Another week, another post. This time, we’re talking about the advertising costs associated with book sales. Admittedly, this is the part I hate. I don’t know many people that like the marketing part of selling books, honestly. I die a little inside every time I share a promo post on Facebook or tweet out a link to my book. Mostly, it’s because I don’t feel like being my friend comes with the requirement of buying my books. I know a certain portion of my social media network is there only to hear about my books, but… yeah. Really not my favorite thing to do, and I’m probably a terrible salesman, but I’m getting a little better with the not-throwing-up-in-my-mouth thing when I do promo.
So why do it? The things above are free. It doesn’t cost me a cent to tweet my book or post to my Facebook author page. I still do it, because how else will people find out about my books if I don’t tell them?
There are other ways to spread the word, and we’re going to talk about that today. So let’s do the numbers, shall we?
Based on the survey I conducted (find the spreadsheet in this post):
- 26 people paid $0 for advertising
- 25 people paid under $100 for advertising
- 25 people paid $100-$199 for advertising
- 21 people paid $200-$399 for advertising
- 13 people paid $400-$699 for advertising
- 11 people paid over $1000 for advertising
Some conclusions I drew from the survey:
- No one who paid $0 for advertising made more than $5,000. Only 3 of 26 made more than $1000.
- Only 4 of 25 people that spent under $100 made more than $1000.
- 7 of 25 people who spent between $100-$199 lost money. There’s a huge gap in profit levels, too. If you spent in this range, it looks like you either made upwards of $1000, or leveled off under $500 (if you didn’t lose money on it). There wasn’t a majority of people seeing any one result in this range.
- The $200-$399 range is interesting. Almost half of the people in this bracket reported a LOSS. 6 reported earnings over $1000, and only 5 made $500 or less. This tells me you’re better off spending more or less than this range, for whatever strange reason.
- The $400-$699 range either made nothing or did really well. 5 of 13 lost money or broke even, the rest made between $700-$6,000.
- The same goes for those who spent over $1000 on advertising. 6 of 11 people lost money or broke even, the rest made between $4,000-$23,500.
That old saying “you have to spend money to make money” likely applies here, though it’s incredibly frustrating for sure. Like any business, successful self-publishing requires investment, and advertising costs are part of that. So where do the costs come from?
When I asked my various author groups what their best source for advertising was, the answer was overwhelmingly Bookbub… if you can get in. They’re very selective about which books they accept to include in their email lists to subscribers, and they come with a hefty price tag. Here’s a slice of their pricing chart:
That’s the best I could get for a screen shot, so hit the link before the graphic if you don’t see your genre listed here.
Just as an example, if your SF book is lucky enough to be selected for Bookbub, a free book will cost you $175 to advertise. Now, if it’s the first in the series and you’re banking on sell-through for the others, this might be a good investment for you. No one I talked to didn’t recoup this cost in sales. Bookbub has a really wide reach (those subscription numbers aren’t a lie), so everyone says if you can get in, DO IT.
Here are a few other sources for places authors have had good results from that might be easier to get into and/or cost a little less (or are free):
- eReader News Today
- Free Kindle Books and Tips
- Pixel of Ink
- The Fussy Librarian
- The Midlist (my sources say the free ad worked, paid not so much)
- Here’s a list of free advertising sites another author put together.
There are other options for advertising out there, but there are two that most authors agreed DID NOT work and were a waste of money:
- Paid Facebook ads (the exception was a few highly targeted ads, but only 1 or 2 people had success with this)
- Paid Goodreads ads (across the board no success)
- I’ve seen Kboards is more or less a bust these days
Other things that DID work with varying costs:
- Goodreads giveaway (results in a huge bump in adds on shelves, sales inconclusive) (cost: as many paperbacks as you want to give away plus shipping costs)
- Facebook events (release parties, page takeovers, or themed events), typically in conjunction with other authors (where you guest host or bring in other authors to host at your event) (see my post on the importance of community)
- Free book days, ESPECIALLY when it’s the first in a series. Everyone, including myself, could tell you that this works. I don’t generally do free days, but I think if applied strategically, it can give you a huge boost.
A big topic of debate amongst indie authors is the success of blog tours. Whether or not a tour is “successful” really comes down to what you expect to get from it. For me, they’re a way to get a few reviews for a new book, to get to know book bloggers, and maybe spread the word a little, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to sales. It’s hard to tell if they work as a sales tool. I got more play from a randomly released cover reveal on Twitter than I have from a blog tour reveal, but there could be other factors at work there as well. Blog tours can range in price based on what you’re looking for and by company (anywhere from $25 to $500+). Review-only tours are available in various places, but the cost is typically a little higher than one that’s promo/spotlight only or includes guest posts. Also with a tour, expect to run a giveaway of some sort which will cost you whatever you’re giving away + shipping, but we’ll talk about that in the next post.
Another free advertising tool is a first chapter exchange with an author who writes in the same genre. If each author includes the first chapter of the other’s book at the end of theirs, along with the link to purchase the title, it’s an excellent cross-promotional tool. Note: that’s for ebooks only, as they’re fluidly changeable. I would strongly advise against doing this in print.
Facebook is riddled with groups dedicated to authors sharing links to their books. These are promo-only groups. I think I’ve joined about 50 of these things by now and copy/paste a post in all of them when I’ve got a new book out or something on sale. This is probably the grossest marketing thing I do because it’s basically spamming and running, but I did see a slight uptick in consistent sales after I started doing that. Readers do follow those groups and look for new books, so if you’ve got a good hook for your novel and an eye-catching cover, this could be a good option to try. Be prepared for wanting a shower after your posting frenzy, however. Did I mention I really dislike this? Cuz yeah… I pretty much hate doing it. Sort of works though, so I’m not giving it up, just doing it in moderation. Make sure you read the rules for each group. Some limit your posts to one a day, some once a week or longer. Some also restrict by platform, like Kindle or iBooks only, or by genre, age group, or adult/clean content. Don’t ignore the rules posted and abuse the free promo opportunity. Basically, don’t be a jerk, k? <3
There are about a million different options for advertising books, and this is in no way an all-inclusive list. As with anything, your mileage may vary. Some things that work really well for some authors are a complete bust for others. The great part of being an indie writer is the flexibility to experiment with different things. If one thing doesn’t work, you try again until you find something that does.
As always, please post your tips or questions in the comments below. Next week we’re tackling physical promotional items, which covers a LOT of stuff. Now go forth and pimp thy book!
Aurora Springer says
Thanks for sharing your analysis!
Joy DeKok (@JoyEDeKok) says
Excellent post! I hate marketing too – want to love it, and tried, but don’t. Like you, I do it because it’s required in business. Thanks for sharing the truth and the options!
Starla Huchton says
You’re welcome! Hope the post is helpful to other people, so it’s great to hear the feedback!
Delphina M. says
Cheapnaughtyreads.com just launched for people looking for some free alternatives for their steamier stuff. It is like Fussy library in that it is free until it builds up a large enough base .
Delphina M. says
I did well with a couple of fivver people, also. Starla hit my inner geek. I love looking at data hehehe.
Brinda Berry says
Loved this article. I laughed at the “needing a shower” after promo on some FB groups. I tried it once and balked. ACK! I’ve had some okay results from FB ads, but I had to fine-tune and take direction/advice from someone else to get it right.
Sylvie Grayson says
Great information. Thank you for all the work you do researching it and puttig it together. I tried BookBub but didn’t get in – they were full up of my genre but will try again. The other ideas are a wonderful guideline to marketing.