Learnings from marketing my debut novel

It has now been four months since I released Powerless, so it’s time for a retrospective on what worked and what didn’t when it came to my marketing strategy.

As I mentioned in the post on my marketing plan, my strategy had four pillars, each with different goals:

  • Content marketing – goal to build an audience and deepen my relationship with my readers
  • Influencer outreach – goal to build awareness about Powerless
  • Reviews – goal to build awareness and increase social proof around the book’s quality
  • Paid promotions – goal to drive traffic to my book on Amazon and get sales

The results

Rather than making you wait until the end of the post to find out how I went, you’re getting the results up front! (Keep reading for an activity-by-activity breakdown.)

Drumroll please…

It didn’t go very well 😅

From April (when Powerless was available for pre-order) to the date of writing (October 23rd), I have sold a whopping 169 copies of the book!

The breakdown is 105 print copies and 64 eBooks (I’m very surprised that there are more print copies than eBooks – don’t people know the eBook is only $2.99?). On top of that, I have also distributed 350 copies through giveaways.

Most copies were sold in June (release month) followed by May (pre-orders). After July, there was a significant drop off, which I think is a combination of the people who know me in real life having already ordered, as well as a drop off in marketing.

IngramSpark book sales
IngramSpark book sales
Amazon kindle orders (Note that the Amazon chart includes 100 giveaways in April, May and June, so actual sales are much lower)
Amazon kindle orders (Note that the Amazon chart includes 100 giveaways in April, May and June, so actual sales are much lower)

What went wrong?

When I outline my main marketing activities and their results, you’ll see it’s a challenge to pinpoint any one thing that went wrong, simply because nothing went right. Most marketing activities simply weren’t that effective when it came to driving sales. They also weren’t that effective when it came to driving other metrics, like increases in newsletter subscribers or social media followers.

Having said that, there’s definitely more that I could have done. I could have continued pushing Powerless after the launch and might have seen an uptick in sales over time.

However, I had some personal things going on as well, which meant Powerless became less of a priority. 

The biggest thing was, six days after Powerless came out, I discovered my husband had been having a multi-year emotional affair. I won’t get into too much detail about it here, but this was a big shock, and one that led to me starting to burn out again (when I was still recovering from burnout caused by a toxic work environment last year).

This revelation led to a decision to separate. We’re still in the process of doing that, with our house currently on the market. 

At the same time, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and ended up having surgery to help with this a few weeks ago. This was nowhere near as big a hit as the previous revelation, but it did feel like a lot to deal with at once.

Ultimately, I needed to take some space to heal. Not only did I step back from marketing Powerless, but I also stepped back from writing, as I wasn’t in a healthy enough place to add the pressure of writing more books to the mix.

So I fully acknowledge that, theoretically, I could have done more to increase my book’s success. Unfortunately, circumstances didn’t make that possible this time around.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at some numbers!

Content marketing

In my last blog post, I shared the schedule I had for sharing various types of content. Obviously, that went out the window for reasons stated previously, so I’m going to share content I shared with the goal of marketing Powerless, and my metrics for each platform.

These metrics cannot be tied directly to book sales, however, my hope was that if my audience grew through these channels, over time I would see an uplift in sales (maybe not for Powerless, but for future books).

Instagram

Instagram was my most active platform through the course of the campaign, where I shared quotes from Powerless, writing updates, reading updates and silly reels.

My Instagram grid - follow me at jp.writes ;)
My Instagram grid – follow me at jp.writes 😉

From February 4th (when I posted my first Powerless-related content) to June 20th (when the last one went out) I published 52 posts and shared stories on over 80 days.

Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t allow you to see account insights that are older than 90 days, which means I can’t see how things performed over this period 😥

Off the top of my head, there were a couple of experiences worth highlighting.

The first is that one of my reels went viral (for me), reaching 122,068 accounts. It had 122,416 plays with over 350 hours of watch time and 493 likes, all of which are very high for me. However, there were only four comments, and this didn’t lead to any more followers.

So I had very large reach with this post, but it didn’t amount to much in the end. I never expected Instagram to lead to book sales (I thought it would be more of a tool to build awareness and an audience), but it was quite surprising to get that level of reach and not grow my audience at all.

This was also the case for another couple of posts that got some organic exposure (3K+ views each) – while the number of viewers was much larger than the number of followers, it didn’t lead to an increase in audience size.

The only thing that led to a growth in audience numbers was influencer marketing, which I’ll cover in the next section.

The verdict? I found that my own activity didn’t lead to an increase in followers or much buzz about the book, even when I had a post organically reach a large audience. Having said that, I did enjoy creating this content (and I like scrolling back through it), so it’s something I’ll probably return to in future – at least around future book launches. 

Blog content 

My blog was never a priority, even before I stepped back from marketing Powerless. I wanted to have a few posts on my website so that there was something people could engage with if they liked my stuff, but wasn’t worried about having a regular schedule.

The plan was, if I had something to write, I would write it. If not, I wouldn’t worry.

With that approach, I published four blog posts in the lead up to the Powerless launch. 

Because I didn’t promote those posts (I think I mentioned one of them in my newsletter?), there’s no correlation between when the posts went out and my website’s traffic. My traffic was highest during the week of the Powerless launch (that’s the spike in June), and then I had a random spike in September – no idea what this was about.

(When we talk about ‘spikes’, though, it’s less than 15 visitors a day, so not a statistically significant number 😂)

Google Analytics dashboard.
Google Analytics dashboard.

The verdict? I think I had the right approach here – it’s nice to have blog posts so that readers have something to engage with when they decide they like you, but I wouldn’t make it a regular activity.

YouTube

I’d been off YouTube for about a year before I announced that I was self-publishing Powerless, so YouTube engagement was always going to be a bit of an uphill battle.

My last few videos before I disappeared were about the Netflix series Arcane, and they went viral (at least for me), with the top one getting over 50,000 views and the series pushing my subscriber numbers from around 500 to over 1,000.

If I’d kept publishing video essays then, I probably would have had a more sizeable audience to share Powerless news with. Unfortunately, those videos released right before my job at the time became toxic and I burnt out, so it wasn’t ideal 😅

From February 9th to June 15th, I published nine videos – five shorts, three videos between 10 and 30 minutes, and one 70-minute livestream with fellow authortuber Nicole Wilbur.

YouTube analytics for jpwrites
YouTube analytics for jpwrites

You can see there was a spike in views at the end of February – I think this was the algorithm being kind, probably hoping I was going to be producing content regularly again, but also promoting the new shorts I was sharing. After that, you can see the views are low but steady, adding up to 10.2k views from February until now and 46 new subscribers. (And $19 in revenue! One day I might hit $100 and actually get a cheque! 😂)

The verdict? I think YouTube had much more potential – if I had been publishing content there like I had been on Instagram, I think I might have gotten more interest from my current subscribers, and more love from the algorithm. If I’d jumped on a trending topic, like with Arcane last year, I might have even gotten another viral boost.

This is entirely on me – I didn’t put the effort into making this platform succeed. 

Like everything, it’s about prioritisation. YouTube content takes a lot more time than what I was producing for Instagram, and it ultimately became a decision between prioritising writing and prioritising video content.

I’m not sure what to do from here – I’ve probably missed the opportunity to regain the traction I had last year, so the question becomes, is it worth putting in minimal effort (like I’ve been doing), when the new content isn’t getting the same engagement as my old content? Or should I just wait until I can do regular content and really push the channel once more, and hope for another viral spike?

At this point, I know I couldn’t do regular content – I have a day job, am going through a separation and am managing health things. If I’m going to commit to something other than that, it is getting back to writing the sequel to Powerless. But I do wonder…

Newsletters

In January, I started sending a monthly newsletter. I was confident I could keep up the once-a-month schedule, regardless of what was going on in my life. Then my marriage ended. 😂

The open rates for these emails are very good (usually over 60%) and the number of people who clicked varied depending on how prominent the call to action was – emails with pre-order buttons got more clicks than those with links in the text.

My Mailchimp newsletter stats
My Mailchimp newsletter stats

Like my website, the numbers are very low, meaning that the high stats aren’t actually reliable, as one extra person opening is enough to change those metrics.

However, if I had 5,000 people and was getting those open and click rates, we’d be having a very different conversation.

The verdict? An email list is a huge asset, once you grow it. Obviously, mine’s very small at the moment, but I think a monthly newsletter is a good strategy to keep them engaged and then (hopefully) convert them on future books.

While you’re here, why not sign up? Once a month, you’ll get an inside look at my writing life, new release updates, interviews, events, giveaways and more! Plus, you’ll also get the first three chapters of Powerless when you subscribe 😉

Blog posts

 

Influencer marketing

In my last post, I shared my method for reaching out to podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers and Instagrammers in the hope of getting them to cover my book.

By and large, this didn’t amount to much.

After filtering my lists based on genres and whether they were open for submission, I reached out to over 80 influencers across the different platforms. Of those, I believe two agreed to review/share Powerless on their platforms for free (one blogger and one Instagrammer).

Through this exercise, though, I stumbled upon the idea of Instagram book tours – where a group of Instagrammers team up to share your book. Generally, each tour company will do a one-week book tour of your book, where each day one or more people on the team will do a post about your book.

Posts shared under #jacquelinepretty
Posts shared under #jacquelinepretty

All in all, I did four book tours in my launch week, as well as working with one paid influencer and one free influencer independently, which meant 41 different profiles did posts about my book in the launch week.

These posts generally offered a giveaway (either a book or book + Amazon voucher) and required entrants to comment on the post, follow the influencer’s page and my page, and share it in their stories.

The cost of these tours was USD1,139 (AUD1,674), plus the cost of organising the giveaways. There were five giveaways (one for each tour, not one for each influencer), so that was one book each, and a couple of them had Amazon vouchers as well. The cost of the books and postage (I ordered new books on Amazon for the winners, because it was cheaper than sending copies from Australia) was USD90.44 (AUD 135.66), while the vouchers were USD65 (AUD97.50).

So that’s a total of USD1,294, or nearly AUD2,000 for influencer marketing.

What were the results?

I gained about 150 followers on my Instagram through the giveaways. It also increased awareness of my book during launch week – people were engaging with these posts and sharing stories about my book.

When it comes to sales, unfortunately there was no noticeable impact. 

On the Amazon KDP dashboard (eBook sales), I can see that most of my orders in June were on the day the book launched, after which they quickly dropped off. Because the book tours were running the full week, if they were having an impact on sales I would have expected more consistent sales numbers for that period, with a drop off the following week once the tours finished. 

I don’t seem to be able to get a one-month view in my IngramSpark dashboard (print sales), so it’s possible there was an impact on print sales, but I would assume that the general bookstagram person is more likely to spend $2.99 on an eBook by an unknown author than $13.99-$19.99 on a print copy.

On an emotional level, it was lovely to see all of the beautiful posts about my book. As an author, unless you have a launch party, a book launch is pretty anticlimactic – all your work is done, and the only change is the book’s status changing from ‘pre-order’ to ‘buy’. Without any launch celebration, it’s easy to move on to the next thing.

Having the book tours made it feel like there was a celebration happening for my book. It was exciting to see new posts everyday, and this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t paid for it.

The verdict? On an emotional level, there’s something really special about seeing people create beautiful images with your book. For that reason alone, I would do a book tour again, but I’d probably just work with one company rather than doing a bunch of them.

Reviews

When it came to reviews, I had a number of objectives:

  1. Build awareness about my book (new people reviewing it means new people reading it! And this is increased when they then share that review on Goodreads and other platforms!)
  2. Build credibility when it launched (positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads means new readers would be more likely to try it!)
  3. Reach librarians and booksellers (they might stock my book!)

I submitted Powerless to both industry publications as well as community review sites for coverage.

Industry publications

The industry publications I looked at were Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. 

These both publish book reviews and can be good for getting the attention of traditional publishers and other media outlets. They are also good publications if you want a reputable/professional review, rather than just reader reviews (I have nothing against reader reviews – they’re awesome! My favourite reviews have come from readers. But unless that reader is a famous author, they can lack some gravitas).

Kirkus Reviews had the option of paying USD450 for a review, which I did. I submitted my book in advance, and the review came out shortly after launch – comparing my book to X-Men and Leigh Bardugo

Publisher’s Weekly didn’t have the option to pay for a review, so I submitted it and hoped for the best. Nothing has happened, so I’m guessing they haven’t picked it up.

However, Publisher’s weekly also has a magazine for self-published authors called BookLife – I entered a competition with them for USD90-ish (still waiting for the results), and as part of the entry I was also able to get an assessment/review.

I’ve used these reviews on my book’s page on Amazon and other retailers, as well as sharing them on Instagram and LinkedIn.

The verdict? While these reviews have added some credibility to me as an author, I’m not sure if I’d do them again. If I get traditionally published in the future, the publisher would take care of that. As an indie author, I’m not sure the investment makes sense.

Community review sites

There are also a range of websites where you can submit your book, and then their community of reviewers has access to them. I used NetGalley and BookSirens for this. Edelweiss is another one, but I couldn’t figure out how to submit my book, even after signing up with a publisher account (I requested information on this a couple of times, but never heard back).

NetGalley was the main service like this I used, mainly because the minimum contract period was six months for USD499. I signed up for that, plus USD125 to have my book promoted for a week during their YA week.

Over the six months, I got feedback from 33 users. Of those, nine people gave Powerless 5 stars, 14 people gave it 4 stars and seven people gave it 3 stars, and there were a handful who didn’t rate it. Based on those numbers alone, NetGalley was my most successful platform for getting reviews of my book.

The challenge is that many readers aren’t on NetGalley – they’re on Goodreads and Amazon, which is where authors need reviews the most. Fortunately, NetGalley allows authors to download a feedback report which includes reviewers’ email addresses, so I did this throughout the campaign and asked reviewers to share their reviews to Amazon and Goodreads.

Unfortunately, despite having sent multiple emails to reviewers to get them to copy their reviews across, many didn’t make it to Goodreads or Amazon. On Goodreads, 16 of the NetGalley reviewers shared their reviews, and across the main English Amazon sites, nine reviewers shared theirs.

This was a bit frustrating because, from my perspective, once you’ve written the review, the hard part is done. You’ve already read the book! You’ve written the review! Copying and pasting it from one site to another should be easy!

Admittedly, there are some restrictions on Amazon – you need to have spent USD50 (or local equivalent) on the site within the last 12 months to be eligible to leave reviews. As a regular kindle user, this is easy for me, and I assumed many reviewers would be in the same boat, but that might not have been the case.

Having said that, I still would have hoped that more than a third of reviews would have made it to Amazon, and more than half to Goodreads.

So, all in all, the experience was… fine? I was thrilled every time a good review came in. The problem is that most of these reviews are only on NetGalley.

Given the size of the platform, I feel like NetGalley could have some built-in API that republishes reviews to Goodreads and Amazon. If not, then at the very least they could ask users to submit Goodreads and Amazon information in their profile information, and publishers/authors could have the option to only offer their books to users with this information available. Then they could have an automated reminder system asking people to repost their review once it’s on NetGalley.

Without something like this, I don’t feel like the cost of the service is worth it – not unless you’re so well known that you have hundreds (or thousands) of people reviewing your book, which then naturally means you’ll get a decent number making their way over to the platforms that matter. Especially since you can only sign up for six months – three months would be much more economical for indie authors.

I also didn’t see any boost in reviews in the week my book was promoted, so wouldn’t recommend that.

BookSirens has a similar setup, but with some important differences:

  1. No minimum contract/listing period – you can pay USD10 to submit one book for review, then it’s just USD2 per reader (and you can limit your budget). If you have multiple books, you can pay USD100 for the whole year to submit unlimited books.
  2. Reviews aren’t posted on the platform – instead, reviewers need to have an Amazon/Goodreads profile set up to create an account.
  3. You can select where you want reviews to be posted when you submit your book.
  4. The BookSirens team follows up with people who’ve downloaded your book to remind them to review it.

This then creates an environment where readers are, theoretically, more likely to post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

After signing up, I also found that BookSirens was a lot more proactive in marketing my book – they had a strategy of creating bundles of books in certain genres, and would let me know whenever my book was in a bundle. They also created graphics for this and had custom links (so your book appears at the top of the list), which made it very easy to share.

Unfortunately, I found I just didn’t get readers here. I paid my USD10 to sign up, and then only had two reviewers download my book. And, unlike NetGalley, where you are emailed every time someone reviews your book, there was no communication after my book had been downloaded, so I’m not sure if they’ve read it at all?

However, the lower price point makes it much easier to justify the risk of signing up to BookSirens than NetGalley.

The verdict? I wouldn’t do NetGalley again – the cost is too high when considering how few reviews make their way to Amazon (which is where authors need them the most). Plus, I have the email addresses of everyone who reviewed Powerless, so I can reach out to them personally when my next book is ready.

On the other hand, I would do BookSirens again – mainly because it’s so cheap that there’s no harm in giving it a go.

Advertising

I had such big plans for advertising! I was going to funnel thousands into advertising on Amazon, Goodreads, Instagram and Bookbub. Instagram was going to be about awareness and building my audience and email list, while the others would be focused on targeting readers who were interested in books like mine.

Unfortunately, this also didn’t go to plan.

Instagram

On Instagram, I wanted to do advertising around the free chapters of Powerless on my website. I figured that would help grow my list, and those people would then be more willing to buy my book. Yes, I would do some ads around the launch as well, but I really saw this as a way of selling my free chapters.

That was until I tried to boost my first post in April. Barnes & Noble was offering 25% off pre-orders, and I did a post to share the news, because Powerless was a pre-order at the time. Then I thought I might as well boost it, since the sale was for a limited time.

Unfortunately, my payment didn’t go through and Instagram blocked my ads account. It’s now six months later and I haven’t been able to solve this – the ‘request review’ form in my notifications hasn’t worked this entire time.

I’ve tried it on the app. I’ve tried it on desktop. I’ve tried multiple browsers, on both my computer and my phone. Every time, I get an error message…

Okay, I just tried again to see what the error message was, and it worked! But from the end of April until the last time I tried to submit the form (about two weeks ago), it didn’t. Clearly I just needed to blog about it to make it work 😅

In short, one of my planned advertising channels wasn’t available.

Not to worry, I thought. I’ll just put that budget into other channels…

Goodreads

There are ads on Goodreads. Apparently, you can book them. But in the lead up to my launch, I used the official form to request information on advertising on Goodreads and they never got back to me. This happened multiple times.

They do ask for your planned budget up front, so maybe my budget wasn’t big enough? (I’d planned to spend AUD1,500 on them, so was in the $1,000-$5,000 bracket.)

Again, I thought, I’ll just put the budget into other channels…

Amazon

I’d planned to spend AUD2,000 on Amazon ads. Plus the AUD1,000 I’d had planned for Instagram and the AUD1,500 I’d had planned for Goodreads, I was growing a nice little Amazon ads budget.

I set up campaigns on Amazon.com, .com.au, .co.uk and .ca. In each region, I set up both auto ads (ones where Amazon targets users they think will like your book) and ones with manual targeting (where I set the target).

The manual targeting included:

  • Authors who write similar books to me (YA SFF), whose readers might like Powerless
  • Books like Powerless, mostly genre (YA SFF), but sometimes style
  • Keywords around genre and category (e.g. ‘teen superhero fiction’)
  • Keywords relating to the title (e.g. ‘Powerless book’, ‘Powerless eBook’)

For most terms, I bid 35 cents a click, meaning that, if ten people clicked on my ads, I would spend $3.50. I also set a daily budget for each campaign (each region had two campaigns – one was the auto ads, the other was manual targeting) – I started with $30 a day for the manual targeting campaigns and $15 a day for the auto ad campaigns. With that budget, I figured I wouldn’t run out of money unexpectedly and, if something worked, I could increase the budget.

What I didn’t expect was that I wouldn’t spend the budget.

From June to now, I have spent a total of USD126.60! I had USD3,000 (AUD4,500) to spend! And I’d planned to spend that in the three weeks around the launch!

My Amazon.com advertising dashboard for Powerless (other sites have different dashboards)
My Amazon.com advertising dashboard for Powerless (other sites have different dashboards)

This is not an issue with my daily budget being too low, because I hadn’t hit my budget. The issue is that there aren’t enough clicks to spend the budget I have.

Why?

It could be a number of things. People aren’t searching for the keywords I had in my targeting. The authors I’ve listed aren’t as popular as I thought, nor are the books. People aren’t interested in superhero books.

It could also be that people are seeing the ad, but the cover, the title, and the number of reviews aren’t enough to make them click.

Review Powerless!

If you’ve read Powerless but haven’t reviewed it on Amazon yet, do it here!

 

In any case, I had this big (for me) budget, and wasn’t able to spend it. The reason I’ve kept the ads running is because, why not? It still means a couple of people are discovering the book each month, and maybe one of them will be the one who tells their friends about it or reviews it on their YouTube channel, and then it goes viral.

But it was a frustration I hadn’t expected.

I could potentially broaden my targeting – since romantasy is the big thing at the moment, I could run a campaign where Powerless appears alongside those books. My concern with that is that Powerless is not a romance – it doesn’t even have a romantic side plot. So people might not click on the ad (because the cover doesn’t look like a romantasy); or they’ll click on it but not buy (because the description and reviews say nothing about romance); or they’ll click, buy and be disappointed by the book, and then leave a bad review.

Other than that, I’m not sure what can be done.

Aside from spending frustrations, though, because Amazon ads are linked to my KDP account, it does track book sales, which makes seeing ROI very clear. I’ve made USD35 in book sales from my ads, so am currently running at a loss.

If the numbers were higher, I would be refining the ads based on this information (e.g. if 200 people clicked because of one keyword and no one bought, but 150 people clicked based on another and 10 of them bought, I’d put more budget into the second keyword and less into the first to try and build on what is working). However, because all of my results are single clicks, I don’t have enough data to be making those sorts of adjustments.

Because the budget is so much lower than what I had set aside, I’m not too worried about losing money on the ads just yet, but I’m checking in regularly to see if anything changes. 

BookBub

BookBub is mostly known for their bargain books newsletter, but they also offer advertising on their website. You can choose to be charged per click or per 1,000 impressions, and the targeting is based on a list of authors you pick.

You can do custom artwork, so I had an image with my book cover and part of a review quote. 

I’d planned a budget of AUD1,000, but set it at AUD700 to start with. I scheduled the campaign for the two weeks around my launch and guess how much I spent?

Fifty-six cents. Australian.

That’s about thirty-seven cents, US.

I don’t understand. 😭😭😭

The verdict? All in all, my advertising experience has been very disappointing. As an unknown author, I was expecting this to be how I grew my audience, so it was frustrating to be unable to use two platforms and to find the other ones ineffective.

Assuming my Instagram issue gets solved, I would definitely try that in future – it’s a different platform with different targeting options, and I still think the plan to grow my email list before pushing the book is a good one. I’ll also keep the Amazon ads open, because, why not? But I don’t think I’d try ramping them up/experimenting with new angles until I’m close to releasing Powerless 2.

Giveaways

My final marketing strategy was giveaways. I first came across Goodreads giveaways in late 2022, when I was putting together a marketing plan for Powerless for a publisher I was submitting to.

Goodreads had some great articles on giveaway campaigns they’d run in the past. Based on this information, I knew Goodreads giveaways would be a core part of my strategy.

The way it works is you pay USD119 to Goodreads to offer a giveaway of your book – I did 100 copies of the eBook each time (only available in the US at the moment).

For someone to enter the giveaway, they need to add your book to their ‘Want to read’ list. What that means is:

  1. It looks like lots of people want to read it
  2. Their friends get notified about them adding it to their list (which creates opportunities for virality)
  3. The winners can read the book in advance and leave reviews
  4. When the book comes out, the people who didn’t win the giveaway are notified that the book is now available

Sounds great, right?

In my first giveaway, 685 people requested the book. In the second, 813 people requested it. In the third, 957 people requested it. This added up to over 1,400 people adding the book to their shelves (the number’s smaller than the total of the previous three numbers because you can enter a giveaway multiple times).

In the book’s stats, I could clearly see when the giveaways happened, because each time there was a spike when the giveaway was announced, and a spike before the deadline (see the green line below – I could only get the last six months of stats from Goodreads, so those two spikes are from the final giveaway).

Stats for my most recent Goodreads giveaway
Stats for my most recent Goodreads giveaway

All in all, things were looking good. But, of the 300 people who got three copies, only two appear to have read it and left reviews. 

Their reviews were also some of the more negative ones on the page (one 2-star and one 3-star), which makes me wonder whether people just enter Goodreads giveaways for free stuff, rather than actually choosing genres that interest them? (One mentioned not liking YA – so why would they enter a giveaway for a YA book?)

And since then, the 1,000+ people who have the book on their ‘Want to read’ list haven’t ordered it, which makes me wonder if they were really that interested in it in the first place?

In July, I discovered that StoryGraph has also started doing giveaways, so signed up Powerless. It was USD249, but since I had so many advertising dollars left over, I thought why not?

Stats for my StoryGraph giveaway
Stats for my StoryGraph giveaway

4,127 people entered the giveaway and there were 15.3k pageviews – I don’t have this visibility for Goodreads, so I’m not sure what ratio of people seeing the giveaway entered it, but on StoryGraph I’m hoping this means that if just a third of people viewing the page entered the giveaway, that third actually like YA 😅

Once it was complete, StoryGraph emailed me to let me know the giveaway was complete and I downloaded the file with the winners’ email addresses, then manually emailed them a digital copy of the book. I have no visibility on whether any of them have read or reviewed it, though I did include links to the book’s Goodreads and Amazon pages in the email.

The verdict? I do feel like Goodreads was overselling the efficacy of their giveaways in the articles I read. I can see it being part of a successful campaign, but don’t think it would work in isolation.

I think I would try a Goodreads giveaway again, but I’d just do one before the launch of a book to start building buzz, rather than doing multiple giveaways in the months leading up to the launch.

Results in a nutshell

Here are the headline numbers from my book launch marketing campaign:

  • Budget spent: USD3,202 (AUD4,804)
  • Books sold: 169
  • Books distributed via giveaways: 350
  • Reviews:
    • NetGalley: 33
    • Goodreads: 33 reviews, 46 ratings (This is all reviews, not just the ones that made their way across from NetGalley)
    • Amazon (English sites): 17
  • Audience growth:
    • Instagram: +150
    • YouTube: +49
    • Newsletter: +43

All in all, I’m chalking this up to a learning experience.

What would I change next time?

I think one of the biggest learnings here is that, without an audience, marketing a book (or any product) is an uphill battle. While I did know that, I was hoping that advertising would help fill the gap, and unfortunately it didn’t.

The most strategic approach, then, would be to focus on growing my audience, so that when the next book launches I have more people to tell about it. In an ideal world, I would ramp up my YouTube content to achieve this, since that’s the place where I’ve seen most results from consistent content in the past. This is not an ideal world, though, which means my priority is focusing on writing, not YouTube content, and I don’t see that changing for several months.

So, if my next book launch rolls around and I’m in the same position I’m in now (meaning, no audience), what would I do?

        1. Content marketing: Here I’d stick to a bare-minimum approach. As mentioned above, it’s most valuable long before a launch for building an audience. Without having an audience at launch time, there are other things with higher ROI.
        2. Bookstagram tours: I’d still do Bookstagram tours, but I’d spend more time researching tour companies to see if there are ones that are more relevant for my genre.
        3. Reviews: I’d reach out to past NetGalley reviewers for my next book. I’d also use future book content as an incentive to get people to leave reviews for past books (e.g. someone needs to send me a link to their Powerless review on Amazon to get a sneak peek of Powerless 2). I think I’ll also reach out to my audience for advance reviews, instead of relying on them for book orders, as that could help increase buzz in the lead up to launch.
        4. Advertising: Hopefully I can get Instagram sorted, in which case, Instagram ads will be a much bigger part of my strategy – mostly to grow followers and to drive people to my website to sign up for the first chapters of my book for free. I’d continue Amazon ads, but would spend more time on experimenting with higher-traffic genres that are less relevant to my book, just to see what the return is.
        5. Discounted launch pricing: Something I didn’t do this time, but which I think is worth exploring in future. 

    Let’s cover discounted launch pricing in more detail. The Powerless eBook is $2.99, and is priced at that level because that’s what Amazon recommends (they offer a higher royalty for eBooks between $2.99 and $9.99). 

    That pricing also gives you some more budget for advertising – as the profit per book is higher, you can spend more to get each individual sale. On the other hand, if you have a book priced at $0.99, the profit per book is much lower, meaning you don’t really have much left you can use to promote the book. 

    If you have multiple books, this can work in your favour – people try out a book for $0.99, and once they know they like your stuff, they are more willing to spend a bit more on other books. While you might lose money on one book, overall you are making money because that book is helping people discover your other, more expensive books.

    In addition, there are a range of book promotion newsletters available for discounted eBooks, which can increase the number of people discovering and buying your book. 

    As a first-time author, the discounted price didn’t make sense since I didn’t have a back catalogue I could send people to, and this meant I missed out on this option for book promotion. As a second-time author, though, I will have another book I can send people to, which means this is worth considering, and it becomes a more valuable strategy with every new release.

    Final thoughts

    While my book launch was, objectively, not a success, I’m not too worried about it. This is the first of what will hopefully be many books, and with each launch I’ll learn things that I can do better.

    In my case, there is also a silver lining to my book launch having failed, and that comes back to the personal issues I’ve been having. If my book had been a runaway success (if it was on the NYT bestsellers list and got a tonne of media coverage), I might have had hordes of hungry fans clamouring for book 2.

    If that had been the case, I would have felt so much pressure to keep writing – keep performing – even as my marriage was falling apart. I probably would have kept trying to refine the draft I wrote at the beginning of the year, instead of doing the complete rewrite that it needs, just to keep making progress. 

    Ultimately, I think I would have pushed forward with a subpar book, and damaged my mental and physical health in the process.

    But guess what? I don’t have hordes of hungry fans! This means I can take my time – I can heal my health, my energy and my writing, which wouldn’t have been possible if I had the pressure of a hard deadline to release the sequel.

    So what now?

    Now, my focus is healing. My ex and I have a house to sell, and then I’ll have a new apartment to move into. I’ve taken on a non-fiction ghostwriting project to help me get back into the rhythm of writing without the pressure of producing a great novel, and I’m starting to daydream about the world of Powerless once again.