Hello everyone! If you’re a reader of books and not an author, there’s a good chance your eyes are going to glaze over from this latest blog post. For that, I do apologize. However, if you’re an author (or future me reading this post somewhere down the line) then you might be curious about the results of my experiment in hiring a PR Company.
As an independent author not signed to any publishing company, you have to do everything yourself. I’ve learned how to edit, format, create graphic teasers, and do my own book covers. I’ve also dabbled in marketing and promotion with very mixed results.
Things I’ve tried in the past: newsletters, newsletter swaps with other authors, paying to be in newsletters with Freebooksy, Book Raid, Fussy Librarian, Book Doggy, and Excite Spice. Let’s not forget author takeovers on Facebook, 99 Cent Kindle Countdown Deals, posting in all those spammy Facebook groups where a million other authors post their books and we all get lost in the crowd, and signing up with Instafreebie (now called Prolific works) to get newsletter subscribers.
I’ve also chased the elusive review by offering ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to anyone and everyone willing to read my stories. Back in the day when I was wet behind the ears, I feared Piracy like it was the plague and I actually BOUGHT Amazon copies of my book to give to reviewers. I don’t need to tell you what a total waste of money that was. Maybe I do… it was a HUGE waste. Probably half the people never even reviewed the books I purchased for them.
But I digress.
The absolute last resort… the one thing I’d never tried… was to hire a PR Firm.
If you Google book PR companies, a myriad assortment will pop up online. I asked around in a few Facebook author groups and the same names kept popping up.
So I endlessly researched where to spend my hard-earned dollars. The terminology was enough to give me brain freeze.
Do you want a release blitz, sale blitz, book blitz? What about a blog tour, release promo, release boost, pre-order blitz, review blitz? Perhaps a promo tour or a package combining the above services would be more up your alley?
All the words sounded the same to the point where I had no idea if up was down and if I’d somehow landed in the Matrix.
So I thought, “Screw it. I’ll just email the companies and see what happens.”
Company One replied in a super snotty manner acting as though I should beg them to take me on as a client. All sorts of criteria had to be met in order for the stars to align and they might let me hire him. They also didn’t even answer the questions I asked in my query email.
Company Two told me they were not taking new clients at this time.
By now I was getting a major attitude feeling like a supermodel told to lose fifteen pounds if she wanted to get any work sent her way.
Moving right along… Company Three seemed like a winner. They were quick to respond to my email, answered all the questions I asked, and… most importantly… were willing to work with me.
Okay, fine. Through process of elimination, I hired Company Three.
No, I’m not telling you their name.
Why not, you ask? Because they were very nice, but I did not get good results. Therefore, I refuse to disparage them in a public forum.
Anyway, I paid $100 for a new release/blog tour/review package. The company would offer my book (Contemporary Romantic Comedy/Suspense… full length… Stand Alone… no cliffhanger) to their list of bloggers in search of people to read/review/promote my new release. I had no idea what to expect going into this whole process. I mean… what kind of results did I wish to achieve? What did I hope for?
I’ve had problems in the past getting a decent amount of reviews for my books. My last new release (same thing… contemporary romance… full length… stand alone… no cliffhanger) came out in May of 2020 and it currently has nine reviews four months later. This is kind of disappointing honestly. I want to be one of those authors who gets fifty reviews on release day. I also want to eat chocolate without gaining calories, win the lottery every time I buy a ticket, and be able to put out the wildfires raging the Pacific Northwest with the nod of my head and twitch of my nose like Samantha on Bewitched.
Needless to say, I would also actually like to sell books. If a bunch of bloggers are reading and reviewing my book… then their followers will realize it exists, it will be on the radar of rabid readers, and I’ll sell more copies… right?
So my goal with the PR firm was to get more reviews than usual, and to spread the word about my book. People can’t buy it if they don’t know it exists.
One of questions I asked PR Company Three was, “How many reviewers do you usually get to review the books?” I was told that my genre can garner anywhere from 15-50 people willing to read and review.
So let’s aim for some middle ground… how about 25 reviews from the PR Company?
Also… if it costs me $100 to hire them, I would need to sell 50 books in order to make that money back and not be in the hole financially. ($2.99 per book sold equals $2 in royalty money for me.)
Nice. We now have a goal of 25 reviews and 50 book sales generated by the PR Firm.
Spoiler Alert… didn’t happen. Not even close.
But we shouldn’t skip ahead. We should go in chronological order of my experiment.
At some point I decided I needed to get off my ass and help things along just in case the PR Company didn’t pan out. This led to me emailing or Facebook-messaging ninety-two book bloggers.
Of those ninety-two, only thirteen agreed to read and review my book. Some were polite enough to respond that their calendars were full and they just didn’t have time to read my story, but they were happy to promote it on release day. That was very nice of them to offer and I appreciated their kindness immensely.
Of the thirteen that agreed to read and review… one never gave me their kindle address to send the book, five never bothered to leave a review or to reply to a follow-up reminder. That leaves me with eight reviews gained from spending HOURS contacting bloggers. (In case you’re doing the math and saying, “thirteen minus six does not equal eight,” you’re right. One blogger had two reviewers that both left reviews.)
Deciding I was getting nowhere fast with the bloggers, I turned to Facebook groups. I’m in roughly eight reader groups that would allow me to post my ARC sign-up and try to gain reviews from readers. Of those eight reader groups, I got sixteen readers willing to take me up on the offer.
Of the sixteen that agreed to read and review… four left a review. After messaging them a gentle follow-up reminder, I shamed them into five more reviews for a total of nine garnered by this method. Not bad.
By this time, I’d gotten the spreadsheet from PR Company Three with a list of those who agreed to review and/or promote my new release. There was a whopping total of nine bloggers who agreed to review, and roughly ninety-nine that said they would promote it with a post on their blog or Facebook page.
Only nine reviewers signed up?
Considering the fact that I got thirteen sign-ups from contacting bloggers myself and an additional sixteen sign-ups from trolling Facebook, I was certainly not impressed with a mere nine from the company I was paying.
This was my first indication that I’d wasted my money.
After that little nugget of reality that I’d only get nine reviews from the PR Company at most, I decided I needed to boot-strap it just a little harder. I had an immense internal debate with myself over putting the ARC on Booksprout.
For those of you who have never heard of Booksprout, let me explain. It’s a website designed to connect readers and authors. The free version allows an author to offer 20 ARC copies to reviewers. It has limited piracy blocks and non-reviewing-reader blocks. Obviously they’d like you to upgrade to the paying version where there are stricter rules for reviewers and an unlimited amount of review copies can be distributed to maximize the number of reviews you’ll receive.
Naturally, I’m on the free version because I’m cheap.
I decided not to worry about piracy and just go balls-to-the-wall at this point. Due to the fact that I’m a no-name author who’s scrounging for reviews, piracy is the least of my problems. If someone gets an ARC and passes the Mobi file on to their cousin, their neighbor, or a pirate website… too bad, so sad. At least people will be reading it then. The whole point of writing words and sharing them is to get people to read them.
So I loaded my ARC to Booksprout and waited. The low self-esteem part of me was still reeling from PR Company One and PR Company Two acting like I wasn’t good enough for them, and I held my breath hoping the Booksprouters wouldn’t be the same way.
They were not.
I threw out my little worm (the ARC), and those hungry fish snapped it up in record time. By the third day of offering the ARC on Booksprout, I’d maxed out my twenty giveaway copies.
Therefore, I figured, the blurb and cover must not be total crap.
Score one for the good guys.
Let’s fast-forward a bit in time to release day.
I sent out my newsletter a month before release day and managed to snag 14 pre-orders of my book. Not too bad. Also… good to know I can attribute these sales to me and not to PR Company Three.
On the actual day of release, I sent another newsletter.
Now it’s time for shit to get real.
I had a seven day package with PR Company Three. Three days were pre-release to generate buzz. Four days were the actual release day and the subsequent three days following. Here’s how it went:
Days One-Three: No pre-orders.
Day Four (my newsletter went out): 8 sales (one to a friend, so not attributed to PR Company)
Day Five: 3 sales (one to a friend, so not attributed to PR Company)
Day Six: 2 Sales
Day Seven: 1 Sale
Day Eight: no PR company promo 1 Sale. We’ll just assume this was a late straggler.
14 pre-orders. 2 sales attributed directly to friends. 13 sales of unknown origin we’ll attribute to PR Company Three just for shits and giggles.
Goals: 25 reviews and 50 sales from the PR Company
Actual Results: 9 reviews and possible 13 sales from the PR Company assuming all the unknown origin sales were directly attributed to them.
Summary: Less than stellar return on investment.
But wait… there’s more.
Miss-Failure-With-Reviews-On-Her-Last-Book is currently sitting at 32 reviews on Amazon and a tad more on Goodreads. How did this magic happen?
Seven people from my Reader Group reviewed and TWELVE people from Booksprout left reviews in addition to the eight from bloggers I contacted, Seven Facebook ARC readers I nagged at, and PR Company Three’s nine reviewers.
Okay. That adds up to over 32, but some only left reviews on Goodreads and not Amazon.
Are you still with me so far? Is your head reeling from all the math? Probably. But I love numbers. I’m a numbers girl.
I’d just like to do a basic summary for everyone still reading this.
PR Company: not even close to being worth the money. The majority of bloggers who were kind enough to share my new release on Facebook didn’t get any ‘likes’ or ‘comments’ on their posts except for when I ‘LOVED’ and commented ‘Thanks for sharing!!!’ thus leading me to believe not too many people even see those posts. I would not hire a PR Company ever again. I got way more sales/reviews on my own.
Newsletter: Yes, this is a valuable tool and seemingly the best way to sell books aside from your reader group on Facebook.
Reader Group on Facebook: mine is filled with lovely people who are very supportive and remind me every single day that I keep writing because they keep reading. They have no idea how much their kind words keep me going.
Booksprout: Hell, yes. From now on, I’ll be using them for every new release. What’s better than free and easy?
So, Future Grace, if you read this blog post again… and I hope you do… quit wasting so much valuable time and effort to get reviews on your own.
Newsletter, Booksprout, Reader Group: YES.
Anything else: Fuck no.
Reviews don’t sell books. PR companies don’t sell books.
Writing more books sells books.
Til next time…
Don’t ever give up. I certainly haven’t.