Monday, March 11, 2013

Evaluating the ROI on paid book promotions

Many times when I ask how a fellow author has done on a recent book promotion, I hear, "I got to #500 on Amazon!" Or maybe, "I sold 300 copies!"

Both of those things are squee-worthy, but the excitement of zooming up the charts does wear off during the plummet back down, especially when you take a look at what the financial numbers bear out.

Last weekend, I did a promo with the KBoards. Now, I mainly did this promo to support Harvey, who created an excellent forum that has gained me many amazing author friends and priceless advice. So even bombing out on this promo would have been fine by me. Supporting a site you love is still a valid reason to pony up cash.

But it provided a great opportunity to objectively view a common type of promotion--an ad sent out via an email and social media blast by a web site with large lists of followers and fans.

Baby Dust has been through many promos, so I have a good idea how it does compared to other books like it. A Pixel of Ink promo in June 2012 (which you can't buy, POI chooses you randomly), netted 311 sales in two days. And an Ereader News Today promo last September got me 427 sales in two days for a cost of $30. But those are the heavy hitters, and getting booked with them is partly eligibility requirements and partly luck.

Lots of us will try the more usual outlets, and the Kboards are pretty typical in their numbers of subscribers and social media following.

Since most promos want to promote a sale, I dropped the price of Baby Dust to $2.99, half price, for three days to give all the late viewers time to click through, plus to build on any bonus exposure on Amazon. Three days is what I have found to be a typical longevity of a paid promo.

Normally in three days for Baby Dust on Amazon, I would sell 12 copies at $5.99 and make $50.
  • For the three days starting with the spotlight ad, I sold 27 copies at $2.99.
  • This made an income of $54.
  • Subtract the cost of the ad ($50) and I made $4.
  • I hit a high rank of #900 during the promo.
Breaking even on an ad is nice, but I did actually lose $46 by doing this promotion when the full ROI is evaluated, including how much I would have made without it.
  • Now, there are other benefits to doing ads. If you have a series, you could sell through to other books.
  • You can gain longer exposure due to a bump, although this particular promo didn't create a bump that helped with sales. I was back to 4 sales on day 3.
  • If you are getting nowhere at all, and you don't have money coming in, or if it's a new title, then doing a promotion like this is a good idea as it is break-even on its own.

Certainly squee when the squeeing is good, but for long-term sales of a steady book, always evaluate the big picture. What does this promo really do for my book? Will I be better off after the promo effects have died down? And even if the promo breaks even, did I actually end up in a good financial place afterward?

One thing I've learned after two years of self-publishing, when you have a slow steady seller that provides a base income, let it be. Clearly your also-boughts and listings are balanced.

For new books or failing books, an ad like the Kboards is one way to try and launch you into that steady place of regular sales with a low outlay of investment. You can take a look at what their spotlight ads look like (here was mine) and the various types of other ads they offer.

Deanna Roy is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction titles under four pen names.