Group promotions are all the rage in book marketing these days, and they definitely have their place. I have always felt that the only way to get your own audience is to leverage other people’s audiences, and the best way to do this is to become friends with other authors who write similar books to yours.
I’ve had a group promotion idea that I’ve been sitting on for awhile, primarily because I couldn’t get over my last group promotion attempt, which ended in an absolute disaster. It’s funny how these things stick with you, eroding your confidence, making you place labels on yourself (or worse, let others place labels on you, which you then absorb as truth).
I’m finally putting together my group promotion idea, but it took me awhile to get to this point. One of the best exercises I did was to look at the last group promotion I tried and figure out exactly what went wrong, so I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes again.
Here is that list (and yes, it’s embarrassing!):
#1: Keep the Promotion Invite-Only
If you’re the one spearheading the promotion, you need to keep it to authors you speak to personally. Yes, it is a lot of work to research each author individually, learn about their books, and contact them with a personalized email, but it’s worth it in the long run.
I made the mistake of posting on the KBoards for my first one, which turned out to be a mistake. This posting attracted some really great authors and some of the wrong authors, which would have been easier to weed out if I’d just reached out to each author individually.
The posting also got shared on forums and groups that I couldn’t even see (often private email lists and such) which attracted even more of the wrong authors.
I originally said that people had to talk to me before signing up, but somehow the sign-up link leaked and authors were purposely signing up without talking to me… even if I hadn’t approved them—even if I told them they couldn’t! Then, I made the mistake of bending the rules because they then said that they’d have a new series out soon and it would do better.
The result was having some authors in the promo who really couldn’t bring anything to the table in terms of audience, marketable books, or even marketing know-how. This made the promo look second-rate at times, which I’m sure hurt our ability to attract readers.
For this promo, I’m trying to attract authors who already have solid audiences and sales. Many of these authors have hit the bestseller lists, which means they are busy and get tons of requests. So I’ve had to come up with a way to make it easy and profitable for them to participate.
I’ve also found some authors who have amazing series and good sales but haven’t hit the bestseller lists. I’ve had to find ways that they can get more out of the group if they want to invest the extra time.
Overall, it’s meant coming up with creative ways to attract the best authors I possibly can, catering to their needs and giving them multiple options within the promo. Not an easy task!
#2: Find Authors With Closely Related Themes and Work
The last promo I did was based on the theme of heroines, and it ended up being too wide for most potential readers to get excited about. There were novels and novellas of all genres and suitable age ranges, and it was basically just a huge mess of unrelated work trying to cooperate for audience.
The result was that the promotion failed to attract a ton of readers, especially because the events were in-person, which made it hard to attract readers anyway.
For this promo, I’m focusing on just books that fall under a “steamy romance” theme. Some of these books span different sub-genres, like paranormal, MMA, and billionaire, or New Adult, but they are all closely related in that they typically feature alpha males and strong female protagonists.
I also simply looked for books that I would want to read, because I figure I’m an “avatar” or “profile” for the readers that we’re looking for.
#3: Focus on Your Own Personal Strengths
For the last promo, I tried to plan in-person events for this group of authors and it simply didn’t work. I hadn’t planned that many events in the past, and certainly nothing on this scale. I had some help, but there were a lot of issues with travel, finding space, and coordinating people that I didn’t expect.
When the in-person events fell through, I switched to online events and gave the authors an option to pull out. The online events worked a little better, but they were focused on blog tours, which had previously worked really well but were starting to die off in terms of effectiveness simply because a ton of authors had started using them. Bloggers were fatigued from promo requests!
So we did a decent blog tour but the results for the authors were pretty low in value. It simply wasn’t worth the effort in the end.
For this promo, I’ve kept to a simple strength I have—email list building. It’s something I’m very good at and something that a lot of authors struggle with. It’s also something that I know still works, as Bookbub does it well and new sites are cropping up every day. Furthermore, email marketing has been around for a long time and remains effective for all types of businesses.
#4: Keep the Offering Small
I bit off way more than I could chew for the last promo. Thinking back, I realize how insane I was to think that I could pull it off. I think it came from a lack of confidence. I kept piling on the bonuses and extras and “value” because I was afraid people wouldn’t feel like they were getting enough. But the result was that I overcommitted, and the authors didn’t get enough.
For this promo, I’m just building an email list. Not a website, not an event, nothing else. Just the email list. I could add those other things, but it would probably stress out the authors involved and it would definitely stress out me!
I’ve realized that I have to be real about what I can accomplish, what my timeframe is, and how much it’s actually going to cost in terms of both money and energy.
I also have to get real about my skill set, so instead of trying to be everything to an author, I’m just going to deliver one real result. Authors can get other results they are looking for through other avenues. I don’t need to be anyone’s sole marketing strategy, which is what it felt like I was trying to do before.
#5: Communicate as Many Details as You Have Upfront
With the last promo, I wrote a 1 page description of my idea. I thought there was no way that people would read anything longer, but there ended up being a ton of questions and some serious miscommunication as time went on as a result.
For this promo, I put together a 45 page information packet that I could send to authors before they signed up. This packet outlined dates, how authors were accepted, what the commitment from each author was, and more. In total, I had at least 10 sections, plus an FAQ.
It seems like overkill, but it’s not. When you are entering into a promotion with other authors, you must know what you’re promising and what you can’t, because you’re going to be on the hook. Even though you’re not signing a contract, everything you say and do will create expectations on both sides. The more you can spell out exactly what you’re trying to do, and exactly what the risks are, the better off both you and the other authors will be.
#6: Collect Enough Money To Cover Expenses, Even If Fewer Authors Than You Expected Participate
A lot of promotions have fixed costs, like cover design, that don’t change regardless of how many authors you have. Make sure all of the items needed, from server costs to email list expenses to advertising, are budgeted for. Set your budget for roughly 10% of what the promo might bring in, because even the best-planned budgets can go awry when unexpected expenses come up.
With the promo I tried to organize before, I asked authors for only a fraction of what was needed because I figured that sponsors would pay for most of the expenses. I spoke with several sponsors and had one lined up before I even accepted money from authors, but that sponsor eventually fell through. Lesson: don’t rely on any money you haven’t received the check from!
At that point, I had a lot of authors and not much money to run the promotion, even when I switched it to the online version. I had also spent money to attract those sponsors, which meant that I needed to refund everyone out of my own pocket. That was hard to do, as I was just barely covering my own personal expenses at the time and had to work extra freelance hours to keep writing those checks.
I didn’t tell anyone what was happening because I didn’t think it was fair to, but the inevitable delays with this method of repayment left a number of authors mad at me. Everyone did get their money back—but it was not an easy process at all… and it made me feel terrible!
So make sure you are not going to lose money if things don’t go as planned. You can always put the extra money you’ve collected or earned from a retailer toward advertising, which is what most authors are doing these days anyway.
#7: The Promotion is Still an Experiment
For this promo, the ideas I’m running is a new one that I haven’t seen anyone else try to do. I stressed that I couldn’t guarantee results for any individual author, and that the entire thing was an experiment.
That was true the last time too, but because I didn’t say it up front often enough, I heard complaints for absolutely everything that didn’t go according to plan. A few authors were understanding because they knew it was an experiment. Other authors were just pissed because they had what they felt were reasonable expectations, and I hadn’t met them.
Have a good plan in place, but expect that some things will simply not work out the way you expect, in terms of both how much the authors get out of it and how much you get out of it.
I tried to stress this in my new promo, dedicating a whole section of my information packet to risk compared to value.
#8: Jump In, Even Though You’re Scared
It’s not easy to run a promotion for authors, and it took me several years after my first disaster back in 2012 to want to run one again. That promotion triggered a lot of negative emotion and self-doubt inside me, and for a long time I just wanted to forget it ever happened.
At the end of the day, though, if I want to see this new promotion happen, I’ve got to make it happen. I’ve got to step up and take on the leadership role.
I feel ready for this promotion, and confident that I’ve thought everything through and been as honest as possible with the authors I’m bringing in. I still expect a few curve balls, but this time I’ll have the resources I need to handle them with grace.
The funny thing is that as embarrassing and heartbreaking as my last failure was, I believe it’s going to make this promotion that much more successful.
I experienced the same thing with writing books, and plenty of other hard-earned failures in my life thus far. I hate that I have to fail to later succeed, but I guess that is just part of the deal of life. And ultimately, I know that I have to try again, because the only productive way to move is forward.
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