Postmortem of a Book Giveaway
Postmortem of a Book Giveaway

Postmortem of a Book Giveaway

The Setup

In case you missed it, over the last few days I ran a giveaway of The Money Shot. It was partly promotional attempt, partly self-publishing experiment, but I resolved to track it all and produce a spiffy dataporn to go along with it. Here’s how things went.

My book was originally published a long time ago with almost zero promotion. I recently got back into writing (more on that in another post) and decided to kickstart the old series. Total sales before my return in October of 2022 were abysmal—21 book sold with maybe 2000 KENP read over 7 years. Reviews were favorable but scant with 6 ratings, 4 actual reviews, and an overall rating of 4.6.

My other problem had to do with genre—mostly because my book doesn’t fit neatly into one. It is a mish-mash of 1940s hardboiled detective fiction and erotica. While there is an “Erotic Mysteries” category on Amazon, calling it “niche” would be an understatement. And my book doesn’t fit the mold even there. It goes against the grain in a number of ways, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write the damned thing (to craft a style and genre all my own). However, that’s not a good strategy for killer sales. Given these factors, I was mostly concerned about gaining readership and improving the number of reviews as a springboard into the second book I’m currently planning. I’m fortunate that my day job is more than enough to support my writing habit, so turning a profit wasn’t a motivator. The primary goal was to get the book into as many hands as possible and see what happened. So that’s why I decided to do a giveaway and spend a little cash to make sure it was a success.

The Plan

I did a lot of research prior to coming up with my book giveaway plan, mostly around what promotion services would do giveaways for my specific type of book. There are a lot of them out there that won’t touch erotica with a ten-foot pole, so that was a big factor behind which ones I went with.

I also wanted to have a means of determining ROI (because DATAPORN!), so I structured the event with that in mind. Amazon lets you run a promotion 5 days every quarter you’re enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, and I decided to shoot my whole wad in one go. Was that the correct decision? Still not sure if I would have had better results by spreading the activity across the quarter. Probably? But it’s water under the bridge at this point.

Finally, I was planning the giveaway in early November and for some reason I had it stuck in my head that I needed to get it done before Christmas. This so that all those new readers could spend their holiday downtime reading my lovely book. Which, I realize now, was a freaking pipedream and most likely wouldn’t make much of a difference in overall downloads or downstream readership. But oh well.

Anyhow, here’s the plan I came up with for the giveaway.

Day 1 (Tuesday) – TheFussyLibrarian ($47)

FussyLibrarian had some of the best author reviews, and I felt that it was a good one to lead with. Their subscriber lists are broken down by genre, and the Erotic Romance category allegedly had 32,000 readers. My novel isn’t erotic romance, but I was pretty sure this demo would be amenable to an erotic mystery. I mean, at least few people read erotic romance just for the “good parts”, right?

Day 2 (Wednesday) – BookRaid ($.15 – $60)

BookRaid is different than most of the other promotional services out there. Instead of a flat fee based upon subscribers, they charge per click on your link. For free books it’s $.15 a click, so on the one hand if the giveaway flops it’s a pretty safe, low-cost option. On the other hand, it’s a higher than average “per download” cost compared to what I’ve seen out there as the average (which is $.08 – $.12/download). On the plus side, they cap your cost at $60, so if all goes swimmingly, you could end up with a better per-click value than advertised. Finally, unlike most other advertisers, they had a dedicated Erotica mailing list category, which was solidly in my demo. BookRaid doesn’t provide subscriber numbers for each category, but since it was a pay-per-click arrangement, I felt fairly safe.

Day 3 (Thursday) – Digital Book Spot ($12.50)

Digital Book Spot (also known by the name of the individual who runs it, BKnights), was the cheapest option. They claimed to have over 50,000 subscribers, but the list was not separated by genre and I would run the risk of blasting my niche book to a bunch of people who didn’t give a damn. But it was going to be about $12.50 ($5 for the newsletter placement, $5 for website placement, and $2.50 in processing fees), which was by far the cheapest option. I decided to give it a whirl.

Day 4 (Friday) – No Promotions

I wanted to get a baseline of what the giveaway looked like without all the fuel coming from the promotional aids, so there was one day I left open. I realized there would probably be a little residual influence from the promotions of the prior days, but it would be a decent gauge. I also was out of services that would accept my specific genre, so I let it ride.

Day 5 (Saturday) – EreaderIQ ($30)

For the last day of the giveaway, I wanted to go out with a bang. In the hopes that I might reach some new readers that hadn’t already seen the book in the prior days of the promotion, I decided to promote to the Mystery and Thriller category at EreaderIQ. They advertised a subscription list of over 37,000 for this category. I was worried about negative reviews due to someone downloading the book and getting more than they bargained for. To hedge against that, I made sure the promoted listing included “Erotic” in the subtitle and warnings about graphic depictions of sex. You’d think they would get the gist just from the cover (which includes the back of a topless woman), but I still had my misgivings. I also sprang for an additional $5 fee to get the book pinned to the top of the EreaderIQ website for the day.

Additional Promotion

Throughout the 5 days, I planned to promote on free venues where I could. I spent a good bit of time before the giveaway creating a hitlist of forums and groups. Of course there was Twitter (where most of my writing compatriots tend to hang out), but I also staked out groups on Facebook and Goodreads, as well as some promising sub-Reddits. This process was harder than I thought it would be, since a lot of the groups didn’t allow self-promotion or linking to external sites, even for book giveaway purposes.  

The Results

The TL;DR version is that the promotion netted me 1,631 downloads and by day 5 catapulted me to #1 in the Erotic Mysteries (Free) category. Success!

I never cracked the top 100 free. The highest I got was #285, but the curious thing was there was another book doing a free promo in the same category, so even when my book was at its highest rank, it still wasn’t number 1 in its category. That only came when the other book started to tail off and my promo went into the last hurrah. As far as ratings and reviews, though, the jury is still out on that one. As of the writing of this post, I’d only had one additional rating (2 stars), so it’s still too early to tell. I’ll post an addendum in a few months to close the loop on that one.

Now for the hard data.  That’s what you came for, right? The below chart breaks it down, but overall, I was able to move 1,631 free copies over 5 days for a cost-per-download of around 9 cents.  Pretty decent, in my book.

1TuesdayFussy Librarian$47553$0.085
3ThursdayDigital Book Spot$12.50211$0.059

What Was The Best Value?

It’s not as easy a question to answer as it might appear at first glance. That’s because most of the promotions were in newsletter format, so if someone didn’t open the email until 2 days later, it could look like the traffic came from the current promotion rather than the one it really originated with. The other wrinkle is that people probably sign up for multiple newsletters, so it could have been my book was put in front of some of the same people over and over, which blunts the perceived effectiveness of a given promoter. I hoped that promoting across different genres would mitigate some of this, but who knows? The one exception to this is BookRaid because they bill based upon reader clicks. They reported 408 for my run, which is astonishingly close to the number of downloads that day. I feel like that had to be a fluke.

That’s a lot of words to say, “it was a crap shoot,” but there you go. Except for Day 1 activity and BookRaid’s reporting of clicks, it’s hard to attribute precisely which downloads came from which promotion. All we can do is take the numbers at face value with the knowledge that they’re mostly accurate.

The best value by the numbers is Digital Book Spot, though I personally doubt most of those came from that promotion. Given how the pace of downloads went throughout the day, my supposition is that FussyLibrarian accounted for a good portion of the traffic on days 2 and 3 as well, which would make it the most effective in terms of both reach and cost-per-download. But that’s just my gut.

Other Key Takeaways

Newsletters or Bust

I sprang for a couple of add-ons that promised to pin my book to their website for the day, and I don’t feel they were effective. They were only $5 each, so it wasn’t that much money. Also, the one I did for EreaderIQ I couldn’t even validate it actually went on the website. My advice is to focus your advertising dollars on newsletters.

Free Promotional Tools are Free for a Reason

I’m sure some of the downloads I received were due to my free promotional efforts, but I don’t think a lot. Traffic would trickle in most of the time and then skyrocket once a new newsletter dropped.

My Twitter friends were absolute champs helping to promote the giveaway, but on Twitter you’re mostly advertising to other authors. That’s not where the readers are. Facebook was a complete bust for me, as I managed to get my account locked for posting the same promo text in 3 public groups. Obviously I have a lot to learn there, but I hate Facebook and don’t want to put the time into it.

I received probably the most traction on the Reddit. A lot of groups don’t allow linking to other sites (to cut down on spam), but one in particular, r/FreeEBOOKS has like 2 million members, and my promotional post seemed to do fairly well. Though I have no idea how many people actually downloaded the thing because of that posting.

Genre Matters (Duh)

This is kind of a no-brainer, but when choosing a newsletter, it’s better to focus on the readership for your chosen genre rather than overall subscribers. Digital Book Spot boasted 50k subscribers, but I got far more clicks from the FussyLibrarian and EreaderIQ promotions which had less subscribers (37k and 32k respectively) but were more targeted.

The Sure Thing is More Expensive

While it was tempting to use a pay-per-click pricing model, it ultimately wasn’t as effective (from a clicks-per-download perspective) as the others. Could I have gotten better ROI if I’d only used BookRaid? Given the probable crossover between newsletters, maybe. But I don’t think it would have been enough to give it more reach or make it more cost-effective than FussyLibrarian.

Does Day of the Week Matter?

On this subject, I can’t really tell. Obviously the first day was on a Tuesday and it was the best. But I would anticipate the first day to have more activity regardless of day of the week. I’d have to get more data to make an educated guess. But most professional publishers drop their books on Tuesdays, so maybe there’s something to that?

Your Mileage May Vary

It goes without saying, but every book and every genre audience is different. What works for one my not work for another. So while my results mostly lined up with what I’d come to expect from my research, yours might not. Given that my book is pretty freaking niche, 1600 downloads sounds like a really high number to me. For a more popular genre, that might sound like failure to you.

Also, I haven’t gotten any actual reviews yet, so it’s impossible to tell if the giveaway fulfilled its purpose in that regard. It’s entirely possible a lot of people could think it’s trash and I end up with way worse ratings than I had before. Like a lot of stuff when it comes to self-publishing, the truth is murky.

It’s a Wrap

That’s pretty much it. It’s been two days since the book giveaway concluded, and I haven’t seen an increase in sales or anything. What I have seen is a pretty good run on KNEP (for me), which keeps increasing day-over-day. Not sure how long it will continue, but I’ll update to let you know. Once I have more data on reviews and rankings, I’ll update with that data as well. But for now, that’s about it.

If you’ve done a giveaway and have similar data to share—or maybe you have questions about your upcoming giveaway—drop me a line in the comment section below. I’d love to hear what other people’s experiences have been with similar book giveaways.

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