Successful marketing attempts, from most to least effective:
#1: Bargain Kindle Books (corresponding with a 99 cent sale)
This was a huge success! Bargain Kindle Books lists ebooks that are on sale, and sends the list out to a whole bunch of avid readers. You have to apply, and get accepted, so there's some selection, which is good. The day the book was listed, it climbed to #9 in the paid Kindle store for comedies. The next day, it crept up to #4, and remained in the top #20 for another few days.
COST-BENEFIT: I'll pay 25% of my royalties on all the purchases made while my book is listed, which ends up being just under 9 cents per book sold. In theory, I won't lose money on this, but since I'm dealing with a third party (my publisher) I won't know for sure until I see a royalty check, and compare it with my bill.
#2: In-person readings, talks and signings (especially readings that involved other authors as well)
It took a lot of pavement-pounding to get my first two readings (probably visited over 20 bookstores in Boston). But once I got some exposure, fellow authors and community members got wind that I did events and I started getting invited. I sold some books at these events, but nothing astronomical... at the worst I sold 1 copy, at the best I sold 9. But the turnout was especially good when I cross-pollinated with other authors, and I got some press surrounding the events. The events and corresponding press appear to have boosted sales in surrounding areas. The end result means more paperback books floating around people's living rooms, the back of cars, and private bathrooms. All good things.
COST-BENEFIT: I most definitely didn't make any money selling books, and if you include gas and time spent and food purchased, it was a bit of a charity case. But it was worth every penny (and every second) to meet the people, and talk books with avid readers and other writers. And now I can tell people I read at the Harvard Coop!
#3: Ebook sale for 99 cents
Sales certainly spiked when the book was first sold in the Kindle store for 99 cents. If I could have, I would have given it away for free for a week or so, just to get the word out.
COST-BENEFIT: Sure, I won't make as much money on each sale. No, I don't care. Yes, it will benefit me in the end.
#4: Reviews, interviews and articles
It was a lot of work at first, getting reviews lined up... but then after the book came out I found that there were plenty of opportunities to do interviews on friends's blogs, and as the word got out, people started to approach me. Some of these articles seemed to help spike sales, others fell flat... but either way, the more exposure the better, and now I have a little collection of links to post here on my website, which makes me kind of look like a legit author.
COST-BENEFIT: Free, and totally worth the time... if you have it.
#5: Goodreads giveaways
These are totally worth it for me, because my publisher is willing to send a book to the winner. I got one Goodreads review after about 6 giveaways, and lots of to-reads, but that's about it.
COST-BENEFIT: I don't know if it would be worth it if I had to pay for the book myself, but as long as my publisher pays for it, I'm game.
#6: Blog Tour: Goddessfish
I did three blog tours and wasn't too impressed with any of them. The only tour that seemed legit was Goddessfish, which I wrote off at first because it's geared towards romance and erotica. But the people were professional, and the bloggers posted on time. On the less-positive side, the reviews were short, and nestled under a bunch of blog tour nonsense: the Goddessfish logo, my synopsis, bio and an excerpt. I'd have rathered a review, with links, and nothing more. It seemed kind of kitchy, but I guess I got what I paid for.
COST-BENEFIT: I think it was worth $50 for five reviews, most of which showed a spike in sales. And, it was fun to read people's thoughts on my book.
#6: Facebook ads
I put up a targeted ad for my Facebook page dedicated to The Atheist's Prayer, and enjoyed watching the book get over 300 likes. It wasn't cheap, and I didn't see a spike in sales. But now my page is more legit, and I have a host of people who see my Facebook posts, and might slowly gain fans from it.
COST-BENEFIT: I ended up spending about $120, which Facebook claims is just over 50 cents per like. That's expensive, and I didn't see a spike in sales. Will I do it again? Not for The Atheist's Prayer, but maybe I'd do it again to boost the release of my theoretical 'next' book.
#7: Blog Tour: Novel Publicity
This was set up by my publisher at no cost to me, which is awesome. I saw a spike in sales after some of the reviews. Sweet. I expected a lot out of Novel Publicity, because their website is stellar and professional. To my surprise, this tour was less professional than the Goddessfish tour. I don't think a single blogger posted their review on time, and four of them decided not to review at all. As with Goddessfish, the actual review was often hidden underneath a bunch of fluff. I think one review was only a sentence long.
COST-BENEFIT: For me, the tour was free and totally worth it. I would NOT, however, pay a whopping $1,000 for their 'traditional' tour, which promises 20 reviews (that's $50 per review, compared to Goddessfish at $10 per review).
Disqualified: Attempts that failed miserably
Book Club Reading List
After doing a helluva lot of research on blog tours, I got a hair up my butt and decided, on a whim, to sign up for something I'd never heard of before, with basically no research on the legitimacy of the program. Basically, the Book Club Reading List is what it sounds like: a newsletter that connects authors with book clubs. The idea is great- you say something about yourself and your location/availability so that interested book clubs, after reading your book, can contact you and have a meet-the-author session (in person or via Skype). That's cool, right? Thing is, I've gotten nothing out of it, no spikes in sales, no emails, nothing. Something might come through eventually, but I'm skeptical. Lesson learned: I should research better.
STUPID TAX: $150
Reading Addiction Blog Tours
I knew, signing up for this, that it was a waste, but the price (less than $6 per review) sucked me in. The blogs were of a similar low quality as the Goddessfish and Novel Publicity tours, but I didn't see any spikes in sales. I still enjoyed the reviews, though, so I guess it wasn't all bad.
STUPID TAX: $34
On Blog tours in General
Since this started as a series on blog tours, I feel like I should wrap up with my opinion on the much-debated and generally looked-down-on concept of paying for your book to get tossed around the blogosphere.
My overall take: Worth it for your first book, not necessarily legit or cost-effective
Hey, now I have at least three times as many reviews, google results, and plenty of exposure across the world wide web, so I'm not complaining. As an unknown author, it's hard to get your name out; I have no shame in pushing it there. Sure, the tour hosts were often kitchy and sometimes sketchy. But I could tell by the reviews that most (maybe not all) of them actually read the book, and I enjoyed hearing what they had to say. Also, they are real people, with real friends. Perhaps their blog doesn't have a following, and is unprofessional and not to my taste, but maybe they will help me out with word of mouth. More reviews = more exposure, and exposure is more valuable than gold for a new indie author. Also, now I have blogger contacts for my next book. In the future, I might do Goddessfish again right around the release date of a new book, to spike sales and feel good about myself in the beginning. But first, I've got to start writing that book!