UPDATE: Everyone always wants to know how marketing efforts pay off.
But...I cobbled together an estimate based on figures from Kindlepreneur.com, Kindle sales rankings, and Neilson Book Scan and concluded that, at minimum I earned twice in ebook royalties what I spent on promotion. On paperbacks my royalties fluctuate based on discounts my publisher provides, but using the most conservative estimates for rate of return per book, and the most miserly assessments of paperback book sales, I earned back at least 25% of the money I spent.
Kindlepreneur.com, calculates daily ebook sales based on Kindle sales rankings. Neilson Book Scan captures 30%-80% of paperback and hard-cover book sales, depending on the book and who you ask. I used the Neilson figures at face value, as if the only sales I had were the sales they report. It does not include books I sold myself or had on consignment in local stores during that period.
Last month, I promised I'd report on my mad rush to learn everything I could about online publicity while my book was on sale for 99c in September. Here's that report:
Their Plan--Look before you leap and measure everything
I'd studied a lot of sources about marketing prior to the launch of my first book. Those sources unanimously suggested the following (spoiler alert: I didn't do any of these things)
1. Don't promote your first book. Save promotion for later books when you can use the readers of your first book to jump start your promotional plans.
2. Have a plan.
3. Do one promotional effort a week, so it's easier to track your sales and figure out what works.
4. Don't spend what you can't earn back.
My Plan--Try everything. Make as many mistakes as you can.
My book's price is controlled by the publisher, Kensington. I knew I had one month and only one month to promote at the 99c price. I broke every rule I knew and probably a number of rules I didn't. Here are the 'seat of the pants' marketing rules I built for myself.
1. Promote the hell out of your first book. You only get one chance to promote a first book. You only get to use the newbie excuse for mistakes once.
2. Try as many things as you can and learn as much as you can. You can fine tune your skills and efforts with your later books. I translate this concept into: Make as many mistakes as you can. For me, that took the pressure off and gave me the freedom to move forward even if I was nervous. As the month moved forward, I learned a ton, which allowed me to alter and expand the plan.
3. I only had a month to work with while my book was on sale. Following "their" promotional plan would have allowed me to try only four promotional efforts. I wasn't convinced I'd do the four best ones or learn as much as I wanted. So I tried everything.
4. Plan to spend your advance on promotion, even if you don't have an advance. This is an old rule from the days when advances were more the rule than the exception. I did not get an advance, but long ago I'd figured a $2,000 advance was the norm for my genre, so I planned to spend that. Luckily, I also spent the years I was fine-tuning my writing skills and preparing for publication to save up the money. Everyone's budget is different.
The results--every little bit helps
Overall, sales for both my ebook and the paperback shot up as soon as the sale was announced, even without much promotion. Because I have a traditional publisher I don't have access to detailed sales figures from Amazon or anywhere else. But I could watch my sales position improve.
At the start of the sale, my sales position was about #75 in my category. With a variety of ups and downs, I then fluctuated between #40 and #20. When my BookBub promotion was announced, I shot to #1 and stayed there for three days. Three days. For a new author, I think that's pretty significant, and I was happy. So was my publisher. Sales for the paperback increased even though only the ebook was on sale and being promoted.
What I learned--promotion is like spinach
Learning from experts is a good thing, and can save considerable time and money. But everyone's situation is different. Everyone's genre is different. And sometimes it's important to be brave enough to break new ground. If it doesn't work, chalk the money spent up to education, and do something else the next time.
I also learned that there were some kinds of promotion that were too time consuming for my schedule or just weren't fun for me. Promotion is difficult enough without launching efforts you're suffering through. Don't do what you don't love.
Like spinach or other things that are good for you, I recommend trying everything once. If you don't like it, cross it off your list.
The nitty gritty
I'd love to give a very precise cost benefit analysis, but I can't. In general, though, my sense is that you get what you pay for. Every promotion I did sold more books than I would have without the promotion. I suspect that the promotions more than paid for themselves, but I don't have the data to back that up. At least not yet.
Book Bub is the gold standard of online promotion. It's pricey, but in my opinion the results are worth it because their reach is orders of magnitude beyond their competitors. I spent half my budget on BookBub and, from what I can extrapolate from my sales position on Amazon, I sold as many books in one day during the BookBub promotion as I did with all the other promotions put together. However, I think that the other promotions helped boost me into a position that gave me the most bang for my buck on BookBub. And I think it's the other promotions that kept me at #1 for two days after the BookBub promotion ended.
More people I know well noticed and were impressed by the BookBub ad than they were by a color ad in my local paper that was about the same price. The BB ad certainly had a much creater impact on sales than the local ad. (But I'd do the local ad again because I liked supporting the local paper and local bookstores.)
Other nebulous information
My publisher did some promotion for me prior to the book's release that resulted in a number of great customer reviews. At the time, I neither understood nor appreciated the value of those. But that pre-publicity put me in a perfect position to qualify for the promotions. Most places wouldn't have considered me without at least 10 reviews and at least a 4-star average on Amazon.
Free publicity (other than guest blogs, which were great) didn't have much impact on sales. It took a lot of time to track those down. All seemed to generate a lot of spam.
I'm not recommending you follow my plan. My guess is that it wouldn't work for you unless you were in a situation very similar to my own. But when you look at recommendations for how to do publicity, note how old those recommendations are. Publishing business models and advertising business models are changing so quickly that no one can keep up. Also, the outlets I chose were best for a cozy mystery. If you have a thriller or noir or hard-boiled mystery, you'll find other outlets that also work better for you.
Here are the outlets I used. The starred ones were better than the others:
Reading Deals (readingdeals.com)
E-reader News Today
Books and the Bear
Book #2 Cover Reveal (Blog Tour)
Mystery Reads (email newsletter)
Book Lemur (email newsletter)
Genre Pulse/Book Grow
Price Dropped Books/Book Grow
ADDENDUM: Book Butterfly is another great site. They charge a premium because they guarantee results. But read the fine print. Unless you are with Kindle Direct, proving how many results you did or didn't get is tricky. Since they have the confidence to stand behind their results, it might not matter. But it's something to think about.