Book Promo Autopsy: 2017 in Review

With 2017 behind us, I studied the costs and results of all the eBook sale promotions I ran last year, with the goal of optimizing my advertising spend for 2018. I ran seven Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) promotions in 2017 for three novels and a compilation eBook.  All the promotions ran in the second half of the year, so it's really a six-month data set. What follows are my results advertising fantasy eBook sales - your experience will vary.

For each of my seven KDP eBook sales, I ran only one promo per day (although my Amazon ads were running simultaneously, so a small portion of the daily sales can be attributed to the Amazon ads). Over the last six months of 2017, I advertised with the following online book sale promotion services:

 1. BKnights (on Fiverr): I ran 3 events for a cost of $27 and sold 9 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $3.00
 2. BookBarbarian: Ran 3 events for a total of $100 and sold 67 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $1.49
 3. BookDoggy: Five events for a total cost of $50 and sold 21 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $2.38
 4. Booksends: Four events for a total cost of $145 and sold 75 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $1.93
 5. EbookLister: Ran one promo for $25 and sold 2 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $12.50
 6. Ereader News Today (ENT): 2 events for of $65; sold 57 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $1.14
 7. Just Kindle Books: Ran one promo for $18 and sold 4 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $4.50
 8. Robin Reads: Ran one promo for $50; sold 34 eBooks, for a cost/sale of $1.47
 9. KBoards: Ran one promo for $50; sold 4 eBook compilations, for a cost/sale of $12.50
The data above is for all three of my novels, plus the trilogy compilation. The eBook sales prices varied between events, though typically, the stand-alone novels were priced at $0.99, and the compilation sale was at least 50% off.

The cost of each promotion ranged from $10 to $50 per event, depending on the advertiser. In total, I spent $530 on these type of ads in 2017, which led to approximately 273 sales, or cost me almost two dollars per sale.

As you can see, with an average eBook sale price of $0.99, none of these promos appear profitable. However, the above numbers do not include pages read on Kindle Unlimited (KU), which currently comprises approximately 43% of my revenue (and is trending upward). Therefore, if you include KU revenue (assuming the ads are responsible for KU reads as well as direct sales), three of the promo services are currently at the break-even point or better: ENT, Book Barbarian, and Robin Reads.

I enjoyed good service with all of these services, and my sales results are likely dependent on a variety of factors (genre, blurb quality, book ratings, sale price, day of the week, etc.). My intent is not to scare you off certain sellers or promote others, rather to just share the honest data. Market economics suggests each of these sites must generate enough sales to keep authors buying ad space.

One thing to note, for the majority of the promo services, the higher you set your sale price, the more the ad costs, so running sales for more expensively-priced eBooks costs more to advertise. Many services set a maximum price they will run a promo for (e.g., $2.99). So running an eBook sale for $1.99 will not double your profit as compared to a $0.99 sale. In fact, the reduced sales volume (due to the higher price) and more expensive promo cost (also due to the higher sale price) often makes the promotion less profitable.

Not surprisingly, the middle book of my trilogy (Mirrors & Mist) typically sold the worst during the sale events. This year, I plan to reduce my advertising spend for my Mirrors & Mist sales, while continuing to focus on the first and third books, as well as the compilation. I suspect sales for the third book (Warlock & Wyrm) were boosted by the fact it only released last September. I anticipate a drop off in sales as the book ages (but hope to be pleasantly surprised).

I've noticed that my first run with a promo site usually performs the best, while following runs typically sell less. This phenomenon is likely due to reader saturation (i.e., the same readers viewing the ad, including those who purchased the book during the initial run).

I don't think it's possible to separate the sales data between the promos listed above and my Amazon ads as long as they're running concurrently. For the sake of this analysis, the promo results are anticipated to be slightly lower due to a portion of sales coming from Amazon ads (roughly 13%, as far as I can estimate). I'll breakdown my Amazon advertising results in more detail in a future post.

One final note is that sites that advertise for free are never a bad investment (other than your time). I've noticed small sales numbers associated with advertising on no-cost sites like Free 99 Books.

For 2018, I plan to advertise the box set and Crimson & Cream (Book I of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy) with ENT, Book Barbarian, and Robin Reads, and monitor the results. I also plan to run KDP sales for books two and three of the trilogy, but not spend significant money to advertise these sales.

Despite all my mistakes, I still managed to make a small profit over the last 6 months. Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll have more promising data to share with you.