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My first-ever Large-scale Free Book Promotion (Part 1)

Hey, again, fellow authors! It’s been a while since I did one of these posts. I’ve been so busy writing, and learning new book marketing strategies via podcasts, blog posts, and just talking to other authors.

Today, I’m going to share my experience and results of doing a Free Book promotion with my book, Scarred, which has won numerous prestige awards. It is also the first book in my Anderson Brothers Series.

The promotion period ran from 10/21/2016 – 10/25/2016

I will be honest, I’ve been hesitant in putting a book that I spent so long and hard on for free. But after all the numerous podcasts, blog posts, and other successful authors who have stressed over and over again about doing a ‘first book free’, and the good news and accolades this book received, I finally caved.

Scarred debuted on 3/3/2015, so the book is over a year old, which, from what I’ve read everywhere, is acceptable to do a free promo like this.

So, here we go! (note: all of the images in this post can be clicked on and enlarged)

1. My goal for this promo

My goal for doing this free promo was to increase awareness of my books, get some mailing list signups, and hopefully get some sales of books 2 and 3, since they haven’t been doing so well. Over the past several months, I usually get 1 sale every two or 3 weeks of book 1. If no one is buying book 1, then they won’t read books 2 and 3. Even though my books can be read as standalone, most readers won’t read books out of order. Most people who do read book 1, tend to end up loving the story and moving on to the subsequent books, but the problem is actually getting them to pick up the book!

2. Preparing my books

In preparation for this free promo, I updated the blurbs of books 2 and 3 (I didn’t touch book 1’s blurb since the book had won awards)

I also updated all three of my series books to have a newsletter/mailing list sign-up link in the front and back of the book. Almost every book marketing podcast I’ve listened to, blog I’ve read, and prolific author I’ve talked to stressed this over and over again. So I included a sign-up blurb before and after the story that says:

Want to learn more about Marie’s books and receive FREE exclusive content? Click or tap here to join the newsletter!

3. Promo places/services I used

Here are all the promo places and services I used, with the total price I spent:

Website Name Price Notes
Read Cheaply $35.00
Booksends $165.00  Included EreaderIQ in the price
Bookbub Ads $103.85
Facebook Ads $199.00
ebooksoda $15.00
Book Basset $7.99
bknights $6.00
Freebooksy $100.00

I spent a total of 631.84 on advertising. With books 2 and 3 priced at $4.99 each, and after the 40%-70% revenue from Amazon, B&N (through Draft2Digital), and iTunes, I would need to sell about 175 books combined (approximate) to break even.

I chose these sites based on my positive experience with them from the Bookbub promo I did last year (and these sites also accepted my book).

I had applied for Bookbub (Contemporary Romance), but was not accepted. I applied again, this time for New Adult Romance, and DID get accepted (yes, it’s really the Apocalypse!), but they scheduled me for November 14th, which was after the initial promo period I had planned. I will be writing a Part 2 with the Bookbub promo afterward, so stay tuned for that!

I did apply for Bookbub Ads and got accepted, though! All I did was send them an email, letting them know that a NYT author had suggested Bookbub Ads to me, and therefore I was interested in signing up to the program. It worked! 🙂 (and I didn’t lie, a NYT author did suggest BB Ads at the last writing conference class I attended)

4. Results

I used a Google Spreadsheet in the same template that I used for my first BookBub promotion to keep track of my sales. This was what the results looked like during and one day after the promo (the green highlighted areas are the promo dates):

I included 10/26/2016 (which was after the promo period) to show how many ‘residue sales’ I got after the promo.

I also kept track of how many free downloads I got before, during, and one day after the promo period. I had set Scarred to free on 10/16/2016, but Amazon didn’t price-match until 10/19/2016. So, I actually got about 5-10 or so more downloads from iTunes and B&N before then, but I wanted to focus on the period in which the book was free on all three platforms:

The green-shaded areas are the promotion dates. As you can see, it received a lot of downloads way before I did any promotions on it. I asked about this to some other authors and they informed me that Amazon has some algorithms that detect free books and tend to give them a bit of a push. I also know that there are some websites out there (like EreaderIQ) that regularly monitor books on Amazon and other retailers and will notify subscribers when book prices change.

For me, just as my Bookbub promotion in 2015, Amazon has been king when it comes to downloads and sales. iBooks was second, and I was really surprised that I received as many as I did on iBooks, especially the day after the promo period. The download numbers beat Amazon! That is absolutely unheard of, but good info for me to keep in mind as I move forward with future promotions.

4a. Financial Results

This free promo was NOT a financial success. Here is a detailed breakdown:

Vendor Name Total Sold Price per book (incl. percentages) Total revenue
Amazon 12 3.49  (70% of $4.99) $41.88 How that revenue number was reached:(3.49 * 12) = $41.88 (Amazon revenue)
B&N, D2D 0 1.70 (40% B&N, 10% D2D) $0.00  

No B&N sales 🙁

iBooks 2 3.49  (70% of $4.99) $6.98 How that revenue number was reached:(3.49 * 2) = $6.98 (iBooks revenue)
$48.86 Grand Total
$631.84 Total Spent on Ads
-$582.98 Total Losses

I was $582.98 away from breaking even, so this promo was not a financial success.

It was very disappointing that I didn’t get any sales whatsoever at B&N, despite all the targeted Facebook and BookBub Ads I used. It got a lot of downloads on that channel, but not nearly as much as Amazon and iBooks.

Here is the sell-through rate (% of people who read book 1 went on to buy book 2 and/or 3) broken down (amended 12/21/2016, thanks to PhoenixS from Kboards):

Book Amazon B&N iBooks
Book 2 (Scratched) 6 0 2
Book 3 (Scorned) 5 0 1
# of downloads 6615  283 1426
% Sell-thru (Scratched) .1% (6 / 6615 = .0009)  0% (0 / 283 = 0)  .1% (2 / 1426 = .0014)
% Sell-thru (Scorned) .1% (5 / 6615 = .0007)  0% (0 / 283 = 0)  .1% (1 / 1426 = .0007)
Total sell-thru rate 83% (5 / 6 = 0.833) 0%  50% (1 / 2 = .5)


4b. Mailing list results

I had ZERO mailing list sign-ups. This was probably my most disappointing part of this promo of all. Over eight thousand downloads and not a single mailing list sign up, even though I had the sign-up link in the front and back of all three books.

4c. Ratings/reviews results

During the promo period, Scarred received three new reviews, all on Amazon, and all five-star. This was probably the best part about this promo. I was afraid I’d receive low reviews, since a lot of people have said that free books tend to be magnets for low reviews. So I was really grateful for those three new glowing reviews!

I also got a lot of To-Reads on Goodreads, and a couple of 4 and  5 star ratings on there, too!

4d. Rankings results (Amazon)

I was mainly tracking my Amazon rankings here. Scarred achieved #39 in the overall Kindle Free store, and had steadily maintained #1 in Multicultural & Interracial, and Sports Romance categories!

4e. Facebook ads results

This was my first time using Facebook ads for a large-scale book promo like this. I’m still trying to understand more about CTR (Click-Through Rate). I created three different ads for the three platforms and created links for each of them.

What was interesting was the audience these ads reached. The vast majority were males age 18-24. The majority of women reached were age 45 and up.

These were the Audience Interests criteria I specified that I wanted the ads to reach:

Age range: 18-65

Interests: Reading, Empire, Seattle, African American, Romance novels, University of Washington, Harlequin Enterprises, Brenda Jackson, Motorcycles, Books, Blog, Harlequin, New York City, Romantic Times, New-adult fiction, Author Jamie McGuire, Harlequin HQN, Jamie McGuire, Tammara Webber or Colleen Hoover

It was also interesting to see that the highest-performing ad was the iBooks one. Maybe it was more aesthetically pleasing than the other ones? I’m not sure, but it definitely out-performed the other two.

I got a few likes on the ads, but I’m not sure how many clicks I received for each one.

These were the ad images I used for Facebook (I used Canva to create them):

Amazon Facebook Ad

 

B&N Facebook Ad

 

iBooks Facebook Ad

4f. Bookbub ads results

I really like the clear, sleek layout of Bookbub Ads. This is what the main BB Ads page looks like when you log in from your Partner Dashboard:

Just like Facebook Ads, I ran three different ads for the three platforms. But unlike with the Facebook Ads, iBooks was NOT the top-performer (though it was pretty close). Amazon was definitely #1 in impressions (how many people saw the ad), and clicks (how many people clicked on the ad). The Click-Through-Rate (the percentage of people who saw the ad also clicked on it) was considered average/good according to some of the blogs I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to about this. One author had said that ideally, you want to try and aim for at least 5% CTR.

It seems obvious to me that the majority of US-based BookBub subscribers are Kindle readers. iBooks is also pretty close, though many iBooks readers may also use the Kindle app.

This was the ad design I used for Bookbub Ads. I also used Canva to create them. They were basically the same picture as below, and all I did was change the text to say ‘Available on Amazon’, ‘Available on B&N’ and ‘Available on iBooks’ respectively on each individual picture. The corresponding ad linked to the book at the corresponding retailer’s site.

5. Overall

Pros: 

– This promo gave Scarred a lot of visibility. Scarred was downloaded over eight thousand times. That’s over eight thousand new readers and potential fans!

Scarred received 3 new Amazon reviews (all positive!)

14 people bought Scratched (book 2) and Scorned (book 3) as a result of downloading Scarred.

Scarred ranked #1 in Amazon categories and #39 overall in the Free Kindle store!

Cons:

– Did not break even.

– Zero mailing list signups.

– B&N was the worst performing of the three channels (no sales whatsoever).

6. Other observations

The promo sites that I used were still effective for me in terms of getting a lot of downloads. Booksends and Book Basset were the two top performing sites that yielded the most free downloads in a day (Book Basset was #1). I have used both of these sites before, and I will definitely be using them again as soon as I can.

Based on the results from this promo and the Bookbub promo from last year, I will not be spending nearly as much money in promo for B&N.

Here are some graphs that further illustrate the promo results (the highest download day is highlighted):

Amazon:

Sales results of the free promo period for Amazon

B&N (Using Draft2Digital to distribute):

Sales results of the free promo period for B&N

iBooks:

Sales results of the free promo period for iBooks

Based on my observations of each of the sales graphs, iBooks took the #1 spot when it came to ‘stickiness’ after the promo period. Meaning, even after the promo period, Scarred continued to receive a significant amount of free downloads — way more than Amazon, and definitely way more than B&N. In comparison, Amazon and B&N had a significant drop-off after the promo period. I noticed this same effect when I did the Bookbub promo last year. iBooks had a more gradual downward slope compared to the other two channels.

So what does that mean?

Well, I assume it means that my visibility on iBooks must still be pretty good, compared to the other places. I’m really not sure how to find out this information, but this is just my assumption based on the amount of downloads I’ve been getting.

Conclusion: 

While this free promo was not a financial success, it did well in other areas. Also, as many authors have said, you don’t necessarily get fast results when you do a free promo. It’s not like it was back in 2011/2012 when there weren’t as many free books. These days, you will find many readers will download a bunch of free books and not read them for weeks, months, years, or possibly ever.

Despite this, I am feeling optimistic that the ‘remnants’ of this promo will eventually earn out over time, since it’s introduced over eight thousand new readers and potential fans of my writing. Perhaps one day if these readers decide to finally get around to reading Scarred, then they may get hooked and end up moving on to the rest of the series.

Would I do another free promo? Potentially, however, I think I would rather do a permafree novella that leads into the main series and see how well that does instead. I’m very grateful that Scarred got tons of exposure — way more than it did from the Bookbub promo — and hopefully some new fans.

I hope my detailed experience was helpful for some of you who may be thinking about doing a free book promo. As always, please don’t take this strategy as gospel. What worked for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

YMMV. Good luck!

Questions? Leave a note below! I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Comments are always welcome, too. 🙂

 

29 thoughts on “My first-ever Large-scale Free Book Promotion (Part 1)

  1. This is an excellent review of the process! This will be extremely helpful to others when they look at their promotions. Great job, Marie!

    1. Hi, Hayson! Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I agree, all this information might seem a little daunting, but I would try to focus on one small aspect at a time (or maybe do a much smaller-scale promo) if you plan on doing a free promo.

  2. Thanks for sharing all this, Marie! I’m especially impressed by your organization of the data. It’s a lot of info to analyze but that’s the only way to make sense of it. Thanks again!

    1. Hey, Roxanne! No worries! I’m glad this information has been helpful for you 🙂 I always love to help other authors. Don’t try and take it all in at once, or else your brain will explode. Little by little is the key (which is why I separated the sections)

  3. This is very helpful for me. I launched a new medical mystery series with my 101st novel and am working on the second book in the series. I’m considering future strategies and will probably put the first book on sale for 99 cents when the second one comes out. Thank you for all the info!

    1. Hi, Jaqueline! Thanks for reading! I’m glad the info was helpful! I did a 99-cent sale with a Bookbub ad, and explained my results. You can check that out in my ‘For Authors’ section. My suggestion would be to finish the second book first before putting the first book on sale, so you will get a good sell-through rate, as readers will move on to book 2 if they enjoyed book 1.

    1. You are most welcome, Wynter! I’m glad you found this post helpful! Good luck in your book marketing efforts! 🙂

    1. Hi, Joan! Thanks for reading! Glad you found it helpful! The reason why I ran three different ads was to see which ad was the most successful. Each of the ads went to either Amazon, B&N, or iTunes. I discovered that iTunes had the highest reach, so I’m thinking that maybe more iBooks readers engage more with Facebook ads than Amazon or B&N users. With the data I’ve collected, I am going to try and put more money in FB ads for iBooks, a little more for Amazon FB ads, and a lot less (or possibly none at all) for B&N FB ads.

    1. Hi, Bev! Thanks for your comments! I’m glad the information was helpful for you. I’m crossing my fingers that I will see some more sales in the coming months. It sure would’ve been nice if all those 8k downloads were actually sales. LOL 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jason! I’ve never heard of Indielisters, but I will look it up and share the link to the post 🙂

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