Monday, November 10, 2014

An Exercise in Reader Hunting

At this point in my independent publishing career, I feel my ability to write is stronger than my ability to market. While this combination gives me the right skill set to be a starving artist, I’d like to find ways to increase my ability to reach my target audience and not die of hunger. I’m planning a major overhaul of my commercial strategy in January and increased exposure is a fundamental part of the program. As part of my long term plan, I just completed a small scale experiment to increase my pool of potential readers. I’d like to share it with you. Please feel free to use it or ignore it at your leisure.

The Goal
There is a school of thought in independent publishing (and sales in general) that people will buy books from authors they already know and like (See Write, Publish, Repeat). Not many people are familiar with my work right now, so my goal was to increase my exposure for a short period of time and get my writing into the hands of potential readers. Because this was a marketing exercise and not a sales exercise, I didn’t expect to generate any revenue. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money either.

The Method
  • I hired a marketing group on that specializes in e-book marketing. They charged me $45 for what amounted to a mini blog tour.  
  • I took my last novel (A Taste of Honey) and made it exclusive on Amazon’s KDP to set up a two day free offer that would take place a couple days before Halloween.
  • I announced my free offer a week in advance on social media along with a free piece of horror flash fiction to get people’s attention.
  • On the day of my free promo, I sent an email blast out to my mailing list of about 13,000 names.

The Results
  • The marketing company produced 5-7 announcements and reviews for my book just before the free period. The announcements appeared on, Top Books Worth Reading and other blog sites.
  • A handful of verified purchasers picked up the book before the free period and left reviews.
  • There were more than 900 downloads of the book during the two day period, with a huge push in the first 16 hours and then a steady decline afterwards.
  • A Taste of Honey broke into the top ten spy novels list on Amazon during the first day of the free period.
  • Sales for the most part remained flat outside of a predictable dead cat bounce.

The Lesson
If my goal was to make a lot of money in a short period of time, then the experiment was a failure. I spent forty five dollars and didn’t make anything back. If my goal was to connect with more potential readers, then things didn’t turn out too bad. Nine hundred potential readers is a decent bite at the apple. In my experience, nine out of ten people who enjoy adult crime fiction liked my writing. Not everyone who downloaded my free book will read it, but even if only ten of those nine hundred people decide to read my book, maybe nine of them will like it too. When my next nine novels come out over the next five years, each one of those potential readers will be more prone to buy them because I’ll be an author they already like.

Some writers will mock me for losing 1,000 potential sales, or continuing to use KDP long after Amazon scuttled the algorithms that used to guarantee sales. Other writers might reject my use of a marketing company, comment that the process perverts the purity of the blog tour concept or otherwise smacks of dishonesty. Some people will be offended just for the sake of being offended. My goal isn’t to change those opinions. Every writer is entitled to their own perspective. My perspective is finding more people who might enjoy my work.

I plan to include this tactic in the overall strategy for releasing my next novel. Have you done something similar? What worked for you? What do you wish you could do over? Any comments are welcomed, even if I don’t answer them all.

Have fun.


  1. Thank you for sharing that. I have been wondering about this very strategy. It's one that is recommended in Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur which I am now reading. I like your blog - the writing is very clear and to the point. I will definitely check out more of your stuff. (

  2. Thank you Mr. Dean. I appreciate the positive feedback. I hope you find some things in my publishing experience to help you in yours.

  3. Great article, Gamal. I wish more authors shared what worked and did not work for them in what they spend their marketing money on.
    My only surprise is that you didn't try reader subscription sites like or
    Some of us don't have an email database of 13K contacts, so I think this is where these guys fill the gap. Do you any experience of using these subscription services?

    1. I've heard of bookbub, but for some reason I decided not to go with them when A Taste of Honey first came out. I have another novel coming out in March, so maybe I'll try them out again. Thanks very much for the tip. :-)

  4. I believe you did the right thing. The key in any of the arts is marketing. And even in today's world authors with major publishers have to market their work.

  5. I agree Harley, but in the end I think continuing to build your catalog and putting it where potential readers can find it is the most potent form of marketing we have.

  6. For a free book promotion to be a success you need a second book in the same genre available THEN. Readers may enjoy your free book, but they won't remember your name. (Two days in long enough: that is when most of the downloads occur.)