Recently, the woman who was promoting my books through social media announced she is quitting the “virtual assistant” business. She just can’t make a go of it anymore. And no wonder. The results I get from her promotional efforts have dwindled each month, and I’m sure other authors who use her services have seen the same trend. We can no longer justify paying for promotion that doesn’t increase our sales, which means our promoter is out of a job.
I signed up for her virtual assistant services nearly a year ago, as a means of reducing my guilt over my own pathetic promotional efforts. In our arrangement, I would pick a couple of my books each month, and she would tweet about them and feature them in her e-newsletter. At first, I could see results. My sales for the books featured would increase. I also credit her for helping my most recently published book hover in the top 50 list in its sub-genre for several weeks last fall. But now, unless I do a 99 cent sale (which reduces my income on the books to a depressing level), I can’t see a difference between the books she’s promoting and sales of my other titles.
I’ve tried several other promotional services. I’ve spent relatively small amounts: $40 here, $20 there, and once, $99 for a promotion that was supposed to get me twenty-five reviews. (I ended up with about fifteen.) Most of the services were busts. Recently, I paid a company $40 to feature my 99 cent book in their newsletter for a week, and had zero sales of the book for the week.
Other authors I know are becoming similarly frustrated. Oh, there are promotions that work, like Bookbub, but they cost hundreds of dollars and they are very picky about the books they feature, especially those from indie-authors. Also, you have to make the featured book free or 99 cents, which means unless you sell thousands and thousands of books, and/or you have several books out and the promotion significantly increases sales of your other titles, it isn’t possible to earn back what you spent.
The most troubling aspect of recent developments is that a year ago a lot of these promotional tools/techniques worked. When I first indie-published my backlist four years ago, there were proven ways to promote your book and increase sales. Every year since then, fewer and fewer things seem to succeed. The industry and the promotional dynamics keep changing, always in a negative way.
In her letter to her clients, my virtual assistant pointed out that part of the problem, besides there being so many books available, is that there are now so many competing companies doing the same thing. Book promotion has become a whole industry in itself, attracting large numbers of social media savvy people looking for a way to make a living or to at least supplement their income.
Not every author is in my situation. Several authors I know have cracked bestseller lists and done very well. And done it without spending a fortune either. But in most cases, they write series and have been slowly building up their following to get to that “break-out” book. And/or they write in a genre that is particularly popular right now.
Those are the only proven things that seem to help sales: writing a series and writing in a popular sub-genre. There is one other secret, and that is having a new book out every few months, the more often the better. Neither of my series have really caught on, and I refuse to write books in a particular genre simply because it’s popular. (My muse would mutiny, and I’d never get anything done.) So all I can do is keep plugging away and writing steadily, hoping that if I keep publishing I will eventually gain ground. Maybe if I completely give up dabbling in promotion, the time and energy I save will help me write a little faster and gets books out more often. It’s worth a shot.