Ghost Drum and BookBub - by Susan Price

          I had good sales in June and July, for some reason. I had
The Ghost Drum, by Susan Price
done nothing in the way of publicity that I hadn't done before, but my sales nearly doubled in June, and then doubled again in July. We're still talking low figures, mind. The Lear jet isn't on order yet...but still.

          For one thing, something odd was happening in Germany. Having steadfastly ignored my kindle output since I started, Germany suddenly sprang to attention and bought ten of my books - one copy each of ten of the eleven books I've self-published.
          I've no idea whether this was one person buying all ten books, or ten different people buying a different book each, or some mixture of the above - one person buying five different copies, say, another buying two, and three other people buying one each. Amazon doesn't allow you to find that out.
          But how likely is it that ten different people, in Germany, would coincidentally buy ten different copies of my books on the same day? That's why I think it must be one person.
          It's very strange to think that somewhere in the vast landscape that Germany covers, somewhere among all those mountains, forests, rivers, Black Forest Gateaux, autobahns, cuckoo clocks, and millions of people, one person has bought ten of my books. (And possibly all eleven, because the one that wasn't bought in July was bought this month.) I hope s/he enjoys them. I'm very grateful!
          (Could it possibly be the German agent, who swore never to rest until she'd found a German publisher for the Ghost World books?)
          Anyhoo, in view of these increased sales, and inspired by the BookBub adventures of fellow Electrics John Logan and Mark Chisnell, I decided to invest a few quid in advertising.
          BookBub is a site which alerts people to ebooks which are either free or discounted - but it only alerts them to books which match their interests. It claims to have over 1 million subscribers - though not all those subscribers will want to know about your book. BookBub promises its subscribers that the books it recommends
'are bestsellers or written by a bestselling author, were published by a top-tier publisher, or have received strong reviews from critics and readers.' They have staff that vet the submitted books.
           Authors and publishers pay BookBub to send emails to the subscribers on their, say, Thriller or SF list. The cost varies according to how many subscribers are on the list - you'll find their prices here.
Ghost Song by Susan Price
          I thought I would try promoting The Ghost Drum, the first book in my Ghost World Sequence of three books. I hoped that selling this first book very cheaply would encourage sales of the other two, and possibly my other books as well.
          I suggested it to BookBub for their fantasy category, and was turned down flat. It was for children, they said. (Which is arguable, but never mind.)
          However, they did say that they were starting a new category, for children and Young Adult books, and would I like them to tell me when that began?
          I said yes, expecting to wait months, if they remembered me at all - but they contacted me again within a couple of days, inviting me to submit The Ghost Drum to their children's category. I did, and it was accepted.
          At first, I intended to sell the book at 99c, and BookBub charged me $40 (£26) to send an email to 60,000 subscribers.
          But then I looked into things more closely and realised that I couldn't programme a price decrease automatically on Amazon. I would have to be there, to set the price to 99c - and then to raise it again at the end of the give-away period. This would mean the book being taken down for 12 hours, just when I was hoping that further, full-price sales might be made. Also, as my partner was watching the weather and preparing to dash up to Iona if a High hovered over the Highlands, I might not even be somewhere with an internet connection when the Great BookBub Experiment took place.
          It would be easier to give the book away for free, for a limited period. I could programme the KDP site to look after that. So I got back in touch with BookBub and told them that the book was going to be free for a day. Oh, in that case, they said, the cost to you will only be $30 (£19). Not that they refunded me the difference. No, they credited it to my account. So, since I'm not sure whether I'll use them again, I'm counting the cost to me as $40.
          Well, the book was given away on August 4th-5th, and BookBub sent out their emails on the 4th.
          The result?
          8068 free downloads. 7579 in USA. 67 in the UK, 3 in
Ghost Dance by Susan Price
Germany. 10 in India. 13 in Canada.

          After the book returned to its full price, I sold, in the USA, 14 copies of The Ghost Drum, 5 copies of Ghost Song and 6 copies of Ghost Dance.
          Also one copy of the 'omnibus' edition of all three, one copy of Wolf Sisters, and a borrowing of Hauntings.
          In the UK, I sold 3 Ghost Drums, one each of Ghost Song and Ghost Dance, and 1 Hauntings.
          That kind person in Germany, whoever they be, bought a copy of The Story Collector, the only ebook of mine they hadn't bought last month. Bitte!
          In the other Amazon markets, nothing.
          So, in total, 34 books sold. And, perhaps a higher profile.
          I'm not out of pocket. This month's sales paid back what the advert cost me, and made a little profit on top.
          But wait - in June and July I sold fewer books, but actually made more money, because I didn't have to pay the cost of a BookBub advert.
          So, was it worth it?
          I'd be interested in John Logan and Mark Chisnell's thoughts on this. They sell in more adult categories, of course, which may have made a big difference.
          I think I may hang fire, and wait a month or two. See if those Omnibus sales increase. Then I might try BookBub again, with one of my more adult books - one of the ghost story collections, perhaps.


Lydia Bennet said…
hm, interesting Sue. Bookbub are way dearer for adult books, so a much bigger investment. So many writers on fb boast about huge free downloads but you are looking for increased sales - however all those thousands who got the free download, lots of them might buy your other books so there'd be a slower improvement in sales which might take a while. I suspect people grab freebies and end up with big TBR lists and could take ages to read the book. I'm trying book tweeting service for mine, just today - they do any kind of promo, tweet all day to over 50k followers. It's costing me $29 for a day. I'll let you know if anything happens!
Lydia Bennet said…
yes it's $240 for mysteries and $180 for thrillers! that's a lot more. I see they claim average downloads of over 17k free books. it's a lot of money to spend to earn no royalties... it would only work for me if it gave my new one a big boost in sales for people who liked the freebie.
Chris Longmuir said…
You talk about the book being taken down for 24 hours on KDP after a change is made. In one sense you are correct, the book is no longer live on your bookshelf page, but the book isn't taken down for sale on the Amazon site and remains available. The version on sale remains the previous version until the book goes live again, and then it's the new version. However, with Createspace, the book does become unavailable until the changes are made.
Good post, although I'm not sure I could afford Bookbub!
Lee said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said…
The Germans know a good writer when they come across one! They ought to, for there's an awful lot of excellent German fantasy that never gets translated. Actually, there's an awful lot of excellent work altogether that never gets translated. And it's a real shame, because storytelling across the world does differ considerably. (My elder daughter is participating in a short film festival in São Paulo at the moment, with more than half the films made in South America, and she's finding it rather liberating in terms of cinematic conventions.)

I'm so glad your work is being read, and I'll be interested in a follow-up post. Please write one eventually. I've always been rather anti-marketing, but perhaps my stance is too restrictive.
Bill Kirton said…
I'd thought of trying them with my spoof crime/spy novel The Sparrow Conundrum but, surprisingly I think, they have no Humour category. I asked them about that and they did answer promptly but only with a general reply about always considering adding categories and I should keep checking to see if/when Humour was listed. Please do let us know what happens if you do use them, Susan.
Jan Ruth said…
I'm currently in the throes of a bookbub promotion and I'm very pleased both with sales and rankings in the Amazon store.
I needed to sell 629 copies of Wild Water, priced at 99c/77p in order to break even. After 24hours the figures are in the 750 region with another 6 days to go. Rankings have been number 1 in the movers and shakers chart, 5 in Romantic comedy, 10 in women's literature.
I would most certainly do this again as it targets specific groups of readers.
I think that is a good result, Sue.
I'd recommend doing a full 5 days on free promo though. That way it looks like you'd have been headed for 20000 downloads on that promotion.
The thing to look for next is new reviews that this promo will have brought in...or check on Goodreads to see if new readers have added the book.
A future promo in an adult category, another book, supernatural perhaps, might be an interesting experiment.
Mark knows more about the 99 cent promos on Bookbub, so far I've only tried the free ones.
The number of books that you have out there is your big advantage, promoting one feeds into the others, as you have seen.
My rule so far about spending on advertising, has been to spend nothing except profit made from previous sales/promotions...the earliest sales/promotions cost me nothing, all I did was give (quite a lot of) free books away, which generated sales...which then paid for future advertising.
Mark Chisnell said…
Hi Sue,

I think if you make your money back on either the 99c or free promos then you're actually way ahead, because you've added new readers, and probably added reviews - all good long-term results for no short-term loss.

I've done four bookbub adverts (3 x 99c and 1 x Free) and so far they have all hit this target... so I keep doing them!
Susan Price said…
John, Mark - thanks very much for your input. I think, of all of us, you have the most experience of these promotions, so I shall think over what you've said very carefully!
Bill Kirton said…
A chastening experience by way of a footnote. I bit the bullet and submitted The Darkness as a less than half-price promotion. It's got 15 Amazon reviews, all 5 stars, and it won silver in the Forward National Literature Awards 2011 for Mystery. But they rejected it. Fair enough, but it really would be interesting to know how their 'editorial team' conduct their sifting process and how they decide that a book's not good enough for their customers.
Lydia Bennet said…
it could be the old bugbear, genre fit, Bill?

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