Show me the data

My biggest gripe with book promotion services: Lack of transparency.

Over the past six years, I’ve worked with a number of online book promotion web sites, all offering a variety of services for a price. While every field has its share of scammers and shifty dealers, there are plenty of reputable promo services that deliver more-or-less what they promise.

Usually, they don’t promise too much: For your payment, they’ll send your book cover and Amazon link in a newsletter to x-thousand subscribers, or y-thousand Facebook followers, and so on.

Most promotion services require the book be discounted, or even free. (The special price may be as short as a one-day sale.) Some try to distinguish themselves by requiring the book have at least a certain number of Amazon reviews, or hold a star-rating above a certain threshold. Some are genre-specific (mystery, romance), and some are wide-open to all comers.

These “book blasts” will get the word out, but they don’t guarantee sales. A great deal of their success depends on the writer. An enticing cover, a healthy discount, and a well-crafted 50-word blurb are often the difference between a meh promotion and an eye-popping day of sales.

Do book promotions work?

Yeah, they work. A better question is: Are they effective?

I won’t go into each promotion service I’ve dealt with over the last six years. These days, the go-to Baedeker for successful book blasts is Nicholas Erik’s list of recommended promo sites and his mini-guide on maximizing promotions. Both are must-reads for any writer looking to promote their latest title.

Erik’s list breaks up the promotion services into tiers: BookBub (the Holy Grail for online book promotions, hence its god-like tier), Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3. I’ve personally used all the sites listed in Tier 1 (save for BookDoggy, which I’m going to try next month), almost all the sites listed in Tier 2 (save for the promo site dedicated to romance), and dabbled with a few from Tier 3. I’ve never been selected for BookBub, but my sources tell me my gripe which follows applies to them as well.

(Note that all of these book promotion services are email-based. Their subscribers sign up to receive daily emails listing discounted or free e-books. Some promo sites offer social media add-ons as well. I usually skip these extras, a topic for another time.)

Here’s my gripe: None of the promotion services I’ve used provide relevant click-based data back to the author.

The only data I can glean from promoting with these services is:

  1. My book is promoted on a certain day, and

  2. Amazon reports how many books I sold that day.

And that’s it.

I’m no marketing expert or advertising wonk, but I know that, in the real world, online advertisers demand hard numbers from the sites they work with: Number of impressions vs. click-through counts, user demographics, engagement rates, and so on. Hell, Twitter offers an amazingly rich analytics system for free to their users—you don’t even need to advertise with them to use it. Google Ads has insanely detailed data analysis tools for their paying advertisers to dig through.

I’m not asking book promoters to hire top-tier data scientists to build deep data mining consoles. In return for the money I’m giving these book promotion sites, it’s reasonable for them to offer the following day-after statistics to me:

  • Number of emails sent featuring my promotion

  • Number of emails opened

  • Number of times my link was clicked

Is this excessive? I don’t think so. (You can bet your bottom dollar the promo sites are collecting this information—they’re just not sharing it.) Note that none of the above is privacy-intrusive. I’m not asking for email addresses, age ranges, geolocation, demographics, etc.

At its basic, I’m asking for CPC: cost-per-click. This is a basic statistic big-time advertisers expect to receive without asking.

The problem with the promo sites sharing this data? Obviously, these numbers reveal the sites’ effectiveness. That’s the kind of transparency most companies are not willing to reveal.

continued after the break…


Now on sale: In My Memory Locked, a cyber-noir thriller


A scenario

If a promo site proclaims they have a mailing list of 300,000 people, but only 10,000 opened the email containing your promotion, that tells you quite a bit about the service’s true reach.

Of those 10,000 people, if only 100 clicked your link, that could suggest a number of problems. It could be a problem with the service itself (a subscriber list tired of receiving offers every day, for example). It could also indicate a problem with your promotion, or your book.

If out of those 100 clicks, only 5 purchased your book…well, that could mean a number of things. But converting 5 out of 100 potential buyers (5%) is a far different problem than thinking you only converted 5 out of 300,000 (0.002%). In today’s book promotion market, you only have the latter statistic to work with. (And some promo sites don’t reveal their subscriber counts—you’re truly flying blind.)

Aye, there’s the rub—reporting these numbers might actually dissuade authors from using the service again. Promotion sites don’t provide these statistics because they don’t have to. There’s no demand for it, so far as I can see. Professional advertisers would never stand for this situation. Independent writers, though? Hell—some are just happy to sell five books in a single day.

Some exceptions

Only one promo site I’ve worked with—Fussy Librarian—has made an attempt to provide hard data to their authors, in the shape of anonymized cost-per-click summaries on their web site. (Their latest numbers are here.) These reports offer broad ideas of what to expect from them, but there’s no positive way to correlate this data to your own campaign. It’s a step forward, but only a step.

BookRaid differentiates itself from the competition by charging per-click rather than a flat fee. If the number of clicks is low enough, you’re not charged at all—not exactly the best of all possible outcomes, but hey. Again: A step forward.

The market for book promotions is fairly hot right now. It seems to me that if a site was looking to separate itself from the pack, data transparency would be a solid differentiator.

How to track clicks on your own

Some promotion sites permit you to specify custom link(s) with your promotion. You can send people to your personal web site, for example, or a service that specializes in handling traffic (such as BookFunnel).

It’s well-known that you’re taking a risk doing this—people are more likely to buy your book if they’re sent directly to the page where they can purchase it, rather than an intermediate page that requires extra clicks to reach the checkout page.

But you could use that power to track click counts, which at least gives you some idea of how effective your promotion really was. One approach is to use a link shortener (like bit.ly) which will track clicks for you but redirects the user straight to the purchase page.

Again, many book promo sites won’t let you do this. And, some people are squeamish about the degradation of user privacy when using these techniques. Follow your conscience. Be true to thyself.

Bottom line: Get educated about book marketing. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it’s all-too-tempting to throw money at promotions without first doing a little homework and understanding how to stretch those dollars. And, there’s plenty of ways to promote without spending money, as long as you’re willing to do the leg work yourself.


Desperate to locate her sister’s son, a young woman begins an arduous journey into the heart of her family’s deepest secrets. Her search takes her from sprawling Los Angeles to the wealthy enclaves of California’s Central Coast to the rugged heart of Jefferson, America’s fifty-first state. She must reunite her family while avoiding authorities, hiding her true nature—and staying alive.

Stranger Son is the third book of my Bridge Daughter Cycle series. Readers can start with Bridge Daughter, or pick up all three books in a Kindle boxed-set edition.

More information on Stranger Son can be found at j-nelson.net