Monday, December 19, 2016

Comparing Book Promotion and Marketing Sites

I've been blessed up to this point to have sold a decent number of books while conducting minimal advertising. In that regard, I'm somewhat a victim of my own success:  my books started selling well right out the gate (something like 10,000 in the first six months), with practically no marketing, so I didn't really see the need to promote. (I did, however, eventually start a mail list, which should really be on the first page of the self-publishing playbook.)

Of course, I was more prolific in terms of writing my back then as well - starting in March 2013, I think I wrote six books during the first 9 months of my indie career. Since then, I've gotten much busier with the day job, and my writing has suffered from a productivity standpoint. (Needless to say, it's a lot easier to stay top-of-mind with readers when you're publishing a new book every two months or so.)

Oddly enough, although I didn't do a lot of advertising historically, I did have a monthly marketing budget; I just rarely used it. Recently, however, I've started looking more and more at book promotion as a way to expand my readership. I mean, I'd already seen the benefits firsthand: I had a BookBub ad in early 2014 that catapulted Sensation back to the #1 spot in multiple categories and into the 300s overall in the Paid Kindle Store.  And just a few months ago, some effective marketing got Warden (Book 1: Wendigo Fever) to a #1 ranking.

In short, it's clear to me now that book promotion is not only a powerful tool but an arrow that most indie authors need to have in their quiver. The problem, of course, is that there seems to be a nigh-limitless number of book promotion sites out there, not all of which are necessarily effective. About the only sure thing is BookBub, which is undoubtedly the gold standard. Unfortunately, they are highly selective, and getting a slot with them seems to rank right up there with winning the lotto in terms of odds.  Thus, most of us will have to look elsewhere for promotion purposes, but it's a lot like picking a tight end in fantasy football: there's Gronk, and then there's everybody else...

That said, I was able to get good results with my Warden promo without benefit of a BookBub ad.  In other words, there are indeed other fish in the sea.  But assuming most self-published authors are like me, they found other book promo sites mostly through positive word-of-mouth and maybe a little research.  Still, there always appeared to be an element of randomness when it came to ads.  One person might have good results with a particular site, while another might do poorly.  Although there are all kinds of reasons why that might happen (failure to discount the price, marketing to the wrong demographic, etc.), it occurred to me that there had to be a way to screen on the front end for sites that were more likely than not to give positive results.  (This is especially important when you consider how the price of book marketing has skyrocketed, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post here, although one of the exceptions to this is eBook Hounds, which has remained $10 for a while.)   

With that in mind, I made a list of various book promotion sites and started brainstorming on how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  In other words, which were likely to give me the most bang for my buck? Plainly speaking, it struck me that it should be the one that puts the most eyeballs on my writing.  Working from that premise (and focusing on factors such as Alexa ranking and newsletter subscribers), I ended up with the following spreadsheet:





Needless to say, there are a lot of moving parts to this thing, so before going any further it's probably worthwhile to give a bit more of an explanation about what this spreadsheet contains, starting with the headings:


Sites - This one is self-explanatory.

Alexa US - This column provides a site's Alexa ranking in the U.S.  For those who may not know, Alexa ranking is essentially how popular a site is based on web traffic.  As with book rankings, a lower number is better when it comes to Alexa. Unsurprisingly, BookBub has the best Alexa ranking (U.S.) of all the sites I looked at.

Alexa World - This simply gives a site's global Alexa ranking.

Newsletter - This column indicates whether a book promotion site has a newsletter.  This is of particular importance to me because of my own habits: when it comes to book promotions, I'm much more likely to open an email with a list of books than I am to visit a website (or Facebook, etc.) to see what bargains are out there.  That's not to say that other methods are ineffective, but based on my own gut instinct and information gleaned while putting all this together (which I'll get to below), promoters with newsletters would seem to offer a greater return on investment.

Subscribers - Refers to the number of subscribers to a promotional site's newsletter.  Any numbers in this column came from the book promoters themselves - either from their website or a direct email communication.  If there is a question mark in this spot it means that (a) I couldn't locate the info on their site and (b) either the promoter did not respond to my query (and I wrote them all when I couldn't find what I was looking for on their website) or simply refused to provide the information.

Visitors - The average number of monthly visitors a site gets. In most instances, this is a number that I obtained from SimilarWeb, which provides web traffic and marketing info. Plainly speaking, most  websites were reluctant to part with this information.  (Those that are blue in this column are numbers that I obtained directly from the book promoter - again, either from their website or in response to a direct query.  In some cases, I was given a range, which led to me extrapolating a final number; for example, if a site reported that they get 30K - 50K visitors per month, I'd list 40K as the number of monthly visitors.)

U.S. % of Visitors - Per Alexa, this is the percentage of a website's visitors that come from the United States.

2nd % Nation - Again based on Alexa info, this is the country that has the most visitors to a particular site when you disregard the U.S. In short, it gives an idea of who you might be reaching abroad when you advertise with a certain site.

(The tabs along the bottom show how the listed sites rank when sorted for the various elements - Alexa rank in the U.S., number of subscribers, etc.)


Just to be clear, this is not a "Best Of" list.  These are just some of the book promotion sites that are out there. (You can find several lists of these sites on my Book Marketing and Promotion page.)  I've used a good number of them in the past, others I am interested in with respect to future promotions, and some I just came across while researching.  I was mostly focused on trying to come up with a methodology that would allow me to do an apples-to-apples comparison (or as close an approximation as possible) of the various websites that can be used for book marketing and promotion purposes.

In a lot of instances, the task was somewhat tricky because there simply isn't a lot of transparency, which leads to difficulty in determining, say, how much traffic a site gets.  Truth be told, with regard to that particular figure, even asking the question directly was of minimal effect, since most book promotion sites either didn't respond or basically gave me other stats (like the number of subscribers).  In fact, for this project, the number of visitors that their website gets was the single most difficult statistic to get from book promoters.  They seemed almost more willing to discuss how their wedding night went than to part with that information.

(For those interested, here's a pic of the Top 20 sites on my list based on Monthly Visitors)




This reluctance to share the number of visitors left me more than a little bewildered, because - to be honest - I'm not even sure it's a meaningful statistic for book marketing purposes. Frankly speaking, some number of visitors to these sites is always going to be authors looking to promote as opposed to readers looking for deals.  Unless they draw a line of demarcation between the two (and it's entirely possible that they're doing that), I'm not sure how to assign a value to it.  Regardless, many book promotion sites appear to regard the number of visitors as proprietary information.

In all honesty, I don't really have an issue with them designating the number of site visitors as confidential information in the abstract.  My problem is that, in many instances, part of the marketing package that is sold to us authors is that our books will appear on the book promoter's website.  Much like Nielsen ratings are used to sell television ads based on the number of viewers, if part of what I'm buying is ad space on your site, it seems to me that there should be greater transparency regarding the number of people who visit that site.  Basically, if a promo service is offering you prominent placement on their site, newsletter, etc., then they should be telling you exactly how many people your dollars are letting you reach (and it shouldn't be some ambiguous number like "thousands").  Otherwise, how do you really know what you're paying for?

In defense of their position, a number of book promoters communicated to me that the quantity of site visitors isn't particularly important, because being on the book promotion site doesn't have a powerful marketing effect.  The general consensus seems to be that the websites aren't driving sales and downloads; the item reported as having the greatest effect in this arena was the newsletter/mail list.  Of course, this dovetails neatly into my own theory about the importance of newsletters, but it still doesn't obviate the need for sharing the number of site visitors if that's visibility that we're paying for.

That said, not everyone was a miser with their data.  Several sites were very generous and shared tons of information.  Moreover, while I mentioned that some sites weren't willing to divulge their numbers, I need to point out that everyone who responded to my queries was professional and courteous.  No one was rude or uncivil, and I appreciate the time they took to answer my questions.

Outside of monthly visitors, other data - such as number of subscribers - was somewhat easier to come by. Bearing in mind the importance of newsletters, this is obviously a critical piece of information.  For the sites I looked at, here at the Top 20 based on number of subscribers:




As with so many other stats, BookBub - with 8 million subscribers - is #1 in this category by a large margin.  Undoubtedly, this level of reach is one of their major strengths.  Of course, the difficulty in being accepted for a BookBub ad means that most of us will need to evaluate other options. Fortunately, there would seem to be quite a number of sites out there with an adequate subscriber base.

It's also worth remembering that even sites with smaller mail lists can be helpful to your marketing efforts.  By way of example, if you're promoting over, maybe, a 5-day period, you may find a gap in your marketing calendar that you haven't been able to fill for some reason. Under those circumstances, a book promoter with a smaller number of subscribers can still help you maintain momentum.

Anyway, in compiling all of this data, I tried to identify the book promotion sites that scored highly in all of my categories. At the end of the day, I came up with 8 that managed to be in the Top 20 in all of the areas I focused on: subscribers, Alexa ranking, monthly visitors, and so on. They are, in no particular order (except BookBub, of course), as follows:

      BookBub
     eREader IQ
     Robin Reads
     Free Booksy
     Many Books
     All Romance Ebooks
     Read Cheaply
     eReader News Today

A number of other sites, such as Digital Book Spot (run by BKnights at Fiverr) and Kindle Nation Daily should probably get honorable mention because they came up shy in only one category.

That said, the numbers don't always tell the whole story, and you sometimes have to peel back another layer of the onion. For instance, Book Barbarian didn't make the Elite Eight here, but they have a very focused niche (Scifi/Fantasy) and are generally acknowledged as providing a great return on investment.  Thus, if that's your genre, it would be a mistake to exclude them from your marketing efforts.  Likewise, there are other sites that specialize in particular categories, so their across-the-board ranking here may not fully reflect the value that they offer.

In retrospect, I like to think that I've developed an approach that will serve as a yardstick and allow me to gauge the likely effectiveness of a promotion before I plunk down any dollars.  Thus, as I come across other book marketing platforms, this list is likely to grow. Something to bear in mind, however, is the fact that all of this information is from a single snapshot in time.  That means that the Alexa ranking may have changed for a particular site, as well as the number of visitors, subscribers, etc.  In short, nothing is static. Likewise, as indie authors, our book marketing and promotion efforts should stay in flux as well, so a book promoter that you use today may not be one that you use tomorrow.



***Just a few caveats for this post:  First, there were a lot of challenges in trying to do the aforementioned apples-to-apples comparison among book promotion sites.  For example, several promoters don't appear to have books on their site, so the number of visitors is a stat that probably carries less weight in those instances.  Also, a couple - such as Indies Unlimited and Read Freely - don't charge anything, so the number of subscribers and visitors may not matter as much since it doesn't cost you anything other than your time. And at least one, Book Browse, doesn't even accept direct bookings from authors. (What's up with that?)  In essence, I've tried to establish as much of a baseline as possible, but it still may not be a completely level playing field.








14 comments:

  1. Kevin, great information. Marketing is one of the things that can seem like a great mystery, so I'll be sharing this on the Facebook page for others to check out your research.

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    1. Thanks. Hopefully others will find it helpful.

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  2. This is fantastic! Would you mind linking the Google Doc? Not so anyone can edit, but it's easier to read than when it's embedded in this long page. Especially since I'm reading this on mobile. You seriously rock for all the effort you put into this!

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    1. Thanks for the compliments; I was just hoping the information would be helpful to others. As to linking, this is really the only time I've ever done anything with Google Docs, so I'm a neophyte in that regard. That said, I'll look into it at the first available opportunity and see if I can figure out how to link it.

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    2. Well you've done a great job! They've made it easier to share. Go to drive.google.com and click on your Book Promotion Sites sheet (green square icon) from the list. Then click the chain-link icon at the top under the search bar. It'll say "Anyone with the link can view" with a URL underneath. It'll already be auto-copied to your clipboard, so you can just come back here and paste it in. Quick and simple! Thanks for being awesome.

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  3. This looks as though it took a lot of time and effort. Thank you for sharing it. Like you said there are lots more out there. I, like you, find it easier to open an email and see a great deal.

    "Bestsellers" on your ventures in writing and promoting your works.

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    1. It did take some time, but I like to think it was worth the effort. Hopefully others will benefit from it as well. Thanks for your well-wishes regarding my writing. I wish you much success as well, and advise you to always Aim High!

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  4. Hi Kevin just wondering if you are going to be continuing the Fringe series?

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    1. Absolutely! I actually started the second book quite a while ago, but for various reasons it kept getting pushed back in the queue. That said, I had actually hoped to have it done by now, but have had quite a bit of slippage in the writing schedule of late. However, I anticipate finishing my current work-in-progress today - yes, TODAY! (hopefully I didn't just jinx it) - and at present anticipate the completion of Fringe Worlds #2 as my next project.

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  5. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the great resource.

    I found another epic post about book promotion sites here - https://kindlepreneur.com/list-sites-promote-free-amazon-books/ - I thought maybe you might find it useful in terms of adding to your own list, or maybe your audience would find it useful when promoting their books.

    I'd love to know whether your thoughts/opinions on book promotion sites have changed at all since you published this article? Is there any advice you think is no longer valid, or are things pretty much the same as they've always been?

    Thanks and best regards.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment, and I believe I already have the site you noted listed on the Book Marketing & Promotion page of this blog (http://kevinhardman.blogspot.com/p/marketing.html) - along with several others.

      I only posted the article a few weeks ago, so I don't think much has changed in the interim (unless some book promoters are posting more of the relevant numbers in order to provide greater transparency). I did, however, post a little while back about the exponential increase in the cost of book marketing (http://kevinhardman.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-exponential-increase-in-cost-of.html). It wasn't a huge sampling, but I think it shows how the costs have ramped up tremendously, making it more important than ever that authors be more selective in choosing where to put their ad dollars.

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