Marketing Your Indie Book – A Rough Nautical Map In A Sea Of Advertising Options

So you’ve published your book! Congratulations! All your hard work is now… beginning.

Marketing Your Indie Book: A Rough Nautical Map

They told me all I had to do was write the damn thing… now you tell me 80% of the work is yet to be done?

That’s right, folks: it’s now time to sell your book. So roll back your sleeves, grab a sweatband, pull on the waders and let’s go into the murky waters of indie book advertising.

I got some lovely data from fantasy author and blogmate Nicholas C. Rossis, author of the dark epic fantasy Pearseus series featured in this data here. Nicholas has crunched some numbers beautifully in his own time – not least here, and here, and you should definitely go and have a look at them. Do that in a minute, though, once we’re done here, because seriously, folks, this data is only GORGEOUS.

Firstly, he had a comprehensive rundown of e-book advertising options which, although helpful, full of commentary and advice, mainly served to make me think…  how the hell is any author supposed to know which options to choose? This is worse than standing in a betting shop, five minutes before a race. You have money in your pocket, but a limited amount of time in which to select a guaranteed winner, and the odds are not in your favour.

Thankfully, Nicholas has already tried and tested some options, and he’s made the results available to us. Now, I am first and foremost a data nerd, so I have put some notes at the end full of caveats and disclaimers and all sorts of things which, if not firmly stated, might muddy all this lovely data, so you have been warned.


Firstly, let’s look at the November data, when Nicholas promoted one single title – Rise Of The Prince –the 1st in his Pearseus series, at a price of $0.99.

Here are the results. I’ve concentrated on 2 core metrics: the ratio of sales to advertising cost, and sales attributed to each advertising campaign.

First, let’s have a look at the cost of each ad campaign – some of which were run in tandem on certain days – in relation to the sales they actually pulled in.

Marketing Your Indie Book - A Rough Nautical MapAs you can see, there is a pattern in November: meaning that on this single title, when the ad spend went up, so did book sales. Also, book sales, the blue line, maintains a healthy level above the ad cost, which is the only result which really matters.

Next up, is the cost and sales per advertising channel.

Marketing Your Indie Book: A Rough Nautical Map

There’s a lot more data here, but broadly, the free marketing channelsPixel of Ink and Facebook – pulled in some sales, where any revenue at all was a bonus. The other channels covered themselves, but in the case of Book Goodies and Kindle Book Review, only just. As both Book Goodies and Kindle Book Review were run on the same dates, we don’t know which one of them was the better – or indeed only – performer.


Next up was December 2014, when Nicholas changed his game, and promoted a bundle – all 3 books in the Pearseus series, at a price of $1.99. Although more expensive than the usual single-book promo, bundles always sell better, because readers are usually getting a better deal: in this case, one free book, on top of the already discounted single title rate.

Marketing Your Indie Book: A Rough Nautical Guide

My first thought on seeing this graph above was: All Bets Are Off. It doesn’t follow the November curve at all: revenues didn’t always outstrip the cost of the ads Nicholas ran. On December 7th, the ENT/Ebooksoda combo campaign made a loss, and on the 10th-13th, the Fussy Librarian/Kindle Book Review combo campaign lost out too.

However, as these dates were so close together, it’s tempting to conclude that perhaps an indie author shouldn’t try to advertise their books between the start of December and the weekend before Christmas (when his Book Gorilla campaign romped home with 80 unit sales).

See the cost and sales per advertiser as laid out below, but bear in mind that this might be date-dependent:

Marketing Your Indie Book: A Rough Nautical Guide


And so, although the sample size is tiny, making the science in this is so inexact as to damn near bring me out in a rash, I would make the following (hazy) conclusions:

1. Bundles sell better. If you have more than 1 book, or a series, market them together. Give your readers a good deal.

2. Spending on advertising in the first couple of weeks of December would not appear to be much use. Leave it until later on in the month, when early festivities have died down and people are already looking for diversion from their beloved families.

3. Spend carefully, and in small increments. BookBub may be the behemoth in e-Book waters, but if you don’t yet know what you’re doing, is it really worth laying out $800+ for such services when you’re starting off? (Especially if you don’t yet know how readers react to the thumbnail image of your book cover?)

4. If you have the time, and the inclination, run each ad campaign on a different date: it may make no difference to your sales, but it will allow you to judge how effective they are on an individual basis, so that you’re not throwing good money after bad  on future dates for lame ducks.

So there you have it. Tenuous conclusions drawn on a limited pool of information which is nevertheless full of, as I said, GORGEOUS data. Did I mention I was a nerd?

… *and now, the boring notes to the accounts… I did warn you

1. Data relates to Nicholas C. Rossis’ dark epic fantasy titles in the Pearseus series. This may not be your genre or market.
2. Some promotions were run on the same day or days and therefore are grouped together, meaning their results are mixed together.
3. These results are from one point in time. A promotion run in March may have a very different outcome than one in November or July. Test these waters carefully.

And finally – good luck!



  62 comments for “Marketing Your Indie Book – A Rough Nautical Map In A Sea Of Advertising Options

  1. February 28, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for doing such a great job with my data! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 28, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Thank you for collecting it in the first place. We need MORE data. MORE I tell you (mwa ha haaaa).

      Seriously though, looking at this post I’m only seeing questions about more stuff I want to know….

      Liked by 2 people

  2. February 28, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Just been doing my accounts. I have attempted online paid advertising. My only paid advertising (in Mslexia) has yet to appear. The first one (Mar/Apr/May issue) will be without cover illustration and the second (June/July/Aug) will have a cover. I will be very surprised if I see a single sale from these unless I get to do an article (idea submitted) at the same time. Kind bloggers and blogging reviewers may have generated a trickle… very difficult to tell (my numbers are tiny). Hand selling has gone brilliantly, but I’m guessing is now over.

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 28, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      Correction – Haven’t attempted online advertising. And thanks for lovely graphs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 28, 2015 at 1:39 pm

        She does make the loveliest graphs, doesn’t she? 🙂

        In my experience, ads work best if you have an entire series (or plenty of books) to promote. People check out the book on sale, but often end up buying another one in the series.

        Liked by 1 person

      • February 28, 2015 at 1:47 pm

        Thank you, Hilary! It’ll be interesting to see what happens with your Mslexia ad – they are a different kettle of fish altogether from the dedicated e-book promoters. It’s always interesting to see what the effect is of advertising on people who didn’t ask for it. I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes for you, my fingers crossed for stratospheric sales increases in the meantime, obviously 😀


  3. Ali Isaac
    February 28, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Yeah… we want MORE and we want DEETS, I tell you!

    This is really good work and useful info, thanks you two. I have decided not to invest in paid advertising until I have my trilogy and a few other works completed, so its very interesting to see how things are working out for authors who are further down the indie scale of evolution, I’m learning a lot. Thanks for being so kind as to share. So many other authors claim to be doing fantastically well while being defensive about performance. Well, it is their business and not mine, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 28, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      That sounds like a really good plan, Ali. Seems to me that e-books and indies have changed things completely in the past 5 years – before then, traditional publishers seemed very anti-series or anti-trilogy, until indie authors proved that they couldn’t have been more wrong. There are less rewards from discounting or promoting one book if you don’t have others to piggyback on it.

      And it is interesting to see real sales for real indie authors. If all self-published authors benchmarked themselves against the Hugh Howeys and the Amanda Hockings, nobody would ever have realistic expectations.

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm

        Tara, unrealistic expectations are a big part of the problem. We read of the examples of successful authors – but even Howey had to work over a decade to reach his current status. Which is, I’ve found, the case with pretty much every other “overnight success” discovered by the media.

        Part of my thinking behind publicizing my sales is that I’m tired of people feeling like failures because they are only selling a dozen book each month. With some 6,500 books published daily, I think that’s pretty awesome!

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 28, 2015 at 8:08 pm

          I can sympathise, because in a way it’s like blogging. You start off being really happy to get 3 likes on a post, and then you go and ruin it by coming across someone else’s blog which gets 50,000 hits a month with content solely concerned with the grammatically delinquent measurement of Kim Kardashian’s arse, so you think you’re actually failing. And then you’re all depressed, because you’re not benchmarking against real peers. Life’s tough, eh?!

          Liked by 2 people

          • March 1, 2015 at 5:07 am

            Oooh, the post and all the comments are so encouraging, and something I really needed to hear right now. I’m in a constant roller-coaster between thinking I could quit my day-job (which is grant-writing) and just do fiction writing, and thinking I should never open my lap-top again except to check what funny cat videos someone has posted on FB. I needed this reminder that I am in this for a long-haul, and that there are many avenues for marketing, and I’m not making a “wrong” decision trying any one of them–just need to keep track of how they work for me. I’ll start sharing what I find as well on my blog when I get data, in case its helpful for folks. I’m in the 10 sales a month or so range after the initial 100 sold to my friends and family when I first published in November, so I’ve got lots of building to do. Unfortunate thing is, I’d rather spend my spare hours writing than marketing (as do all authors I’m sure!!)


            • March 1, 2015 at 10:01 am

              That would be just brilliant, if you share your data too, Mara. And on a benchmarking note, I know authors who would kill for 10 sales a month. That’s not to say you shouldn’t promote, but I think time spent on promotion should be relative to how many books you’ve already published – don’t waste too much time on marketing your first title if getting out your 2nd and 3rd are really your best marketing options, long-term. Would other multi-published authors agree?

              Liked by 1 person

          • March 1, 2015 at 2:45 pm

            We all have our nemeses. Looks like Kim’ posteria is yours… 😀

            Liked by 1 person

  4. February 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Your data is putting me off….


    • February 28, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Ah no, Conor, it isn’t, really. I think if you look carefully, you’ll find that it’s actually made you even more excited about getting your book out than ever before. Glad I could help!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. February 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Ok, so the ‘stress’ ( not that stressful in the greater scheme of things) has just led me to some Caffrey’s snowballs I had hidden in the press. I have so much googling to do here on different methods of ‘getting out there.’ Great graphs, my college stats lecturer would have loved you, I’m fairly sure my days of mat lab and Excel were what greyed his hair. A minefield doesn’t even cover all of this, does it?!Everywhere you turn everyone’s using different methods, it would send your head into a spin!

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 28, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      You can’t have hidden those snowballs very well, Bernie, it seems like you found them very easily. However, effective e-book marketing is much harder to find, I agree.


      • February 28, 2015 at 5:45 pm

        It’s crazy. There are millions of authors, yet everyone seems to think that sharing our successes and failures will result in someone else getting rich. That’s ridiculous! The only thing we achieve is to hinder each other’s efforts and allow unscrupulous businessmen take advantage of Indies.

        I, for one, am sharing every move I make and everything I find out. We’re all going through uncharted waters. The least we can do is help each other.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. February 28, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks, Tara! Really helpful, revealing post. Shared and quoted on FB and Twitter. Especially loved your betting wiindow analogy. Unlike print advertising, online book advertising rarely provides hard numbers like “circulation” or demographics. It makes the Indie Author’s job much harder. Also since many of us, like me, have very shallow pockets, every venue chosen must produce.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 28, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      Seems to me like a lot of online book advertising is really a shot in the dark, Richard. Hopefully, if lots of authors like Nicholas publish their findings, people can make more informed decisions about this murky subject.

      Liked by 1 person

    • February 28, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      It’s really our fault. Asking how many books we’ve sold this month is a taboo question, mainly because we are bombarded with examples of millionaire authors. Well, there are the exceptions to the rule. I sell between 100 and 300 books each month, depending on how much I advertise. I’ve had months when I only sold 60. And when I started out, months would go by without a single sale.

      I hope some day to make a living out of my writing, but could be years away from that. Until I do, I plan to share everything I find. Full disclosure, and all that 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  7. March 1, 2015 at 1:52 am

    Very helpful. Thank you for taking time to analyze this data and share it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. March 1, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Reblogged this on chrismcmullen and commented:
    Here’s a handy example of data comparing various paid advertising options to book sales.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. March 1, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I may be wrong, but I suspect that just about any book self published today, regardless of quality, if penned in the 19th century or before, would now be considered great literature and studied feverishly in college English classes.

    My guess is that there is simply too much else going on, too many other distractions in our modern world, not just in sheer quantity of books, but movies, theater, computers and like technology etc etc etc, that we are competing against, that for the average self published author to try to get anyone’s attention has become a Sisyphusean chore, and writing an exercise in masochism. Talent alone, which ideally should be all that’s necessary, is not enough (or even essential). Seems that the formula to publishing success must primarily include some combination of either: marketing genius, connections, money or luck. Even in nature the successful are always vastly outnumbered by the fails.

    These are the thoughts that run through my head on blue days. But then the next morning I wake up and the sun is shining and anything seems possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 1, 2015 at 10:11 am

      I know what you mean, it can be really daunting. But I suppose pre-Internet authors still relied on promotion through everything from literature reviews, to newspapers, to the placement of their book on the shelves through the clout of a book distributer. Talent has always needed that push behind it. Ii find it encouraging that we now have the possibility of coming up with a little marketing genius ourselves and using social media to transmit it – a century ago, authors had to sit down and shut up while their publisher either pushed their book, or didn’t!

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm

        Thanks Tara. A side, and probably dumb question – I’m wondering why the colors of sales and costs alternate red and blue between the various graphs?


        • March 1, 2015 at 3:57 pm

          Not a dumb question at all! The graphs were done in Excel and the colours just defaulted that way. I could have manually changed the colours to standardise them between the 2 graph types, but I’m afraid by that point I was too lazy 😉


    • March 1, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      I think most 19th century authors would kill to have the kind of access to readers we do. It’s hard to use it properly, of course, but worth it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 1, 2015 at 3:29 pm

        Thanks for your efforts Nicholas.


        Pardon as I take a breath of air. Whew! Pushing a boulder up this mountain is wearing me out!

        Liked by 2 people

  10. March 1, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Great post Tara!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. March 1, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Reblogged this on Confessions of a published author and commented:
    Great post by Tara, worth a read

    Liked by 2 people

  12. March 1, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Just to throw in my twopence worth – I’ve spent a lot of dosh on many different types of advertising to promote my books, and even though it is not nearly as effective as it used to be, I have to say the free days on kdp are still by far the most effective.
    One more thing…has anyone else found that the Kindle Unlimited program has boosted their paperback sales? Even though my digital sales have dropped mainly as a result of KU (borrows have massively increased), my paperback sales have had a welcome boost since the programs release – can’t be just coincidence 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 1, 2015 at 10:27 am

      Thanks for this, James – great to hear of an option that works. What’s your genre, incidentally? Is your title fiction or non-fiction?


      • March 1, 2015 at 11:34 am

        Hi Tara, I write mainly in the non-fiction genre, but some fiction also.


        • March 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm

          You’re covering many bases, in that case! Thanks again James, very useful information there.


  13. March 2, 2015 at 9:02 am

    I’m not doing paid advertising because I don’t have the spare cash. I did one $15 ad and only just broke even. I do have lots of books available though including a completed trilogy for the last six months, all with brilliant reviews. Over the last year, I have sold or given away several hundred copies of the first volume of the series, and what I find dispiriting is that only a tiny handful of readers have felt it worth shelling out a few euros to read the sequels. Does that mean they hated the first volume? I’m inclined to believe that a huge percentage of free downloads are never read, just hoarded, and of those who read and enjoyed the first volume, most are prepared to wait indefinitely for #2 to be made available for nothing. There is just so much available free that it’s almost becoming accepted that ebooks should be given away, unless you have the backing of a good publisher. I know that having a whole string of books to offer is supposed to work wonders, but if you have to give them away what’s the point? Sorry to be negative, but not everyone has the possibility of throwing lots of cash into their project. Maybe I’m just ultra poor and not representative.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 2, 2015 at 10:21 am

      I think it would be of no use to anyone, Jane, to conclude that any reader hated the first volume of a series just because they didn’t buy the sequels as yet. Don’t be disheartened! Some people like to take breaks between volumes, especially if they are very rich or complex. I know I certainly do. Sometimes I leave years between them. It’s nothing to do with the money involved. But unless each of your first two volumes ends on a cliffhanger, it’s more difficult to get people to go the extra mile and get the later books. Perhaps you should consider bundling, if you haven’t already?


      • March 2, 2015 at 1:22 pm

        You’re probably right. I hope you are! I just don’t have the energy or the time to fling myself into hyper-promotion. By bundling do you mean buy two get one free sort of thing? I had intended to give away the short stories to anyone who bought the first volume of The Green Woman but I have no idea how to do it. The other thing I thought of was to do put all three volumes together in a single edition. Idleness then steps in and says what about all this X Y and Z you have to do first?


        • March 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

          I hope I’m right too, Jane! Bundling is any method of selling 2 or more books together. You can either bundle by format (i.e. all 3 books in a series together in 1 edition) or by deal (buy 3 for the price of 2; buy 1 get 1 free; or bundle your books and someone else’s together all in one deal – indie guru David Gaughran has done this with authors of similar genre with much success). It tends to work best with either books from the same series or books from the same genre.

          It means work, yes. There’s a lot of negotiating, tweaking and formatting, but e-book readers have proven they like the idea, and I really do think it’s worth it for any author who is trying to sell 3 or more titles. David Gaughran has several great articles on it here – well worth a look.


          • March 2, 2015 at 2:05 pm

            Thanks for the link, Tara. I’ll have a look and see how it’s done. Negotiating with Amazon does not fill me with joy, but I’ll see what I can do.

            Liked by 1 person

    • March 2, 2015 at 10:24 am

      I’ve been wondering about free for a while now. I haven’t given away any of my work for over a year now. The one exception is Runaway Smile, of course, which is available on my blog. Its free status and small size has resulted in some 30 reviews since being published at Christmas.

      If you can remember where you spent your $15 and how many copies you sold, I’d love to have that data on my survey,

      As for your books, I’m one of the hoarders you mention. I’ve read (and reviewed) Enders, and have been meaning to read the rest of the series for a while now. Apologies for my slow reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 2, 2015 at 11:48 am

        I’ve just sent you the info. Hope it’s useful. I’m not convinced that free works except as a sample of your writing to entice readers to buy the novels. Otherwise I think the freebies tend to simply feed the stream of free reading that nobody takes seriously.
        I’ve just seen your review. I’d have thanked you before but I don’t check on Amazon very often. Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m fond of that story too. If you like, I’ll send you Lupa—it sort of follows on.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. March 2, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Dunno what to say, Tara. I’d like to say something, but it’s all so complicated it just makes my head spin. If I had to publish my own books, I’d tear my fingernails out. That sounds snotty, and its not meant to. I just seem to have been in my own little bubble, not really noticing how popular self-publishing is, until now it’s too big not to, and that this is what everybody is doing. What I’d like to know, is, if you self-publish, does that count in your favour when you approach a traditional publisher? Can self-published books be as successful as traditional jobs? Simply because of all the costs of promotion and marketing, as you outline above?

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 2, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      It’s like anything else, Elaine – it depends. I know one author who after a number of rejections (to be fair, it was a small number), self-published her historical fiction novel, because there was a time factor involved, and she needed to get it out for a specific anniversary. It was a roaring success, and soared to the top of the Amazon charts, getting over 1,000 reviews. It wasn’t long before she got a traditional publishing deal. Her new bosses took down her book and re-launched it a year later, and both it and her 2nd novel are hitting all the major lists, including the NYT. For her and loads of other authors, self-publishing not only did them no harm, but was also their route to a traditional book deal.

      On the other hand, American author Anne R. Allen did a piece recently here which takes the opposing view, with several compelling arguments against using self-publishing to get to a traditional contract.

      The bottom line is of course that it depends on the book. All traditional publishers want to make money. If your self-published book is already doing very well, naturally they’ll to want a piece, and it could be the route to making it an even bigger success. On the other hand, if your book is not doing well – perhaps for reasons of bad/no editing, amateurish cover design, poor marketing skills or just simple bad luck – then it could go against you. It’s a gamble, but also an option.

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 2, 2015 at 12:29 pm

        Right. That is, actually, much as I thought. the only hurdle to overcome, is writing the best-seller…


        • March 2, 2015 at 1:22 pm

          I know. It’s kind of depressing, until you reason that we still have more options than authors 20 years ago, which cheers me up immensely. Think of John Grisham selling A Time To Kill from the boot of his car. I wouldn’t have the staying power, even if I really thought there was a snowball’s chance of me making besquillions down the line.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. March 3, 2015 at 8:11 am

    If interested, Tara, I would offer you a free week in March of Tweets, to compare the new expanded reach and tracking with December. The range of outcomes is interesting and the range of promotion tools now available provides a real opportunity for authors. I encourage you to do this quarterly. If you wish we will provide free weeks of Tweets, now $25 for members, each quarter so you can produce hard data, comparing us with other promotion options. Laurence O’Bryan


    • March 3, 2015 at 8:50 am

      Hi Laurence. Great to see you visiting the site here. So I’ll let you away with the free ad – but just this once. As the post clearly states, I am not marketing a book myself, so a free week of tweets would be of no use to me.

      Besides, there’s no way I would have the time to do the sort of number crunching you’re talking about. I did it here on a one-off basis as a favour to my good friend Nicholas, but paid work takes up too much of my life to consider doing this regularly on a pro bono basis. Thanks for the offer, though.

      There are some people starting to collect this, not least Nicholas himself, so perhaps someone else will take up the baton. Best of luck with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. March 3, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Alex Hurst
    March 5, 2015 at 4:56 am

    Fantastic info. I’m definitely going to share this one with my writing mates. Thank you, Tara!

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

    Liked by 1 person

  18. armenpogharian
    March 6, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Ah the revenge of the poor misunderstood purveyor of data, glad to see and thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 6, 2015 at 11:51 pm

      At last! someone who understands how misunderstood I am! Great stuff 😀


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