Dissecting book promotion

Do you want the nitty-gritty about promoting a book? Want numbers and details and bones and guts? I’m writing this post for new authors because when I was starting out, I was desperate to know what authors actually did to promote their books. I wanted to know what their sales were. I wanted all the gory specifics.

Wanna peer inside?

(Image shows a skeleton contemplating a skull).

Before reading, you should know I write m/m romance, in particular fantasy m/m romance (think: magicians falling in love). If you’re writing non-fiction, or crime stories, or literary fiction, your experience of the promo trenches will be very different. Likewise, my situation is not yours. The book I’m going to be talking about, Seducing the Sorcerer, was my third book (though my actions were about the same for my second book), I self-published (though if you’re with a small press or even a medium-sized publisher you’ll likely do a lot of the promo yourself anyway) and I don’t have a huge social media presence, because too much social media makes me feel like a limp dishrag. With hives.

That’s me, prostrate on the floor from too much social media.

(Image description: A shocked Victorian woman has entered an office and found a man lying on the floor. She has dropped the document she was carrying and is looking around nervously. From “The Mothers’ Companion”, Vol IX, published in 1895 by S W Partridge & Co, London.)

I first blogged on promotion/marketing back in 2018 when I finished promo for my first book Salt Magic, Skin Magic. Things change fast in publishing, but I’ve refreshed that post a bit over the years and it’s well worth a read if you want more info.

The only thing that older post doesn’t talk about is Kindle Unlimited (KU) which is Amazon’s book subscription service. If you know about KU you can skip this paragraph. People say KU has changed the game for authors and readers. Basically, as an author, you put your book into KU and Amazon pay you per page view, so readers can try your book—and thousands of other books—for the price of their subscription. If readers like your book, they read on, thus viewing more pages. This is great for romance readers who are often voracious. It’s great for some authors too, who get lots of page reads and are making more money than ever. I seriously considered putting my book into KU to see what would happen. In the end, I didn’t, because the downside of KU is that Amazon demands a monopoly. If you want your book in KU, you can’t publish it anywhere else for the first three months, and there are lots of other small or not-so-small online booksellers, such as Kobo or Barnes & Noble and lots of readers who don’t use KU. The vast majority of my sales come from Amazon, but I do still get sales from the others. But the main reason I decided to publish ‘wide’, as it’s called, is because I kinda sorta don’t like Amazon having such a monopoly. It’s already a behemoth and it wants to get bigger. My main source of income is not from my fiction writing, so I can afford to have scruples. Would I consider publishing via KU in the future…? Hm, I’ll give you a definite maybe. But the point about KU is that since it arrived on the scene, a lot of readers don’t read anything else apart from books enrolled in KU. And the word is that that’s really affected sales for authors like me who have chosen to go wide.

Right, enough about KU, on with the blog post. Here’s the low-down on what I did to promote my new fantasy m/m romance Seducing the Sorcerer.

The first thing I did when I had the FINAL FINAL NO REALLY IT’S THE FINAL version was to approach five well-known authors/people in the book world to ask if they’d consider giving me a supportive quote for my blurb. This, as you can imagine, was terrifying (OMG I am asking a person I admire to do me a favour and OMG they may actually READ my book), but it was less terrifying because I wasn’t contacting them completely out of the blue. A couple of them had previously told me they’d liked my first book (!). A couple had blurbed my last book. Four of the five said yes (the fifth was too busy), so I had four glowing quotes (I’d been hoping for two!) to accompany my book’s blurb. Did this help me get noticed? I think so. And it also helped me feel more confident about shopping my book around. NB – if you want to approach well-known authors for blurb quotes, I’d say: choose someone you know slightly (e.g. because they’ve said nice things about your previous books, or, if it’s your first book, because you’ve been a vocal supporter of their books and have often responded to or boosted their social media posts), be very polite, expect nothing and retire gracefully and instantly if they decline. Also, be prepared to deal with a confidence-shaking ‘sorry but I didn’t like it enough to blurb it’.

Retire gracefully and instantly if they decline.

(Image shows a gothic heroine fleeing from a house through a graveyard, a look of terror on her face).

Once I had my four lovely blurb quotes, I started promo around August 12 for a release date of September 23, which equates to five or six weeks. I could have started earlier. You have to start early because book reviewers and bloggers want your book BEFORE release day so they have time to read and review it and post their review. I have other life commitments (part-time day job, kids, dog to walk etc), so I wasn’t doing promo full time for the whole six weeks, but I spent around 24 hours a week on it. Or, in other words, almost all my spare time. Yes, it was tiring.

Giving away advance review copies is my main approach because I want to get people talking about my book. I don’t have a big following on social media, so word of mouth is my best hope. For Seducing the Sorcerer, I gave away about 90 ebooks. I could have given away more, but I had to stop somewhere.

Here’s the breakdown of what I did:

  • I visited 61 book reviewer/blogger websites. Of those, I approached 40 (the others were either not accepting review copies, hadn’t been updated for months, or didn’t seem a good fit for my book). Of the 40 I approached, 23 requested a review copy. I’ve seen about eight reviews so far (very positive, four or five star reviews, thank goodness!). Most reviewers do it for the love of books and are swamped with review requests, so some of the others may review later. I never pay for reviews.
  • Five of those review sites also requested an interview/guest blog post. Written interviews are fun so I’m always happy to do those. I enjoy writing blog posts too, but they’re a bit more time consuming so I don’t do heaps.
  • I also gave away about 25 advance review copies (ARCs) to readers. These were readers who’d enjoyed my last book, or who I know slightly through social media. I’m not sure how many of those 25 actually left a review, but a week after release date I had 51 ratings on Amazon.com, and 145 ratings/65 reviews on Goodreads, so probably quite a few of them. Some of them will have reviewed on other sites or recommended the book on social media – it all adds up!
  • I visited 30 author groups on Facebook to run giveaways, and gave away about 40 free copies (for big groups I gave away more than one per group) so some of those people may also review on Goodreads or Amazon etc and tell their friends about it.

Other things I did:

  • Just over 100 people follow my blog, so I blogged about the book a couple of times.
  • I have a newsletter via Mailchimp with about 120 subscribers. I sent them a newsletter announcing it.
  • I mentioned the book on social media (I have Facebook and Twitter) whenever I could – boosting good reviews or reader remarks, posting my supportive blurb quotes etc.

Ah, but did it work?

Well, the book’s been out for two weeks and I’ve sold 1,145 copies on Amazon. I also sell on a lot of other smaller platforms, such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble. I haven’t got sales figure for those yet, but it won’t be heaps. Let’s say I’ve sold around 1,200 books. Sales will slow down now. I reckon in the third and fourth weeks I’ll sell maybe 100 books per week. That will continue to decrease.

So, is that ‘good’? Did my promo ‘work’?

‘Well, Fotherington-Smythe? Has it worked? Or have the last twenty years of my life been in vain?’

(Image shows two Victorian gentlemen scientists hard at work on a chemistry experiment)

It’s all so relative, isn’t it? Some authors are delighted to sell fifty books. Others would think my sales were dismal.

Last time I released a book (Salt Magic, Skin Magic) was in 2018 and it sold more in the first week. I didn’t keep records of that first week of sales, but Salt Magic, Skin Magic had sold around 3,000 copies at the end of the first month. I think Seducing the Sorcerer will achieve about half that in its first month.

Whenever I see other authors talking about promo and how hard it is to get noticed, I nod sympathetically because it IS bloody hard, but at the same time a mean little voice in the back of my head whispers ‘but maybe your promo failed because your book wasn’t actually that good’. ‘Good’ is a relative term and I’m sure we could all point at a book that did spectacularly well that we don’t think was objectively ‘good’ and I’m sure we could all point at a hidden gem that seems to have gone unsung.

A mean little voice.

(Image shows a devil kissing a man, but I bet he did some whispering too. Original artwork is ‘The Returned Kiss’ by C.M. Molin)

But let’s address the issue. Is Seducing the Sorcerer any good? It was well-received (four and five star reviews) but I feel it wasn’t as well-received as Salt Magic, Skin Magic, which I feel got more attention and more five star reviews. But then Seducing the Sorcerer is a different book, with different characters. It’s fantasy romance (i.e. secondary world fantasy) rather than historical fantasy romance (i.e. set in Victorian England), single point of view instead of dual. I released it at a time when lots of other books in my genre were also being released. It’s hard to be objective, and I try not to read reviews, but maybe, on the whole, more readers preferred Salt Magic, Skin Magic? So maybe that affected sales somewhat too?

Anyway, I think the point I’m making is that there are lots of factors that can affect sales.

It’s worth noting that I’ve also sold more copies of my two previous books recently because my name is out there again.

Seducing the Sorcerer is priced at around US$4 (I say, ‘around’ because different booksellers shift the price depending on their mark-up) and I make around US$2 per copy sold. Of course, I pay tax on that so I get less in the hand. But in terms of money, I’ll be able to pay my editor and the graphic designer who created the cover. There’ll be a bit left over.

So, there you go. What I did, and the results of those actions, in mind-numbing detail. Since you’re still reading, you’re clearly a person of grit and patience. That’s all you need to do promo. Honestly, if I can do it, you can do it!

You’ve made it this far!? You’ve got grit, baby!

(Image is Sisyphus carrying his boulder by Titian)

And before I go; you know what they say is the BEST promotion tool? Yep, it’s writing—and marketing—another book.

Better get writing it then, hadn’t I?

Are you in the promo trenches right now? Planning to be? I’d love to hear about your experience, or maybe you have some tips for me? Drop me a line in the comments below.

4 Comments

  1. Whoa, this was a pretty amazing post, with so much useful info. I myself hadn’t really been active on promoting my book on my end, and your post has given me some ideas. I appreciate your honest figures, and 1,142 books sold is crazy awesome. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t get over the fact that some authors would find over 1000 sold copies to be too low! For me, 1000 is a huge number! In Spain, 200 is considered a good number for a self-published author or a small publisher, so I’m very happy and want to congratulate you!
    I just hope you’re happy too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sales numbers are so relative. I mean, I’m pretty happy with my sales! I’m relieved I’ll be able to cover the costs of my editor and graphic designer. But it didn’t sell as well as my last book which is kind of a shame. On the other hand, I over 1,000 people wanted to read a story I’d written, and that’s pretty amazing. Plus, they say ‘authors live off their backlists’ so I expect I’ll sell some more copies over the next few months and years.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s