Anatomy of a Failed Book Promotion

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Stand Aside, Literary Poseurs!

I suppose I can forgive Hugo and Dickens for being ahead of me, because they are dead, after all. But man, did I stick it to that Bronte gal! (And her sisters aren’t even here to defend her.) I’m referring to that bit of pictorial whimsy above, where I got to sit at the reading table (even if I had to use a high chair) with a pantheon of literary greats. The whimsy is that this is one of those deceptive snapshots in time, where if the photo is taken at just the right moment, a sedentary couch surfer might be seen to be leaping onto a moving stallion. In the case of my recent Amazon book promotion, my stallion never really left the stall.

The reason my novel, All Roads Are Circles, is seen rubbing shoulders with these writing elect is because of my recent promotion through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s (KDP) Select program. I won’t go into deep details about how the Select program works, but here is a pointed post from Jane Friedman (excellent comments too) about the premise behind the program. One of the questions that’s examined is that because of the proliferation of free books, is KDP of much use to authors today?

One of the basics of the program for your enrolled ebook is that you give Amazon exclusive rights to sell your book for 90 days, and in that time you can designate 5 days of free downloads for the book. One of the alleged spurs behind this largesse is that it circulates an author’s work to a wider audience, some percentage of which might be induced to write a positive review, and thus boost actual sales.

Promotion a Go-Go Goes No-Go

I took my first novel, published a couple of years ago, off of Smashwords and B&N to put it in Select. My hope in using the program wasn’t to later sell copies of that novel, but indeed to induce some positive reviews, in the hopes that might promote the sale of my newer, small-press published short story collection. People who have used the program successfully have noted that it’s often helpful in the selling of other works; you will see many authors sell a novel for .99 as a loss leader, while their other works are priced much higher.

I was quite successful in my recent promotion in NOT selling copies of the promoted novel (I’m apparently quite good at that), but not very successful in getting reviews, and not successful in getting new sales of the short story book. Broken down, my recent 5 days of free KDP promotion—which ended on April 24—garnered 3,288 downloads. I had registered it for free on a number of free ebook downloads sites, and on some Goodreads and Amazon free promo forums. You will see in current online discussions of KDP Select that Amazon is no longer giving these sites that advertise free downloads as much latitude and support as they had in the past.

That Stallion Really Was Lame

It’s been almost a month since the promo ended. In that time, there were 0 post-Select sales of the novel. There was probably one sale of the short story book, maybe two. I did get one review of the free novel: it’s titled “Lame,” and its one-star designation says nothing happens in the book except some x-rated language. Wow, I’m going to have to go back and read my own book. I’m almost sure something happens, but I didn’t realize there was so much shitty language.

Granted, literary fiction isn’t a big seller (particularly short-story books), and Oprah and I never dated, so I don’t have that cachet, but them results is slim pickin’s. Other writers report much different results. Author Joe Konrath, who writes extensively about traditional publishing and all the variants of self-publishing, spells out his own profitable experiences with KDP Select; he has an extensive publishing history, which served him well in his promotion.

However, if anyone does need advice on how not to sell books, I am apparently an expert. I’m not sure how well that Dickens guy did on his actual sales after his promo, but as you know, he has a lot of ghosts working for him on his behalf. I’m thinking of engaging the Ghost of Christmas Future to work on my next book promo …

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4 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Failed Book Promotion

  1. Perhaps you could add more car chases? Car chases with vampires.

    A vampire, chasing a scantily clad woman in a nuclear-powered car from the future.

    That’s what makes a book worth reading, y’know. It also sells well.

    I promise, once you’ve been dead a couple decades, this stuff hardly bothers you at all. Or so I’m told.

    But thanks for further confirmation that I DON’T care about Kindle Select.

  2. Joel, the story idea is sensational! I will add a sexting senator, a plunderer of the Brazilian rainforest and an alien who is disguised as a family dog—Fifty Shades of Grey, shake in your leather boots!

    I’ll get back to you on whether I’m annoyed after I’m dead; sometimes you can build up stores of petulance that can last you a lifetime (and more). Thanks for the Canfielding.

  3. Hi Tom,

    I had a bit more success than you. When my suspense novel ran for 5 free days in March, I had more than 8,000 downloads. Following that, there were sales and borrows and new reviews. Not a lot, but some.

    Perhaps it takes time to judge the results. I hope new reviews will keep coming. Not everyone read my book immediately after downloading it.

    The bottom line for me is that I want people to read my book. I am not going to get rich from doing this. I am satisfied with my experience and expecting more good things to come in the future as a result of this.

    (I posted an article about my Amazon bestseller experience on my blog. You were up against Hugo and Dickens. I was up against Dan Brown!)

    Best regards,

  4. Ellis, good to know that Select does work in some cases. And indeed, I might be a mite too impatient for results—I have a bunch of books on my Kindle that I downloaded a while back and haven’t broken open yet.

    But I’m shocked, shocked to hear that you’re not going to get rich from this! Isn’t that why we’re all scribbling away? Whoops, sorry—I hit my head on the monitor and typed that before I came fully to consciousness. Yes, you do have the right attitude (one I’m trying to embrace) and looking for the good is always better than swimming in the bad.

    Best of luck with your books, and don’t even worry about that Brown guy; he’s WAY behind those Brontes.

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