Book Marketing: What Worked, What Flopped

The Endurance Series has been out for a month now. To my pleasant surprise, it has earned back what I spent on cover design and marketing. In this post, I’m going to share which marketing promotions worked and which didn’t.

First, some background:

1. The book is an anthology of five novellas and two short stories, previously published over several years. I did not do any paid marketing on any of the previous releases. So for all purposes, I was starting from scratch, with no established platform.

2. I hired a professional cover designer. Without this step, the book would not have sold as well. I noticed that most books in my category had very dark covers, so I asked the designer to do something a little lighter in color, to be more eye-catching. I don’t know if this played a part in the book’s sales, but it’s worth noting.

Even if you are handy with Photoshop or your brother-in-law is a decent artist, I recommend hiring a pro to give you something that can hold its own against competition. I highly recommend Jenny Zemanek at Seedlings Design Studio.

3. Your book must be well-edited. This means no typos, no confusing sentences, and a plot that moves along with characters who change throughout the story. I had an advantage here, as The Endurance Series had already been published one book at a time, and I was just combining them into an anthology.

4. Your book needs a good description. Something that entices the reader to try it out.

5. The book made the top three “Hot New Releases” in its Amazon category. This meant a prime spot on the category’s page. It also meant Amazon promoted the book to people who had bought similar books in the past. I believe this was the biggest contributor to sales. The book’s main category was “science fiction anthologies.” This category is not very competitive, which made it easier to reach the top.

The Promotions

The book was scheduled to release September 16, 2016. I put it up for pre-order over a month in advance. The pre-order price was 99 cents; afterwards the price increased to $2.99.

Cost: $25
Date: 8-22-16 to 9-16-16
Starting Sales Rank: 100,000s overall on Amazon
Ending Sales Rank: 40,000s (Note: This was the sales rank on 8-23-16. This promo continued to run until the book’s release.)
Starting Pre-Orders: 14
Ending Pre-Orders: 33
Other Results: Reached top 100 in two categories. Briefly hit top three “hot new releases” in science fiction anthologies.
Recommendation: Recommended, especially because these promos can run long-term

2. AwesomeGang
Cost: $10
Date: 8-27-16
Starting Sales Rank: 73,000
Ending Sales Rank: Under 100,000
Starting Pre-Orders: 40
Ending Pre-Orders: 40
Other Results: n/a
Recommendation: Paid option not recommended. They do offer a free option, though, which couldn’t hurt.

3. Ebook Bargains UK
Cost: $6.77
Date: 8-31-16
Pre-Orders: 2 in Canada
Recommendation: Uncertain
Note: This promotion runs in English-speaking countries other than the United States. I wasn’t tracking those sales, so I don’t have good data for you.

4. EReader News Today
Cost: $30
Date: 8-31-16
Starting Sales Rank: 260,000
Ending Sales Rank: 1,366 (Highest point. Had this sales rank been achieved on a different day, my book would have been the #1 category bestseller.)
Starting Pre-Orders: 41
Ending Pre-Orders: 172
Other Results: #3 bestseller in two categories, #2 hot new release in two categories, top 100 bestsellers in at least two more categories
Recommendation: Highly recommended
Note 1: I clicked through the sales rankings for this promo’s other listings. Romance did the best, by far. Other books with professional covers did decently. Books without professional covers were not doing as well.
Note 2: This promotion’s success may be due to timing, since it ran just before Labor Day Weekend.

5. InDTale Magazine
Cost: $25 (Book Bargains Listing)
Date: 9-3-16
Starting Sales Rank: 12,011
Ending Sales Rank: 10,023
Starting Pre-Orders: 186
Ending Pre-Orders: 203
Other Results: From this point on, a few sales trickled in at a time, probably due to triggering some sort of algorithm in Amazon. The book hovered in the 9,000s all day on 9-5-16, but dropped to between 15,000 and 20,000 as of 9-8-16.
Recommendation: Recommended
Note: I suspect this promotion would have worked better if I didn’t run it in the middle of a holiday weekend.

6. PeopleReads
Cost: $8.99
Date: 9-9-16
Starting Sales Rank: 17,767
Ending Sales Rank: 11,900ish
Starting Pre-Orders: 261
Ending Pre-Orders: 275
Other Results: Sales rank dropped to 19,694 by next day
Recommendation: Uncertain. Probably useful for a slight bump, but not as a mainstay of the marketing effort.

From this point, sales came in on their own. I believe the pre-orders triggered an Amazon marketing algorithm, resulting in organic growth.

Final Result

1. 347 pre-orders. Book debuted at 8,365 on the overall Amazon bestseller ranks.

2. Book has stayed in the top 20 science fiction anthologies on Kindle, top 20 science fiction anthologies overall, and has been in and out of the top 100 in “Space Exploration.” It also popped briefly into the top 100 in a couple other categories.

3. Book remained the #1, #2, or #3 Hot New Release for Kindle sci-fi anthologies and overall sci-fi anthologies for the entire month of its “new release” status, with a few exceptions where it dipped to #4 or #5.

4. Book has stayed between 5,000 and 13,000 on the overall Amazon bestsellers ranks. Currently at 10,172. Ranking expected to drop now that the “Hot New Release” period has ended.

5. 588 total sales, as of today

6. 44,397 pages read on Kindle Unlimited in September; 66,619 pages read so far in October
Note: This likely accounts for most of the book’s success in remaining a “Hot New Release” and staying above 10,000 in the overall sales rankings. I highly recommend Kindle Unlimited as a marketing strategy. It has also accounted for about 40 percent of the book’s gross revenue.

What Would I Change?

If I were to do this again, here’s what I would do differently:

1. Edit more. I had an advantage here, in that these novellas had already been published and well-received by the people who read them. However, looking back, I can see that I have improved as a storyteller since publishing the first episode in 2013. Were I starting over again today, I would hold off publishing anything until I had written several more pieces and had time to compare them. Then I would have revised my earlier work. (Note: I’m referring to structural editing, not copy-editing.)

2. Write a more enticing blurb. The book’s current cover blurb (visible on its Amazon page) is doing all right. However, I’ve recently read the entire Query Shark archives and learned ways to write a more enticing blurb.

3. Use NetGalley. Because this book is the culmination of a series, I decided not to use NetGalley to send out free review copies. However, if I were just starting a series, I would use NetGalley to try to build up reviews of the book before its official release date. Hopefully those reviewers would then purchase future books in the series.

4. Start marketing closer to the publication date. I ran the first promotion almost a month before the book’s release. This meant the buzz from that first effort had completely died before the book came out.

5. Schedule marketing efforts closer together. Rather than one a week, I would try to do one every few days, so they could build on one another. I would have liked to run a promotion on BookSends, but I didn’t have the required number of reviews. In a re-do, I would publish the paperback version a bit earlier, to allow NetGalley reviews to post on Amazon. Then I would run additional promotions that require a specific number of reviews.

I hope this has been informative and helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. Also, be sure to check out Endurance: The Complete Series on Amazon.


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