A Justice Unending email ad.

You can use someone else’s mailing list to send book deals directly to someone’s inbox! But does it work?

So, let’s be honest. I don’t know anything about marketing a book.

This is decidedly Not a Very Good Thing, because I happen to have a book published by a small press. But–and this is the part where I admit my very embarrassing life lessons to the internet, where it will be engraved in stone and never forgotten, ever–I didn’t really know what to expect. I threw poor Justice Unending to the winds, figuring I’d figure out what was working as I went, based on whether I was selling books or not.

Consequently, I’ve been learning as I go. If I sell anything, I did something right. If I didn’t, then I did something wrong. This is an advertising trial by fire, and I’ve done a lot of not selling books as I’ve figured myself out.

So here are my lessons. I had (and have!) no idea what I’m doing. But if I can figure it out, you can figure it out. Let’s do this thing!

This week, I’m going to talk about my experience with mailing lists.

What are they?

There are a lot of book-related mailing lists. People sign up to get ads for books they want to read. You, the author, pay for the right to send an ad to the thousands of people on these lists.

These are usually discount lists, so they only promote books that are on sale, under a certain price, or free. People don’t sign up for these just so they can be advertised to, after all–they want a deal!

What did I use?

I bought ads in two services:

*Note, GenreCrave seems to do its genre-based mailing list work through BookRebel now. I know nothing about this because that was not the case when I used them back in November 2016.

What did I get?

I got:

  • A brief, one-paragraph pitch
  • A picture of the cover
  • A link to a sales page (normally the Amazon page)
  • One promotion to the mailing list
  • (GenreCrave only) Posting on the website under the genre-specific list

For GenreCrave, I chose the very small (and very cheap) Steampunk & Dystopian list. For Bargain Booksey, I chose the much larger Fantasy & Paranormal list.

How easy was it?

These are super easy.

  • Do a little research. There are a lot of these out there. You want one that reaches a lot of people for a reasonable price.
  • Then just choose a day and pay them.
  • You’ll probably need to write a summary and send them links and a cover image.

That’s it. No learning required. No work needed on your end. Just throw money at a list and they will mail it out for you.

How well did they work?

This is mildly complicated:

  • They were good for getting purchases on a single, specific date.
  • They were not good for getting a lot of purchases.
  • They were not good for getting ongoing purchases.

So, here’s what I noticed: on the days my ads ran, I did get a few purchases. However, I got very few purchases. While you can’t tell where your Amazon purchases came from and I actually don’t have 100% of my sales data for the Bargain Booksey sales period yet, I’m going to guess that both of these got me only between 1-3 sales.

In terms of sales, that’s not great. Neither of these recouped their costs.

However, that’s not necessarily bad, because those sales all happened on a 1-2 day period. And that might have a rather specific use.

So what do I think?

One or two sales isn’t very good. And while there are always variables (did I write terrible promo text? Did I choose a bad day?), I can’t imagine that a one-day, one-time email will ever result in ongoing sales.

But I do think mailings lists have a use. Just a very specific one.

Your Amazon sales rank–and thus your position in Amazon bestseller lists–is a very fluid number. Selling just one copy can rocket up your sales rank. That rank will go down  every day you don’t sell a copy, and it’ll shoot up every time you sell another one.

So you don’t need to sell a large volume of books for your Amazon sales rank to go up. You could hit the top of some genre bestseller lists with a relatively small number of sales–they just have to happen close together.

And mailing lists are good for this.

So, based on what I saw:

  • It’s not a very good technique if it’s all you do. A mailing list, by itself, will not result in enough sales to mean anything.
  • But it is helpful as part of a marketing campaign that focuses on a specific date.
  • And it could be helpful if you want to get a high rank on an Amazon bestseller list.

So a good one, chosen on a specific date, might be a great choice for, say, your launch date! Or your relaunch date! Or a sale when you’re doing a lot of other ads!

But if you’re brand new at marketing and really want to get your book out in front of eyeballs, or you’re starting from scratch–like I was!–I wouldn’t suggest doing these and nothing else.

I didn’t make my money back on either of these ads. I didn’t even come close! And they didn’t seem to give me any ongoing benefit–I didn’t gain followers, see traffic on my websites, gain book reviews, or see an increase in shelved books on Goodreads. I saw literally 1-3 sales around the date I placed my ads, and then nothing.

So if you’re trying to use your marketing dollars carefully, I probably wouldn’t start with these–or at least use them without a specific goal in mind.

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Cover of How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn.

Hotlinked from Goodreads.com.

(First, in unrelated news, check out the four-star Uncaged Book Review of my YA fantasy novel, Justice Unending! You can find it on page 98. And with that out of the way…)

I have a confession: I don’t know anything about marketing.

I started this blog and my author website several years ago, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing at all with them. I went on Twitter and then spoke to no one, because I’m super shy and have no idea how people make friends… anywhere, honestly, but Twitter especially. When my first novel came out, I did a few guest posts, posted a few announcements, put in one request for a book review, and wasn’t sure what else to do.

I really don’t know anything about marketing.

So I started reading.

Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book covers an immense amount of turf. It’s divided into several sections: an introduction to marketing, short-term promotional techniques (which don’t require an established internet presence), long-term techniques (which do), and an example of how you’d bring all of these together for a launch or re-launch of a book. It also has an absolutely killer appendix that lists every single main point of the book in checklist form. It’s immensely skimmable, incredibly useful, and possibly my favorite part of the book. Seriously. And it’s an appendix. Full of bullet points.

The book is a little vague on the technical details, but I’m guessing that’s intentional. It doesn’t tell you how to make a Facebook ad, for example; it tells you why they’re a good idea and explains that you can use your email list to target lookalike groups, but it doesn’t explain how you actually go into Facebook and do that. (This is probably intentional–that gets into “How to use Facebook” territory, and I’m sure the author didn’t want to write a technical how-to that’ll just go out of date the next time Facebook tweaks something.) And while this is true for a lot of things (“just do a giveaway,” as opposed to “here’s where you can learn how to do an Amazon/Goodreads giveaway”) the author does have an awful lot of supplementary links on her website that explain things that the book does not.

So while I might not feel like I could run out this very second and run a Facebook campaign, I did come away with an immense amount of ideas. How to Market a Book covers a ton of ground, from ads to book reviews to videos, podcasts, and more. I now have a lot of ideas about what I could look into next–and isn’t that exactly what an introductory book on marketing should do?

Oh yes, one more thing: there is, unsurprisingly, a very, very heavy emphasis on self-publishing, and many of the techniques aren’t easy to do if you’re published through a publisher. I could probably experiment with categorization, keywords, and metadata, for example, but because I published with a small press, I’d have to send those changes through my publisher. I’m fairly sure I can’t do Amazon advertisements at all, since I don’t have access to the Amazon KDP page for my book. So if you aren’t self-published, you’ll have to suss out with specific elements are still open to you. (Don’t worry. There are still a lot.)

Overall, this is a really lovely book for someone who’s brand new to marketing. It doesn’t go into immense detail about anything, but it does cover a little bit about a lot. And that’s just what I needed: an idea on where to start.

Overall, five stars. It’s a great introductory book.

(Also, in totally related news, I now have a mailing list! You can sign up on my website. You’ll get a free short story, too! Or, if you’re a writer, you can get the word counting spreadsheet I used in my Fun Ways to Use Excel to Track Your Writing Progress [#1, #2] posts.)