Try these ten tips to suddenly sell a million copies and earn your parents’ respect!
I have read a hundred posts telling me to build a mailing list, grow my brand, or ‘just find reviewers’ to get book sales and start that golden path toward becoming Stephen King. By day, I’m a data scientist, and whether I like it or not, I bring data to all aspects of my life (some say it’s unhealthy, I say: show me that data that proves that). So, like an internet-based canary, I’m going to be testing the strategies I find online using my newest novella release, The First Ambassador to Crustacea.
To start, I wanted to look at a strategy that pops up everywhere: The Mythical GoodReads giveaway. For the low, low price of $119 ($99 during ‘giveaway month’), GoodReads will blast messages into the ether telling readers that you’re giving away books, and through that initial virality, you’ll build a fanbase, and your book will take off into the stratosphere. Sounds great!
Now, I opted to test the paperback version, but there is an option that lets you give away digital books for the same price. My logic is that someone is going to be far more likely to read a physical copy that comes in the mail, and it has a better chance of avoiding a lonely death on an overfilled Kindle. As an added bonus, I can slip saucy yeti pictures and stickers in for a memorable surprise.
With that in mind, here’s a budget breakdown.
$119 – Paid to GoodReads for promotional space
$40.01 – 10 copies of Crustacea from publisher, Ingram Spark
$36.50 – Shipping via Media Mail (cheapest way to ship books) through Stamps.com ($3.65 per book)
$19.83 – The recurring monthly Stamps.com membership I will forget to cancel
$Basically Free – Leftover Kickstarter supplies like stickers, saucy yeti photos and packaging materials
TOTAL PROMOTIONAL COST: $215.34
Now, looking at that budget, it’s spendy, especially for someone not currently earning a living from these books, but this is science damnit! So, I paid the price, set up the promotion, and of course, after the fact, started thinking about how many copies I’d actually have to move to break even. Let’s do some quick return on investment (ROI) calculation.
$2 – About what Ingram pays me per copy sold (not getting too granular, because math)
$215.34 ÷ $2 = ~108 Books to Break Even
So… 108 books. That’s more copies than I’ve sold combined of my last three book releases. Ok, so this campaign really needs to work for it to be worth the money. Just to level set, let’s talk briefly about Crustacea’s launch. I funded this novella through Kickstarter, a financial breakdown for another time, and just barely broke even after shipping all the backer rewards and copies (50 backers total, $2,500 raised). After all that, here’s what the GoodReads page looked like at launch:
First 30 days, 5 reviews, despite selling 50 copies. Bit of a sad chart. It got sadder, but we don’t need to dwell on that. Cut to, the 30 days after starting the GoodReads campaign!
HOLY HELL, look at that spike. I saw that spike and thought: Maybe this wasn’t a waste of $200 after all, maybe the hype is real! Well, the spike did trail off after a while, eventually peaking again the day the campaign ended. What’s difficult to see on that chart is that only two metrics are moving: To-Reads and Added. They’re moving almost perfectly together because to enter the campaign, you have to add a book to your to-read list, and by virtue, it gets ‘Added’ to your profile.
Excuse the fact that this screenshot is after the campaign ended, but here’s what the giveaway looked like so you can get a basic idea:
All Told, 2,433 users added Crustacea to their to-read lists, an approximate 12,000% increase in traffic.
We are sitting pretty, we have increased traffic, and people have added books to their lists… but I can’t help but wonder, how many books do these people have on their lists? Are they qualified traffic (e.g. are they actually going to review this book if they get it?). The answer is definitely a mixed bag. Here’s an example of what one of their page stats looked like:
209 Books Read – Looking good so far, all reasonable numbers
157 Ratings – 75% of books read, star rating with no review
97 Reviews – 46% of books read are actually reviewed (reviews help more than ratings)
196 Currently Reading – Ok… Maybe they’re really into books. Maybe they’re a genius!
45,656 Books on To-Read Shelf – Well… shit.
Ok, so these people participate in a lot of giveaways, but there’s a chance, right?
We can assume this person is going to read 405 Books, that’s generous, but it’s assuming they will finish everything on their Currently Reading list. That means they have read about .01% of their To-Read shelf.
They’ve been on GoodReads since 2015 (8 years), which means that they read an average of 26 books a year. If they added NO MORE BOOKS to their To-Read shelf for the rest of their life, they would finish their book backlog in the year 3779, far surpassing Bladerunner 2042, at which point, things look pretty bleak for humanity and people aren’t reading as much.
So… Oof. We’ve got some underqualified traffic (maybe Crustacea will get lucky). Well, the next step is to mail these books out, see how many of the 10 winners actually read/review, and then do some very hand-wavey attribution modeling. With that in mind, here’s my plan:
- For the next few weeks I will say nothing about Crustacea in an attempt to create a controlled scenario of ‘no marketing’. Should work fine, it’s not flying off the shelves and I don’t use Twitter much anymore.
- Next month, I will come back and look at what % of the winners reviewed the book, as well as take a look at how Crustacea has fared on GoodReads at large (e.g. is it getting more reviews, adds, etc)
- I’ll also dig into some of the financials to see if Crustacea is selling at an increased rate. Note: It’s really easy to do an impact analysis when your baseline is 0 copies per week.
With all that in mind, from this initial assessment, I think it’s fairly clear that this GoodReads campaign was not worth the $$$. I’m waiting to be proven wrong by the data, but I have a feeling based on these initial trends, it’s not going to go great. So, I guess, interim advice, don’t waste your money on this!
Once I’m done with the ‘no marketing’ period, I’ll come back and test some other strategies and share the data with you all to see how they fared. Until then, good luck to all the indie authors out there, it’s a tough road, but at least you get to tell fun stories.