As of this blog entry, there are over 3.4 million eBooks available on Amazon. Each week, approximately 20,000 new eBooks are added. If you publish an eBook as an unknown author, you will quickly learn just how invisible you are to the millions of customers who visit Amazon each day. Even with a good book cover, a blurb that intrigues the customer, and a story that can hook the reader immediately, more than likely you won’t see more than a few sales unless you can figure out a way to promote your book in a way that leads to lasting sales.
I’m not trying to sell some surefire method for successfully marketing an eBook. In fact, I’m not selling anything other than my book, The Freezer, so you can take this article however you want. What works for one person may utterly fail for the next. I suppose you could say that this article is more about what generally works best, and specifically about what has worked best for me. I am far from a professional when it comes to marketing, but I have learned quite a bit about promoting eBooks both from personal experience and from what others have shared. Hopefully this article will help other struggling authors to improve their sales.
Amazon sells approximately 5.4 BILLION dollars in books each year, 30% of which are eBooks. I don’t know the average price of an eBook exactly, but if I were to guess, I would say it is right around $3.00 each. That would mean approximately 1,400,000 eBooks are sold EACH DAY! In other words, the market is nearly infinite compared to the few customers you have reached, so you are just looking for a way to catch the attention of those millions of customers. You could spend thousands of dollars on advertisements trying to catch their eye, but books are a low price sale that yields low dollar per unit returns, so you can’t afford to spend even a few dollars to get one sale. In order to remain profitable, you simply have to find a way to put it in front of those customers for as little money as you can.
You might think social media would be the best way to accomplish this, and to some extent that is true. However, social media is fast paced, and even a post that goes viral is forgotten within a short period of time. Unless you have a half million followers, chances are your efforts at exposure will only reach a few thousand people at best, only a fraction of who will be looking to buy your book. In the long run, social media is more important because you’re building a brand name and looking to add followers to your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, but unfortunately, in the short term it won’t do much to improve immediate sales.
On the other hand, word of mouth is perhaps the most effective way of getting sales from exposure. See, books take a long time to read, and nobody wants to spend several hours of their life only to be disappointed. Readers also don’t want to spend a lot of money on a book they aren’t sure will be good, so even if you can put your book in front of them, they may be hesitant to buy it just because they’ve never heard of you as an author. But if a friend recommends a book to them, they now have a trusted source telling them it is worth their time and money. So all you have to do is get your book in front of a LOT of people so they can spread the word for you, right? Of course, if you knew how to get a lot of sales in a short period of time, you wouldn’t be here reading this article.
EBooks don’t cost anything to make, so it goes to follow that you can give away a lot of books for free at no cost to you, and what better way to get books in front of readers than by giving them away? Unfortunately, it turns out that giving away a book for free is not all that effective when it comes to boosting sales in the short or long term. See, if you offer your book for free, a lot of people might download it, but most of them do so simply because it was free, not because they were passionate about that genre or interested in your story. If they ever actually read it, they may even hate it for no other reason than they don’t like that kind of book! In fact, most of the people looking to get books for free will automatically assume it is of lower quality (See my last blog post, “You Get What You Pay For”.) If they don’t see much value in it, they probably aren’t going to tell their friends about it, and more likely they will just be telling their friends where to get other free books. After all, these aren’t people who like to spend money on things, so why would they tell their friends to spend money? To make matters worse, usually readers who get free books don’t leave reviews, and if they do it is just as likely to be a bad review because they didn’t really like that type of book to begin with and the only reason they read it was because it was free! So while you might reach a lot of people with a free giveaway, it usually doesn’t benefit you to do so (unless you have a lot of books in a series that aren’t free, but that is something I’ll cover later.)
On the other hand, discounting your book can lead to more sales. At a discount, the reader is still paying for your book, so while they got a good deal, they still perceive a greater value and will take the time to spend their money wisely. These readers are the ones you want to reach because if they like what you wrote, they will tell their friends and family.
So you put your book out for a discount, but the original problem still exists: you are invisible on Amazon. Now what? Well, there are a number of really good websites that will advertise your discounted book. Some are very inexpensive, and some are not. BookBub is considered the best. They’re expensive, but they have a mailing list of millions of active readers. Furthermore, they focus their discount book lists on what their subscribers want. For example, if I could run a Sci-Fi ad for The Freezer, I would reach about a million readers interested specifically in discounted Sci-Fi books. The average Sci-Fi book advertised for one day on BookBub at 99 cents will sell 1500 times! Unfortunately it is very difficult to get accepted (they turn away about 80% of all submissions) and if you do get in, it is expensive so you have to sell a lot of books to pay for it. The upside is even if you only break even on your ad, you have hundreds or even thousands of books out there in the hands of paying customers, and some of them will spread the word. Most authors who have tried BookBub had several weeks or even months of greatly increased sales following their promotion. Most of the top Independent Authors on Amazon can attribute some (or all) of their success to BookBub.
If you can’t get into BookBub, there are several other sites who will advertise similarly, although the next best ones down the list are 1/10th the size or less. Ereader News Today (ENT) is probably the second largest with about 100k mail list subscribers. They also have almost a half million Facebook followers, but I found that the Facebook posts aren’t nearly as effective as the mailers. As I mentioned earlier, usually Facebook and Twitter posts get buried too fast to get great exposure. I ran an ENT ad last month during a 99 cent promotion and around 200 sales could be attributed to the ad. It was a mere $15, about 25 times less than a BookBub ad. There aren’t too many sites that will give you as good of a return as BB or ENT, but you can still hit several of them during a promotion and get good results. I used ENT, BookSends, and Fussy Librarian for my last promotion (over 3 days), sold around 370 books at 99 cents (total advertising cost of $61), and increased my sales for the next 5 weeks by over 250% from before the ad. In the first 80 days my book was on the market, I sold about 340 copies. In the next 45 days after that promotion, I sold another 700!
So finding companies like BookBub and ENT who have readers subscribed to newsletters is the most effective way of promoting a discounted book, and the effects can last for a long time. But what then?
Well, my strategy has been to continue to try to get my book exposed to new customers and keep the momentum of sales going until my next big promo or until my next book is out. You can’t advertise on places like ENT or BB every month. In fact, even if you can get your book on their site, you can’t repeat that for another 90 days at the least, and even then you will be hitting the same audience, so it will not be quite as effective the next time around. So every week or two I try to get some kind of exposure, preferably on a Friday because people like to buy books on Friday for the weekend. Without a price promotion, the places that will advertise my book don’t show fantastic results, but exposure works, so even if I get 10 sales from an ad, I might get 5 or 10 more in the following week on top of my regular sales. At regular price, 20 sales is like 90 sales during a 99 cent promotion, and being in Kindle Select, I get a lot of borrows from these promotions as well! Mostly though, I’m waiting for the next opportunity to run a 99 cent promotion, and if I can’t get accepted at BookBub, I will hit a half dozen or so of the smaller sites to see if I can get another big boost in sales.
Every author who has been around for a while will tell you that the real secret to becoming successful is to write more books. Books have a shelf life (pardon the pun) and even a wildly successful book will show lower returns each year. But it goes far beyond just refreshing what you’re writing and keeping your sales up. Readers love to read books that are in a series and in many cases will avoid single books, particularly in popular fiction genres. For an avid reader, single books are a lose/lose situation – even a good one means they have to look for another author when they’re done and that means taking another chance at mediocrity and disappointment.
Here is what has propelled most of the top Indie authors to the top: Combine the two strategies. Write more books, preferably in a series. Promote your first at a discount to gain readership, and those who love your book will not only spread the word, but also buy your other books in the series at regular price! Now you have a win/win situation! For some, as I mentioned earlier, free promotions on the first book can be very successful if you have several books in a series, but this is not a guarantee and it is just as likely the free promotions will result in bad reviews as in more sales. Some successful authors swear by it and some just swear about it.
I didn’t title this post “Marketing your eBook” because there is more to marketing than just promoting and selling. Marketing is about making your book appeal to as many customers as possible. Perhaps I will write a post in the future about the basics of marketing your book. Even with good marketing and the promotion techniques I describe above, if your writing isn’t great you probably won’t sell very much. If that is the case, you’re far better off working on those issues before you try to get your work in front of a large audience of customers. However, if you think you have a good product and you really believe in it, the two most effective things you can do to achieve higher sales are writing more books and doing discount promotions to get that first book in front of the largest audience you can. Good Luck!