Powder Burn – Promoting an Indie Novel in 2013 by Mark Chisnell

In my March blog, I tackled the process of publishing a novel independently in the year of 2013 – and how it had differed from the first time I did it, way back at the dawn of the ebook age in 2009.

Powder Burn hit the virtual bookshelves on the 3rd April and I promised I’d come back and report on the launch and its associated promotion. There’s no comparison to 2009 this month, as I simply did not do any promotion four years ago...

But I did do a reasonable amount of promotion for Powder Burn, although what’s reasonable is hard to judge as I have no real idea of how much effort other people put in. It centred around three areas: point of sale presentation; social media and reviews; and price promotion. I’ll tackle these separately.

Sales Presentation

I’ve come to the conclusion that the most cost-effective way to sell an ebook at this point in time is by making it highly discoverable and attractive at the point of purchase. In arriving at this opinion, I’ve been heavily influenced by Michael Alvear’s Make a Killing on Kindle.

The book has been referenced on Authors Electric a few times and tells you that Facebook, blogs and twitter don't sell books - just by the fact that I'm still blogging here you will probably realise that I don’t completely buy into it. Nevertheless, I think it has some excellent advice on making books easier to find and reducing resistance to purchase by having a professional sales page for the book.

If you want the full explanation, I can recommend that you read Alvear’s book. The short version is that I spent a lot of time on the cover design, the blurb and the HTML presentation of the Powder Burn page on Amazon.

Social Media and Reviews

The value of customer reviews on Amazon and other websites cannot be underestimated – try as hard as you like to make the book’s page look slick and professional, if there are no decent reviews it’ll look like a ghost town and smell like turkey. It’s a major problem for new releases, so I put a lot of effort into trying to get some good reviews from day one.

To achieve that goal, I’d been working hard for months at building networks on three core social media channels – Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter. I probably spend about 45 minutes a day on these websites, and it’s something that I really enjoy. I’m a big convert to Goodreads and if you find the right groups and get involved as a reader (rather than pushing your books) it’s possible to learn a lot from loads of people who really love books.

I advertised for Beta readers on Goodreads and Facebook, and then gave out free copies to anyone that wanted to read it and provide feedback. I included their comments in the final rewrite, and then encouraged them to post a review when it was published. I also contacted a core group of book bloggers that have reviewed my books in the past, people that I now have an ongoing relationship with and supplied them with advance review copies.

The end result was six reviews on the publication day, and hopefully it will continue steadily as I work my way through review requests to some 200+ book review blogs.

A couple of the reviewers were book bloggers and also posted on their own sites, and I facebooked and tweeted links to these reviews through the publication week for good measure. I’m a long way from being able to mobilise the hundreds or thousands of fanatical readers that can be relied on by the likes of Seth Godin, but I figure it’s a start.

Half-Time Score

These efforts resulted in the sale of 43 books on publication day across the US and UK Amazon websites. It boosted the book to about 1500 on the overall UK chart, and a highpoint of #9 in the UK spy thriller chart. It was the best I’ve achieved without an advert on one of the major eBook websites. Unfortunately, this kind of social media promotion can’t be sustained for more than a few days without annoying people, and slowly over the next week Powder Burn slid back to three or four books a day - and so... enter Plan B.

Price Promotion

I had deliberately held the book back from the other eBook publishing channels – Smashwords, B&N, Kobo – so that I could put Powder Burn into Kindle Select and use the oldest ebook promo trick in the book. Free. It’s been well documented that making books free on Amazon no longer works as well as it did a couple of years ago, but it worked well enough 12 months ago when a four day free period for TheFulcrum Files subsequently boosted it to #1 on Amazon.com Historical Mystery Chart.

The question was whether Amazon’s continued changes to its chart algorithms would have spoiled  'free' as an effective way of gathering further momentum. On the 9th April I decided to find out, I put Powder Burn into Kindle Select; programmed a three-day free promotion from the 17th April and then used ebookBooster.com to push it at all the websites that advertise free books to readers.

Initially, the results were great – it hit #15 on the overall US Kindle free chart, and was top five in all the major thriller charts, with over 10,000 downloads. It came off free on the morning of the 20th April and I’m writing this 24 hours later before posting ready for my AE slot on 22nd April. So far since going back to paid, Powder Burn has sold precisely 7 copies. It may pick up as a result of all those downloads, but right now... I might need a Plan C!


Stephanie Zia said…
Huge thanks for this. Advertising for beta readers on Goodreads and FB sounds like an excellent idea. I too found the Make A Killing on Kindle book extremely useful. Especially the keyword Google Analytics/Amazon Search combination method & can second your recommendation. Have left KDP but dallying at this moment about putting a new book in. Would love an update on how it goes. All good luck for the next stage.
glitter noir said…
Thanks for the frank and detailed post, Mark. I think your plan C, for now, should be to continue with plans A and B--while turning out more books. Relentless persistence, plus talent and focus,will lead to the Yellow Brick Road. Price modification in itself doesn't seem to guarantee a thing. Possibility: join in on some team reduced price event--with exposure to the other members' fans. Just a thought. Cheers.
Chris Longmuir said…
Great post. I hadn't heard about ebookbooster.com. Is this a free service or do you have to pay for it? When I followed the link it didn't say!
Ruth Harris said…
Mark, thank you for such a detailed and well-thought out post. PB is still a baby & has a long time to find readers. Plan C might well proceed along those lines.
Mark Chisnell said…
Glad it was some help, folks, I will try and remember to update this in a few months so we can see how Plan B worked out medium-term.

I don't intend to do anything much different in Plan C, I'll probably add some BookBub advertising as apparently it's effective, even if expensive.

Reb, I think author-combos/price reductions do work. I've not tried anything like that, but mostly because I've not had time - but if someone else wants to volunteer to organise us...

Chris, you have to pay for ebookbooster, it's $35 (just went up from $25), but saves about a days work compared to signing up to all the sites individually.

Lee said…
It all sounds rather dispiriting, to be honest. I keep thinking that those of us/you who look to sell their books are overlooking something essential. But what?
Thanks Mark, some cracking stuff in there that I am going to put to test very soon.
I am going to read this post a few times!
julia jones said…
Not dispiriting - it's thorough and business-like. I second Stephanie's HUGE thanks for Mark's clarity in explaining his reasoning and processes. What I do think though it that it's becoming clearer that the types of market that we all individually choose tends to reflect our own personalities and areas of expertise and also our likely audiences. For instance I can't imagine Dan Holloway's Evie and Guy being promoted this way. Different approaches suit different books. I'm reading Powder Burn, Mark and what I'm particularly enjoying are the descriptions of the mountains. Truly wonderful and with the authenticity of your own experience. I expect you've used that in some of your writing about the book?
Lee said…
Julia, I wouldn't want to run a business which provides so little return. That's one of the reasons I prefer not to run one at all.
Mark Chisnell said…
I'm glad it was useful for some, and sorry it was dispiriting for others. I don't personally find it dispiriting - largely because I don't write for business. I write because I feel a weird compulsion to tell these stories, and I'm not happy when I'm not doing it.

I do work hard at promoting the books and trying to build a business around them, simply because that means I would be able to spend more time doing what I most love - but even if that business doesn't build, I won't stop because five happy readers is enough reason to go on and write a new book. And I have five happy readers for this one - including Julia, it sounds like :-) -- and yes, I went to Everest Base Camp in Tibet, and that trip very much inspired the story!
glitter noir said…
Let's keep that on a back burner, Mark. With the right team--and maybe Kirkus MacGowan, master organizer at the helm, we could do well.

I'm now officially convinced that John's new book will be out in May. Clues: massive increase in Twitter followers...more activity...and the famous MacRathian instinct.
Lee said…
Mark, I'm glad to read that you'll keep writing even if your business model should prove less than ideal. In fact, I feel that's one of the basic problems I encounter with writers who are attempting to write well and run a business at the same time: they don't have a very clear idea of how to run a business. Obviously, one problem is that the business models they use are inadequate. In fact, I suspect that all the current business models, even the ones which encompass our new media, don't really function effectively for epublishing. But I don't have any solutions.
Mark Chisnell said…
Lee - I favour one blog above all others on the business aspects of writing, Kathryn Rusch - always worth a look...

Lee said…
Thanks, Mark. I'll give it a good look. After just arguing over the cost of my next translation job - why do these people seem to think you can translate well while asleep? - I may just be ready to re-evaluate my stance on earning money with my fiction. Grr...

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