Gold Fever Sales Push Update
In Gold Fever Log #6, I detailed the post-launch of my book. This included the struggles of gaining reviews/driving sales and navigating the strange landscape of self-publishing. After a few months, I have decided to write an update on this subject.
As I detailed before, the self-publishing landscape is one of opportunity... for several bigger companies charging you to get your book out there. Most of the time, you don't break even on what you spend either. It's hard to frame that without sounding pessimistic, but there is a reason for it all: The idea is that, writing a series, you get people hooked on the first book (Where you almost certainly will not turn a profit), and then hopefully the subsequent books turn a profit of some kind. As much as that doesn't sound appealing, it's actually far better than other independent landscapes across the entertainment mediums. I can tell you from experience that there is really no good strategy for promoting an independent video game, and in 2019, more people make games than ever before. I've heard that it's even worse for independent film makers, but can't speak from experience. And if you're an indie rock band? Forget about it. The airwaves only adhere to crappy pop music, produced by the same three or four companies. And everyone pirates the music anyway, so it's truly the ultimate labor of love.
My point is that while there's a harsh reality to self-publishing in that the glass ceiling is very much visible from the start, it's far from hopeless. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it's a long and expensive tunnel to say the least.
Let's start with...
Reading Deals: This one seems to have been a bust. After I made the initial purchase, I found their twitter and facebook pages. I was dismayed to find that, while having a high follower/like count, they had virtually no one commenting or liking their advertisements. I checked their twitter followers to find many familiar names and faces from the self-publishing twitter community. It seems their numbers are at least partially propped up by hopeful authors checking to see what their twitter ads look like.
Still, that wasn't the main draw to buying this promo. The idea was to get 10-15 reviews. The payment was mostly for a listing exclusive only to their reviewers. They would then select a book which interested them and leave a review, much like how Netgalley works.
Well, October came around and I was informed that no one had downloaded the book and that they would relist it for free. I appreciated the honesty, and that was nice of them. However, I got an email last week saying that no one had downloaded the book again. I was reminded that if no one downloaded or left a review in 90 days, that I could get a refund. I sent the email out today making the request.
Overall, I'm not going to say don't try them yet. They were after all completely honest about the lack of downloads and reviews. I guess it will depend on whether they'll willingly give out the refund.
USA Book Reviews: I ended up not using this promo. I can't seem to recall the exact reason, but it was something a fellow self-published author said. Granted, I do research through the kboards usually. Very helpful for info on promos, but they also tend to be extra skeptical and don't enjoy the fact that they have to pay extra to get people reading their books. That's the vibe I got, anyway. If I get a refund from Reading Deals, I may try these guys. They're a little pricey, and yet, the priciest options have yielded the best results so far! They also seem to be legitimate. Another site where you don't directly pay for reviews. You pay for the opportunity to receive them.
SPR - Self-Publishing Reviews: These guys probably came through the most out of all promos I've tried so far. The bad news? They're the most expensive by far. With that said, the pricier promotions seem to be the best. Not to say that all expensive promos are worth it - be sure to do your research! - but this one has (mostly) come through. I paid a hefty price for their 15-20 review package, which also includes 150 purchases of your book on Amazon and a strategy for reaching #5 in your sub-category.
I was initially worried about the legitimacy of 150 buys coming from them. However, after a little digging, I was relieved to find that this is most likely what happens (They are not clear on everything): They purchase the book 150 times digitally on Amazon, and then hand those copies over to a pool of their reviewers. This boosts your rank on Amazon, and as a bonus they don't do it all at once so you get sustained exposure. The reviewers would then leave their thoughts if they so choose. Out of 150 people, 15-20 reviews makes perfect sense. As I recall, they'll re-run the promotion if you don't get at least 15 reviews.
Not everything went as planned, however. I found out that part of their planning involved analysis of Amazon algorithms, and based on their findings, they would ask me to change sub-genres so I could reach #5. One problem with that... I couldn't switch to the sub-genre they specified. It's because I use Ingramspark to self-publish. Through them the sub-genres are far more limited for one reason or another. Had I self-published through Amazon, I would have been able to make the changes. Even so, we pressed forward with the promo and I was told that my rank would still get high; just not #5.
Here were the immediate results:
My Amazon rank jumped from 1,136,688 to 2,061. This isn't for sub-genre either (For that I reached #20); it's for all books world-wide. #2,000 in the world isn't half-bad, but sadly, like all things, it didn't last. The next week or so saw a decrease in rank. This was all before I fully understood how Amazon's rank system works. If only I knew then what I know now... but more on that later.
Within a week, more reviews started to come in. My review count slowly climbed over the months. Looking closely, I estimate that 10 of the reviews are from SPR. Many of them were "Verified" and highly decorated by Amazon. "Top contributor" was next to their name, and the review itself had "Verified Purchase" listed next to it. Most of these reviews were nice and detailed. I did get a negative review as well. Ironically, he criticized the book for being too vague while leaving an extremely vague review. :D
That's a caveat to the whole thing: There's no guarantee that you'll get good reviews only. And yet, that's how you know what's legitimate and what's not. My attitude toward negative reviews is that sometimes they're helpful (In this case, it wasn't), but even if it isn't, it adds legitimacy to your page. This is how people know that the reviews aren't artificial. I used to tell this to my distraught customers from my older jobs. I used to work with car salesmen as clientele you see, and often they would be irate at negative reviews left for the dealership. Car sales get a bad enough rap as it is, negative reviews could potentially shut down a smaller dealer. Any time I pointed out the "legitimacy argument", though, it immediately calmed them down, because it's true. When I hop on Amazon, looking for a product I'm not super familiar with, I look for good reviews, yes, but before buying I look specifically at bad ones too. "What can go wrong with this product?" - That's what's on my mind. And if "What can go wrong?" happens to be a negative review with little substance to it, it'll make potential buyers all the more confident that they're going to have a good experience.
I contacted SPR this month, citing the reviews slowing down. They confirmed that I hadn't reached the minimum amount yet and said that there was still a couple of more weeks to go. I'm already satisfied with what I've gotten so far, but another five reviews would go a long way. I currently stand at 17 reviews as of my writing this post.
Overall, SPR was a good experience and I do recommend if you have the money to spend.
With the boost in reviews, it opened up new opportunities for promos. So next up I tried...
BookSends: I found this site in my initial research, but didn't mention it because it required at least five positive reviews on Amazon. At the time I only had four. However, after the success of SPR, I tried this promo out. Normally the promo was $25, but I tacked on a couple of extra options which included the ability to reach European customers as well as Australia. So my total came to $60. Other than that, it was cut and dry. They are great with customer service and lightning-quick in response times. Here were my results:
459,673 to 33,918. Not as huge a boost as SPR, but still pretty good for the price. What was nice too was that I got some sustainability out of it. The next day, the rank went slightly higher, reaching 33,786. The sales only lasted a couple of more days, and though I don't have exact numbers yet, sales were likely around 30 or so based on the kindle best seller calculator. At the heavily discounted price, that means I took an 80% loss on this promo. No reviews came from it so far as I can tell either.
Overall, this could be a nice way to reach readers outside the USA, but I have no way of tracking that for sure, and it came nowhere near recouping what I spent. That was also the case for SPR, but for them it was all about reviews, and those are worth their weight in gold.
Finally, I was contacted by a woman named Lisa Clifford. She found out about me because I did the booksends promo. She represented...
ManyBooks: I was offered a special promo price of $19 to try it. It otherwise worked quite similar to BookSends and was a smooth process. I of course checked into them first and they're legitimate, for those of you wondering.
Here are the results:
From 477,802 to 54,986. Not quite as good as BookSends, but still a jump, and it sustained for three days (Compare this to seven days for SPR and four for BookSends). This overall translated to 12 or so sales. Even at only $19, I took a 75% loss on this promo.
It's worth noting that ManyBooks offers other services that are more focused on reviews. I may try that out, but it is pricier. I guess we'll see in the coming months.
Did you notice a pattern on all of that? Breaking even seems to be a rare event when it comes to promos. The idea, as I mentioned earlier, is to get exposure. And then hopefully people buy the sequel. But what if there's a better way than that?
Over time, I started to understand the Amazon ranking system. After a certain point (Say, top 500), its search engines pick your book up naturally, and it becomes more visible. In my opinion, it's impossible or highly unlikely to make your money back on most promos (I've heard BookBub is the great exception to this, but I'm not applying to them just yet). The key instead is to take that boost those sales give you to the maximum level. According to the Kindle best Seller calculator, I would need to sell 175 books in a single day to reach #500 on Amazon. The combined numbers form my earlier promos would have helped me achieve that.
With this hindsight, my new goal is to combine promos at similar dates and see what the results are. I'm not expecting them to get me to #500. I just want to see what it yields for the future. I mentioned this in a previous blog, but in self-publishing you have to play the long game. there is no quick fix short of dumb luck. If I can eventually work my way to #500 though, I can start working toward turning an actual profit.
Until then, here are the next promos that I've set up to run in the coming months:
Book Gorilla - 12/9/19: I've heard mixed things about this site's promos. You're put into an email with 26 other books and sent out to their subscribers. That's similar to BookSends and ManyBooks, but they didn't include me with so many other books. To make matters a little more contentious, it has a $50 price tag.
Still, I'm willing to give it a try. It's one of the most often mentioned book promotion sites among self-published authors.
eReader Cafe - 12/12/19: It was pretty straight forward to get signed up with this promo site, and I've heard some good things. I'm hoping to at least recoup 50% of the $30 this promo costs. I've seen this promo get authors as high as #5,000 on Amazon, which is a great sign.
Fussy Librarian - 12/16/19: You may recall that I mentioned this one in a previous blog post. However, I didn't use them because they required at least 10 positive reviews. But how's this for irony? In the midst of my drive to get reviews, they changed their rules and no longer require a set amount! So this promo site is open to just about anyone I'd imagine, although they do have a vetting process so don't bother if your book has a high negative review count.
At any rate, the price was only $23, so I hopped right on there and got signed up. It was here that I realized the time of year - everyone is running promos right now, if their calendar is to be believed. I'm not sure what the end result will be, but I think it has to be one of two things:
1. The high volume of promos will over-saturate the market and no one will buy my book.
2. The holidays are a time where many people are looking to buy, and that includes my book.
I guess we'll see, but this is another promo I have high hopes for. I'd like to at least make 50% back on it.
Book Barbarian - 1/7/2020: I found this promo site through an off-hand mention on a blog I was reading. I decided to check it out and was pleased to find that it focuses specifically on scifi and fantasy - my target audience! They claim 65 downloads on average, which is a whole lot better than the other sites I've used so far (Excluding SPR of course)
Their schedule was all filled up too. In fact I couldn't get something until early January. Still, for $35 and a genre-specific promo, I have high hopes for this one. On a side note, there was a weird thing going on with the site. I would book a date, the page wouldn't load and would just say "Array". When I reloaded the page, it would tell me my date was no longer available.
Thankfully, an invoice came in today letting me know that I was good to go.
In addition, I have a few other promo sites on my radar which I may try/have been trying.
EReader News Today: These guys are a tough nut to crack. I have submitted twice so far, and both times, after seven days of deliberation, they emailed me back saying that my book was rejected.
The reasons were similar. The first time I was told that it was simply a matter of space. They didn't have room for my book in the date range that I selected. This raised some questions because I was almost certain that I ticked a box saying that I would be fine with taking a later date if my range wasn't available. So I tried a second time, making absolute certain I checked off the box. Seven days went by, and the rejection this time was more vague: I was told that it was either due to space limitations or quality.
This is annoying to say the least, both because of the seven day wait time and the lack of communication. Basically, I'd rather have them tell me they don't feel the book is good enough upfront so I don't spend so much time on trying to get accepted.
Even still, I submitted for a third time late last week, so we'll see where it goes. This promo site is often thought of as the second best for self-published authors after BookBub. That's a pretty high standard, which is why I'm not deterred by the rejections thus far. Eventually making it in would be well worth it, and they are far cheaper than BookBub, supposedly in the $30-40 range.
Robin Reads: I found this site, once again, through a blogger who was comparing promo sites. Interestingly, this one was all booked up and the blogger wasn't able to try it, so out of curiosity, I took a look. They have several categories and prices based on your genre, but also a special "featured" listing which goes out to all readers. Since Horror, Thriller, and Fantasy were all separate on the site, I figured it would be best to go for featured and overlap all of the genres. That's one of the challenges in being a Dark Fantasy after all - it feels like I'm never reaching my full audience because it's divided among genres.
However, I was rejected just today for featured. That's fine though; I think I'll go for fantasy and see how it works from there. The plan is to pair it up with Book Barbarian.
Well, that's about all I've compiled for now. Overall, the trend is that promos by themselves don't make money, so the new goal (Aside from the ultimate one of getting on BookBub) is to accumulate in Amazon rank by having promos within days of each other. I will also be looking to get past 20 reviews, which will hopefully open me up to new opportunities.
Of course, most important of all, I'll continue work on the sequel, Seven Seals. What would really go well together with one of the higher end promos is a link at the end of Gold Fever to the sequel. So I need to get it done in the coming months.