Does paying for book promotion pay off?

As an indie author, I’ve looked at paid book promotions from time to time and always backed away. There were so many questions for which I had no solid answers. Which promotion site? What guarantee did I have that it would work? How many books would I have to sell to break even? If I did a promotion, when? My novel Go Away Home published in July; was a September promotion too early? My memoir Growing Up Country has been on the market for seven years; would anyone still be interested?

Finally I decided: Do it or stop thinking about it. I took the dive, and scheduled a promotion  for my novel. I had to take a big gulp when it came to paying the bill and I spent a lot of my time holding my breath. Ultimately, I’m glad I did.

Here’s what I did and how it worked.

Go Away Home - BookBub PromotionWith the philosophy If you can’t go big, go home, I chose BookBub – the gorilla of ebook marketing in terms of reach, cost, and results – to promote my novel in September. Electing for as clean a test as possible, I didn’t do any promotion other than that. Not even social media.

Go Away Home Promotion

  • BookBub Cost: $400 for a one-day, $ .99 promotion.
  • Reach: 1,030,000 women’s fiction readers. I’d requested historical fiction, but BookBub recommended women’s fiction. I figured they knew what they were doing and went with it. Plus the women’s fiction promo was $40 less expensive.

Sales & Rankings:
Pre-promotion Amazon Kindle Sales Rank – 55,110

Day of promotion – Sept. 7 – Price at $ .99 – Sales – 1,422 – Author Rank: as high as 69
Day 2 – Sales – 319
Day 3 – Sales – 151
Day 4 – Price at $1.99 – Sales – 52 – Author Rank: between 393 and 1,116
Day 5 – Sales – 66
Day 6 – Sales – 61
Day 7 – Price returns to $3.99 – Sales: 27 – Author Rank – 1,298

Go Away Home - Amazon Best SellerGenre Rankings: In the course of the promotion, Go Away Home ranked in the Top 10 in Coming of Age, Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction

Return on investment: First-day sales covered the promotion cost by 2.5x

On to the next book: Encouraged by the success of the novel promotion, I elected to use paid promotions for my memoir. Again, I let BookBub lead the way and added two other paid promotion outlets: Ereader News Today and The Fussy Librarian. Here are the results.

Growing Up Country Promotion

Sales & Rankings
Pre-promotion Amazon Kindle Sales Rank: 217,307

Day of promotion – Nov. 13 – Price at $ .99 – Sales: 2,504 – Author Rank: As high as 21
Day 2 – Sales: 520
Day 3 – Sales: 388
Day 4 – Price at $1.99 – Sales: 101 – Rank: between 105 and 870
Day 5 – Sales 73
Day 6 – Sales 64
Day 7 – Price returns to $3.99 – Sales: 20

Growing Up Country Author RankGenre Rankings: In the course of the promotion, Growing Up Country ranked in the Top 10 – often #1 – in History, Family Relationships, and Midwest & Women’s memoirs & biographies.

Return on investment: First-day sales covered promotion costs by more than 3.5x

  • BookBub: 2,788 sales; revenue to me $1,951.60
  • Ereader News Today: 146 sales; revenue to me: $102.20
  • The Fussy Librarian: 17 sales; revenue to me: $11.90

Seven observations from these promotions:

  1. It’s a hoot: Okay, just had to get that out of the way. It’s a kick to see my book ranked up there with books by Sue Monk Kidd and Diana Gabaldon. Even if it’s only for a few days. Now back to business.
  2. Scheduling a promotion – BookBub is known for being tough to get into so I gave them as much scheduling flexibility as I could. They responded to my submissions in 48 hours and were easy to work with. I scheduled Ereader News Today & The Fussy Librarian to run in the days after BookBub to extend the news.
  3. You get what you pay for: There were fewer sales through Ereader News Today and The Fussy Librarian, but the cost was much less and they delivered sales proportionally, so I’d use them again.
  4. A long promotion tail: Even though sales dropped precipitously from promotion highs, both Go Away Home and Growing Up Country have sold more copies each day, every day since their respective promotions than they did prior to the promotions.
  5. Holiday cross-over sales: While paperback sales of Growing Up Country have always accelerated during the holidays, this is turning out to be particularly good year. The ebook promotion drove the memoir to the top of the charts as people were looking for gift books. A month after the promotion ended, the memoir still ranks in the Top 10 Midwest memoirs and is selling well in both ebook and paperback formats.
  6. Reviews – A Bonus: Because of the promotions, both books have garnered a healthy increase in reader reviews. Go Away Home picked up 36 new reviews since September and Growing Up Country has earned 54 new reviews in the past month, including its first one-star review (be still my heart!).
  7. Your results will not be the same as mine: BookBub shares the average sales for each category. Women’s fiction: Average sold: 2,120 with a range of 170 to 5,420. Biographies & Memoirs: Average sold: 2,430 with a range of 290 to 6,210. I didn’t quite make the average with my novel but exceeded it with my memoir. Great success since I was holding my breath that I’d surpass 170 and 290. All the usual suspects come into play in whether a book sells well: cover design, title, quality of writing, topic interest, reader moods, the phase of the moon.

I share this report for what it’s worth. Paid promotions are one arrow in the author’s marketing quiver. And this is one for which you can see a clear ROI.

This was a lot of numbers to crunch and I hope I was reasonably clear. Let me know where I confused and where I might yet elaborate. Apologies for the blurry graphics; they’re the best I could get from a screen shot.

Book awards – Worth it or not?

Tis the season – not only the holiday season, but the book award season. Readers’ Favorite and Writer’s Digest, to name just two, announced winners in recent weeks. And with those announcements, author hopes are either realized or dashed.

Like corn sprouting after a spring rain, a debate about the value of entering book award competitions rose up in a Facebook author group this week. The cost of an entry can be hefty when you compare it to how many books one needs to sell to recoup that expense.

"Go Away Home" receives the 2014 Readers' Favorite silver medal in historical fiction from founder Debra Gaynor

“Go Away Home” receives the 2014 Readers’ Favorite silver medal in historical fiction from founder Debra Gaynor

Basking in the glow of having won my first such award this year, I’m inclined to say yes, it’s worth it. Well of course I would, right? But as a marketer (that’s where I spent 30 years of my career), I know neither the question nor the answer related to the value of entering such competitions is simple.

The awards themselves have varying degrees of history and credibility. The judging itself is subjective, regardless of the organization doing it and no matter how they try to make it otherwise. Writing is subjective. Reading is subjective. Award judging is subjective. And then there’s the cost. Would I feel the same if I hadn’t won?

Knowing all this in advance, I felt it worthwhile to enter. Award competitions offer a range of benefits, tangible and intangible. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Judge feedback – Competitions generally provide feedback on each entry. Whether an entry wins or not, it’s useful to get the input on how to improve.
  • Winning provides validation of yourself as a writer. You’ve slaved away for years on that book; it feels good to know someone else thought all that effort worthwhile.
  • The award on your book cover offers a third-party endorsement for readers. I know I look closer at books that tout an award sticker.
  • The award news is a tool to keep book buzz going – with media, at book talks, in cocktail conversation.

Can any of that be connected to specific book sales? Sometimes, but often not.

The cover of "Go Away Home" sports an award medallion.

The cover of “Go Away Home” sports an award medallion.

I chose to enter my novel Go Away Home in three competitions: Readers’ Favorite, Writer’s Digest Self Publishing Competition, and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I chose these three based on the reputation of the organizations and the recommendations of authors with more experience. My total investment in these entries was $250. The results so far:

  • Readers’ Favorite – 2014 silver medal in historical fiction.
  • Writer’s Digest – I did not win, but I did receive thoughtful judge comments that I am using in book promotion.
  • Next Generation – The jury is still out; I won’t hear until May 2015.

While few awards can make an author’s career – the Pulitzer Prize comes to mind – most awards are simply one element in an author’s overall marketing effort.

It’s unrealistic to point to any one activity and tag it with the success or failure of a product. Marketing is cumulative. Marketing can also be expensive. A book competition entry: $75 – $150. A blog tour: $100 – $300 or more. A single ebook promotion: $14 – $1,700.

Each author has to decide what she or he can afford to invest in getting the word out. Then evaluate whether that expenditure was worthwhile in the overall scope of the entire marketing effort. Marketing is part art, part science, and always more effective when it starts with clear goals, a plan, and evaluation that leads to a better plan the next time.

I’ve made expenditures I can tie more directly to book sales than I can the money spent on these awards, but so far I’m not disappointed I made the investment. I enjoyed meeting other authors at the Readers’ Favorite award presentation in Miami. My husband and I piggybacked a beach vacation on the trip. And books are selling. It’s all good.

What do you think? Do awards matter when you buy books? Have you entered award competitions? If so, why and what did you see as the value? If any? Would you do it again? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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