A Blow by Blow Account of a Free Promotion

Yes. I want to show you the numbers for the free promotion I did for The Damsel Gauntlet, along with all the things I did to get maximum exposure for the five ‘free days’ Amazon gives titles enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

Just for clarification, you can check out what this free days business is about here. It’s a promotional tool. Some are for it, others against it, but I wanted to give it a shot.

Now, I wanted to get very nitty gritty with this post as I wanted it to be as useful as possible for people. But I do need to point out that I didn’t do this all in one sitting. I planned it out for over a month before these dates came up. This, for me, was the ‘big bang’ promo and I wanted to make as big a splash as I possibly could.

This included ad stacking. The practice of throwing everything at the wall and watching what sticks. The numbers are daunting. How would I know what worked and what didn’t? There’s no answer to that. Advice on ‘tickling the Amazon algorithm’ is to go for an upward spread over a sustained period rather than go for gold on one particular day. It was hard to guesstimate this when I couldn’t pre-determine which methods would get me the most in terms of results.

But what does giving away your book for free achieve?

Visibility. And sales on the rest of the series. Sure, the ‘top 100’ lists for free books are separate to the paid ones. But if I give away enough through paid promos, I start to gather organic free sales too. Now keeping in mind that a ‘good’ conversion rate between a free book and a paid one is actually as little as 2-5%, authors have to shift a shit-ton of books to make the endeavor profitable (or at least cover the losses).

Now, the dates I selected were from July 22nd – 26th

At that point in time, I had two other books in the series out and was a week away from releasing the fourth. I had something on the table past the first book. A lot of common advice is that a series won’t gain a lot of traction until at least the third one is out. I wanted to err on the end of the fourth being available and figured when people got around to reading The Damsel Gauntlet they could buy the next three and pre-order the fifth if they wanted to.

$AU$USNL22/07/2020My own newsletter send out
$86.67$55Book Barbarian 23/07/2020https://bookbarbarian.com/ad-pricing/
$113.92$75ereader iq and BS23/07/2020https://www.ereaderiq.com/authors/submissions/booksends/
$39.39$25Book runes24/07/2020https://bookrunes.com/submit-book/
$25.85$17Fantasy book deals 24/07/2020http://fantasybookdeals.com/submit-fantasy-book-deal/
$35.01$24Fussy librarian25/07/2020https://authors.thefussylibrarian.com/
$236.36$150Book Gorilla25/07/2020https://www.bookgorilla.com/advertise
$28.36$18Book Doggy26/07/2020https://bookdoggy.com/for-authors/
Yep. Those are some eye popping numbers.

My own newsletter and a giveaway

I know there are people on my mailing list who haven’t bought the book. They become useful when I’m playing a numbers game to get as many downloads as possible. But that’s not all I tried to achieve when hitting up my list.

Check out the actual email here.

Asking people to share the news and recommend the book on social media for their chance to win a signed paperback was a gamble. Probably more gimmicky than an effective sales method. But giving back to my mailing list and creating a bit of a buzz is a worthwhile effort, even if didn’t produce sales. Why? Every author is trying to create superfans. Including them in the hype makes them feel like they’re participating (and probably less narky that they spent good money on the book and now I’m giving it away for free).

I wanted to try and make sure everyone felt like a winner though, and had 10 of these ‘blessings (or curses) in a bottle’ to mail out. I did not know how much this would cost me in postage. But I felt the idea was good enough to warrant the spend, and slipped a note in asking them to take a picture of their message so I could share it with the newsletter.

On top of that, I have plenty of currency when it comes to offering the remaining people who shared review copies of the next book. It doesn’t cost me anything (except potential sales) and is a good way to thank people for the effort. And as this is more a ‘gift’ there wasn’t any heavy language in the book about ‘in exchange for this book please leave an honest review’. If they leave one, that’s just a bonus.

Social Media

Goes without saying, doesn’t it? I’m not a social media butterfly, but I did make sure I had posts lined up to let people know the book was free and pinned them to the top of my profiles. I made up some platform specific graphics and used hashtags to (hopefully) further my reach.

Newsletter swaps

The agreement between two authors that they will each share a title with their newsletter. I hadn’t really delved into many of these, but wanted to give it a try. As I’m on StoryOrigin, I have access to the features on that platform which provides tracking links etc and some kind of paper trail.

I also put together a Google Form and posted it on a few Facebook groups, but didn’t get a lot of traction there. Admittedly though, I didn’t push it all that hard once my StoryOrigin requests started filling up.

What can become contentious with these swaps is how many titles an author features in their newsletters. While one could solely include your title, if you are promoting fifteen, its not particularly equitable. I opted for four, and looked at peoples past campaigns to see how many they would typically feature in one of their newsletters. If the swap doesn’t hold up on either end, not only will you be unlikely to do another with that author, it could warn off others on StoryOrigin who are thinking of applying to your newsletter.

Organized my own sales promo on BookFunnel

I hadn’t done this before, but didn’t think it would hurt in the scheme of things and could potentially pay dividends. I’ve joined these kinds of promos before, and as with anything, chose the ones which my books closely fit with. The beauty of organizing my own? I could capture what my target audience is in the dates I’ve specified.

And on dates. A lot of these run for a month, which is fine, but I think the more effective ones are shorter. I set my dates for two weeks, with my free week being in the first half. I shared this around on Facebook to try and get some takers, but I’m not sure that it was necessary. People typically find these on BookFunnel itself (I do, at least).

Now I won’t go into my gene blending mistakes here, but with these promotions you can list three genres. I included general sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller – supenatural, mystery/thriller cozy mystery. Plenty of the books in my ‘also brought’ section on Amazon are witchy cozy mysteries. They are most definitely their own thing. Which means that my books don’t qualify for their sales promos. But I can make them qualify for mine.

The other thing I did with this was change the header on my book while in the free dates, so those looking at it on BookFunnel didn’t have to click through to find that out. I figured I may get more uptake with that approach.

Then I put together a Facebook ad

Which had a $100 budget over the course of the free days. I also didn’t shut off my Amazon ads so they were in the background too (just checked, they amounted to 21 of the free sales overall… crappy).

I actually had quite a bit of success with Facebook and hadn’t tried them in a while as my last efforts were dismal. But I just want to add here that if you haven’t read ‘Help, my Facebook ads suck’ make sure you pick up a copy before you start dabbling. I read it after the fact and now realize I could have done a lot better if I knew some of the tricks outlined by Mal.

And here’s how it panned out (so far)

21st and 22nd – 7 swaps, and my own newsletter

  • 2 sales of book 2
  • 2 sales of book 3
  • 1 pre-order of book 4

23rd – 3 swaps, BookBarbarian and eReader IQ

  • 2 sales of book 2
  • 2 sales of book 3
  • 1 pre-order of book 4

24th – 4 swaps, Freebooksy, BookRunes, Fantasy Book Deals

  • 1 sale of book 2
  • 1 pre-order of book 4

25th – 8 swaps, *Fussy Librarian*, Book Gorilla

  • 3 sales of book 2
  • 4 sales of book 3
  • 1 pre-order book 4

26th – 2 swaps, BookDoggy

  • 1 sale of book 2
  • 1 pre-order of book 4

That’s a total of 6350 downloads!

*Fussy Librarian – I’m not sure if I messed this date up as I checked the newsletter on that day and didn’t see my book there, but it was on their website so perhaps went out a day earlier.

And I reached #46 in the overall free store in Amazon!

It’s probably too early to decide if this was successful or not.

Which is code for… not worth the money at this point. Since the promo the series has made back close to $300AU, some of this coming from a new release. But there is the long game to consider, and if people are reading through the entire series, I could absolutely make my money back and gain long term readers. All comes down the the elusive author crystal ball.

So far, I’ve had around 50 new subscribers to the newsletter list (some came through the landing page on the website at around the same time, so the numbers are a little unclear). I could absolutely see that continuing to climb.

One thing I will note (that doesn’t exactly fit the post) is that my subscribe rate on The Damsel Gauntlet is higher than the preceding book, Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire. The difference? Both have bonus sign up epilogues, but I’ve included the first chapter of The Damsel Gauntlet in Troll Hunter, which tells me those readers are more inclined to move to the next book rather than stop and subscribe. I’m now considering whether I’ll do the same in upcoming books.

Which leads me to the fact that my read through to book 2 so far has been under performing. All up I’ve only sold 18 copies of book two and had 1836 page reads ($62.80 AU) since the free promo for Of Hair and No Hair. With a 2% read through on the total number of free sales, I still have another 100ish books to sell. Which is a steep climb.

Conversely, the people who read book 2 generally move onto book 3, with 16 copies sold and 1200 pages read in the same time period. The 70 – 90% range here seemed to hold up. And actually, I’ve gained a lot of reviews on Goodreads (20) and Amazon (10) since the promo, almost all of them positive.

I knew from the outset though that this format of novelettes wasn’t going to suit everybody, and I would get people who feel cheated of at least half a book. That’s okay. This series was a way to learn the mechanics of self publishing, and I feel like I learned a lot from this particular promotion.

Like what?

My reader magnet which I made permafree a few weeks before the promotion has moved almost as many copies over four weeks. For a LOT less money.

Following the promotion I was getting a lot more traction with that title on Amazon. It began hovering at the #30k range on Amazon, but when I pulled the pin to go wide (see the post about that here) it took a nosedive, which tells me some of those pages read were new people picking up the books. It would have been interesting to track how the book did for a month following the promo, but unfortunately I’d already made the decision to go wide.

My original cover seems to do better with the market (okay, this is also based on how Troll Hunter performed) and I’ve swapped back to it. I’m going to embrace the ‘cozy mystery’ style, and even though there isn’t much by way of whodunnit in the Gretchen books, my also broughts section is always full of witchy cozy mysteries. I think it has a lot to do with the tone of the books and potentially the length playing better with those readers.

Facebook ads aren’t scary and are a better platform for my books at this point. With a sales ad running at 10 cents per click and a free book ad running at 5 cents, it has been cheaper than Amazon for me and I’ve woken up the snoozeville Gretchen Facebook page with a tonne of new page likes and comments.

And finally…Next time around…I’m writing something to market. There, I said it! Marketing a mashup is hard work.

What I’ve Been Reading in July

Reading in July got a little tough with a lot on my plate personally and book related biz. I tend to read before going to sleep, and getting up at five in the morning to start tapping away at the keyboard makes my eyes a little droopy by the time I pick up the kindle. Nevertheless, I have some great titles to share with you this month, and hope to cross a few more on my TBR pile next month 🙂

But hey, look at the color palate of these covers? Must have channeled my inner interior designer when picking them up. Because of COURSE curating titles by color should be a thing… haha!

What I've been reading in July

Blackbirch: The Dark Half

The long awaited (no, feels like Kate released book 1 last week) second installment in the Blackbirch series is out, and this time Josh meets the girl of his strange dreams in book 1. Spurred on not only to learn more about his magick, but about her too, the pair get closer and Josh’s friends look into her past. Things don’t add up. With murder and death plaguing Kallie, Josh is determined to support her, but inevitable twists and turns have you guessing the entire way through.

Josh’s history and familial ties are further explored in this book, and the overall arc of this series is slowly building. Kate balances the here and now, the setting, the backdrop and budding relationships with the secondary characters seamlessly. Looking forward to the next one.

You can find it on Amazon here.

what I've been reading in July

Help! My Facebook Ads Suck

Anyone who has looked at the Facebook ads platform for the first time knows how convoluted and complicated it can be. I’ve dabbled in ads before, but once I had an ad up and running for a free promotion I got around to picking up this book. It was immensely helpful. Iif I had of read it before setting up my promo ad, I would have spent a lot less to reach many more people.

I even have a few ads in the background ticking along on a regular basis now! Not bad when to date I haven’t done well with the Amazon ads platform.

Get in on Amazon here.

Bad to the Crone

I’ve actually listened to Amanda M. Lee on the Self Publishing Show podcast. My ears pricked because I’ve seen her books flitting around on the Amazonverse. Some of them even on my ‘also broughts’ for the Gretchen’s (Mis)Adventures series. And you know what? I’m not surprised, given this author writes 9k words a day. 3 words an HOUR! Amazing, huh?

The protagonist, Scout, has been sent to a new town in the middle of nowhere as part of the spells angels, and teams up with the love-him-hate-him colleague to catch a killer. Things get spookier than that, and we explore Scout’s past… or lackthereof.

Check it out on Amazon here.

Looking for more book recommendations? Check out last month’s reading list here.

Going Out With a Bang – Furious Fiction July

Another month brings another Gretchen Furious Fiction entry and ‘Going Out With a Bang’ is the tale of what happens at a dwarven funeral. I had fun with this set of criteria from Australian Writers Center and have managed to put the story to good use already.

Your July Furious Fiction story criteria are as follows:

  • Your story must take place at either WEDDING or a FUNERAL.
  • Your story must include something being cut.
  • Your story must include the words “UNDER”, “OVER” and “BETWEEN”.

Going Out With a Bang

‘So you’re telling me that dwarves spend all their lives under the ground and then get cremated?’  Gretchen wrinkled her nose. ‘That just doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t even see a pyre set when I arrived.’

Nora gave Gretchen a warning look and nodded toward the procession of Tomas’ bearded kinfolk waiting to pay their respects. ‘Well keeping bodies in their living rooms wouldn’t be sanitary now, would it?’

Gretchen pursed her lips and shrugged. Tomas had spent his latter years running a tavern above ground, and she imagined his soul would rest easier with his remains returned to the earth. ‘Got any explanations for why they’re cutting off his beard?’

Each mourner who passed the deceased dwarf took a snip using a pair of gilded scissors passed solemnly between them. No eulogy appeared forthcoming, and the dwarves remained tight-lipped when Gretchen had attempted to make small talk.

Nora’s brows furrowed, and she rubbed her chin. ‘Magical properties, perhaps? It must be particularly powerful.’

‘How do you figure?’ Gretchen asked.

‘A dwarf wouldn’t be parted from his beard for anything less,’ Nora snorted.

Gretchen caught sight of Jurgen, the troll proprietor of the tavern, coming from the kitchens and waved to get his attention. 

When he sidled up next to the witches, Gretchen jerked her thumb toward the coffin. ‘You’d know. What’s with all this fuss over the beard?’

Jurgen gave her a level stare and folded his arms. ‘I’d know because I’m a troll?’

‘A troll with a wealth of useless tavern trivia.’ Gretchen smirked.

Jurgen held a hand to his mouth, but it didn’t hide his amused expression. Gretchen was about to give him a sharp poke in the ribs when a keening sounded from the coffin. An ancient dwarf stood with his hands held up, and the rest of the kinfolk joined the chorus. The cacophony reverberated through the timber floors, and Gretchen held a hand to her chest, eyes transfixed on the spectacle. She reached to clasp Nora’s hand.

When the dirge reached a crescendo, the dwarves held fistfuls of Tomas’ beard aloft, and an explosion rocked Gretchen where she stood. Holding an arm up against the blinding light, she huddled with Nora against the wall. 

When no further assault came, Gretchen blinked to clear her vision, and a purple haze hung thick in the room. Gasping, she pushed through the dusty cohort of mourners, and stared at the pile of ash where the coffin had sat only moments earlier.

‘Holy smokes! Exploding beards? No wonder I didn’t know about this.’ Gretchen turned a grin to Nora and Jurgen. 

Nora coughed and waved at the air as she stepped closer. ‘A little warning would have been nice.’

Gretchen chuckled and shook her head. ‘Imagine the pranks we could have played on the old fella. He’s probably up at the pearly gates grinning from ear to ear.’

Nora sniffed and wiped a stray tear from her eye. ‘He always did like to have the last laugh.’

This story has already been put to good use!

In Episode 0.5 of Gretchen’s (Mis)Adventures, Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire, Tomas’ decline is a catalyst for the events that unfolded. I got a few questions about what happened to the old dwarf in the end, so have included this story as an epilogue for my newsletter subscribers. Neat, huh?

If you’d like to read Troll Hunter: Witch for Hire, you can pick it up with your preferred book retailer here.

For more quick Gretchen stories, head back to the Short Stories page.

Going Wide With Draft2Digital

I’m certainly no authority on going wide with Draft2Digital when self publishing. Just another author navigating the system. But I wanted to share both the news of my decision to step outside the Amazon bubble and the stumbling blocks I came up against in the process.

So yes, I have decided to take the Gretchen’s (Mis)Adventures to the wider marketplace. And I wanted to outline the reasons why first up.

A side note here is that I considered going wide straight up for a certain period of time before enrolling in Kindle Unlimited. But I didn’t get much interest from the newsletter list. and in hindsight it wouldn’t have been a great move, even though there are some authors that roll that way. A lot of advice points to a slow growth readership wide that doesn’t take kindly to authors jumping in and out of their preferred stores.

1. My Audience

I had a newsletter subscriber ask when they could pick up the books on Kobo! Always a good incentive, even though she asked after the first book was already published.

2. Kindle Unlimited Reliance

My KU royalties were around 10% of revenue. I thought it would end up more than this, but realistically with short reads, KU is going to sit much lower than full length novels.

3. – Permafree

I was kinda getting sick of doing the newsletter builders, and was considering putting my reader magnet up on those without email opt in. Trying to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of subscribers is an uphill battle, and while I have gained some awesome readers through these promos, I’ve also spent a lot of time trying to sort out the deadweight.

I have no problem giving away a free book, but the subscribers I’m interested in having are those I know have read the book and genuinely want to hear from me (and not just free book links). Why is this all relevant? Why put tonnes of energy into free book promos on BookFunnel when I could put a permafree book up on all platforms?

3. Timing.

Which actually kinda sucked, but that’s the way the Amazon cookie crumbles. I was approaching the first 90 day term for the first book, and if I didn’t go wide now, I would have had to wait another 3 months.

The point is, though, is that what I was doing wasn’t giving me the results I wanted, so I decided to opt for a different strategy.

It’s not new and exciting. Making the first book permafree (or in my case, the 0.5 book) means you have to go wide for that book. Pricing at $0 doesn’t fly on Amazon, so you need to have them agree to price match it with another store that will.

And don’t forget to regularly check this. A week on from agreeing to price match, the book went back to 99 cents and I had to contact Amazon to fix it. Lucky I did, as the book was picked up the following day by Freebooksy in their newsletter, and I was pleasantly surprised that morning to find over 1k downloads.

And I’m not missing out on KU entirely!

I release monthly, all into KU, so the readers in that program won’t be turned away. They just have to borrow the book (then read at their leisure) before the three months is up. I’ll remind them in the newsletter and on social media. Some authors see the occasional page reads even years after they pull their books from KU, and yes, they still get paid for them.

So did I run off to all the places and start uploading manuscripts? No. I used Draft2Digital as the aggregator to a bunch of stores. They take 10% of royalties, but in return give you your time (and sanity) back. They don’t do Google Play, however, so I have three places to manage in terms of distribution.

Let’s start with what I didn’t realize…

I’m guessing the team at Draft2Digital function much the same as Amazon Customer service in terms of gate keeping. I set up book 1 for pre-order without any trouble, but when I went to upload the final file with the books2read (more on that in a minute) link, someone got back to me to say they couldn’t approve it as the book was in Kindle Unlimited.

I didn’t think this was going to be a problem as I’d set it to release the day after coming out of KU. In hindsight, I should have checked the TOS with Amazon. So I probably released episode 0.5 too early in the scheme of things and will have to upload another file for book 1 on the day it launches. Strangely enough, it’s still listed for pre-order with all the outlets and they didn’t mention book 2.

Not a huge problem though, as I haven’t put a massive concerted effort into this launch. Acid off a duck’s back, haha.

But I did scratch my head for a while in terms of book links.

Given I manage Amazon and Google and have a books2read universal link for draft2digital, I wasn’t sure how I would go about changing the way I link to my books to include everyone. I heard something recently about people getting disheartened after going wide, but are still listing their Amazon links everywhere when promoting the book. Counter-intuitive to the cause.

What people might not realize is that books2read is actually the property of draft2digital, and I thought it would be unlikely they would allow me to edit the links they set up. Why help point people away from the sales channels they manage, right? But lo and behold, all I had to do was login to books2read with my credentials from draft2digital and I could add the Amazon and Google links to the existing universal link created by them. Isn’t that awesome?

Would I recommend going wide with Draft2Digital?

All in all it’s been a pretty streamlined process for me and the system is easy to use. But every author needs to make their own decisions around whether it’s going to work for them. I can’t see myself opting to go direct with over 5 stores to manage, so Draft2Digital has enabled me to get to a permafree model with a lot less stress.

Making Your Promo Images Sparkle

Okay, so setting a GIF as a featured image on a blog post is a bit over the top. But promo images are all part and parcel in the indie author’s marketing wheelhouse. As writers and not graphic designers, it’s hard to dedicate the time (or money if you’re outsourcing) to pretty pictures when words need to be written. But in a dwindling world of organic visibility, it pays to be on trend when it comes to marketing.

Now I’m no expert when it comes to graphics. I’m just an author muddling along trying to attract some eyeballs, but I have been experimenting with GIFs in preparation for a big promotional push I’m planning later this month.

Because the competition is fierce out there

Those lovely static 3d mockups aren’t quite as impressive now, and social media is increasingly embracing video in feeds. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook. But when I scroll? Inevitably I pause at a food prep video and watch people make things I have no intention of ever cooking. Same thing happen to you?

Now when I first looked at ways to animate a promo image, I looked at a blog post from Derek Murphy which mentioned glitterboo.com so I raced straight over. This online tool was pretty nifty, and for a yearly subscription of $8.99 you can add as much bling as you like to pictures you upload.

Here’s the result of one I was planning around with, and it came up pretty well. I could have spent more time on it and added different glittery things, but I set it aside to get some other things done. Now if you only want to invest fifteen minutes and a few dollars, there is nothing wrong with this option. And with what I know now, I could have made this image look a lot cleaner with the book image sitting over the top of the sparkles.

But I wanted… more!

Well actually, I saw an ad on Instagram which caught my attention. I thought I’d give Pixaloop a try, and after spending time sending images back and forth from my phone to laptop (annoying, but more on that later) I ended up with this.

Bling on a big scale. And that hypnotic loop in the background was what I was looking for when I began this venture. And yes, my book will be free in a few weeks time!

So don’t do what I did.

Pixaloop is a mobile app and I imported the promo image and began playing around with the filters. Then I dug out a forgotten stylus to try and get the lines clean around the book image. Then I started grinding my teeth and looked for a PC equivalent. More frustration. I went back to the drawing board and imported just the background image into the app and chose the overlay I liked.

See how dark this is? The overlay brightened it up, but you still want it to be sitting back in terms of focus for the overall image. I used the same background from my book cover and turned down the brightness. I did this in Affinity Designer, but there are other image tools you could use to do this.

So Pixaloop itself is free… with the option to go premium and get extra features. I did not go premium, and the basic elements are pretty decent. There are some tutorials on how to create what effect, moving water, overlays, sparkles etc when you set up the app.

14 Enlight Pixaloop Alternatives & Similar Apps – Top Best ...

Oh hold on, wait a minute, I could only export a video and not a GIF on a basic plan? No problem, ezgif.com had me covered. There’s a surprising suite of features there, all free, to convert video to GIF, compress files, resize, and so forth. All of which were super simple to use.

promo images

So next came the trickier part.

Which may be difficult to achieve without image editing software. But not impossible. If you haven’t checked my post on Affinity Designer, see if this doesn’t sway you to try out their 90 day free trial. What I needed was a transparent overlay to stick over the GIF, also done on ezgif.com.

The 3D book mock up came from diybookcovers.com which is an awesome resource, completely free. The Amazon logo came from a google search (images) and was a transparent file to start with. So the only thing I added was the ‘free on’ (I changed what was pictured below) and saved the image as a transparent png file.

promo image overlay

And now I have a promo image which is a little more pause-worthy!

I’ve had to do more playing around with sizes and am trying to navigate the world of Facebook ads. But that is a whole other topic. You may also want to know how I got them onto my website, particularly as a featured image which doesn’t support GIFs.

So maybe that was a touch of pride. I couldn’t bring myself to write a post on sparkles and have the featured image come up static on my feeds. But it is important to note you can host your GIFs on places like gifyu.com free and use the URL’s to post them on your blog. Using them as a featured image required the Featured Image From URL plugin, and as I said at the start, I think that’s a little over the top. But if it floats your boat, I’m not judging.