After struggling for more than a decade to establish myself in a writing and publishing career, I knew I wanted to give back to the community that had consistently helped me. Years of giving advice in online forums and in-person events led me to publish the Paper Hearts book series about writing, publishing, and marketing books. And as I continued to work with aspiring authors, I also developed a series of worksheets that I eventually compiled into its own unique workbook.
But when it came time to release the Paper Hearts Workbook, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. Most self-published works are promoted online in ebook form — BookBub is an excellent example of a promotional tool for ebooks — but the Paper Hearts Workbook was a print-only book; it was designed to be used like a journal, with the reader working directly on the pages with a pen. It would not work as an ebook.
However, discounting one book can be a great way to get follow-on sales of other books. So in order to boost sales of my print workbook, I decided to discount my other ebooks to drive a high volume of downloads from both new and existing readers. Then I’d point readers toward the print workbook.
My plan to market this workbook hinged on these four strategies:
- Releasing the Paper Hearts Workbook at the beginning of the year to align with authors’ New Year’s resolutions
- Putting all my other self-published ebooks on sale, promoting them via:
- Pointing readers to both the sale of the ebooks and the availability of the print book simultaneously
- Following up the ebook sale with a push toward continued exposure for the print book
My idea was that I could use ebooks to sell print books, and fiction to sell nonfiction. The book I ultimately wanted to gain exposure for was the print-only Paper Hearts Workbook, but the books available for me to promote online were the ebooks of both the original Paper Hearts books and my fiction (a sci-fi for teens and a collection of sci-fi short stories for all ages).
My goal ultimately became to promote all my self-published work, but use it all to funnel readers to my new, print-only book.
Step 1: Cross promotion
Because the workbook was building off of a pre-existing series, I wanted to cross-promote it in those books. To that end, the back matter of each of the Paper Hearts books references the workbook, with a cover image, short blurb, and buy links.
Step 2: BookBub Featured Deal
You likely already know what a BookBub Featured Deal is and why it’s so effective. I’d applied for BookBubs a few times before this campaign, so I knew it would be extraordinarily useful — and I also knew which title would most likely be selected for a deal. I chose to submit my science fiction novel for teens, The Body Electric. The reasoning was simple:
- It’s fiction. I hadn’t successfully secured a Featured Deal for my nonfiction books in the past.
- It’s a popular format. My short story anthology hasn’t reached as broad an audience.
- It had 100+ positive reviews on Amazon already.
- It’s presented professionally. (All my books are presented professionally, but this is worth noting; BookBub has high standards and won’t accept amateur work.)
I applied for my BookBub Featured Deal in early December and got an early January spot. That date — January 6 — became the focus point of all my advertising tactics.
Step 3: Price adjustment
With the BookBub promotion, I would drop the price of The Body Electric to $0.99. But because I wanted to cast a larger net — and because all of this is an underhanded way of promoting a print-only title that can’t be price-adjusted — I also dropped prices on the three Paper Hearts ebooks and my short story anthology.
That’s a total of five books selling for $0.99. I knew I’d be taking a hit on profits for those books in the hopes of getting more exposure for the print workbook. But I also wanted more reviews for all my books, and discounting them would help (more on this later!).
Sidenote: While discounting one book can effectively drive follow-on sales of other titles, authors can’t discount their own traditionally published books. This is one reason why I believe it’s smart for traditionally published authors to have a self-published title (that’s not a sequel). Then they can discount their self-published books to drive interest for the rest of their traditionally-published books.
Step 4: Working with retailer algorithms
Online retailers have amazing algorithms to sell books, and there are literally whole books talking about how to manipulate them. That’s not something I’m a genius at.
But what I did want to do was get my print-only title into the “also-boughts” and “also-viewed”. This is the list of books on display under the book you’re viewing on a retailer product page.
Unfortunately, also-boughts are linked to format (i.e. my print book would never show up in an ebook’s also boughts). But people will look up an ebook and then decide to buy the print version instead — that was my hope here, as a low-key strategy to bump into the also-boughts.
Another algorithm fun fact: Ranking is not based entirely on sales. How often people view a title boosts the rank a bit. It’s more if they buy it, but views can help, especially if they happen all at once.
So, by putting the ebooks on sale, I hoped to boost all of their rankings and to get my new book into the also-bought sections of the print versions.
Step 5: My newsletter
I’ve been building my newsletter organically for several years and have a pretty active list. This is the newsletter I sent out.
Newsletter stats are important when analyzing sales, so here’s what I worked with:
- Subscriber count: 3,826
- All subscribers were gained organically (i.e. no newsletter swaps, no bought subscribers, no forced entries in giveaways)
- Open rate: 31%
- Click-through rate: 15%
This means that over 1,000 people opened my newsletters, and of those, nearly 200 clicked on links. These numbers are notoriously inaccurate as people with 3rd party clients (such as Outlook) don’t have their opens/clicks recorded. Still, for the industry, these numbers are decent, and since almost all my clicks were directly to the sale pages on retailers, my newsletter send gave me a noticeable boost.
I sent my newsletter out in the morning, several hours before the BookBub Featured Deal. During the time between my newsletter and the BookBub send, I got about 40 sales.
Step 6: Social media promotions
Social media is great as a supplement to a marketing plan — not as the sole marketing plan. I have a large following on social media, and decided to use it for this campaign. I started with a simple advertisement posted on my biggest platforms. Here’s one example:
I posted content like this to:
I spent $5 to boost my Facebook post, which yielded about 1,800 impressions. My Instagram post got a little over 100 likes, and my Twitter posts got around 50 retweets combined. Note that this is far below my usual interaction online. A selfie I posted yesterday to Instagram has nearly 500 likes; a funny anecdote on Twitter has more than 100 likes and retweets. It’s typical for my “selling” posts on social media to do worse; people don’t like ads. That’s why I post them rarely, and when I do, I make sure they’re worthwhile — directing people to a rare sale, for example.
I also paired every social media post with a graphic. I like using the program Canva. It’s free and creates great images for social media use. Graphics engage readers far more than just text, and since they’re so easy to create, it’s silly to ignore them.
Beyond the simple advertisements, I also posted my ranking success on social media (with a screenshot) — all three Paper Hearts books and The Body Electric hit the top 10 in their Amazon categories. This boosted my exposure significantly — people like success stories, and success leads to success. Posting these results gave me a secondary bump in sales the following day.
Step 7: Planning next steps
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll use my newsletter and social media for two key things in conjunction with this campaign:
- Asking people to review the books they got on sale
- Reminding people of the existence of the new print book, Paper Hearts Workbook
I’ll be careful not to over-saturate my audience. One mention in my newsletter and one mention in all my social media is enough for the next month. If I want to do more than that, I have to give my readers something else — such as another sale — to reward them for paying attention to my ads. My messaging for the upcoming posts will shift from “big sale!” to “don’t forget about these books!”
- First day of ebook sales (all books): 719
- First day of ebook sales for The Body Electric (after the BookBub deal ran): 527
- Total ebook sales for the week following promo: 1,096
- Total print sales for Paper Hearts Workbook: 36, priced at $9.99
- Total print sales of books that were on sale in ebook form: 13
- Highest Amazon rank for The Body Electric: #4 in its subgenre, #623 in total ebook rankings. It held a Top 10 position in its highly competitive subgenre for the entire weekend.
- Highest Amazon rank for Paper Hearts ebooks: Generally, they went from being in 6 digits in ranking to being in the top 10k. More importantly, all three were in the top #5 ranking in their subgenre.
This data isn’t entirely complete; print sales are a little slower to show results. Because of this, I will continue to track:
- Sales of the print workbook.
- Number of reviews for sale titles. Typically after a BookBub Featured Deal, you get an influx of reviews — but in my experience, they’re harsher than reviews from your already-established fans.
- Number of days ranked high. For the Paper Hearts books in particular, being in the top 5 spots in the subgenre is great, and I’d like to stay there as long as possible.
- New newsletter and social media followers.
Time and money invested
Overall, I spent about $300 on this project, the bulk of which was for the BookBub Featured Deal. The BookBub promotion more than paid for itself in the first day, and I’m seeing a profit of nearly double my investment.
Time-wise, I spent more time writing this post than setting up and implementing my actual strategy. Much of what I did was already part of my marketing routine — social media posts and a monthly newsletter — just shifted to focus on this campaign. The BookBub promotion was extraordinarily easy to do as they do most of the work.
The hard part is learning. Over the years, learning what worked and didn’t for BookBub, learning which social media posts were worthwhile and not, learning how to write copy for social media, learning how to manipulate the algorithms — learning that there were algorithms — that’s what took time, but that’s where experience comes into play.
Hopefully my experience will be helpful to other authors and book marketers reading this post!
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