total by pricing their books at that figure. Another key point was that a free book in a series has a massive benefit in promoting sales of the whole series. Also, books that start off with a pre-order earn more money than those that only become available to order on publication date, and longer books sell better than short books.

Maybe the gist is best covered in this article by him: The power of free — how to sell more e-books

He has followed it up with annual updates, based on the sales data that Smashwords sees in the previous year. He's doing a great service to indie authors by doing this analysis, and it benefits Smashwords (and other publishers) only indirectly. If more readers discover indie authors they'll enjoy, we all win.

Here are a couple of them — they're well worth reading: Smashwords Ebook Survey 2015 and 2016 survey — how to publish and sell ebooks.

My own experience

... confirms that pricing. I put a lot of hours into Wild Thing. It's hard to say exactly, given it's weird history of mitosis, but it's probably safe to say that WT (Vol 1, as published) took about 4,000 hours to produce (plus the hours that Dave spent on his critiques, and Mirella put into her cover design). So I set the price originally, I think, at $4.99.

Thanks to advice and help from Lama Jabr of Xana Publishing and Marketing, I ran a free giveway in July, around the time of the series launch event at Gleebooks, and sales spiked up a bit. Later, in November 2016, I joined a bunch of other Indie authors in Nicole R. Locker's (Nicole R. Locker's blog) and discounted Wild Thing (and Harsh Lessons?) for her (Big Book Sale), now long over.

I noticed that only people in the US and Germany bought copies: I think it shows that not having any reviews is a big barrier; as is having just one 1-star. (In Australia, I still have just two reviews, each one line long: one is 5-star, one is 1-star — so, that provides almost no information to help a reader decide!)

I also signed up Wild Thing to feature on Thurs Sept 29th 2016 at in a free promotion. I do think this had a knock-on effect, because October, and then November, were my two best months of sales since publication. I think Lama Jabr's tweets about the promotion helped a lot, too.

Because I stuffed up my organisation of my free promotion days (although I did learn about the time zone issues related to Amazon's free and discount deal promotions), in the end I just manually dropped the price of Wild Thing to US$0.99, planning to return it its normal price after a week or two. But I was in no great rush — largely because of Mark Coker's articles, but partly because I was working flat out on Shadow Hunt.

The Power of Bargain

And I noticed a strange thing as the months slipped by, after September.

My Amazon cheques had grown significantly. I had a little poke about in the Amazon author's dashboard, and looked at the sales graphs every month. I started noticing that the sales from Kindle Unlimited pages-read seemed to be about double what it was from accumulated ebook sales in Kindle Direct.

I also noticed that as months passed without me blogging or tweeting much, sales dropped off. So it does look like Facebook, blog, and twitter etc. seem to generate a little interest. I don't see I could have done much different, though, given my determination to publish Shadow Hunt "early in 2017". The main delay was that I underestimated how close it was to being ready, so working out what to do regarding Dave's suggestions, took about three times longer than I'd anticipated, which meant I missed my deadline with him. (He's currently fitting me in part-time as his schedule permits.)

I think that a lot of people who "buy" free books, stash them away to read "later". Maybe much later! I also think you tend to value something you paid for, a little higher than something you "buy" for free. So I feel that $0.99 is generally a good choice for a bargain. Yet Mark Coker says a free book for the first in a series gives you the best return. So I may re-think that.

Anyway, whether your book is free or not, there still remains the problem of people just discovering it exists.

SIA and Another Free/discount Book Giveaway

This is probably a good point to mention that I'm joining in another big free book promotion from March 31 to April 2nd (US PDT). It's being organised by the good people at Support for Indie Authors (not the talented Aussie singer/songwriter, Sia!) of Goodreads).

Joining in the discussion there, I learned several valuable new things related to marketing.

One was the existence of sites that promote free books. They mentioned and — free books are accepted and they'll tweet about them. (But see the Appendix at the end of this article that gives some surprisingly-long lists of free and low cost free book promotion sites.)

But to help get news out about the event, so people might discover these books while they're being discounted, one of the group's helpful members, C.B. also registered for a Thunderclap promotion. I'd never heard of Thunderclap!


Thunderclap is a service that sits above and uses social media. Think of it as a stadium full of people (or perhaps a flash mob) who agree to clap or call out a message, once only, all together at a specific time. They run both a free and a paid service, I think. You nominate the target number of people (either 100 or 250 people) you hope will join the event, and its date and time. If enough people "join" the specific Thunderclap event so you reach your target, the single message is sent, at that time.

When you join the specific thunderclap event, you need to choose to share the message with any or all of Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. There is a button you can click for each of these, and Thunderclap then presents you with a preview of the message that will be sent.(*) You can personalise that as you wish. You can share the link to the Thunderclap event in the hope that others will join it, too. By clicking through, you authorise Thunderclap to send that message on your behalf. They look at your contacts list, but only to calculate the "reach" (how many people your message will be seen by), to calculate how many people overall will see the message.

What happens at that time, is that Thunderclap then sends the message from your social media account(s), for you. (It's like you stay up and awake, with finger pressed on the necessary Share button with the message prepared, and click the button at the scheduled time.)

Now, one point to note is that the point of the Thunderclap is to co-ordinate and send the message at the same time. Yet some people only get as far as the Preview message but then don't proceed; and many of them misunderstand, and copy and paste that preview to share the message (prematurely).

(*) For that reason, if your message contains a link to a web page that gives the details of the event (which it should!), the preview message contains a shortened URL that instead points to the Thunderclap promotion page for the event, instead. That shortened URL is replaced by a shortened URL that points to the real event when the message is finally sent.

I contacted Thunderclap directly to ask them to clarify that, and other people who had used Thunderclap reassured me on some of the other points which I've explained above. I must say that the Thunderclap people were super responsive and receptive to feedback, and didn't seem to mind explaining things.

I also asked why they only supported Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. They said they had reached out to the other social media companies, but at present those other companies did not provide the necessary facilities for Thunderclap to integrate with them. They pointed out that you can share the preview message by any social media you use, manually, if you want to encourage others to join the Thunderclap itself. And I found a Google+ group that seems to be trying to integrate: the Google+ Thunderclap community.

I should probably share the link to this specific Thunderclap for the book promo event, eh? Here it is: VM's siafbb Spring book attack

Appendix — sites that promote free/discount books

Dave's notes about promotion/review sites:

  1. BookBub (the holy grail -- no point in even applying at the moment but just putting it in there ... unless you have at least 200 Amazon reviews you have got zero chance of being accepted and even then it's not easy)

  2. BookSends (One of the more expensive ones but generally good results)

  3. EReader News Today $35

  4. Buck Books — around $9 (fiction; non-fiction $29)

  5. Free Kindle Books and Tips (around $25, and other requirements)

  6. Digital Book Today

The following sites were collected and shared by members of the Support for Indie Authors Group on Goodreads. Many people contributed; notably Dylan Callens,

Martin Wilsey, Marie Silk, Christina McMullen, I've collected them together here, with some comments, and 've removed dead links. Please note that any errors will be due to mistakes I've made; to check the original source of the material see this resources discussion: "Best advertising sites"

There was one comment that ineffective sites were the Fussy Librarian, Many Books, and FKBT (Free Kindle Books and Tips).

This is a mixture of free and sites that charge a fee (but most are free): — off-line at time of checking: may be dead

And more (Marie's additions with duplicate links removed):

Ask David: Free for free book promos only or $15 for 6-month membership, send out tweets on free promo day
Sweet Free Books: $7
Addicted to ebooks (see the link, above) — *can only submit the day of your promo, Free
Kindle Book Promos: Free, at least 48 hours notice Free
Content Mo: free tweet and on website for free books
My Book Cave free to list but must meet strict requirements for content

Marie also noted in Aug 2016 that these sites were the ones she had been accepted for and estimated were most effective (from most effective to least) for her one day free book promotion:
  1. Freebooksy $85
  2. Robin Reads $45
  3. Bookzio $19
  4. Bookscream $5
  5. Ebook Hounds $10
  6. Book Raid FREE
  7. Free99books FREE
  8. Digital Book Today FREE (48 hours notice and 18+ reviews or $15 fee)

And here are a bunch more links, from the same source:

My Book Cave FREE
Book Raid Free
Armadillo Ebooks Free
Book of the Day Free, *note* your book must be listed on their site in advance of your promotion.
Book Scream $5* fee is optional and guarantees a top placement in newsletter. Otherwise, free
Reading Deals Free *has paid guarantee*
Choosy Book Worm Free*has paid guarantee*
Book Hearts (a choosy bookworm site) free but has paid option and currently has no review requirement
Awesome Gang Free*has paid guarantee*
Fussy Librarian $20 (prices vary by genre)
Free 99 Books Free
Free and Discounted Books (see the link, above) — $8
Discount Book Man Free
OHFB *no longer free promo options start at $75*
Ebooks Habit (see the link, above) — Free (and *has paid guarantee option*)
Book Bongo Free
Genre Pulse $16
Online Book Club $150
Ebook Soda $15 *$5 off coupons available from various review sites*
Book Goodies (see the link, above) — $10
My Book Place *updated link* Free
Free Books Hub (see the link, above) — $10
Book Lover's Heaven Free
Ebook Hounds $10
Bookzio Free *has paid guarantee* also has a reciprocal link discount ***encourages short works***
Book Gorilla $150



Barb said...

This is certainly very interesting reading. I hope you are considering updates especially when the new book is released. You are a work in progress and it is so helpful and informative to read your post. The marketing is really in so many ways the hardest part of being an author. Your willingness to share is very much appreciated.

Luke Kendall said...

Thanks, Barbara. Re updates: sure; what info are you interested in? How the promotion went, how easy the various sites were to use, the costs, how Thunderclap went, ... all of the above?
I've expanded the set of links now, and further updated my status, since I uploaded the draft to Amazon yesterday.