Several months after the January debut of my novel Here and Now and Then, I felt like things were in a good place — critical response was strong, reader reactions were positive, and sales were at a level that seemed to satisfy my publisher, Mira Books. I’d tried to do my due diligence in promoting the launch period, appearing on podcasts and writing blog posts, even taking the time to handle interviews with local media.
Various promotions carried the book through to steady digital and print sales throughout the first two months. However, several of my writer friends had prepared me to accept a natural drop-off after three months. It wasn’t a reflection of the attitude of audiences; it was simply the life cycle of a book.
That’s why I was so surprised to receive an email from my editor about a digital sale for $1.99 in mid-May — and to hear the deal would be featured on BookBub’s sci-fi mailing list/website.
Suddenly, there was new life in my book’s promotional calendar. And I intended to make the best of it — but how? As a traditionally published author, was there anything I could do to impact the performance of this promotion, aside from shouting about it on social media? I wasn’t sure, but then I came across this guide to ad stacking in preparation for an ebook sale, which prompted a much broader approach than I’d originally planned. Here’s an overview of what I did to supplement my publisher’s promotion:
1. Ran BookBub Ads campaigns
The first piece of new information came in the form of BookBub Ads — not the daily deal newsletter blasts that often drive thousands of sales, but the display ads that let you use specific authors and genres to target ad views. Having worked in digital marketing before, I already had experience running Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, and other types of paid ads, but I didn’t know that BookBub had its own auction-based ads platform!
The process of running BookBub Ads took several steps. First, the ads had to be designed. After reading several guides and talking with some friends, it seemed like the best approach was to use BookBub’s built-in ad designer, with the logic being that 1) BookBub’s character limit was based on performance metrics and 2) viewers were used to seeing that format.
Making the ad itself was fairly simple: I just plugged my book’s ISBN into the tool and it loaded my cover, title, appropriate purchase links, and even created a color palette for the background. I used a quote from my starred Library Journal review that explicitly referenced The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Picking authors and genres was the next, and perhaps hardest, step. My book appeals to two core audiences: sci-fi readers and literary fiction readers. It made sense to set up a series of tests to gauge performance, as this level of targeting allowed me to throw all my money towards the most efficient path. Because BookBub allowed targeting by both author AND genre, I was able to try a wide range to see which targeting options delivered the best conversion rates.
Then came deciding between Cost Per 1,000 Impressions (CPM) and Cost Per Click (CPC). I’d had experience making these types of strategic decisions before, and it usually came down to one question: Is this for a limited-time sale or general awareness? I started my testing before the price promotion; my main goal was gauging the effectiveness of different author/genre targets. I used CPC for those tests, which meant that I could check in after a day and if something severely underperformed, I could pause the ad without paying much. However, when it came time to run the ads with the sale period, I used CPM as a means to reach as many eyeballs as possible.
2. Stacked promotions
The next step was to explore placement and availability in other book-discount newsletters. These are various discount promotion services with smaller reaches than BookBub, but when combined, provided enough extra reach to really supplement the promotion. These newsletters offered niche targeting by genre, so in my case that meant sci-fi and literary fiction.
Deciding which services to use meant assessing cost and reach. As I would be paying for all of this out of my own pocket, I had to set reasonable goals — and while I would earn some of it back in sales, digital royalties are often based on percentage of purchase price, not MSRP. So for a $1.99 sale, that’s not a lot coming back; for me, this was about getting my book into readers’ hands (the best grassroots marketing for a long-term career) rather than turning a massive profit.
In the end, I decided to throw most of my budget towards larger newsletters that offered general or literary fiction targeting. This supplemented the existing BookBub promotion, which probably already maximized exposure to sci-fi readers.
Because I knew the BookBub sale would be on Sunday, May 12, it made the most sense to launch all of these ads on Saturday, May 11. This would rocket up the starting position of my book’s rankings by the time BookBub hit, giving it a faster path to bestseller status — and the faster it got there, the more extra exposure would come from being on charts. I wound up budgeting for Bargain Booksy (700k readers), Early Bird Books (750k readers), BookSends (16k readers), and Ereader News Today (200k readers).
3. Send a newsletter to my mailing list
Next, I sent a newsletter to everyone who’d signed up for updates on my website. Despite only having about 90 people on my mailing list, it was important to get the news of the deal out as widely as possible. I hadn’t sent these out with any regularity since my book launch, so it may have seemed strange for me to appear in people’s inboxes out of the blue. Because of that, I included a self-deprecating apology along with news of the sale. Also, Amazon happened to have a sale on the hard copy at the time, so I included this information in the newsletter.
4. Spread the word on Twitter
When it comes to social media, Twitter is my preferred channel. I have an Instagram account but I have many more followers on Twitter; more importantly, I’m much more comfortable there and it feels like I know how to use it as a platform for engagement. Much of this stems from my experience in digital marketing for small business.
However, a tweet can disappear into the void quickly. Or it can come across as too promotional, which becomes easier to ignore. (Earnestness and self-deprecation can go a long way to help.) On the other hand, if a tweet “blows up,” you can get lots of extra exposure. It’s hard to plan for going viral, but you can at least build a strong foundation for success. My strategy for success? Animal photos.
Because if there’s one thing people universally love on Twitter, it’s animal photos.
In my promotional tweet, I promised a dog photo for every retweet, and the tweet included a link to the sale, book info, and clearly identifies the price.
Based on sheer numbers, I’m sure some people retweeted simply to get more animal photos without any attachment to the book. But this single thread put the book in front of many more people outside of my immediate sphere. And every time I added a photo to the thread, it would reappear in people’s timelines, thus hitting individuals multiple times. The initial tweet garnered 56k impressions, so even if users didn’t immediately click on the purchase link, overall awareness increased.
By personalizing my social media strategy and using something universally loved, I was able to promote my book discount without seeming sleazy or desperate while providing content that people genuinely enjoyed.
6. Asked friends to help spread the word
I also tapped into a few author resources at my disposal. For example, my debut groups, in addition to being wonderful places to bond, vent, cheer, or cry about publishing, also offer a strong base of author pals willing to boost your promotions.
As shocking as it may be to some, a lot of people don’t check Twitter all the time. So posting “can you please signal boost this” requests to these debut groups (and other private discussion groups of various writer friends) meant that I had about 400 potential helpers.
Also, though I hardly discuss my book life on my personal Facebook, I did mention this sale to friends and family. And I know it created about a dozen sales — which isn’t a ton, but hey, every sale counts.
So… did this work?
The answer is a resounding yes. Consider these peak bestseller positions:
Amazon: #56 overall, #3 in sci-fi/fantasy behind George R. R. Martin and Margaret Atwood, #1 in the subgenres time travel fiction, science fiction adventure, action and adventure literary fiction, and more.
Barnes & Noble: #2 overall.
Kobo: #1 in literary fiction, #1 in family fiction, #3 in science fiction.
Rankings began to rise on Friday and Saturday (with early ad stacking and social media visibility) with peak positions on Sunday and Monday (as a result of the BookBub Featured Deal and the halo effect of exposure) before gradually trailing off over the final few days of the sale.
As for impact on sales, a good way to measure this (as a traditionally published author, without having direct access to sales data) is against the first week of digital sales, which accumulates every preorder into the rank. Compare that peak of #56 overall in the Kindle store to my first week of release, which featured a combination of preorders, release-week hype, and a big feature on NPR — all of that managed to peak around the #900 mark for the release period.
Now that I’ve had time to process this, I have two main takeaways.
- Ad stacking definitely works. I could literally see the bumps in rank two to three hours after the initial ads went live. And my publisher, Mira Books, is happy with the results! And paid newsletter placements helped generate a lot of extra exposure.
- Social media helps boost impressions. As fun as social media is, the axiom that it doesn’t actually sell books is somewhat true — and I got many more impressions from my paid newsletter placements. Don’t get me wrong — my animal photo thread certainly generated some sales — but the numbers show that exposure and clickthrough rates paled compared to the power of ad stacking. However, the social media thread did get me more followers and a lot of goodwill!
If I had to do this again — and my second book, A Beginning at the End, will hopefully get a similar opportunity following its January 2020 release — I would definitely employ the same strategy.
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Click to tweet: Great resource for authors who want to promote their ebook discounts! This trad author details how he used ad stacking and social media to amplify his deal. #pubtip https://bit.ly/2ydQEIv
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