Here are my suggestions for a low-cost, low risk strategy to achieve a realistic level of book sales.
As you will learn later, there are bumps in the road, even if they are less damaging than when travelling on the high-risk highway.
The average cost of a professionally designed cover can cost $100 – $200. So, save every cent by using Canva design. I had zero experience when I started, but as my brand image is unchanging, it was a five-minute job to produce a template. All I do now is amend the title, the number in the series, and I’m good to go.
Of course, you can go the Paid route with Canva, and develop more elaborate designs, but either way, it will cost you a fraction of what a professional cover designer would charge.
(Posts ‘Building The Brand’ and ‘Can We Learn From The Best’ will let you see why I chose to follow my particular path with my covers)
Where do we start? Well, I reckon you can spend anything between $500-$2000 per title, depending on how badly put together your manuscript is in the first place, and how ‘clean’ who want it to be. For the sake of our argument, let’s pitch it at the mid-point of $1250 per book. You should then have a file that passes muster on Smashwords, or Amazon, without any hitches when you upload it.
I’ve used the free Grammarly app for the past two years, to correct my Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling errors. The Premium plan would cost $140 per annum to remove the other ‘impurities’, but I took the advice of a fellow writer and chose Pro Writing Aid instead. This costs me a quarter of that, and does the same job.
Do I get as polished a finish as from a professional? Of course not, but none of my books has less than a 4* average. Would I sell more if I raised that to 4.5*? Show me absolute proof and I’ll give it a try. No? I didn’t think so. When you don’t have the funds to experiment, you need to target every cent you spend with care.
No doubt you’re wondering why this one is here? Well, this is a free tip. No matter how apposite your title may appear for the book you’ve written; check to see if it’s been used before. As a reviewer, I see dozens of examples where authors use a title that has between 3 – 7 titles already. Give yourself a chance of success! Five minutes research could help find a title that lets your book stand out from the crowd.
Some ‘How To’ authors will mention the word ‘copywriter’ in this regard. They will cost you money. Forget it. Maybe for the first book, just to give you the tutorial. After that you HAVE to go it alone. You use Social Media don’t you? And a mobile phone? So, you’re an expert in getting your message across in a limited number of characters. Develop those skills.
Your blurb should be 150 – 200 words. A maximum of 10 sentences. It should be engaging & fresh, setting the scene, introducing the characters, raising conflict, hinting at an outcome. It shouldn’t reveal too much, yet it must leave them wanting more.
I’ve found that all my Tweets can be constructed from a combination of my Blurbs, and my Reviews. Some have become a constant presence in identifying The Phoenix brand. You are the best person to do this. You know your characters; a copywriter doesn’t.
When I started out, I used Smashwords to upload my first novel. I was given a list of 10 contacts who would format my Word file so it would pass through the ‘mincer’ first time, every time. On average, it costs me $30 per title. The lady I chose from the list at random, has become a friend over the past four years. A fellow writer, she smashes it (excuse the pun) every time. Never a problem. I tend to stick to Amazon these days, but the success rate is still 100%. This is one area where it’s worth spending the going rate to get the job done.
I’ll save you the task of adding the numbers. My hours grafting at the editing come free as far as I’m concerned, so the day Amazon confirm my title is LIVE, my savings compared to the route suggested by Joanna Penn, and others, is just shy of $1500 on every title.
My Marketing Budget
Between 2012-2014 it was only $1000; In 2015-2016 I raised the bar to $1500. In 2017, buoyed by the success of the second half of 2016, it became $2000.
Do you see why it’s vital for me to control my expenditure in every area possible? I am writing THREE titles per year. My outgoings on this first stage of the exercise could be as much as $7500; and that’s before I’ve even scheduled my first book promotion If you can afford much more, then good for you, but still watch where you spend it.
Over the past sixteen months I’ve identified up to 75 promotion sites that claim to produce results. The costs vary, and if you go the cheap route, you will get downloads/sales, but you won’t set the world alight. Money talks. I selected maybe eight last summer, and raised my modest marketing budget to see if I could bring about a change of fortune. The ones I chose were a mix of moderately expensive, and cheap. Some were Twitter based promotions; some were email blasts to their client list, and some a combination of both.
The first six months of 2016 had yielded 1000 units. The second half of the year that figure shot up to 8000. I raised the budget bar further in January, and Freebooksy gave me a single day of over 3000 downloads of the first book in the series. At the end of August, my downloads/sales from a range of sites stand at 13000.
From now until December I’ll continue to spend $40 per week on average. My target for 2017 was 16000 units. My guess is I’ll be closer to 18000. For me, that’s outstanding. Remember where I was in January 2016? Ready to quit. I was doing everything the book promoters, and ‘How To’ writers said I should do (albeit on a shoestring) and I was lucky to achieve 20 units a week.
Can I call that successful? You bet. Could I spend $4000 or $5000 in 2018 and do even better? No idea. I’m not sure I could afford it, and if I could, are there any guarantees?
My strategy HAS to be low-cost, and low-risk. When you look at your own situation, you may realise that something similar might suit your pocket. If so, feel free to follow my tips and hints. Don’t disregard the ‘experts’ out there though, they will provide you with lots of great advice; but remember that you want to be lining your own pockets with cash – not theirs.
Proof of the pudding
I said earlier that you would hear about a bump in the road. I keep saying there are no guarantees. I tried an ‘ad-stacking’ experiment as suggested by Joanna Penn. My first box set was published a week ago. On the 30th August, I tried to get five promotions running on the same day, without changing my overall budget. Either side of the 30th, I spent next to nothing on promotions. Only $20 on the 14th August.
One of my five sites fell by the wayside because it demanded a minimum of 10 reviews. The 4 books in the set had over 60 between them, but that didn’t count. Go figure.
One is still to give me the date it will run the Spotlight I booked. So, $65 of my $160 commitment has yet to bring any results.
Three sites began the promotion yesterday. Bump. $95 spent; $40 back in royalties so far. So, for one of the biggest single days expenditure I’ve risked, my returns look to be falling short.
What if I had risked $5000 like Ms Penn on her ‘ad-stacking’ campaign to hit #1 on the Amazon best-sellers’ lists? My career, such as it is, would have been over, and possibly my marriage , if my returns had been so poor.
I’ve proved it’s possible to reach 18000 units in a year on $40 a week. If that’s a success for you too, then go for it.
I’ve got the box set now to use as a bargaining tool. My strategy is to generate downloads on Free days in a Countdown Deal, using my best performing promo sites. This time next year there could be 10000 to 15000 Free downloads out there of the first four books in the series. Will that give me a better chance of converting more first-timers’ into true followers? Not a clue. I live in hope. I can’t afford to do much more. It’s a long hard road. The bumps are many, but because my financial risk is low, these setbacks don’t deter me. I’ll keep plugging away, moving forward a little, day by day. The numbers don’t lie. The evidence is there – my strategy can produce an average 350 units a week. The more seeds of the series I sow – #1 Permafree; #1- #4 at a saving of 45% off list price, and occasionally Free in the box set – the more readers I can attract to the last 8 books in the series. #9 will be out in December. Three more next year, and then all my attentions will be focused on promotion. The writing will be done.
If you want regular updates on my books, and my progress along that long, hard road, why not join The Phoenix Club? The September Newsletter (#15) will be circulated very soon.