This page will be a work in progress over the next few months as I detail the death of yet another dream.
In August of 2014, I completed the rewrite of my first novel. In December of 2014, I finished the second rewrite of my first novel. In March of 2015, I completed my third (and final) rewrite of my first novel. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and sent it off for publication, expecting the worst of it was over. And it was. I ordered copies to ship to my friends and family, expecting that through word of mouth alone, the book would begin to sell at least moderately.
The book is published, and I even set up a website using my real name and everything (you can also click through the link to the right of the page to see it). But no one knows about it. Over the past two months, I’ve come to understand why no one knows about it, and, more importantly, have discovered some of the things I did wrong in the process to make that a certainty. I’m making this list hoping it may help anyone who is about to independently publish their own novel. Don’t do what I did and you could save yourself a lot of time and effort.
Here are my suggestions to help you avoid my mistakes. While they are numbered, that is not a rating of their importance, just to help you keep track of them.
1) Set up your official website and accounts and pages on facebook, goodreads, Twitter, Amazon Author Central and any other social media well before you are ready to release the book. I had never heard of Goodreads or Amazon Author Central prior to publishing my novel, and hadn’t yet set up an account on Twitter or a page on Facebook. This meant that I had literally 0 following the day I released my novel, and it took time to get these accounts/pages set up. The worst of which was the personal website, which required extensive formatting and setup. Since Goodreads and Amazon Author Central pull information from your blog to use as content on your author page, mine remained blank for several days as I was scrambling to get all of this set up. I was doing all of this after the novel was published. Even if someone happened to stumble across my book, they would have had no way to find out anything about the book or the author aside from the cover blurb on Amazon.
2) Your friends and family will be of very little help. Sure, everyone on your facebook friends list will clamor about how they want to read your book. There will be excitement as you near publication. Once published, everyone will want a copy… Send them out if you want, but be aware that this will do you very little good. Perhaps my particular group of friends and family is different than yours, but in my case, I sent out about 25 physical copies of the book and another 25 Kindle versions. When I asked for help covering the shipping costs, only one person remained interested. I spent in the neighborhood of $150 on shipping costs alone to get these books sent out (plus the price to have them printed and shipped to me -another hundred or so), and the return on that investment has been one Amazon review (thanks Tammy!) and zero word-of-mouth. A couple of them made a brief mention of the book on their facebook timeline when they received it in the mail, but none of them posted anything like a review or recommendation over the last two months. Purely from an advertising perspective, friends and family will be of very little help. Since I know that some of those mentioned will see this, please understand that I was happy to send the copies out, I just expected that it would do more to generate word-of-mouth. That absolutely did not happen.
3) Don’t pay for promotional help on websites like fiverr.com. Fiverr.com has a lot of fun services (that is where I got the image made for my wedding photo trek into uncanny valley post), but when it comes to promoting your book, the services are useless. Lest you think I am taking shots at the services they offer, I submit the following. My first kindle free book offer ran for one day in March. With absolutely no advertising, my book was downloaded 64 times. In April, I paid a total of twenty dollars for a facebook/twitter ad campaign from fiverr.com’s highest rated gig in this category. The net result was 66 downloads. At best, that is two additional downloads for twenty bucks. But bookend that with another unadvertised free promo the following week which netted another 65 downloads and the data is pretty clear: the fiverr promo did nothing. I don’t doubt that the person did what they claimed they would do, but since that is all they do, it likely just shows up as spam on the twitter/facebook accounts that everyone scrolls past. It was a waste of money.
4) Do pay for targeted facebook advertising. I didn’t know anything about advertising on facebook, but once I set up and ran an ad, I was sold on the results. I put together my first ad and ran it with a ten-dollar budget. The ad simply said “In the Shadow of Angels – a fast-paced thriller from Donnie J Burgess” and it had this picture attached to it : That ad was served to 2,000 people of all audiences and had 21 post engagements (clicks). That is right at 50¢ per click. Not great, but not bad either. What is interesting is the insights (an actual facebook tab to show you your audience). I was able to see that 80% of the clicks came from women between the ages of 35 and 65. So I ran the ad again with only a $5 budget, but this time I targeted the ad to women between 35 and 65. The result of that same ad, with the same image, to a targeted audience, was 13 clicks in 669 views. That’s a conversion rate of very nearly 2%. 1% post engagement is good, 2% is pretty damn amazing. What is more is that of the 13 clicks, two of them actually bought the full price Kindle book. That is the only advertising I have yet done that directly resulted in sales. Absolutely worth the money, but run a sample first to find out where the clicks are coming from and quickly narrow your target audience down to increase effectiveness. Also be aware that you don’t want to overdo it. I tried the same promo the following day and it just didn’t work. It would have been served to the same people (probably) which would kill the results. I waited another week and tried again and got results more similar to the 2%.
5) Get print copies to give away on Goodreads. Goodreads giveaways are an awesome way to generate some buzz. I’ve done three of them so far to good results. By good results, I mean that a lot of people are entering the contest. This means that while I am not selling any copies, they are interacting with my book and becoming familiar with the title/cover. If they happen to see it somewhere down the line, they will (hopefully) remember that they maybe kind of wanted to read it. Giveaways only cost you postage, and the exposure of your title and cover are well worth the five bucks to send out the copies of the book. A couple of things to be aware of. First, I’ve found that two to three day giveaways work better than longer ones. My first giveaway was for five copies and lasted for nearly two weeks. 519 people entered. My first two day ad was for a single book and had 525entrants. Why? I think because on a 2 day ad, it will spend the entire life on both the newly created and ending soon giveaway lists. The third giveaway was also two days, and also for a single book. This one had 725 entrants (maybe interacting with the book is making people want to read it, eh?) Second, make sure you only allow entrants from countries you are willing to send it to. US shipping is easy with stamps.com, but shipping even to Canada requires a trip to the post office and talking to an actual person. If this is a deal breaker for you, only give it away in the US. Make sure you are offering an autographed copy, and include a personal note. My note finishes with a soft ask for a review, along the lines of, “if you enjoy it, please take a moment to review it on Amazon or Goodreads.” I haven’t yet gotten results from the soft ask, but I expect they will come as more people finish reading it.
6) Reviews. This is the most challenging part. You want reviews, you need reviews, you can’t get reviews. You want them to start showing up as soon as your book is published, but they just can’t. This part takes patience. You don’t want to review it yourself (Amazon won’t allow you to, but Goodreads will. Don’t do it), and you will probably only be able to rook a couple of your friends into doing it, so you will have to find someone else to do it. This is another area where there are fiverr.com gigs that you should not buy. Paying for reviews is both unethical and against the terms of service from all the major websites. Reviews in exchange for free copies of the books, however, are fine. Then you just have to find someone who is willing to review it for a copy. The key is to find someone reputable to do it. So far I’ve found the best service is offered by Readers’ Favorite. They review the book for free, will only post publicly if you get a four or five star review, and will give you a breakdown of why they didn’t rate it higher if you scored below that. They offer a paid ‘express service’ which I did go in for, just so I could get three reviews to choose from. These will be editorial reviews only (you can quote them on your website or author page at amazon, but they won’t post to the sites directly. Except, oddly, barnes and noble). I got some great quotes for my editorial reviews and all three reviews were five star.
A couple other sites I tried were Online Book Club and the kindle book review. Online Book Club did complete a review, but it took a very long time. Kindle Book Review was a huge waste of time. I contacted three separate reviewers (one at a time to comply with their rules). The first had the book in her possession for nearly a month before telling me that she couldn’t read it because of the language. The second had it in his possession for three weeks before replying that he did not have time to review it. The third seemed promising, but had the book for nearly a month before he just quit reading it. Even he couldn’t say why.
There are many resources that list places who do reviews in exchange for copies of the book, these are just a few that I tried. There are some huge names in the book review game, like Kirkus reviews. Evidently, many libraries base their book purchases on reviews from Kirkus. Avoid Kirkus at all costs. You need to get some impartial, free reviews before you even consider sending it to the big boys. If your book is not truly amazing, paying Kirkus to review it will be straight up waste of money. The $525, that’s right $525, you pay them to review it could be better spent running ads on Amazon, facebook, Goodreads, or other book sites. Hopefully your first two or three reviews will be excellent, after that, it’s all about quantity. There is a lengthy article here that details the ratio of reviews to sales on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The whole thing reads like a stereo instruction manual, but it does have this to say (call it paraphrased because I removed a lot of jargon):
Another useful way to interpret the coefficient magnitude is to consider the impact of a review on a book that has no reviews on either sites. Our estimates imply that if the book receives one Amazon.com review with one, two, or three stars, its [Amazon.com sales will fall]. However, if the book receives a positive review of four or five stars, its [Amazon.com sales will rise].