“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half” – John Wanamaker

The book business is a funny thing. Some days, I’ll tweet and tweet and I’ll make zero sales. Other times, I’ll be gone from my computer and come back to 10 downloads. Still other random days, I’ll pop into Smashwords and see a spike of 150 downloads from absolutely nothing I did.

All of this is to say that any money you spend on advertising is a crap shoot, but there are still some lessons to be learned. The number one rule is that if you try something and it doesn’t work, don’t try the exact same thing again. Because doing something over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity (looking at you, Facebook ads).

With Conviction, I found myself in the odd position of having a book to sell that you won’t want to read unless you’ve picked up the first two. So if advertising books was tricky before, now I’m scratching my head. How do I balance trying to sell the third book to readers already invested while still searching for new readers?

Here’s a couple things I did:

1. Make Double Life Free

We’ve all heard the schpiel about making the first-in-a-series free. Draws readers in, hooks them and then they’ll pay for the next book in the series. I’ve found that yes, the activity on the book is usually between 5-10 downloads a day. But how many people are just downloading the book and never read it?

Since Conviction came out, I’m at a 2% purchase rate from Double Life to Alliances but close to a 90% follow-through from Alliances to Conviction. A lot of folks download free books and forget about them (present company included), so I’ll be interested to see how those figures change over the long run.

2. Review Giveaway

At the beginning of last month, I ran a contest that anyone who reviewed Double Life and posted a review would get a free copy of Alliances, and then an advanced copy of Conviction, with everyone who did so being entered to win a paperback set of the three.

Unfortunately, this contest was a GIANT bust! Nobody entered! Nobody reviewed! SAD PANDAS!

To be honest, I was trying to convince some folks who’d read the book to write a review. I’m trying for a BookBub deal and I need reviews in order to do that. Also, I track the total number of reviews I receive every quarter (not the star rating, but the number themselves).

Still, that’s why we experiment. You never know what’ll work until you try!

3. Book Barbarian

As bad as the giveaway was is as good as Book Barbarian, or something like that. I’ve long loved this book advertising service. Priced at only $8, it’s the cheapest promotional service I’ve seen, which means my ROI (return on investment) is usually somewhere along the lines of 200% or greater.

When I submitted Double Life for a promo post on 10/23, I thought I was going to take an $8 hit. Just in case, I dropped the price of Alliances to $0.99 and decided to leave it there through both the Barbarian promotion (10/23) and the Fussy Librarian promotion (11/3). So imagine my surprise when I got more than a few purchases of Alliances, and a pre-order of Conviction to boot.

All told, the weekend netted me a 145% ROI, pretty awesome considering I was promoting a free book (which was downloaded 430 times during the promo day, and 572 times total on the weekend). I definitely think that reducing the price of Alliances helped boost those sales.

For comparison’s sake, the first Barbarian ad I ran was when Alliances came out and was still in KDP. Comparing DL to DL, there was a 15% increase in downloads from the first go-round. Obviously, more books = more interest, and I was able to parlay that into more sales.

4. Fussy Librarian

Sadly, this book advertising service didn’t do much for me. Book Barbarian deals primarily in SFF books, whereas Fussy is a bit wider net. I ended up making $0.35 on the day of sale, but overall netted about a 38% ROI on the week. I wouldn’t say I’d never use FL again, but I would have to try with a book in a different genre (The Island, most likely, would do better).

Also, I ran FL on a Tuesday whereas Barbarian ran on a Friday, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.

5. Blog Tour

For Empath, I paid someone $49 to organize a blog tour for me. I ended up making back about half of that, though I did get 2 new reviews out of it. Since I’ve got a pretty healthy rolodex of bloggers now, I set up my own blog tour this go-round.

It’s hard to tell which downloads are blog tour and which are latent from the advertising boost / bestseller list standing. Overall, I averaged about 8 downloads per day during the Blog Tour, and saw the growth in my followers thanks to the giveaway.

To be honest, I’m not sure blog tours are worth the energy to assemble them anymore. A better option is a single blast day for a cover reveal/preorder/release, because it seems as though people get bored of seeing your blog tour info day after day. Alternatively, you could create new content for each stop, but that’s a lot of work, too.


Why do I take the time to document all these things? Because as I said above, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The next book in the hopper is Fusion, and it suffers from the same problems as Conviction – fourth book in the series, yadda yadda. From an online perspective, I’ll probably run another Book Barbarian promo and that’ll be that. Because around that time I’ll be busy with…

A new book in a new genre, which completely changes the game. I’ve been guessing that Romance does better online (simply because 95% of the Smashwords bestsellers are Romance), so I’m curious to see how each of these tools work when used with a different series.