Breaking into the Top 100 — Just Barely

For the last three days of January, I made Permanent Damage a free download on Amazon, and asked people to spread the word to help the book make it into the top 100 free books. Here’s how that went.

(This post may end up going into way, way more detail than you actually want. If you skim it all and skip to the results at the bottom, that’s fine. I’m trying to be very transparent about my writing and marketing efforts this year, for the sake of other writers who want to try some of the same things, and for any fans who actually want this level of crunchy detail, but I’m also doing it for myself, so I can look back at these posts later and see how effective various tactics have been.)

Getting Ready

I wanted to handle this differently than I had other giveaways in the past. This time, instead of just announcing the giveaway on Twitter and Facebook, I wanted to submit the details about the giveaway to websites that list upcoming free book promos. There are several of these sites: some of them will only list your book if you pay to be listed; others offer free listings and also an optional paid premium listing; others charge no such fee at all. Since this was the first time I was going to be taking advantage of these sites, I decided not to spend any money on getting listings this time.

Out of the couple dozen free-book-listing websites that I submitted to (and yes, a list of those will be forthcoming), eight of them actually listed the book: Book Deal Hunter, eBookLister, Freebooksy, Free Digital Reads, Free Kindle EBooks, the KindleBoards blog, Pixelscroll, and Super E-Books. There were other websites that picked up on the giveaway on their own, such as Spec Fic Daily.

The other thing I did to get ready was something I only thought of at the last moment.  I took a good long hard look at my book’s description on Amazon. I’d been using the same text I had on the back cover of the print version:

A dead woman’s offspring must face the legacy she left them. A child who can raise the dead unlocks a secret world of others just like him, and a man who finds blood coming through his ceiling learns that not all problems go away by themselves. The dead have their unfinished business — but can they be trusted? Ten more unsettling stories to be read in the dark.

As far as descriptions go, it was all right, but as a piece of persuasive marketing copy, it really lacked life and energy. I rewrote the description to be more enticing. I’ll talk about how I approached that rewrite in another post.

Fear and Loathing on the Social Media Campaign Trail

I did post about it on the usual social networks as well, of course, by which I really just mean Twitter and Facebook. I mean, I did post about it over on Google Plus, too, but honestly, that’s probably about as effective as shouting down a well. I didn’t do anything to promote this giveaway over on Goodreads, because I don’t really know how to use it properly. Not as a writer, at any rate. I have literally thousands of “friends” over there that I don’t really know how to reach without being labeled a spammer, and every time I try to research this, I mainly find other writers complaining about the same frustration. Hopefully I’ll figure it out eventually.

I posted about it a few times per day on Twitter, and re-tweeted other users’ mentions of the giveaway. I also tweeted the link daily at various free-book-listing accounts. I got a pretty decent number of retweets doing this; as I often read, it definitely seems to help to add “please RT” to your tweets. Many thanks to (deep breath):

@11spygod11, @AaronGritsch, @baxterpm, @BearHill, @BookYrNextRead,  @DoomCheez, @einsteinsarcade,  @GLHancock, @jbturnerauthor, @jinachan, @lokheed, @lunalindsey, @masoch667, @mcglk, @nerdettedesigns, @nevtelenuriembr,  @PhilHornshaw,  @RyanSeanOReilly, @Seattlejo, @ShaneKPONeill, @SPMiskowski, @squidlarkin, @timothycward, @wiccaworkz, @windbourne, and @Zenfearie44.

Over on Facebook, it’s a lot harder to see how much impact I had, largely because Facebook is one big tangled nightmare of poor user interface design choices and confusing privacy settings. Also, I posted about it both from my fan page and my personal account, and the promotion options and reporting tools for each of those are a little different.

On my personal account, I was able to pay something like seven bucks to “promote” my post, which apparently makes it more likely that the post will show up higher in my friends newsfeeds, or, you know, show up at all. (I’m not really thrilled Facebook has done so much to throttle back how much your friends see your posts in the first place, and how they now want you to pay to fix that problem, but let’s not get into that too much.) Apparently, the end result of that was that “three times as many” saw my post because of the promotion, but they don’t tell me how many people that is, exactly. Three, maybe.

Meanwhile, over on my fan page, out of my 200+ fans, 46 people saw my original post. On the first day of my giveaway, Facebook tells me there were 60 people talking about my fan page (and the giveaway, presumably), and that their posts were seen by 1,935 people. Which seems fairly decent.

I’ve tried to track down the people who shared the post about the giveaway, and this is what I was able to find, so many thanks to these people and to whomever else I might have missed:

Andrew Hummel-Schluger, Anna Armstrong, Carolyn Wolfe, Hollie Butler, Jackie Dempsey Lyon, Jonathan Paavo Sari, Judas Borbón, Kate Newman, Linda Roberts, Lisa Hellie Linderman, Liz Speedie, Llyra De La Mere, Lori Dyann, Pete Lazzaretti, Rob Cabe, Rick Keeney, Ross Skilling, Sally Lyons-Abbott, Sandra Odell, Snow Dragonwyck, and Steve Feldon.

I think this was the best response I’ve ever managed to get from asking people to share anything on Facebook, and I think it might be because I was asking people to help me reach a specific, measurable goal. Or maybe my fan base is just getting larger and more enthusiastic. Whatever the reason, I was thrilled to see this level of response, and I love you guys and I can’t thank you enough.


So did I make it to the top 100 free books on Amazon, or not?

The answer is yes! . . . Very, very briefly. permanent damage had 3,199 downloads,  and that put it all the way up to #97 on the free books list, in the wee small hours of January 30th. I woke up briefly at 4:30 in the morning for no good goddamn reason, and figured I would check my standings as long as I was up. I’m glad I did, because when I crawled back out of bed again at 8:30, the book was back down to #103, and it slowly declined from there. (Amazon updates their sales rankings every hour, I believe.) I wish I’d had the presence of mind to get a screenshot when it was at #97, but I was barely functional at all, so I’m afraid you’re going have to take my word for it.

Here’s what I did get a screenshot of, later that day:

big fish little pond

Now, don’t get too excited for me — Horror Anthologies is a very, very tiny category on Amazon. There are only about 40 books in the entire category, so I knew I’d end up in the top 100 there, at least. Heh. But still! Doesn’t that look great, one of my books at the top of each column? It might seem like a minor victory, but I still feel like I should print that out and have it framed.

Actually, it’s more important than you might think; from what I’ve read, ranking highly in a category, any category, makes it more likely that Amazon’s algorithms will pick up on your book and start recommending it to people. That was largely the point of this entire exercise — to get the attention of Amazon’s recommendation engine.

And it might already be working. I’ve already had as many sales in the past week as I did in all of January.

So what does all of this mean?

Since I wanted to be able to track how effective my social media efforts were versus the book listing websites, I made sure to use a link shortened by when I posted to Twitter and Facebook so I could track how many people clicked on the link.

Apparently, during the three days of the giveaway, that link was clicked just 165 times. 22% of those clicks came from Twitter, and 16% of them came from Facebook. And if you want to know even more information, and I can’t for the life of me imagine why you would, you can have a look at the stats for yourself.

So therefore, my social media campaign only accounts for a mere five percent of my downloads, and that’s assuming that every single person who clicked on that link ended up downloading the book.

This tells me that listing the book on the giveaway websites was definitely worth doing, and I will definitely be doing that again the next time I do a giveaway. It makes me think it would even be worth it to spend a few bucks to get some premium listings on said sites.

If I were just looking at the numbers, I’d be forced to conclude that it’s not really worth doing any promotion on social networks at all. But I don’t think that’s true. This campaign definitely got people talking about the book, and passionately recommending it to their friends. That kind of word-of-mouth, once it spreads, will do more for my books than any recommendation engine ever could.

Not to mention, because of that personal connection, it brought me new fans who contacted me to tell me how much they like the book. One of them told me right after he read the very first story that it “rivaled Etchison’s ‘The Dead Line’ and Ligotti’s ‘The Frolic’ in terms of sheer impact.” That’s insanely gratifying feedback.

I’m definitely winning hearts-and-minds, but I’m not really winning the numbers game just yet. 3,199 downloads is not bad, but I commonly hear about other writers getting about 15,000 to 20,000 downloads during a free promotion.

I don’t think there’s really a problem with my methodology. I also really don’t think there’s a problem with the quality of the work I have on offer. So why were these numbers so low, relatively speaking?

I strongly suspect it’s because of something I’ve heard for years — that short story collections just don’t sell as well as novels do. I can’t seem to find any hard numbers to back up that “rule,” but I don’t really doubt it, either, and I think that relative lack of popularity might also affect how many copies of an anthology you can giveaway, too.

It’s going to be interesting to see how these tactics work when I do get a chance to apply them to a novel.

Anyway, thanks for reading about all this marketing wonkery. and if you’re one of the people who did help pass the word about this giveaway, thank you so much, I couldn’t do it without your help.