10 June 2014

Anatomy of a Promo

My approach to self-publishing involves very little promotion.  I did submit my books to a small handful of book bloggers way back when I was starting out (and was very fortunate that one of them was The Book Smugglers!).  Along with the enormously generous support I've received from other writers, book blogger reviews have definitely made readers more inclined to pick up my books.

However, for the newbie author with no rep at all, no word-of-mouth, there is one primary method to build sales:
  • Write and release books.
  • Make one free (particularly first-in-series).
  • Get buoyed along by 'also boughts' and bestseller lists.
  • Build fans/mailing list/newsletters.
  • Rinse/repeat, along with judicious use of that year's Holy Grail (currently Bookbub).
For those interested in the behind-the-scenes of this process, I've been grabbing charts and stats to show the impact of free on the sales of my books.

To start off with, here's a long chart of Book 1 and Book 2 of The Touchstone Trilogy, where you can see the impact to my sales over several years.

To give you some idea of how much money is involved in these rankings, first here's my sales for April 2014 (for all books in all Amazon markets) during a period when I had no freebies running.

Since I've released no new books this year, this gives a good idea of what my sales look like with no 'price juicing'.  [Non-Amazon sales are currently around a tenth of these amounts.]

And here are my sales for the fortnight or so following the 'Holy Grail' I mentioned earlier - a Bookbub promotion on the back of a free first book in a series.

You used to be able to do this just by setting your book free - way back in the dark ages of 2011.  Nowadays you only really get this big a boost using something like Bookbub (a free/cheap book alert service with several million subscribers).  Of course, it's becoming rather difficult to land a Bookbub promotion these days. ;)

Most of these sales are of Touchstone, which remains my best-selling series by far:

Amazon Sales - 1 June 2014 to 9 June 2014

Sadly, it's rare that price juicing has a permanent impact, but free is definitely a way to get your book out there and it's a hell of a rush to earn the equivalent of a book advance in a fortnight.  I gave away around 30,000 free copies of Stray this time (only a tiny fraction of those will ever be read), and will probably simply leave the book on permafree from now on.

And as the years go by, I slowly increase the numbers of 'my' readers out there - people who look specifically for my books and buy them when they're put out.  Not because of any price juicing or random encounter in the also-boughts list.  The career of a self-publisher can follow a very different path to trade authors (where pre-promotion and first week sales are so important).  Mine has been a slow build thing, but fun and interesting and a viable second income.

And most certainly not an endless grind of promotion.


  1. Cool! Thanks for sharing the details (and congrats on the last fortnight, which must have been a bit exciting).

    I have questions:
    1) What do the numbers in the last table represents - sales by item between 20 may and 9 June, or something else?

    2) Do you have a mailing list? If so, am I on it? If not, may I be on it please?

    3) I'mnotaskingwhenPyramidsofLondoniscomingoutbecausethatwouldberudebutIjustwantedyoutoknowI'mlookingforwardtoit (not a question)

    4) How long did it take to get the Bookbub promo?


  2. 1. Sales between 1 June and 9 June.
    2. A rough and ready mailing list. Consider yourself on it. :D
    3. Ha - I don't think Pyramids is going to be anything like you expect. But also nothing like you've ever read either (except an unholy mashing together of The Secret Garden and, well, everything).
    4. You submit a form, they get back to you in a couple of days. Easy to try, can be hard to succeed.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! Consider me inspired.

    P.S. Just got my friendly rejection email from Bookbub yesterday. Drat.

  4. I've had a 50% accept/reject rate with Bookbub. The competition to pay for advertising. :)

  5. Well I guess that's sort of makes me feel better, LOL. There were some other websites that let me know my book could be guaranteed a spot, for a fee of course.

    And by the way, Bookbub is how I discovered Stray, and subsequently got hooked on the entire series. Count me in as a success story from your 50% acceptance rate.

  6. This is extremely helpful and happily beyond anecdotal. Thanks so much!

  7. Question I get asked most often from my book borrowing friends: Where's the next Höst book? Answer: On the shelf with the others. Response I get after they finish the 11 books I own: Why isn't there more?! Answer: SHE PUTS EFFORT INTO IT SO SIT DOWN AND BUY HER BOOKS.

    I've had more success in convincing folk since I bought the print book loaner copies honestly. After the first three I stopped loaning out my personal copies--my precious!--and just slowly bought loaner copies...

  8. Ha - I have visions of one day being an ENTIRE SHELF. So awesome.

    Ebooks aren't as good for loaning as physical books. One of their big downsides. But then, I've taken to having my phone read me books as I walk to the train station, which certainly doesn't work for the physical ones! Both formats have their advantages.

  9. I did find out about Stray from the Book Smugglers' review! :-)
    I'm reading Stray now and I love it!

  10. Hello! I love the Touchstone series, I think you created a very special world, one that very few authors actually achieve even though many try... I've read a few others of your books and have enjoyed them, too but not like Cass's world. I actually just finished re-reading them again so thank you! Have you ever considered revisiting Muina? perhaps when Ys and Rye have grown up and Ys has realized her full potential ... I see her wanting to know what happened to the Parasite world and about Earth ... Or perhaps another of Cass's children being curious. What happens with Lira? does she get to grow up and have a life? I find I still want to know what comes next .. lol .. I and probably many others, hope you will consider revisiting Muina...

    1. Hi Anita - I'm glad you've enjoyed the books! I have some plans to write a couple of short stories set a few years from the end of GE, but I'll have to be in the right mind-set to write them properly! It'll be odd writing in that world but not in Cass's diary.

  11. I'm another reader hooked by your promotion of Stray on Bookpub. I even left you a (rare from me) glowing review on Amazon. Not only that, but I purchased the other two, making you the first author that I've actually purchased ebooks for on Amazon. It's been a long time since I've read something so refreshingly original and well-written as the Touchstone Trilogy.

    I must say, though, that Bookpub has left a bad taste in my mouth for self-publishing. I'm only downloading and trying to read a small fraction of the free ebooks they promote and, even with that small percentage, I'm wading through a lot of really bad books to find a very rare gem like Stray. I've gotten to the point that I'm not even bothering clicking the free link to Amazon if the blurb mentions in any way how many "positive" reviews the book has. Positive reviews don't sell books if they are balanced by as many negative ones.

    Since it appears that many writers are turning to you as a mentor in self-publishing, please stress with them how important it is to invest in a good editor and an honest critique partner they can trust to take the place of the harsh and valuable feedback they would be getting from a publisher. I really want to read farther than the third chapter in these books, but I really cannot abide bad writing. There's just no excuse for putting it out there and then considering yourself published. I may be getting the book for free, but my time is valuable too, and I will happily leave negative reviews to protect other readers' valuable time.

    1. Putting out a book with as few errors as possible definitely makes a big difference! I recently read a book where (presumably through some conversion error) there were no apostophes or quotation marks. Very distracting!

      Of course, there are many opinions on what is good writing and correct grammar, as well, which can complicate matters.

  12. I got Stray In October of 2011 when it was on Amazon's top 100 free list and loved it. Have bought all of your other books and recommend them highly to everyone. Love the variety of your work (and am really looking forward to Pyramids). The Touchstone Trilogy remains my favorite - just reread it for the umpteenth time. It's one of my "comfort food" books -favorites I reread when stressed out for whatever reason. (And I agree with Anita S - another book in the Touchstone universe when the kids are grown would be awesome. But the short stories you mentioned would be wonderful too!) Thanks for many many hours of wonderful reading enjoyment!


  13. Dear Andrea
    Yours is the first free kindle book I read. I thought it may be a dud because it was free, but got a great surprise! I have never devoured books I loved as much as Anne McCaffrey's books! Stray being free really did work for you, because I bought the rest of the series. I've finished now, sadly. Please expand on the Touchstone Universe, its a wonderful place to visit! So glad to find this series!
    from Sharyn .S


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