I feel pretty stupid admitting now, but that just shows how far I’ve come.
When I first published CROWS in February of 2017, I thought I wouldn’t have to do any marketing. I really thought people would browse around, find my book and buy it. Maybe a lot of newly published indie authors still think that. Maybe not. But the bottom line is, it’s really, really hard to browse and stumble upon my own book on Amazon! If you don’t believe me, try it with your own book. The current ranking of CROWS (as of May 19, 2018 around 10am) is this:
If you’re new at this and don’t quite know how to read the ranking, that means that my book is listed at #3286 in that Occult Horror category. People have to go to the Kindle Store, go to that specific category, and skip over 3200 better-selling books just to reach mine during a casual browse! Virtually impossible.
If your book is newly published, it will be higher up in ranking. Either way, you have to market your book. Here are some of the things I used (with much failure because I didn’t know how to use the tools at my disposal) to market my book.
This is probably the most important and effective tool I have found. It’s not without its downfalls (like eating up enormous chunks of time that I should be using to write rather than weigh in on silly posts like “pen and paper or keyboard?” or “what book made you cry?” or “last book you read + with a chainsaw”). Still, through Facebook I found a lot of resources like awesome writers’ groups, lots of writer, reader and editor friends. Most of these friends do all three things, just like you! You’ll also find out about resources you can use that you would never have heard about otherwise. It helps you network and get the word out about your book and get downloads. It’s also totally free to have an account and even an official author’s page. Even if there isn’t much flexibility, and Facebook has been known to change rules and systems from time to time, it’s still very useful.
Even with a Facebook page and an Author Page, you can’t rely entirely on it. If you’re on Facebook professionally, but you want to express your opinion about whatever, there’s a chance that Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms could target you or your page one day. You just never know. For all the posts you make and friends you have, you don’t actually have any control. Your page could be deleted or hacked. It could be shut down temporarily. You could be blocked from doing something for no reason. You don’t own your Facebook Author Page. So you HAVE to get a website. (And all the same stuff applies to Twitter. Not your website, so you don’t actually own anything.)
I lucked out on this one with GoDaddy.com. I have had my domain for years, but I only had my site hosted by GoDaddy for a year. It was a 1-year deal, with hosting and a website builder for just $12.00 for the whole year! That’s just pocket change! Not free, but pretty close! However, this deal doesn’t seem available anymore, and besides, I wasn’t too happy with how my site looked with the Website Builder. The best hosting prices nowadays are around $3.00 a month to start, usually billed yearly (which amounts to about $36 dollars for the whole year before tax). Currently I’m shopping around for a good place to host my own site, http://www.graceharney.com. Which is why it’s a WordPress site at the moment. I think WordPress is okay for hosting, but sort of pricey. A lot of plug-ins are available, really amazing stuff, but a lot of it isn’t even available unless you get a business site, which is $25 a month or $300 a year.
When you have a website (or maybe even before you get around to that), you need a mailing list! Well, that’s what I keep hearing anyway, and to be totally honest I don’t believe I have tried this out to its full potential. I used Mailchimp as my email marketing service. I know a lot of people recommend Mailchimp for authors starting up, and it’s free forever up to 2000 subscribers, but only allows 12000 emails per month. I know that sounds like a lot, and it is. But I don’t want to keep a running tab on how many emails I’m sending out, especially if I’m automating my email marketing service. That means if I have that many subscribers, I can’t send more than 6 emails to them per month. Maybe you’d like to keep an eye on that, but I certainly don’t.
Mailchimp is, however, a great way to get started and learn a lot about how to set up automations and run emailing campaigns, create sign up forms, pop-up sign ups, all kinds of stuff! There’s almost too much information to take in, and there’s still a lot I don’t quite understand, but that’s okay. There were two problem I had with Mailchimp. One was that I couldn’t talk to any customer service reps if I had issues. I couldn’t even chat because I had a free account. That wasn’t such a huge issue because they have lots of helpful articles you can read to learn how to do something. It was the second problem that really got on my nerves. It’s the dreaded, mandatory ‘double opt-in.’
A mandatory double opt in basically means that when people sign-up on your form, they get an email where they MUST click on a link to confirm they opted in to receive emails from you. Mailchimp says it benefits you, the sender, because that way your email doesn’t go straight into the junk mail folder or be vulnerable to bot subscribers. But it seemed so tedious to me and frustrating especially because there was no alternative option. And it was especially annoying because I wanted to give people a way to enter a giveaway and I’ve read that the more times people are forced to click on stuff and fill in info, the less likely they are to actually stick around to the end of the process.
Luckily, Mailchimp got rid of the double opt-in recently. Great! The only problem is I think I found a better email marketing service (Mailerlite) which is geared specifically for writers, with integrations for Bookfunnel and Instafreebie and also Booksprout! These are all ways to deliver your ARCs (advance review copies) to readers who are part of your review team or even to people who just sign up to your email list. Mailerlite is totally free for up to 1000 subscribers and gives you unlimited emails. They have options for double or single opt in, you can send unlimited emails to your free 1000 subscribers, and you can chat with customer service! The only downside is that you must own a domain, because they require an email from an email address that’s belongs to your domain, for example, email@example.com. That is not something that’s optional, which is why you MUST have your own author website.
I hosted two giveaway to promote my book. It only cost me the price of printing and shipping 5 paperback copies of CROWS, about $25. You don’t have to do this; you could just give away eBook copies. To host my giveaways, I used Rafflecopter. It’s pretty basic for a free account, and you can set up a giveaway, have requirements of what people need to do to enter the giveaway (like share the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, submit their email, answer a question, etc.), and set a date, share the giveaway link and you’re done! There are some features that you could pay for, but how often would you do a giveaway, anyway? I haven’t done a giveaway since, and that was over a year ago!
When you get around to giving away your book, you need a place for people to go so they can download a copy. I used Instafreebie. It’s a great resource, free and effective. You can use a 30 day free trial and integrate the account with your email marketing service, Mailchimp, for example, and collect people’s emails when they download freebies you provide. The downside to Instafreebie is that they collect those emails too! When people sign up to your mailing list, they’re signing up to Instafreebie’s too! That means they’ll get flooded with emails from Instafreebie as well as your own. To me this was most undesirable. But it’s free.
Well anyway, I think that was the lowest budget promotion anyone has ever done. It’s not zero dollars, but if you don’t get a website or have paperback giveaways, it’s completely free. I just don’t believe it was worth it. I made almost zero dollars as a result of all this promo. I gained a meager amount of subscribers, none of which left a review (except 2 who were kind enough to do so) none of them even responded for repeated requests for reviews, and those that received paperback copies fell off the face of the earth.
Was it worth doing it for free?
The short answer is no.
For the whole year of 2017, I made about $25 in sales, most of it on Amazon. My book was published in February. Which means, as far as online sales, I made less than what I spent. So promoting your book for free doesn’t work. At least, it didn’t for me.
Just so you can get an idea of the sales comparison, here are the reports from Amazon for the whole of 2017 and 2018 (just from January to April):
2017: ($22.65 in total sales)
2018: ($10.96 in total sales, up to April only)
So why, within just 4 months, have I already made about half of what I earned the previous year? It’s probably only because I have been actively working to get more reviews. I joined a review group on (you guessed it) Facebook, where people are willing to purchase a copy to leave verified reviews. I don’t believe much of it consists of organic sales, although I have noticed some sales, especially this month, that I can’t track.
Right now my goal is to get more reviews. I’m shooting for 120 reviews by September 30th. It’s pretty lofty, I probably won’t make it. But we’ll see what happens. Since I have 23 reviews right now, I only need 97 more to hit my goal. That gives me about 4 months. Wish me luck!