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Countdown Commencing - A Real-Time Case Study in eBook Promotion

13 Nov 2014

By Robert Bidinotto (Intro by Simon Denman)


Atlantis Space Shuttle illuminated on on the launch pad awaiting countdown For some time now, I've been looking for a suitable candidate for a real-time book promotion case study. For this I wanted both a book with a proven track-record (but currently slow sales), and an author brave enough to share campaign details before as well as after the event.
This search ended a couple of weeks ago amid correspondence with Robert Bidinotto, author of hit novel, HUNTER, which as a Kindle Editors' Pick back in November 2011, sold 24,000 copies in a single week, propelling it to No. 4 overall in the US Kindle Store (all paid titles) and changing Robert's life forever.

So with both criteria met, the relaunch of Hunter this week should provide important insight into just how much control we Indie authors really have over the fate of our books. Of course there will always be factors outside our control, such as the quantity and quality of other books on promotion by Amazon during the same period, but if our assumptions about Amazon's ranking algorithms are correct, within the next five days, Hunter could be blasted into orbit.

So without further ado, but with my sincerest thanks for accepting this challenge, I give you Robert Bidinotto:

An intriguing experiment, by Robert Bidinotto

Profile photo of author Robert Bidinotto
Thank you for the opportunity, Simon.
First, a bit of background.

I entered the self-publishing world in June 2011 with the release of my debut crime thriller, HUNTER. I was lucky in my timing, because back then, in the Gold Rush days of “indie” publishing, it was far easier for a book to get noticed. It was a time when just a few thousand pioneers were publishing ebooks, and a mere 750,000 titles competed for the eyeballs of Amazon customers—a fraction of the current three million plus.

HUNTER sold decently right out of the gate, with sales topping 500 in the first month, then rising steadily to over 1,000 in October. I didn’t even know what an Amazon ranking algorithm was back then, but it was working invisibly to give HUNTER nice visibility on a number of genre and sub-genre lists.

That same visibility worked for me in another pivotal way. The book—which was also blessed with stellar customer reviews and ratings—caught the attention of the Kindle editors. In November they invited me to enter HUNTER into their week-long, post-Thanksgiving, “Big Deal” sales promotion, along with about 200 other titles. I figured I had little to lose, except perhaps a week of lower royalty income, because its $3.99 price would be discounted to $1.99. But maybe, I thought, I might pick up a few new customers . . .
Book cover image for HUNTER by Robert BidinottoWell, that sale certainly turned out to be a “Big Deal” for me. In fact, it changed my life. Amazon didn’t have as many competing promotions back then, so this one got a lot of attention. Moreover, it turned out that they selected HUNTER as a “Kindle Editors’ Pick.” I didn’t know that until I went to bed on the night of November 26, with the book’s Kindle ranking at about 2400. By the end of the next day, November 27, it was ranked at #24.

The effect of Amazon's algorithms
This rapid rise caused HUNTER to appear in spotlighted positions at the top of more than a half-dozen Amazon promotional pages, soaring past the latest offerings from Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, James Patterson, John Grisham . . . even one of the hot-selling “Hunger Games” trilogy. It ultimately crested at #4 on the best-seller list, selling between 2,000 and 5,000 per day and remaining in the Kindle “Top 100” for a solid month.
So, at the tender age of 62, this lifelong professional writer was suddenly an “overnight success.”

For authors, it’s just a lot tougher out there, now.
As I said, those were the Gold Rush days for indie authors, and stories like mine were getting a lot of media attention. But that very attention—coupled with the ease and low cost of indie publishing—enticed thousands upon thousands of aspiring writers to jump into the self-publishing marketplace.

Today, as a consequence, the quest to achieve “discoverability” for one’s work is far more challenging. An author must somehow find ways to make his book stand out amid a daunting, ever-growing mass of competitors. The unrelenting torrent of new titles makes it much harder for any book to retain traction on the bestseller lists, too. New titles surge onto those lists each day, in a continuous churn, displacing current bestsellers much more rapidly than in the past.

This turmoil in the ebook marketplace certainly has affected my own sales, as it has for almost all writers. HUNTER, which sold solidly for three years, was finally on a precipitous downward slope until this past May, when I released the sequel, BAD DEEDS. The new book’s visibility generated collateral benefits for HUNTER. But while reader reviews of the new book are even better than they were for the first, early sales of BAD DEEDS have not kept pace with those of HUNTER during its own initial months.

Hypothesis - Experiment - Observe - Repeat
In response, some indies have been experimenting with creative marketing tactics and trying to gain insights into the mysteries of the Amazon ranking algorithms. And they’ve been passing along whatever they discover to their writing colleagues. Recently, some have been testing book promotion sites and email lists, such as Readers in the Know (this site) and longer-established ones like Bookbub. They’ve also been trying out various combinations and timed sequences of paid ads and sale prices.

Some of the more interesting experiments seek to determine if the Amazon algorithms tend to favor sharp one-day sales spikes over more gradual increases that span days and weeks—or vice-versa. One theory is that the algorithms don’t give much weight to sales that took place more than 48 hours in the past. But a competing theory is that they reward, in various important ways, sales that build over the course of five to seven days.

After watching some of my author friends generate impressive results from paid book promotions, I’ve decided to join in these experiments. I strongly suspect that the Amazon algorithms reward longer sales trends more than short-term sales spikes—and I want to test that hypothesis.

The Plan for relaunching Hunter
So from Thursday, November 13, through Monday, November 17, I’m conducting my own first-ever sales promotion for HUNTER, in both the U.S. and U.K. During those five days, I’ll be running a Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD) on Amazon, slashing the ebook price from $4.99 to only 99 cents (99p in the UK).

That alone will generate a sales surge. But to amplify it further, I’ve also lined up advertising with ten different book promotion sites, including Readers in the Know and Bookbub. Some maintain only an online presence, via websites and social media; others also send out daily email blasts, notifying subscribers about new book bargains in their favorite categories.

Measuring Success
My campaign’s success will rest in how I’ve scheduled the promotions. I’m starting the KCD and lowering HUNTER’s price late Wednesday evening. That should result in a small initial spike. On Thursday, the first full day of the sale, I’ll also run ads with two popular book promotion sites, as well as heavily promote the book on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog. That should considerably build the sales volume. On Friday, I’ll add Readers in the Know, plus six or seven more sites and email lists. That should sustain and, I hope, further boost the sales momentum. The culmination of the active part of my promotion will occur on Saturday, with a large email blast on Bookbub plus one other popular site/email list. That day’s efforts will reach the greatest number of potential customers.

If my hunch about the Amazon algorithms is correct, then this four-day escalation of ads—climaxing in a Saturday email promotion to well over a million thriller readers—should propel HUNTER sales into orbit. Based on past results achieved by my indie colleagues, that day’s purchases alone should exceed 2,000 copies.

And if all goes according to plan, HUNTER should easily enter the Kindle “Top 100 Bestsellers” on Saturday. By Sunday, it should be well down into the “Top 50.” If I’m very lucky, it will hit the “Top 20.”

To hold these bestseller rankings as long as possible, I’ll continue the 99-cent KCD through Monday. I do expect an inevitable purchase fall-off from late Sunday through Monday. However, if my hypothesis is right, the decline shouldn’t be abrupt and steep. HUNTER should stay in the “Top 50” into Monday, and in the “Top 100” for another day or two—perhaps longer. That’s because its visibility on a multitude of Amazon promotional pages and genre bestseller lists, plus a “tail” of tardy purchases from subscribers to the various sites and email lists, ought to sustain good rankings for a while.

Among my other expectations, I believe that the print and audiobook editions of HUNTER will get a big bump, and BAD DEEDS will benefit from the “halo effect,” too. That’s been my colleagues’ experience. Finally, I think both books will settle in at new daily sales plateaus considerably higher than they are right now.

Simon has invited me to return here in the days following the campaign to let you know whether it has met, exceeded, or dashed my hopes and expectations. I think many of you will want to know the results, as you contemplate your own future marketing efforts.

So, please wish me luck . . . and stay tuned!

Learn more about Robert Bidinotto and his books.


Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

"Thanks for this. Be interesting to see the results. But the fact that you have posted your intentions in this blog will skew the results because the blog itself is a form of advertising. I would rather have read about it and seen the results after the promotion.

Perhaps this can be considered for the next experiment."

M.D. Hall commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

"An interesting article, but it does little to reflect the experience of newcomers. The ability – by virtue of being an established title – to 'choose' Bookbub, rather than being one of countless unknown authors being rejected by Bookbub, sums it up. Whatever the results – and I hope they are stellar – they can only be of value in this very narrow scenario, and should not be taken as an indicator of how such an approach would benefit a wider demographic."

Simon Denman commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

"That is true to some extent, Jan, although since this blog is relatively new, its effect is probably not yet enough to significantly skew a campaign of this magnitude, although it'll clearly help.

The problem with only reporting after the event, is that it's all too easy to only write about the ones that succeed.

And an added advantage of opening the kimono now, is that for those who are interested, we can now watch Hunter's progress in real-time, which you have to admit is a little more exciting than just reading about it after the event :)"

Simon Denman commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

"It is true, M.D, that Bookbub only selects books which they believe will do well, but it's not true that they only select established titles. Wayne Stinnett, another author on this site, had one accepted that had been published only 5 weeks earlier."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

"I agree Cheri, but the only marketing that really works is word of mouth - and it doesn't necessarily have to be excellent writing (I won't mention any titles)."

M.D. Hall commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

"I don't doubt that unknown authors with minimal reviews are, rarely, chosen by Bookbub. My point is that the results of Robert's experiment are only meaningful in his very narrow circumstances. The vast majority of Bookbub promotions are not of books by unknown authors with very few reviews. They are not the champions of the unknown indie author, and whilst I'm not suggesting they should be, the point I was seeking to make is that Robert's circumstances are so different – today, not when he was an unknown – that he has the luxury of 'choosing' Bookbub, not hoping they will choose him.
I have no problem with that at all, but the experiment should not be seen as a searchlight cutting through the gloom that is indie promotion."

Simon Denman commented at 01:11 13 Nov 2014:

Running a Kindle Countdown Deal (temporary discount promotion) is not a scam. People do it because for many books, it's an excellent, cost-effective way of getting the book noticed.
I should also point out that this book, although it has lots of reviews (and all of them "earned"), is currently ranked only around 250,000, which means it's probably only selling a handful each month.
A campaign like this may not work so well for non fiction, but for well produced, well-written fiction that matches popular taste, then my guess is that it will."

Christa Polkinhorn commented at 02:11 13 Nov 2014:

"Thanks, Robert, for sharing this with us. I wish you the best of luck with your experiment!"

Linda Kovic-Skow commented at 04:11 13 Nov 2014:

"Robert, this will be a fascinating experiment. I'm going to follow this and I'm looking forward to seeing the results. Thanks for giving us a window into your world."

Simon Denman commented at 04:11 13 Nov 2014:

"Regarding free promos, Cheri, my experience is that while they don't increase sales as much as they used to, they still bring several hundred additional sales at the full price. It also nets a whole bunch of new reviews which clearly doesn't hurt either.
Yes, I pay various sites to announce these free days for me, but I've yet to lose money doing so.

Regarding doing this for some "unknown" author, I would be surprised if many of the people who buy Robert's book this week, already knew of him. Certainly he has worked hard to build his platform and become better known, and he will be working throughout this week to help spread the word, but other than that, I don't see a fundamental difference between you and him.

So if any other RITK authors (with or without previous success) would like to put together a similarly well thought-out campaign, I'll certainly consider publishing it."

Robert Bidinotto commented at 09:11 13 Nov 2014:

"Thanks to all for your comments.

For those concerned that this experiment doesn't fit your circumstances: Well, no such experiment could possibly fit everyone's circumstances. Here, Simon said, right up front, that the was looking for a "suitable candidate...with a proven track record (but currently slow sales)." By definition, those not in that category might not gain as much from this experiment as some.

But that's always the case. I've been at this for over three years. What would I gain, say, from a marketing experiment conducted by a newbie author for his first release?

Those who know me also know that I've been extremely forthcoming (some say "generous") with my advice for aspiring writers and those struggling with marketing. In fact, I have a 17-page document titled "New Paths to Publishing" that I compiled and distribute free, by email attachment, to anyone who requests a copy. It is loaded with the best information I've been able to find -- information and advice provided to me by other far-more-successful authors.

Anyone who would like it is welcome to contact me at:

RobertTheWriter [at] gmail [dot] com

You are also welcome to check out my blog, where I post new information about writing, publishing, and marketing all the time. You could begin by checking out this link:

My sincere hope is that ALL of you authors reach the point where your books get lots of great reviews, acceptance by big promotion sites, and sensational sales. And I hope that what I share here and at the linked posts will help you do just that."

Robert Bidinotto commented at 12:11 14 Nov 2014:

"Thanks so much, Luana!"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 05:11 14 Nov 2014:

"UPDATE, DAY #1 (Thursday 11/13)

Things went much, MUCH better than I anticipated. It was the first full day of my KCD. I ran two ads with book promotion sites, plus encouraged many of my Facebook friends to promote it. Of course, there was this blog posting, too, which I'm sure generated some sales. And I also got out a considerable number of tweets, inspiring a lot of retweets.

Anyway, I was hoping for a minimum of 100 sales, and I thought that 150 would be a great start. I also hoped to end the day with a Kindle ranking of between #1000 - #2000.

Instead, I sold 281 copies + 4 borrow = 285 overall paid downloads. My Kindle ranking as of midnight West Coast time -- the end of the Amazon "day" -- was # 634.

Things have only gotten better this morning...but I'll save that for a second-day update."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 06:11 14 Nov 2014:

"That's encouraging news. Hope the sales continue to grow. :)"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 06:11 14 Nov 2014:

"Thanks, Jan. What is MOST encouraging to me is the fact that an author can build impressive sales and a great Amazon ranking without depending on a single promotional site, such as Bookbub. In some online indie-author discussions, such as at KBoards' Writers Cafe, so much emphasis is place on that one site that I'm sure many authors think their success requires it.

My first- and second-day results show that this is absolutely not true. It's now 1:25 pm Eastern time on Day #2, and my "HUNTER" sales have already reached 134 for the day -- which isn't half over. My Bookbub promotion doesn't kick in until tomorrow. What this shows is that a combination of a Kindle Countdown Deal + several smaller (and may I add, less expensive) book promotion sites + social media can generate terrific results, in both sales and rankings."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 07:11 14 Nov 2014:

"It will be interesting to see how the BookBub ad compares, but it will be a bit skewed as there will probably be a follow-on from the first two days promotions.

I've also had some small success with a 99c countdown deal combined with mentions on various websites and social media (none were paid ads).
I also refuse to pay to advertise to give my book away for free!(and free usually results in a few 1 star reviews)"

Simon Denman commented at 07:11 14 Nov 2014:

"Great news! Thanks for sharing, Robert.
Your last point is the one I was trying to get across in my earlier post about the algorithms (with and without the elephant).

Perhaps a better analogy is moving a Piano. You don't try each of your neighbours in turn to see which one of them is able to move it all by himself. You ask a whole bunch of them to lend a hand and providing they all lift at the same time, the moving becomes easy. Sure, you might get lucky and find one guy (let's call him Big Bubba) able and willing to do the job once every 6 months for a hefty fee, but you shouldn't conclude that he's the only option :)"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 07:11 14 Nov 2014:

"Hahahaha. "Big Bubba." Love it!

You're absolutely right, Simon. I think the breadth and variety of exposure an author gets by using a combination of different promotional sites plus social media can help create a word-of-mouth "buzz" perhaps better than utilizing one site.

Obviously, if you can add on a "Big Bubba" at the end of a promotional run to give you an added boost, great! (And of course I shall, tomorrow.) But I'm now up to 154 sales + borrows of "HUNTER" so far today (2:30 pm), on top of 285 yesterday -- which means I'll easily surpass 500 sales over a two-day period without any help from Bubba.

Jan, I think you may find paid ads on smaller promotional sites useful for 99-cent sales campaigns. It's clear to me that my two days of PRE-"Bubba" ads on other sites will more than pay for THAT single expensive ad. If I'd not purchased it, they would easily have paid for themselves several times over."

Robert Bidinotto commented at 06:11 15 Nov 2014:

"My results on Day #2 were even slightly better than Day #1. Building on the ongoing KCD, I utilized six book promotion sites, including Readers in the Know. I also added some promotions to various Facebook sites, plus Tweets, plus an interview on the blog of an author friend.

This activity generated 289 sales + 12 "borrows," or 301 total paid downloads. And those sales lowered my book's ranking on Kindle to #296 before the Amazon business day ended.

The ranking drifted back upward into the 300's this morning, after the promotions ended. However, that positioned the book marvelously to make a run at the top of the Kindle Bestseller List with the two big-list promos scheduled today, including Bookbub. Purchases are occurring at a remarkable pace. I expect 2,000 or more today, which should put "HUNTER" near the top of the Kindle charts.

My only irritation is that the Amazon ranking listings are running HOURS behind actual sales. So my book's great rankings won't start to appear until this evening. It would bug me a lot if the best ranking doesn't show up until something like 4 a.m. on Sunday...when no one will notice (except me!). We shall see.

But it's already abundantly clear that this approach is a rousing success."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 06:11 15 Nov 2014:

"Aaah, but we will notice as we live in another time zone!

Hunter as at my time of 8.45 pm 15th November

#371 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers & Suspense > Crime > Vigilante Justice
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Crime Fiction > Vigilante Justice
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Assassinations"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 06:11 15 Nov 2014:

"I guarantee that the #371 ranking is about 5-6 hours behind; it reflects early-a.m. numbers, well before Bookbub. "HUNTER" has sold well over 500 copies since 10:30 a.m., and is selling at a clip of about 160 per hour. None of that is reflected in the currently posted rankings. Stay tuned...."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 07:11 15 Nov 2014:

"I'll check for you again first thing in the morning in case you miss a good ranking!"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 03:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Thanks, Jan. Take a screen shot for me if you notice anything amazing.

As of 10:30 pm Eastern, the book is currently LISTED at #74, though the reality is surely better than that. "HUNTER" has passed 1400 paid downloads for the day (which started and will end on Amazon time -- 3 a.m. Eastern). So, with 4.5 hours to go, there's still time for it to close in on 2,000 sales for the day, if there's a surge. However, the book HAS surpassed that number cumulatively during the three days of the promotion, and there are still two more days to go. Not bad!"

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 06:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Hi Robert,
As of 8.11 am my time :)

#46 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers & Suspense > Crime > Vigilante Justice
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Assassinations
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Crime Fiction > Vigilante Justice"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 06:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Though the Amazon "day" ends at 3 a.m. Eastern time (Amazon is in Seattle), my sales charts just flipped over to November 16 and are starting to record new numbers for Sunday. I believe that these may be sales from the UK, however. Sales for the USA are still being recorded for 11/15.

The tally for 11/15, as of 1:45 a.m. Eastern, stands at 1475 sales + 22 "borrows" = 1497 total downloads. It appears that by 3 a.m. the totals for the day will probably top out somewhere in the 1500s. That's several hundred fewer sales than I anticipated, to be frank, but it is still impressive and beneficial to me in many ways. The "tail" of sales generated by these various promotions will extend for several more days.

As of 1:45 a.m. Sunday the 16th, "HUNTER" is #1 in the three Kindle categories "Vigilante Justice," "Crime Fiction," and "Assassination Thrillers." It's also #13 in "Thrillers" and #15 in "Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense." Overall, it stands at #46 on the Kindle Bestseller List.

All that really remains now is to see where my overall Kindle sales ranking will peak. I think that will happen over the next 3-5 hours, as the lagging ranking figures come in."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 07:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Hi Robert. It's now at #42 and #1 in all three categories."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 12:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Hi Robert,
I've been checking every hour and it went briefly to #43 and is now back at $42."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 06:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Hi Robert,
I didn't see it go higher than #42 and it's now at #47 but still #1 in three categories.

It's 8.32 pm my time."

Robert Bidinotto commented at 07:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Okay, time for my post-mortem on Day #3 of my five-day KCD (and I regret putting it into negative terms).

Out of a combined Bookbub + another site + social media, "HUNTER" crested at #38 yesterday. It also hit (and remains at) #1 in three categories: "Crime Fiction," "Vigilante Justice," and "Assassination Thrillers." It hit lows of at least #12 in "Thrillers" and #14 in "Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense," and remains close to those rankings. Those are wonderfully visible placements going forward today, and will attract a lot of eyeballs on Sunday and Monday, while the price tag is still down at 99 cents.

All told, 1515 ebooks sold during the day -- 1493 sales, 22 borrows. About a hundred of those sales were from the UK. Collateral sales of "BAD DEEDS" are way up. I sold 47 ebooks yesterday. I also believe I'm going to see a big spike in audio sales. Three days ago -- the first day of the promotion, when I was using smaller sites and lists -- I generated 14 sales. Audio sales reports lag by two days, so I do expect a significant surge to come, reflecting the second day of the promotion, plus yesterday. (I can't yet report on print sales; I received an error message on my Createspace sales dashboard and I'm awaiting a reply to my inquiry about it.)

On the slightly negative side, Bookbub's results did not meet my full expectations, based on their advertised average response claims. I hit yesterday's combined Bookbub + another site + social media promotions coming off a two-day roll of prior promotions on multiple sites, including this one. I had sold over three hundred copies on each of those prior two days, and "HUNTER's" Kindle ranking had fallen into the 300's going into the Big Day.

So, I honestly anticipated way more than the "typical 2,000 sales" claimed by Bookbub for its huge "Thriller" subscriber list. I honestly expected a Top 20 ranking -- maybe even Top 10. But I got "only" 1515 ebook sales yesterday, and a ranking low of #38. Far below expectations -- especially when you consider that a good chunk of those sales didn't come from Bookbub, but from the other site, my social media, and the "tail" effect of all the preceding promos. Add the sobering fact that a hundred of those sales came from the UK. That means the U.S. Bookbub list underperformed my expectations. I'm not sure why. I didn't particularly like the blurb they wrote for "HUNTER," but that may not be it.

Still, thwarted expectations aside, my bottom line is:

This promotion has been GREAT for me. I made a nice chunk of money, sold a ton of books, found a lot of new readers for Dylan, and ended this active part of the promotion with highly visible product placements all over the Amazon platform. The 99-cent sale continues for today and tomorrow, and I expect to sell hundreds more copies. I've already clocked in about 300 for today. Life is good.

I'll report in a few more days about the "long tail" sales results. But for right now, I want to thank Simon and this wonderful Readers in the Know site for helping me so much! It's been great working with you."

M.D. Hall commented at 07:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Firstly, I would like to congratulate Robert. I am pleased your promotion was so successful. I note that you are disappointed, but the figures are still very impressive.
As for what that tells us about the success of such a promotion generically, I am not sure. Despite your disappointment, most would say that a book which was a Kindle Editors’ Pick in 2011, going on to sell 24,000 copies in a single week, achieving an overall ranking of 4, eventually garnering 496 reviews was very successful on a re-launch, using social media and several promotion sites.
I have a Countdown deal for my new book starting on 22nd November for seven days. I am also using several very well respected sites to promote the book, excluding Bookbub.
I am happy to post data from the promotion if anyone is interested. While it is not sufficiently scientific to be classed a control sample, it is using similar techniques, and the outcome might be nearer to what the ‘norm’ might be.
This is about what we can reasonably expect from a promotion.
We know what a widely re-promoted ‘best-seller’ can achieve. What can a widely promoted, ‘non-best-seller’ achieve?
My thoughts are that a book with only a few reviews, in the absence of Bookbub, cannot expect sales beyond 100-200.
If there is any interest in the data, I will happily post it."

Robert Bidinotto commented at 08:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Thanks for your comments, and I for one would LOVE to see your data. Our willingness to share ideas, experiences, and data is the great strength of indie publishing. I benefited greatly from the advice and assistance of some successful indies before I published my debut thriller, and I feel an obligation to share whatever I discover with others.

Good luck on your campaign, and I hope your results vastly exceed your expectations!"

M.D. Hall commented at 09:11 16 Nov 2014:

"Watch this space!"

p.d.r. lindsay commented at 06:11 17 Nov 2014:

"Thank you for sharing, Robert. And well done, Simon for setting this up. Indies need to see this.

At Writer's Choice -our writers' co-op - we've been wondering about raising sales. I'd been working out that a system like yours is what is needed to get our books to sell. I'd not thought of 7 days but will now plan our campaigns to cover that time.

It is a fiddle to set up though when there are 67 e-book newsletters on my list and Bookbub still won't look at me because I haven't enough reviews yet. Still I am cheered by your comments on Bookbub. But as long as the book cover, the blurb and the writing are quality and the metadata is good we should garner more sales.

When I set it up I will post results here if Simon lets me."

Jan Hurst-Nicholson commented at 01:11 17 Nov 2014:

"Congrats on the number of sales. Been an interesting experiment. Please let us know what the 'tail' does."

M.D. Hall commented at 04:11 17 Nov 2014:

"Unfortunately, Luana, you will have to wait a little longer for a BookBub comparison as I am not using them. I will be able to breakdown the results – for my ghost/supernatural anthology – each day. I am using three or four sites per day, so it won't be possible to say what results match any particular site, but trends should be noticeable."

Robert Bidinotto commented at 05:11 18 Nov 2014:

"Here are the updated results of the five-day campaign.

DAY #1, Thurs. Nov. 13:

Campaigns: KCD + two other sites + social media + this blog.

HUNTER results: 281 sold + 4 borrowed = 285 paid units. Kindle rank at end of day: #634

Collateral effects: BAD DEEDS had 21 sales + 4 borrows = 25 total units. Zero paper sales of either book.

Totals across both ebooks: 302 sales + 8 borrows = 310 total units.

DAY #2, Fri. Nov. 14:

Campaigns: KCD plus 7 promo sites (including this one) plus social media.

HUNTER results: 289 sold + 12 borrowed = 301 paid units. Kindle rank at end of day: #299

Collateral effects: BAD DEEDS had 16 sales + 3 borrows = 19 total units. Also, I saw a big bump of 14 audiobook sales. Still zero sales of the print books.

Totals across both ebooks: 305 sales + 15 borrows = 320 total units.

DAY #3, Sat. Nov. 15:

Campaigns: KCD plus Bookbub + one other site, plus some more social media.

HUNTER Results: 1493 sold + 22 borrowed = 1515 paid units. End of day ranking: #42, although it sank in later hours to as low as #38.

Collateral effects: BAD DEEDS saw 39 sales + 9 borrows = 48 paid. That's a substantial spike over the usual dozen or so daily paid total. However, a whopping jump of 30 audiobook sales. Again, though, ZERO paper sales.

Totals across both ebooks: 1532 sales + 30 borrows = 1563 total paid.

NOTE: Given that this day's sales results included "tail" effects from the previous day, and also that the Bookbub promo was enhanced by ENT, I think it's safe to say that the Bookbub "Thriller" list significantly underperformed its advertised expectations of around 2,000 average sales.

DAY #4, Sun. Nov. 16:

Campaigns: None except for KCD. Minimal social media. This day tested the "tail effect" of the previous days' efforts, especially including Bookbub.

HUNTER Results: 527 sales + 31 borrows = 558 total paid. End of day ranking: #79.

NOTE: This "tail" -- which now includes the effects of enhanced visibility on various Amazon bestseller lists -- represents 37% of the preceding day's results. Since several hundred of these sales are probably attributable to the prior day's Bookbub promotion, they must be added to the Bookbub results of the previous day, meaning that the list is more fertile than its initially disappointing results would suggest.

Collateral effects: BAD DEEDS saw 37 sales + 9 borrows = 46 paid units. I'm encouraged, because it means that one of my biggest hopes for this campaign -- enhanced visibility and sales for the sequel -- are being realized. Negligible audiobook sales. Once again, I didn't sell a single paper copy of either book!

Totals across both ebooks: 564 sales + 40 borrows = 604 total paid. That's nearly 39% as much as the previous (Bookbub) day's total paid downloads for both books -- which to me is a great "tail" effect.

DAY #5, Mon. Nov. 17:

Campaigns: Last day of KCD at 99 cents. Minimal social media. We see the "tail effect" of the previous days' efforts two days after Bookbub.

HUNTER Results: 326 sold + 38 borrowed = 364 paid units. End of day ranking about #131.

NOTE: This still represent 65% of the previous day's overall paid sales, a nice tail effect.

Collateral effects: BAD DEEDS had 24 sales + 16 borrows = 40 paid units. Unknown audio sales (there's a two-day lag in reporting stats). Again, zero print book sales.

Totals across both ebooks: 350 sales + 54 borrows = 604 total paid.

COMMENT: The ratio of borrows to sales has definitely been rising steadily. This is the last day of the campaign with HUNTER priced at 99 cents. It will be interesting to see what the first post-campaign day will generate at the full price of $4.99.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: I've never sold many books in the UK -- maybe half a dozen per month. I used KCD, Bookbub, and Ebooksoda (a UK-oriented site) to reach that market this time. I scheduled KCD to begin earlier in the UK, to account for the time difference. So here are some results:

Day #1: 8 sales, from KCD alone

Day #2: 6 sales, KCD + Ebooksoda

Day #3: 86 sales, Bookbub + KCD, and perhaps residual Ebooksoda effects.

Day #4: 24 sales + 2 borrows, "tail" effects from all the preceding; still at 99 cents.

Day #5: 24 sales + 1 borrow, still at 99 cents.

That's 151 paid units from a market that usually generates a trickle of sales. While Ebooksoda showed little benefit, UK promos using KCD and Bookbub clearly did. I wasn't paying close attention, but well into the campaign I saw a UK Kindle ranking in the 500's (it probably crested much lower than that), and HUNTER has been holding down the #1 spot in "Vigilante Justice" in the UK simultaneously with #1 in the USA!


* More than 3,000 copies of "HUNTER" were sold. In addition, another 200+ copies of "BAD DEEDS" were purchased.

* On Saturday November 15, "HUNTER" sold 1,515 copies in a single day.

* For the second time in three ye"

Robert Bidinotto commented at 05:11 18 Nov 2014:

"I see the "BOTTOM LINE CAMPAIGN SUMMARY" was cut off, so let me repeat it here:

* More than 3,000 copies of "HUNTER" were sold. In addition, another 200+ copies of "BAD DEEDS" were purchased.

* On Saturday November 15, "HUNTER" sold 1,515 copies in a single day.

* For the second time in three years, "HUNTER" hit the Kindle "Top 50" Bestseller List, peaking at #38 out of 3 million ebook titles.

* The book soared to #1 in the categories "Crime Fiction," "Vigilante Justice," and "Assassination Thrillers," and still holds that top ranking in the latter two categories. It hit (and remains) at #2 in "Espionage Thrillers." It reached #12 on the big "Thrillers" list, and #14 on the even bigger "Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense" List. (It may have gone even lower in those numerical rankings; I wasn't paying attention all the time.)

* "HUNTER" also went to #1 in "Vigilante Justice" in the UK, and still remains in that ranking as of this writing. In a market where it has never done that well, it sold over a hundred copies in a single day.

* The collateral benefits include big spikes in sales of the "HUNTER" audiobook, and many new readers who will go on to purchase "BAD DEEDS" and the other coming sequels. I also expect sales of both books to remain considerably higher than they were before the sale, for a long time.

I hope this information is useful to my fellow authors as they plan their own campaigns.

Again, a BIG hat tip to Simon for the boost that this blog and the featured add gave to my efforts. "Readers in the Know" represents one of the most innovative book promotional sites out there. I'll be telling my author friends all about it!"

Simon Denman commented at 08:11 18 Nov 2014:

"Thanks Robert, we'll summarise and try to draw conclusions from all this in a new post within the next few days."

p.d.r. lindsay commented at 08:11 18 Nov 2014:

"Extremely useful. Thank you."

M.D. Hall commented at 11:11 21 Nov 2014:

"Tomorrow, my Countdown promotion begins in the US. I will, as a couple would like me to, report daily on how it progresses."

p.d.r. lindsay commented at 02:11 22 Nov 2014:

"Yes, please do post the results as the more information we receive the better placed we are to organise our own successful promos."

M.D. Hall commented at 10:11 23 Nov 2014:

"Day 1
I anticipated the uptake would not be stellar, but even I have been surprised at the results, thus far.
The book was promoted through six sites: It has been aired through this site and through: eReader cafe; Reading Deals; Fussy Librarian; Flurrie of Words; and Book Goodies – although it was not highlighted here for half the day due to a 'glitch'.
The total sold is 23 giving an overall standing of 11,852 and a position in 'Horror ... Ghosts' of 52.
I did not anticipate great sales, but this is even worse than I anticipated. Best case scenario was this number from each of the sites. Worst case scenario is very close to what has happened. As for what worked and what didn't, it is impossible to say. All the sales could be from one site, or be split between some or all.
None of you have any background of the book, as you don't know its title (anonymity helps the sample). However, I can tell you that it is an anthology of 13 ghost/supernatural tales. It has 12 5* reviews over two sites. There are two exceptional professional reviews, one of which led a senior reviewer of the Midwest Book Review to make it her 'Pick of the Month' on her own review site. The proofreader was so taken with the book that he asked if he could post a review. One of the stories is a prizewinner in an international short story competition and finally, when I put the book to one particular site (noted for its strict standards) the response was that the cover was attractive and professional, while the writing in the book is "great ... filled with suspense, intrigue, and free of grammatical or punctuation errors."
I have set out the above to remove from the equation the response being due to the book being poor. Please excuse my arrogance ... It isn't.
One thing I do not have is a large number of reviews, and it is an anthology of short stories. For those interested, I posted a commentary on short stories on the Book Goodies site – it has proven popular enough to be marked as a 'Hot Thread'
I will report back on Day 2."

Simon Denman commented at 10:11 23 Nov 2014:

"Sorry to hear that M.D.
Unfortunately, and perhaps rather depressingly, the quality of the book has very little impact on the success of a promo like this. Far more important at this stage is the title, the cover, the blurb and the price. Of course, if you get these right, then the content becomes the new king and will determine how the book is reviewed and how often it gets recommended through word of mouth. But if you get any of them wrong, then nobody will ever discover how great the content is.

Having taken a look at the book in question, here are some possible explanations for its less than stellar performance this time round:

1. The cover, while I'm sure it looks great in paperback, is (in my opinion) too dark and lacking contrast to work well in the thumbnails that, like it or not, provide the first and most important impression on potential buyers. In fact this one is so dark that on a page of colourful covers, this one looks almost plain black.

2. Although this is no help to you whatsoever, I've heard from many sources that short story anthologies don't sell as well as novels, although personally, I quite like them.

3. Although this won't make any difference for the other sites mentioned, you only ran this promo in the US, which is only 45% of our membership here on Readers in the Know.

4. Of that 45%, only the proportion that selected one or more of the 5 genre tags you applied to this book (as well as having all their other preferences match all the other criteria) will have seen the promo notification at all. So as I mentioned in a previous post: 6 Tips for Book Discoverability with Readers in the Know, if there are other tags that can reasonably be applied, you should apply them (via the edit form for the main book). And you should definitely do this for the book which currently only has one."

M.D. Hall commented at 03:11 23 Nov 2014:

"Hi Simon,
Nice of you to respond.
As for the cover, it fits with the theme and I have had universal praise for it. I appreciate ... I don't mean to patronise anyone out there ... that bright, sometimes garish, covers are the norm but the cover tells its own story. If the potential reader doesn't like the cover, they probably won't like the content. There is a darkness to these tales beyond any surface charm. Three of the four last reviews for its predecessor, refer specifically to the Morris Minor. Some readers wonder about the identity of the car's owner, hence the red lights. If you look at the cover of M.R. James' Collected Ghost Stories it is dark with no colour but a splash of red. I guess I will just have to wait for people to get past the cover.
My post on Book Goodies deals with the reaction to short stories ... You are right.
Unfortunately, the tags chosen for this book are the only ones that apply to an anthology of ghost/supernatural stories ... unless I've missed something.
I'm running the UK promotion from 30th November, but as you know, the UK market is very small indeed.
I will give careful thought to everything you have said. Thanks."

M.D. Hall commented at 11:11 24 Nov 2014:

"Day 2
Sunday utilised 'Read Cheaply' and 'Ebooklister'. The result?
A staggering 6 sales and 1 borrow (overall ranking 12,102; ghosts 53) ... Yes, that's right, 7 in total. I think it unlikely I will use either again ... maybe it is genre, who knows. What I do know is that neither site has done anything for this particular book.
I have high hopes for Monday where I am using 'Digital Book Today' and 'Ereader News Today'. With ENT for this book's older but shorter brother (Mystery and Misadventure), it achieved 105 traceable sales. It had a similar cover and description ... one of the stories in that book was a short story prizewinner and had a similar number of reviews. On the basis, therefore, of appearance, genre and peer acceptance it is little different to the current book. Let's see what Monday brings."

p.d.r. lindsay commented at 01:11 25 Nov 2014:

"When there are so many book sout there yelling for readers' attention it is difficult to get sales.

I wonder if it is too much to expect many sales if a writer has not made contact with readers on readers' sites, blogged, tweeted, google plussed, established faceboook or linked in persona, posted pictures of the book and characters on Pinterest or reached out to readers in other ways?

I know our Writer's Choice sales have steadily grown over the 2 years because we have been busy putting our co-op name and our writers' books out to be seen. The marketing expert amongst us has suggested that it will take four years of persistent and steady presence to register on readers and make sales."

M.D. Hall commented at 06:11 25 Nov 2014:

"Hi p.d.r.
You have a valid point. I am not a natural blogger/Tweeter; in fact, I find it quite difficult, and have relied on the book alone."

p.d.r. lindsay commented at 08:11 25 Nov 2014:

"No, it is hard to connect to readers if you find social media a trial. We all do as we'd rather write, but our media savvy member persuaded us to find ways we could connect to readers and we sat down and looked at everything possible and tried to choose different things so that we compliment each other.

It seems she is right though, if you do not flaunt a busy and bright website with a blog and make your way into readers groups - as a reader not a pushy sales person writer - then you miss an opportunity to gather readers who might read your book.

AND it takes time! At least a year to garner fiendly groups and conntacts."

Simon Denman commented at 09:11 25 Nov 2014:

"M.D. I wish you luck and every success with Monday's promotion. ENT probably has the broadest reach after BB, so it certainly ought to give you a better result than any of the smaller sites in isolation.
Regarding my comment about the book's cover, I wasn't suggesting that people wouldn't like it - once they take the time to actually look at it properly. My point is simply that by being so dark, it may not get the attention it deserves and so people who actually would like the book, may never get the chance to find that out."

M.D. Hall commented at 12:11 26 Nov 2014:

"Day 3:
In addition to Ereader News Today and Digital Book Today, I forgot to mention 'Good Kindles' in my last post. That is important because it is the only site where I referred to the previous anthology 'Mystery and Misadventure'. It seems less like coincidence that I sold 3 copies of that book. In addition, I sold 78 of the current book which placed it 2,761 overall and 6 in 'ghosts'; 31 in 'short stories by a single author; 47 in 'short stories'.
It is interesting to note that ENT produced a return 25% down on the previous book, provided all sales came from ENT, which is most unlikely. As all elements, other than the economy and time of year, are the same, I'm not sure what to draw from this statistic."

M.D. Hall commented at 04:11 26 Nov 2014:

"Day 4:
Using 'People reads' and 'Ask David' the results were 13 sales. rank dropped to 4,051 with 'ghosts' at 12; 'short stories by single author 43; short story 71.
One difference I have noticed with my last promotion where a total of 161 sales were made, as opposed to 121 so far this week (currently 75.16%) is that the price drop in July was from $3.99 as opposed to $2.99 now. Perhaps people react differently if the think they are saving $3. Logic dictates that such a thing may apply to tin of beans, not an ebook where the initial price is likely to be arbitrary in the first place, but when dealing with human beings logic doesn't always apply."

p.d.r. lindsay commented at 09:11 26 Nov 2014:

"Smashwords do a nice round up every so often of their books and sales.
One of those articles mentioned the fact that 3.99 was the best price according to their figures."

M.D. Hall commented at 12:11 28 Nov 2014:

Apologies for the delay – the day job needed my attention.
On this day I used only Pixel Scroll and Bargain ebooks, both paid for separately and part of the same group, apparently appealing to a different demographic to each other. The results? A total of 3 ebook sales. Ranking fell to 9.974 and 'Ghosts' ranking to 45.
As I did not use any other site – I'm giving these two the benefit of being responsible for all there, the result is very poor."

M.D. Hall commented at 12:11 28 Nov 2014:

"Day 6:
Today, I used Readers in the Know book of the day; Kindle Book Review; Indies Unlimited. The total is 11 sales, 3 borrows and 2 carry-over sales. Ranking 10,259 and 46 in 'Ghosts'.
The total thus far is 143 (sales and borrows) and 3 sales of a linked book. It stands – with one day to go – at 89% of my last promotion which cost less and used fewer sites."

Simon Denman commented at 01:11 28 Nov 2014:

"The problem with trying only 1 or 2 smaller guys at a time, as I tried to explain in my piano-moving analogy is that you're unlikely to wake up Amazon's algorithms. Whereas if you'd tried all of these together you might have done.
Basically a + b + c + d separately = a + b + c + d
whereas (a + b + c + d) together = n x (a + b + c + d)

The sales you're getting now are just the ones who bought it via these sites. When you wake up the algorithms you add a whole bunch more sales because Amazon just saw 60 sales in a few hours and is now showing your book to hundreds more potential customers."

M.D. Hall commented at 02:11 28 Nov 2014:

"Your point makes sense, but on that basis, when 78 sales went through on one day and pushed up the position of the book to a top ten in one category it should accelerated uptake, especially when you consider 7 other sites were used in the course of the next 3 days.
The real key to all of this is without Bookbub it is almost impossible to break into large sales. I take your earlier point about BB taking on untried works, but you have to admit it is extremely rare and I can understand why they might do that. If they did not – now and again – take on an unknown, authors might lose patience. It's no different to the masses playing the lottery because, against all odds, someone wins.
At a guess – and I may be miles off – BB, almost exclusively, takes books that are best sellers already, books that have a huge number of reviews, or fit the demographic chosen by their algorithms – human or otherwise.
Using another analogy, Robert did not carpet bomb, he used several sites at a time, as I did. The advantage he had was in having close to 500 reviews. I have read many blogs where writers with close to 100 4+ reviews have been back-heeled by BB. They, BB, know they are the key, and the sites seeking to ape BB know it too.
Unless you have a great many good reviews I fear that even a grand piano will not produce the right sound."

Simon Denman commented at 02:11 28 Nov 2014:

"Except that perhaps the 78 was the effect of the algorithms working on maybe only 30 that you brought to them :)

But I think you're right that a single isolated spike won't necessarily do the trick. But if you build it up over a couple of days then they will probably help you more. The theory which seems to be supported by observation is that they reward upward trends over some minimum period - which is why a single BB then nothing rarely works as well as a campaign like Robert's.

To increase review count, my personal recommendation is to offer it free for a few days every once in a while, although I understand some people don't like doing that.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your results here. It's all interesting data."

M.D. Hall commented at 03:11 28 Nov 2014:

"Thanks, Simon ... All advice gratefully received."

M.D. Hall commented at 11:11 30 Nov 2014:

"Day 7 and final figures.
5 sales, 2 borrows. For Mystery and Misadventure there was 1 sale and 1 borrow.
The following day the carry over was 1 sale and 2 borrows.
In total there were 148 (combined sales and borrows) and 5 (combined sales and borrows) of Mystery and Misadventure.
The result is 92% of a promotion in July of Mystery and Misadventure. Interestingly, that promotion relied less on large clusters of promotion sites and cost far less to run.
I said, at the very beginning, that I anticipated between 100 and 200 sales – 148 is pretty much spot on.
Today, I began a 5 day promotion in UK ... so far there have been no sales and no borrows. This doesn't surprise me at all. we all know that the UK market is infinitesimal in comparison to US, even where the book is written in England with an English setting. It would surprise me if I sold more than a couple of books. The paucity of sites dealing with UK market testifies to how weak it is: This site, E-Book Bargains, Ebooksoda. It is a shame really, as this site, in particular is incredibly well put together and run. It deserves a better market."

M.D. Hall commented at 06:12 04 Dec 2014:

"Final day in UK.
The last day of my UK promotion is drawing to a close and my total sales/borrows is ... 0. I admit to being impressed by the accuracy of my guesstimate. Although it wasn't so clever. Why do you think Amazon doesn't extend their audiobook facility to the UK market? Could it be they know better than anyone that it is so minuscule it isn't worth expending too much effort. It could be the reason why there are so few UK promotion sites. Or ... maybe people just didn't like the concept of the book ... Ah well, such is life."

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