Wondering how to build a long-tail book promotion rather than triggering a short-term spike in sales of your self-published books? Non-fiction writer/editor turned historical novelist Amy Maroney asked veteran indie authors for advice on successful book promotions that bring a more lasting effect and shares summary of her findings.
Not long after I published my first novel in 2016, I noticed people in various author groups on Facebook discussing long tails and sell-through.
- As I soon discovered, a long tail is a period of increased sales following a book promotion.
- And sell-through is what happens when readers go on to buy other titles in the author’s backlist.
I write historical fiction, and I’ve published two novels and a novella. Not much of a backlist. However, I do have some experience running book promotions, and I witnessed a surge in sales both during and after them. The most pronounced was after the launch of my second novel in summer 2018, when the long tail lasted for months. And with more than one novel on offer, I enjoyed my first taste of sell-through nirvana.
When that long tail disappeared for good this fall, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had become complacent, enjoying my steady drip of sales. Quickly, I scheduled another promotion. I also decided to wise up and get tips from authors who have substantial backlists and are seasoned pros when it comes to book promotions. I hope their advice helps you too.
A Long-Tail Book Promotion with BookBub
Most indie authors know that BookBub is the Holy Grail of book promotions.
Typically an author can see thousands of downloads during the promotion and a long tail that lasts for weeks, if not months.
“BookBub is by far the best paid promotion site,” bestselling thriller writer and advertising guru Mark Dawson told me.
Alternate history thriller writer Alison Morton agreed. “Even if you only cover the cost of promoting your entry point book, the sell-through is the big gain, as is the general increased visibility of your author name.”
What are we talking about in terms of numbers?
“After my last featured deal, sales were up 400% for the other books in the series, with a 45% increase in sales in the month after the featured deal and 30% the next month, before settling back to their pre-BookBub sales levels,” said cozy mystery writer Libby Kirsch. For her first BookBub promotion, historical fiction/fantasy/essay writer Victoria Dougherty got some 50,000 downloads. For her second, she got about 38,000.
A Long-Tail Book Promotion with Ads
Is it worth it to buy ads in support of book promotions?
Mark Dawson, creator of the Ads for Authors course (full disclosure: I have not taken the course) regularly uses Facebook, Amazon AMS, and BookBub ads to boost long tails and sell-through after promotions. But is one type of ad better than the rest? No, he told me. “They all have different strengths and weaknesses.”
Victoria Dougherty has used both AMS and Facebook ads during promotions; I use Facebook ads; Alison Morton chooses not to buy ads in support of her book promotions. The bottom line: ads are expensive. And they require some learning and experimentation to use successfully, so proceed with caution.
Best Books to Promote for a Long-Tail Promotion
The tried-and-true strategy of offering a free or deeply discounted first book in a series still works to create a long tail and sell-through for your entire backlist. As Libby Kirsch said,
“It’s all about hooking the reader with your free book, and then hoping they like it enough to go on and buy more of your books.”
What about promoting subsequent books in the series? Mark Dawson told me that while it makes sense to run the majority of promotions on the first book in a series, “you should look to cycle through all of your backlist” when running promotions.
Best Practices for Success on a Small Budget
Maybe you don’t have the budget for a BookBub (I don’t—it can range from hundreds of dollars to over $1,000), or maybe you’ve applied for one 27 times and still haven’t hit the jackpot.
All is not lost. Every author I interviewed said they stack cheaper paid promotions around BookBubs to increase sales and boost long tails. Some of their favorites include: Ereader News Today, RobinReads, Bargain Booksy, and Fussy Librarian.
As for me, I got 400 sales over a weekend during my last promotion using several of these sites.
The key is to plan your promotions well in advance because slots fill quickly on all of them.
And do it consistently: “Promotions need to be regular over the years” to achieve a long tail of sales, said Alison Morton.
Related Strategies to Boost Your Book Promotions
What are other low-cost or free strategies to help achieve successful book promotions?
- First, build an email list by offering readers one or more high-quality ‘magnets’ (novels, novellas, etc.) in exchange for their email address. Then communicate with your list regularly. “However,” Victoria Dougherty cautioned, “you must have engaging content, and a consistent personal and professional brand. If you're just asking people to buy your books, you will struggle to keep them on your mailing list. They need to be looking forward to your emails.”
- Next, publicize your book promotions to your list and expand your reach through newsletter swaps with other authors and joint promotions on sites such as BookFunnel.
- Reach out to any influencers you can find and establish a social media presence. Alison Morton has found that book bloggers “provide visibility and can be staunch allies.” It’s also key to have great book covers, strong sales page copy, and good reviews.
BookBubs and bestseller status are great goals to have. In the meantime, with these tips in our indie author toolkits, may we all achieve long tails and great sell-through on our next book promotions.
OVER TO YOU Which book promotion strategies have been most effective for you in creating long-term sales? Any you'd counsel others to avoid? We'd love to hear your views.#Authors - like your #bookpromotion campaigns to produce a long tail rather than a short-term spike? @wilaroney top strategies . Click To Tweet
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From the ALLi Author Advice Center
Fabulous article. Great work, Amy.
Thank you, Stephanie!
Thanks for mentioning The Fussy Librarian! We’re always glad to hear that our customers are happy.
My pleasure, Sadye!
Great round-up, Amy. I feel honoured being in the same post as Mark Dawson!
Thank you, Alison!