SFFMP 91: Set-It-and-Forget-It Marketing and Selling Well in Non-Amazon Bookstores

Today, Jeff, Jo, and Lindsay talked about their strategies for selling books in the non-Amazon bookstores, such as Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Smashwords, and Apple. They also discussed some of the tactics they’ve used over the years that they would consider “set it and forget it marketing.” These are things they did once and that have continued to result in book sales month in and month out.

They also addressed some listener questions about Amazon ebook giveaways and setting up author newsletters. (Here’s a link to the WordPress plug-in that Jeff uses: Newsletter.)

Lindsay went into some details about the successful launch of her recent science fiction series, including the promos she scheduled and how and why she went about creating a new mailing list just for the sci-fi.

Here are the promo sites she used (these will accept new releases, but sometimes require that an author have previously published books with good reviews): Fussy Librarian, Ereader News Today, Books Butterfly, Free Kindle Books and Tips, and Bknights. Lindsay forgot to mention it, but ENT and Books Butterfly were the most worth it in terms of delivering sales, at least for her title in this case.

Links to Jo’s DeviantArt people:

The digital sculptor of Squee the Funk was Liz Landis.

The Sculptor that won the acclaim on DA was Viistar, and here’s the post of Jo’s project: http://viistar.deviantart.com/art/Ivy-Turn-620932412


| Open Player in New Window

Click to download the mp3.

Subscribe to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast on iTunes.

Subscribe to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast on YouTube.

Subscribe to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast via RSS.

Like us on Facebook.


  • JD

    I notice that one of the first things Jo and Jeff usually give as reasons why they won’t go Amazon exclusive is the desire to “not piss off readers.” Jeff in particular seems really petrified of this, to the point where it feels like he’s almost being held hostage by his readers.

    Given that Amazon makes buying books from them so easy (there are Kindle apps for just about anything), a reader would actually have to GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to avoid buying from Amazon. Given this, is pleasing these group of “never Amazon” people really a wise business move? I understand the whole “not putting your eggs into one basket” but they Jeff and Jo do always mention the “not pissing off readers” one first, so I assume that’s their biggest concern.

    Authors need to make sound business decisions, not let the (in)actions of some readers decide for them. I think Hugh Howey said it best when someone asked him why he was “limiting” his potential readership (and I’m paraphrasing here) by going all-in with Amazon: If going all-in with Amazon means selling a lot more books (just because they’re the biggest gorilla in the room) than going wide, how is that “limiting” his readership when he’s actually being read by MORE people? Yes, they may not be a diverse group of readers (only those who shop at Amazon), but should authors be concern about their readership’s demographic or just the number of readers?

    At the end of the day, isn’t that what this is all about? Getting as many readers as possible? If that means going into KU and with Amazon, then that’s the route authors should take. I don’t mean to say Jeff and Jo are wrong, but their decisions shouldn’t be based on fear of angering some readers. If those readers are big enough fans of your work, they’ll download an app and buy the book from Amazon; if they can’t be bothered to do something even a child can master, then they probably weren’t really big fans to begin with, and are those really people you want to base all your business decisions on?

    • SFFpodcast

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, JD!

      I’ll let Jo and Jeff comment on their stuff, but I know that’s always on my mind too (annoying existing readers) since I got my start before KDP Select was a thing. There was no reason not to go wide, and I found a lot of international readers that way. There are places where Amazon doesn’t have a presence or adds $2 in tax to a 99-cent ebook, so there are reasons why some people won’t shop there (or can’t). I have people who buy through Smashwords just because that’s been a place all along that sold to every country without any extra taxes. It’s tough explaining to readers who have been following along since the beginning why my new series isn’t available in their stores. Their trad published authors are available in every store (even ones who are in KU…), so I’m sure it’s mystifying to readers too.

      I do remember Hugh’s argument, and it’s a perfectly legitimate one. It’s why generally I tell new authors just to start in KU. They don’t have fans elsewhere yet, so why not focus on the Amazon ecosystem if it gets them an advantage?

    • While I’ll often point out my desire to avoid losing some of my die hard fans as my motivation to go wide, the “all eggs in one basket” aspect is a large part of my thinking as well. And there’s subtle distinction between “reaching more readers” and “having access to more readers.” In terms of actual books in front of eyes, and money in pockets, Amazon exclusivity almost certainly wins, but in terms of potential audience, going wide wins. Though when wide you are not exclusive to Amazon, you are not EXCLUSIVE to Amazon. You still have access to that audience. But you also have access to the non-Amazon audience, which however small it may be, is NOT accessible to Amazon exclusive authors. The only people who I don’t have access to are people who read exclusively on KU, Going wide and really kicking butt with marketing gives you a tiny edge-case in which you’re topping the charts in multiple storefronts, which is a bigger payday than topping the charts in just one. Wishful thinking and a long shot, but not impossible.

      When all is said and done, staying wide is more of a gut decision than a brain decision in my case. To me, there is value in being “everywhere books are sold.” It removes as many obstacles as possible to a reader finding and enjoying your work. You’ll note, though, that I typically qualify the recommendation to stay wide as “this is what I do.” When asked by first time authors how to get started, like Lindsay I usually recommend KU.

  • Very glad for last night’s episode! I’m still dithering between going wide and being exclusive with KU, so this was spot on for me. My first novel in my new series is finished, the second is in draft, and I’m not planning on releasing until at least the fall, if not later (depending upon whether or not I decide to “bank” the first three before publishing any as Lindsay and I discussed on Twitter), so I have time to make up my mind. Looking forward to Susan Kaye Quinn returning next week to talk about KU.

    I am concerned about putting all my publishing eggs in one basket, and see diversification as a real benefit of being wide. I do wonder if success for a new author in wide is different than for veteran indies like yourselves, and that’s a reason for going with KU instead of wide. On the ‘third’ hand, from what I gather, it takes time to build success, especially on other platforms, so is being exclusive with KDP Select only lengthening that time if you decide to switch to wide later.

    Great tips on “set-it-and-forget-it” marketing. I was just wondering if Wattpad was still useful for this, and it sounds like it is! I’ll look into podio books as well. Thanks again for another informative and fun (loved the figures!) podcast.

    • SFFpodcast

      Thanks for listening and for stopping by to comment, Dale!

      It does seem like it takes more time to build up steam on the other platforms and maybe make the connections that can get you some merchandizing love. Plus, until you have a series, permafree isn’t that great of a tactic in those stores.

      I will say that even though it’s nice that I get income from the other stores, and I like not depending wholly on Amazon, my first full month in KU under my name (with only 3 books) made me twice as much *just from borrows* as I made from sales in all the other stores combined (and as I mentioned, I don’t make peanuts, especially at B&N), so I can see why the people who are faithful to KDP Select aren’t even contemplating going wide. But I expect Amazon to change the system again soon. Usually around the time I decide to try something, that happens. 😛

      Good luck with your series!

    • I’d have to say that any decent and long-lasting success includes a bit of groundwork and buildup, and to a degree that means postponing going wide is prolonging the delay before serious earnings on other platforms. However, I suspect a good solid launch can get you jump-started on just about any platform. And to be honest, comparison shoppers who see the score and reviews on Amazon or places like Goodreads will probably be more likely to purchase on their store of choice. So Amazon exclusivity prior to wide release might not be as problematic as it seems.

  • So, how big are your email lists? It sounds like Jo and Jeff are less than 2000. It sounds like Lindsey has a decent number on her list (40 to 50 a day for the last few months). When you release a book, what percentage of your list buys your book?

    Do you weed out your email lists? If you do, how often and with what criteria?

    Would you see benefit with a FB ad for joining your email list? (probably need to give a book away) Do you calculate what a person on your email list makes you in one year? Or lifetime?

    • SFFpodcast

      My main one is about 6,000, and I know I’ve got people on there who signed up just because I used to blog about self-publishing a lot, so it’s hard to judge how many of those people are actual readers. I haven’t bothered to cull anything, since, like I mentioned in the show, I’m on a grandfathered mailing list plan and pay a flat $50 a quarter no matter how many subscribers and lists I have. We have had guests on who say be careful about culling subscribers who appear inactive because sometimes the data on the dashboard isn’t reliable, and they’ll protest that they were kicked off!

      The SF one is up to 4,000+ now, and that’s the one I started in May and that’s more representative of a typical author reading list, I believe. I sent out an email about four days ago, offering a bonus 2nd epilogue from Book 4 in my series, and it looks like 1400 people have downloaded it so far. At the same time, I linked to the new book (5) and can attribute about 500 U.S. sales from the affiliate link I used (1100 U.S. sales so far overall). I have no way to track borrows, and it’ll be a while before the page reads kick into high gear since those are always delayed, but I believe I’m getting at least one borrow for every sale. Maybe even more. Conservatively, I’d say 1/4th to 1/3rd of the subscribers are buying or borrowing the new books within a few days of when they come out. I’m sure some of those people aren’t caught up with the series yet and may buy later.

      I not a big spreadsheet junkie and I rarely look at anything besides how much I’m making in any given month and sometimes how much individual books are contributing, so I haven’t tried to calculate what subscribers are worth on an annual basis or anything like that. It’s hard to factor in the intangibles, like the benefit of having 500 or 1000 people buying a book on launch week, thus getting it up high enough in the rankings where new people can find you.

      I don’t use FB to get subscribers, though we’ve certainly had authors on (and Mark Dawson himself) who have sworn by this (yes, by offering a book or books to get a signup). I have run into authors who have bragged about having 20K+ subscribers, and then when I’ve looked at their books, I’ve seen that even their most recent releases are ranking in the hundred thousands on Amazon. I think you need to be really careful, if you go that route, to make sure enough of those people are becoming buyers to justify the money you’re spending.

    • My mailing list is a little anemic, because I neglected to start it until WELL after I’d had my biggest peak of buys and downloads. I’m at roughly 1,000 subscribers. About half of them open the emails, and about 10% click-through. For better or worse, I haven’t segmented my list, which means it is a split of fans of my three different series, so the number of purchases/downloads I can expect on a launch email varies widely by which series and what type of book, but broadly speaking I can expect 100 purchases on a book announcement on average. (Closer 150 for a major Book of Deacon release, closer to 40-50 for minor series/book releases.)

      I’ve never done anything to foster growth besides mention it in the back of books, so the 2-3 new signups a day are pretty typical for me. I’ve been debating on doing some Facebook Ads to build the list, but unless I really nail the targeting I’m not terribly confident I’ll get long-term signups.

      Because of my small, very organically built list, I’ve not had to do any culling because most of my subscribers legitimately want to receive the email. There’s very little dead weight on the list.

      I AM a spreadsheet junkie, but I’ve not yet doing the work to get a “Value per subscriber”, thanks largely to my tendency not to use trackable links to get definitive earnings counts.

  • I’ve never found any advantage of the Kindle app over the others I have tried. Likewise I find the Kindle Store too busy for my likes. On top of that I don’t read fast enough to make joining the KU program worth the cost. At the moment I am happy using the Kobo app. As for missing out on stories because they are AMZ exclusive, there are so many good books available wide that I have no trouble keeping my TBR stocked.

  • Had to come online to see your sculptures. Very cool! It would be awesome to have those for the characters in my stories. #maybeoneday

  • Loved this episode. Listened to it twice and jotted down notes, so that I can implement some of your strategies.
    Wish you folks can do more of these episodes, when it’s just the three of you giving excellent advice.

  • For the technically inclined, there is a software called Sendy (https://sendy.co) you can install on a website. It’ll let you run a list. It actually sends via amazon’s ses service, and it includes many features available in mailchimp. I’m currently using tinyletter (free, but a max of 5,000 subscribers.), but I’m planning on using Sendy if I ever get close to that limit.