Where It All Comes Together, Part 2

In Part 1 of this mini-series on big-picture marketing, I discussed the background of the Vampyr Series, plus short-term plans and goals for reviving sales (with a note about timing), re-engaging loyal fans, and reaching new readers.

Today, I want to continue that discussion with a look at the rest of the process, beginning with creating a funnel system (for free, even!) to pull readers into the next book in the series, then diving into planning the ad campaign, how I'm hitting up my mailing lists and social media, and what I can do to maintain momentum and keep my readership happy.

A Series Funnel

I've been experimenting with how to get readers to buy the next book in a series for two years now. I discovered that by adding a buy link leading directly to the retail page of the next book in the series at the end of the one just read, read-through rates improved dramatically. (A read-through rate is the percentage of readers who go on to purchase the next book in the series.)

And if I added the first scene or two, read-through rates went up even more.  I can't take credit for the idea. Can't remember which one, but I found it on a writers' forum. (Ah, the benefits of networking with other authors.) Truthfully, this isn't a new fad. Trad publishers have been adding teaser scenes to the backs of books for decades now. It was only natural for self-publishers to follow.

I can attest to the power of adding a scene of the next book and a buy or pre-order link to the back matter of every book in a series. Failing that, a call to action encourages interested readers to subscribe to my newsletter so they can be notified when the next book will be released.

This setup works very well with the Daughters of the People Series. I'm hoping it will work equally well with the Vampyr Series. I've already updated the back matter of The Vampire's Pet and The New Vampire with scenes from subsequent books. All I need now is the pre-order link for The Vampire's Favorite and this part of my plan will be complete.

Setting Up the Ad Campaign

Once I knew when The Vampire's Favorite would be released and on which days The Vampire's Pet would be on sale, I had to decide if I wanted to split my advertising dollars between a major push of the five-day sale on the one hand, and the new release on the other. I decided to focus primarily on the sale, in the hopes that doing so would boost pre-orders of The Vampire's Favorite. It's a gamble, yes, but by concentrating my money on The Vampire's Pet, I can afford more and bigger ads, thus boosting the entire series.

I maintain a list of advertising sites, as well as spreadsheets devoted to keeping track of which ones I've used for what books. The spreadsheets contain other information, such as the cost of the ad and the number of downloads or sales directly attributable to it, from which I calculate the Return on Investment (ROI). When it comes time to design a promotional campaign, I can turn to my list and spreadsheets and figure out which ones would work best to help me meet the goals I've set for that particular campaign.

For this campaign, I decided to submit The Vampire's Pet to the following sites: BookBub, My Romance Reads, I Love Vampire Novels (newsletter), Wanton Reads, eReader News Today (ENT), Robin Reads, Bargain Booksy, Fussy Librarian, OHFB (One Hundred Free Books), eBook Hounds, Many Books, and Kindle Nation Daily (with a possible free slide over to Book Gorilla), plus a host of smaller, trusted sites.

BookBub, ENT, and OHFB turned my request down, not surprising in the least, but a little disappointing since these are three of the biggies. I decided against using Wanton Reads for this particular campaign when I went through the submission process for the other ads.

Here are the confirmed ads from the above list, grouped by the date on which they'll advertise The Vampire's Pet, along with the cost of the ad:

  • 15 February: ILVN ($77) and My Romance Reads ($70)
  • 16 February: Bargain Booksy ($70)
  • 17 February: Robin Reads ($30) and Many Books ($25)
  • 18 February: eBook Hounds ($10) and Kindle Nation Daily ($149.99), with a slide over from the latter to Book Gorilla (Free)
  • 19 February: Fussy Librarian ($16.96)

This may not seem like a heavy spending campaign. Bear in mind the three sites I had on my original list that didn't make it to the final one. If all had accepted The Vampire's Pet, spending for advertising would've come to over $1000. BookBub alone was around $700!

Having three ad sites turn down advertising The Vampire's Pet allowed me to redirect money toward a lot of smaller sites. Alternatively, I could still opt to advertise The Vampire's Favorite's release. I hope to write a third blog post going over ads and ROIs after the sale, with a more complete list of the ad sites I'm using and their respective costs.

Priming the Pump

In his book Let's Get Visible, David Gaughran describes the way in which Amazon reformulated its algorithms to reward steady sales with sticky sales ranks. Sudden sales spikes really don't help rank at all anymore, thanks to these changes, and rank, believe it or not, leads to more sales, since it places a given book in more and higher positions throughout Amazon's retail site.

To prime the pump, I added a cushion to the sale of The Vampire's Pet, especially for newsletter subscribers, by lowering the price a couple of days ahead of time. Once the sales price was in place, notices went out to my existing mailing list and my new (ILVN giveaway) list announcing the sale, in particular to allow subscribers to the latter a chance to snag the first book in the Vampyr Series at a great price. If even 1/8th of them choose to purchase it, the sales boost will be tremendous, allowing ads on succeeding days to have an even greater effect on rank, and thus floating this book in front of more readers.

Again, I'll have more about exactly what effect this priming had, if any, at a later date.

Teasers and Social Media Boosts

Social media isn't as useful in selling books as many authors are led to believe, something Tim Grahl briefly discusses in Your First 1,000 Copies. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be used to raise awareness (i.e. to connect with readers). In fact, that's social media's best function.

To that end, part of my promotional campaign will include designing at least one teaser each for The Vampire's Pet and The Vampire's Favorite, which I'll use in my newsletters, on my blog, and on Facebook and Twitter. I'll also pass these along to my Virtual Assistant, whose social media reach is far greater than my own.

This is really a low-cost option for me, since I can, in a relatively small period of time, design attractive, targeted teasers in Paint.net (free image manipulation software) using stock photos and/or the books' covers.

Research suggests consumers need to see a product many times before they'll actually purchase it. Sharing teasers through social media is a great way to help this process along, even if it doesn't result in an immediate sale.

Capitalizing on Momentum

My plans for this series (and the V.R. Cumming pen name) don't end with the promotional campaign for The Vampire's Pet and the release of The Vampire's Favorite. There's still one more book in the series, The Master Vampire. It's the culmination of nearly two years of hard work, as well as the series finale, so I'm working very hard to make it a really great read.

Not only that, I want to time its release in such a way that I can capitalize on any momentum gained by what's going on with the series now. To be bluntly honest, I cannot afford, financially or otherwise, to wait a year to release The Master Vampire. It needs to happen within the next three to six months or readers will become frustrated by my seeming lack of ability to deliver.

Worse, they could forget about the series all together, thus diminishing the effect of later releases.

And yes, there will be more releases by V.R. Cumming. Probably not within the Vampyr Series itself, but within the series world. I haven't decided yet what I'll write next. I have ideas for several more stories drawn from secondary characters appearing in the Vampyr Series, but I also have ideas for two series set in completely unrelated worlds.

My gut instinct is to follow up the conclusion of the Vampyr Series with a story about a particular secondary character, Darien, the alpha of the Greater Atlanta werewolf pack. Chronologically, his story takes place very close to the events of The Master Vampire, and so, it would be a great follow up.

It doesn't hurt that it would be a werewolf book. Shifter romances are incredibly popular right now, and there's no downturn in sight. They're simply a perennial favorite. From a business standpoint, I would be crazy not to publish Darien's story, particularly if I can establish and maintain a high interest level among readers for the Vampyr Series.

Will It Work?

All of this hard work is bound to pay off, right? I'm certain to reach all of my goals, including having this series become a financial success.

Eh, not so fast. When it comes to selling books, there are no guarantees. All authors can do is think through what they're doing, plan accordingly, and hope for the best. Some fraction of all success comes through sheer luck, but as my editor is fond of saying, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

He's so very right.

I've flown through two years of self-publishing without many firm plans beyond what I want to write. It's well past time I planned other aspects of my writing business, including marketing efforts like this one. It takes a lot of work, yes, but the end result is usually worth it.

I'll do my best to post some hard numbers within the few weeks after the ads run and The Vampire's Favorite goes live. Until then, happy writing.

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