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How I sold 375 books in a weekend

An unscientific analysis of my latest book promotion

I just wrapped up my latest and most successful book promotion for The Girl from Oto, book 1 in my historical mystery series. Book 2 (Mira’s Way) launched a few weeks ago. Why didn’t I promote my new book instead? Read on for my strategy, tools, tips, and a behind-the-scenes diary of the book promotion itself.

Discoverability

Getting people to discover your books is the number one problem facing indie authors. There are millions of books in online stores and very little shelf space in bookstores, which are dominated by traditional publishing anyway. My top goal in doing a book promotion is to introduce as many readers as possible to my book series (The Miramonde Series). The series is written sequentially and the books aren’t intended to be stand-alones, so promoting book 2 isn’t in my best interest. Nor will it satisfy readers who may not understand certain plot elements that begin in The Girl from Oto. For all these reasons, I plan to promote book 1 heavily and not worry about promoting the other books. Once people get hooked on the story, they will seek out books 2 and 3.

Sell-through

One of the reasons I’m excited to have Mira’s Way out in the world is that I now get to experience sell-through. When people read and enjoy Book 1 in a series, they naturally look for the next book to continue the story (what authors call “sell-through”). Now that I have multiple books, I’ll be getting some sell-through, which helps pay for the expenses of a book promotion.

Long tail

Another benefit of running a book promotion is the so-called “long tail” of interest and sales that lingers for a while after the promotion ends. This is another thing I’ll be keeping tabs on to see if it helps defray some of my promotion costs.

The low-down on my promotion

Without further ado, let’s jump into my promotion details. I planned to drop the price of The Girl from Oto e-version from $4.99 to .99 cents for the weekend of July 20-21-22. The challenge was, how to promote this scorchin’ hot deal?

A few months in advance of my promotion, I contacted another author who writes historical fiction and has a larger audience than me, and asked her if she would be interested in doing a “newsletter swap” and promote each others’ work. She was game, and she agreed to promote my 99 cent deal on The Girl from Oto on day 1 of the promotion.

Then I scheduled several paid promotion sites to run ads for my book on subsequent days of the promotion. I used Fussy Librarian on Friday, Robin Reads and EReaderNews Today on Saturday, and Book Gorilla on Sunday. My total cost for these promotions was $167.

This is by far much more than I’ve ever spent on previous promotions (I’ve done 3 other promotions for The Girl from Oto.) Normally I do lots of free and super cheap promo sites, and usually Fussy Librarian at $12 is my most expensive one.

I then applied for and got a spot in a Kobo “beach reads” sale the weekend of my promotion. Kobo has been a tough platform for me to break into, so I was thrilled about this.

Ads

A couple of days before the promo, I decided to run a Facebook ad. I haven’t used Facebook ads in a long time because they’re so expensive and you can’t track whether the clicks result in sales. (You actually can set up your ad so the first click takes people to a landing page on your site where you can sell books direct, but I wanted to send people straight to Amazon. And does Amazon share data about where your sales come from? Nooooo.)

I set up the ad, shamelessly copying indie author David Penny’s ad style and graphic format, which he described in a great article on the Alliance for Independent Authors website back in 2016. For those who love to geek out on cheap graphics ideas, I used Derek Murphy’s awesome free 3D mockup site, plus design site Canva (where I spent $1 on my image of the Camino de Santiago). I set it to spend $30 per day for 3 days. Here it is in all its glory.

Then I hopped over to Amazon and set up a sponsored products AMS ad with a daily budget of $20. I use AMS ads a lot, and I know they often take a while to kick in, so I was a little late to the party. I had low expectations that my 3-day ad would generate many impressions or sales. I also set the average cost per click bid price pretty low (.21 cents for most of the 450+ keywords, and .30 for some of the more popular author and book names).

Setting the price

One of the things that indie authors stress about is how long Amazon will take to change our book prices when we do a promotion. You go into your Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard and manually change the price, but then you have to wait for up to 72 hours for Amazon to change it. It’s never taken nearly that long for me, but I didn’t want this to be the one time it happened, so I changed my Amazon price on Monday before the promotion’s Friday start date. Within less than 12 hours the price had changed. Go figure. Then I changed the pricing for Draft2Digital, where The Girl from Oto sells via iBooks and Nook.

You might be wondering if I suddenly got a big uptick in sales during the days leading up to the official book promotion dates, because I dropped my price. No, I didn’t. I got a few more sales than usual, but only from people who were actively seeking out my book. This is more proof that you must promote and market books to get sales.

Important note: I used to be exclusive in KDP Select, so when I did .99 cent promotions I still got a 70% royalty on sales. Not so now. I went wide about a year ago, selling on multiple platforms, so I now only get 35% royalty on all sales when I price my books below $2.99. So for each Amazon sale at .99 cents, I would be getting just under .35 cents.

My book promotion daily diary

Friday, July 20

Fussy Librarian book promotion newsletter went out.

My newsletter swap mate and I sent out our newsletters. The book I was promoting for her was free, and I quickly learned that when offered a choice to click on something free or something that costs .99 cents, people will pick free! Duh. But it was awesome to have something so great to offer my readers, and I got some nice feedback from people (plus many people pointed out that one of my links to her free book was broken, ugh).

I tweeted about the promo using my Facebook ad graphic.

I sold 68 copies on Amazon, 9 on Kobo, and 3 on Nook/iBook that day.

I reached #2 in religious/inspirational mysteries on Amazon and #8 in French historical fiction.

The Facebook ad got about 150 clicks for 1200 impressions.

The AMS ad barely got any impressions and only 2 clicks which did not result in sales.

Saturday July 21

Robin Reads book promotion went out.

EReader News Today book promotion went out.

I sent another email to my list with my book link and the other author’s free book link (due to the broken link in my newsletter on Day 1). Again: proof that free trumps .99 cents. But still, got a decent number of clicks for my book and lots for hers, plus she reported lots of clicks in her newsletter to my Amazon sales page, so all in all, a great joint effort.

By 2 pm I had sold 100 books and reached #1 bestseller slot in religious mysteries.

I inched up to #7 in French historical fiction.

I tweeted the promo with my Facebook ad graphic again.

FB ad stats: 2,000 impressions, 222 clicks total by 2 pm.

AMS ad: 900 impressions total, plus only 2 clicks/no sales.

End of day 2: 180 Amazon sales. No new sales on Kobo. 2 more on D2D.

My big moment: I reached #6 in French historical fiction and All the Light We Cannot See was #5. Would The Girl from Oto surpass this monster bestseller?

And still #1 in Religious/Inspirational mysteries.

Sunday, July 22.

BookGorilla book promotion went out, using the “#1 bestseller in religious mysteries” tagline.

FB ad still running. (250 link clicks)

AMS ad running. 1,500 impressions, 2 clicks, no sales.

Tweeted again with FB graphic.

Still #1 in religious mysteries, but slipped to #7 in French historical fiction. Darn it, my chance to muscle past Anthony Doerr was lost!

Facebook Ad stats: 509 clicks, 3,906 reach, 5,354 impressions (What’s the difference between reach and impressions? A headscratcher). Cost per result: .17 cents per link click. Budget: $30/day. Total spend: $88.50. This is typical: Facebook always spends your total budget.

AMS ads stats: Impressions: 2,255. Clicks: 6. Cost per click: .18 cents. Spend: $1.09. Sales: .99. This is typical: it’s really hard to get Amazon to spend your budget.

Total Amazon sales on Sunday: 96. (Plus 9 on Monday before I changed the price back to normal.)

Total Nook/ibook sales Sunday: 8

Total Kobo sales for Beach Reads promo: 9

Ready for my unscientific analysis?

I am not one of those indie authors who also has a passion for numbers and spreadsheets. Sorry. But I do like to analyze things to death, so that’s something. OK, my best performing promotion in the past netted me 120 sales in a weekend. So clearly, with close to 400 sales, I blew that one out of the water. And clearly, since my non-Amazon sales were just a tiny fraction of this number, going wide is not going well. But I’m still optimistic that I can grow sales on these other platforms and I don’t want to put all my eggs in Amazon’s basket again.

I also spent a lot more money than ever before. In previous promotions, I broke even or even made a little extra dough. This time, I covered about half my promotion costs with royalties from the weekend’s sales. Perhaps with sell-through and a long tail, I will keep recouping costs. My biggest surprise was the Facebook ad. Yes, it was super expensive. But I am thrilled with the click-through rate based on the low number of impressions/reach. I never get close to that rate using Amazon’s AMS ads. I will probably do another Facebook ad promoting The Girl from Oto at regular price and see what happens.

Everyone wants to reach “#1 bestseller” status in the Kindle store and get that little yellow flag next to their book title. Yes, the category I attained this special status in was pretty niche (religious and inspirational mysteries), but STILL. I’m excited. I also got higher in the overall Kindle store rankings than ever before, making it to about 1,700 at one point. Remember, there are millions of books in the Kindle store, so that’s not easy to do.

My main goal for this promotion was increasing discoverability of my book/series and gaining new readers, so I am very happy with the outcome from that perspective. I hope to get some more organic reviews as well, which has happened with my past promotions too.

What’s next?

I’ll keep monitoring sales and sell-through to follow any long-tail boost that comes with the promo. I will likely do another promo in about 6 months. When book 3 in my series launches next year, I’ll start trying for a BookBub (the mother of all paid promotions). Until then, my main focus will be writing book 3 and wrapping up the series.

Good luck with your own promotions, and please do check in with your own book promotion experiences—I’d love to hear from you.

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