Deconstruction: Lessons learned from paying for book promotion

Porsche Deconstruction by denton83 via Deviant Art

You might not have known this, but The Transmigration of Cora Riley came out six months after I wanted to publish it.

On the suggestion of another author whom I respect, I put off the launch to arrange professional marketing and promotion.  I resisted like crazy, but after running the crowdfunding campaign, I was already in Serious Business territory and took my friend’s advice.  What I’d like to do is talk about what I did and how it went, along with the lessons I’ve learned and what I’ll do differently next time.

TL;DR

Paying for promotional services turned out to be not the best idea. Sales and other stats were remarkably low, especially compared to Inkchanger‘s grassroots debut.  I didn’t lose a lot of money, but the time and energy expended make it not worth doing again unless I can afford to hire a Big Company for a thousand bucks.  Or unless I can find the “right people” through networking or word of mouth.  Until then, I’ll go back to grassroots and trust that you guys got my back.

ARC Reviews

This one I did on my own for zero dollars, about mid-December. I started with submitting the ARC to self-pub-friendly reviewers I found on The Indie View. I sent about 50 emails of varying lengths, doing my damnedest to follow the individual reviewer guidelines. I received about 10 replies, and only 4 of them agreed to review the book – an 8% success rate.  I also badgered a few author friends for reviews and did much better – about a 90% success rate (granted, a much smaller sample).  Those folks also shared on social media, wrote blog posts, and even gave pull quotes, so a much bigger win.

Cover Reveal

Given Cora Riley’s wicked cover, I liked the idea of a reveal, which I was told happens 2 months before launch. I decided to seek out an actual promoter since the entire point is to share with audiences I wouldn’t normally have access to. This took quite a bit of research (maybe six hours), starting with Indie View and asking other authors for suggestions. I weighed prices – ranging from free to a couple hundred bucks – and included services – between 5 and 50 sites, sometimes a banner, etc. I wound up hiring Company #1 (more below), which included 20 sites and an excerpt of the book, which cost me $20.  Reveal day went amazingly well! A couple of folks didn’t post, but the company over-booked the roster, so I wound up with 22 – fine by me. Lots of shares, likes, and interest.  It was fantastic to see people responding so positively to Desz’ cover.  Now, bear with me, because this gets a little tricksy.

Tour Company #1

I hired TC1 to run the cover reveal (20 stops, 1 day), a publication-day media blitz (10 stops, 1 day), and a blog tour (10 stops, 2 weeks), which included a tour banner, 4-6 reviews, and unique-to-me webpages to keep track of everything.  This came to a grand total of $110, at the low end of mid-range for such services.

However, the launch day blitz and tour itself both had problems. One of these was my fault (or rather a problem with self-pub) and the other is either the fault of the company or a standard flaw with this sort of service (I can’t be sure).

The first issue was getting Amazon sales links to bloggers in advance. This is incredibly hard in self-pub. To get the link, I have to make the book available for sale, which busts the whole point of launch day. I had links to both tour companies 24 hours pre-launch, the best I could manage, but hosts had already scheduled posts and forgotten about them. On launch day, only 2 out of 10 had buy links embedded, and when confronted, only 5 fixed and reshared. But the damage had been done. I wound up with single-digit sales on launch day because of this snafu.

The other issue was a combination of hosting issues during the tour portion. One host flat didn’t do their review; they also decided to redo their blog that day, so their entire site was inaccessible and unshareable. One didn’t post at all.  The giveaway service doesn’t make a widget on some sites, requiring another click, lowering engagement. The same excerpt was used on nearly all posts, making it redundant and awkward to share.  I tracked the stats of my sales, reviews, blog hits, Goodreads + FB + Twitter + newsletter adds, and saw incredibly little movement.

Now, granted, TC1 overbooked the tour slightly, so most days were covered, but there was a lot of miscommunication and terse-sounding emails for pretty much the entire tour. I felt unheard many times, though I will say that the issues were all addressed and things mostly smoothed over.  And while sales/results are not guaranteed as a matter of course, I’m about 99% sure I won’t hire this company again.  Too much stress and doubt.

Tour Company #2

While I was looking for someone to hire, I contacted TC2 just to get more information.  When I didn’t hear back in a few days, I hired TC1, thinking no big deal. After the reviewers’ silence, I figured this is just how it went in book promo.

Wrong.

TC2 got back to me several weeks later with a full schedule of promotion – for free.  There was a bit of miscommunication at the start, but we ironed it out with a couple of emails. They arranged a much smaller (approximately 7 hosts) launch day/tour package than what TC1 offered, but it still included a banner, a review, an excerpt, a spotlight interview, and a giveaway.  There were a few kinks, such as having the same interview go out on 3 sites day after day (and thus needing to be shared separately), but the communication was excellent, the hosts’ sharing was great, and you can’t beat the price. Plus, they’re expanding. I’ll definitely be working with this company again.

Miscellaneous Assistance

A few other authors gave me a signal boost in the form of reviews, social media shares, and even blog posts.  I also got confirmation from a couple of reviewers that posts were coming, which was nice.  The coolest thing by far, though, was appearing on Max On Movies, a syndicated radio show out of St. Louis. Oh, and I have a book launch party coming up soon.

Conclusion

When I published Inkchanger in February 2013, it happened with comparatively little fanfare. I shared Amazon links and notices on social media for a few days, slapped together some blog posts, asked friends for help, and away I went.  I sold 54 copies in the first week (sadly the only measurement I tracked).

At the time of writing, I’ll be lucky if I sell 25 copies of Cora Riley in a fortnight.*

I figured since I’d published two books already, and there’d been a lot of hype about this book before the promos, Cora Riley would make a significantly bigger splash when she debuted, especially with all this official, paid-for assistance.

Apparently not.

So, judging by the level of angst I’ve felt and the disappointing statistics, I can only conclude that the way I tackled “going pro” with this book was wonky.  But I’m choosing to look at it as lessons learned. It’s not that online book promotion is a waste of time; it’s that I need to tailor it rather than going with what’s “standard.”

Here’s what I’ll do differently next time:

  • Cover reveal one month before launch, not two
  • One week of virtual tour post-launch, not two
  • Pay for services that pair me with reviewers rather than paying for tour hosting
  • Organize a series of blog tour hosts myself, using guestposts and interviews rather than excerpts
  • Make excerpts exclusive to my own site(s)
  • Run giveaways on my site and through Goodreads
  • Make other book(s) free or 99 cents as a promo through Amazon
  • Ensure my social media is the way I want it beforehand (I realized my Facebook wasn’t “right” the day after launch but it was too late; I’ll lose followers when I switch)
  • Book launch party closer to actual launch date, with additional online launch party on day-of.

* Worth pointing out: If I count copies that went to crowdfunders, that brings Cora Riley‘s sales to about 65.  While it’s nice to buoy it, it’s only marginally better than Inkchanger‘s stats, which is aggravating given how much time, energy, and money went into boosting visibility.

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