Every three months I make the first book in my Jake Hancock mystery series available free to download. It’s my favorite time as an indie author. I get to see my book receive thousands of downloads, climb to lofty heights in the Amazon Kindle charts, albeit the free charts, and feel relevant as an indie author for two to three weeks afterwards.
It’s the main reason I’ve amassed my modest readership.
The reason I’ve been successful at this is my willingness to hand over cash to advertise my books through various channels. That’s right: I’m paying to give away books, something that may seem like madness to non-authors.
The last couple free-book promotions, I’ve been making other books in the series available to download for free, and putting more effort into finding and experimenting with channels through which I can advertise, hopefully making more of the five free days I receive by having my books exclusively available on the Amazon website. I’m also willing to gamble more with my day-job cash because I now have six books published in the series.
When researching book promotion services for my recent promotion of Our Little Secret, my googling led me to stumble upon a book promotional service called Books Butterfly.
(Before I recount my experience with Books Butterfly, I want to state that the biggest idiot in this whole process is me. But Books Butterfly gave me a serious run for my money.)
I can’t remember how or when I came to be aware of Books Butterfly, or the first time I clicked on a link to their website, but let’s assume I was suffering from a bout of flu, I hadn’t slept for days, and I decided that the best pick-me-up to get myself through a session of book promotion research was to smoke a generously loaded crack pipe.
My bones aching but not being able to feel it, I was presented with this webpage. Before you look click the link, I think it’s pertinent to mention that by doing so, you won’t magically go back in time to 2002, though you may experience an overwhelming feeling like you have, and/or feel lightheaded.
My crack high was peaking at this point, and I decided I could trust a GeoCities-looking website and clicked on the ‘Free Book Ads’ tab, navigating me to the page that displays their list of promotional packages for free books.
I browsed their range of packages and, my high starting to subside, I became a little skeptical. The prices started high, and became astronomical. I was willing to gamble, but I became hesitant, until I spotted that they guarantee the number of downloads received. But more on that later. (Plot spoiler: it involves fine print, an attempt at legalese by a highschool dropout, and my ongoing fictitious addiction to crack cocaine.)
I selected the ‘Pure Gold’ package, which guaranteed me 1,200 downloads, and ostensibly exposed my book to half a million prospective readers. This is the form I filled in.
It’s simple, basic, and despite the Microsoft Paint-looking graphics surrounding it, I liked it. The piece of information you should remember for later is that it asks for my ASIN or a link to the book’s product page.
At this point in the process, before I got out my wallet, I decided to smoke a larger rock of crack. And even if my thinking hadn’t been impaired, I would’ve handed the cash over anyway, because of my guarantee.
Shortly after I received the following two emails—the first one a confirmation of my Books Butterfly slot, the second stating their terms and conditions regarding the aforementioned guarantee:
The part in the second email I want you to look at, though feel free to read the rest of their terms and conditions on their website here, is point seven. They state, “For purposes of the Prorated Refund, average free book downloads during the last stretch when you were running no promotions is counted as the baseline. You can choose a 7 day stretch or a month stretch. It must be a normal stretch with no promotions.” For fun, read the incoherent drivel after this, which reads like they totally at least consulted with a solicitor while writing their terms and conditions.
The other part worth noting is in the first email, where they address me as ‘Jake,’ the principal character in my book series.
Let’s skip ahead to the promotion itself and circle back to his later.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve had success with free book promotions. My go-to book promoter for these has been FreeBooksy. They give great results, they’re courteous, and their website doesn’t look like a stoner highschool student’s ICT project.
They’re tried and true, so I ran a FreeBooksy ad on the first of my five days, hoping to get off to a solid start. As well as that, I ran a Kindle Countdown Deal for my box set of the first four books in the series discounting it to $0.99 for seven days, the first five days of this promotion coinciding with the free-book promotion. On the first day of the promotion, I also ran a BargainBooksy ad to promote my box set being on sale.
At the top of both book product pages I put the following advertisement, expecting to get some dual-book-promotion symbiotic shit going on:
Below is a screenshot of that first day’s sales and free downloads:
Off to a flying start, right? At the end of this day, my free book had reached #45 in the free Kindle book rankings, was #1 in the comedy, private investigator, and hard-boiled mystery subcategories, and my box set had a ranking of between 1000 and 2000 in the paid Kindle rankings, and was ranked high up on the first page of bestsellers for mystery anthologies.
More importantly, my free book received 3,344 downloads and my box set was purchased 138 times.
To celebrate, I got out my crack pipe, shrugged, and told myself crack’s not that addictive, so why not? The next day I woke up with a crack cocaine hangover, but I was awaiting the results of the start of my Books Butterfly promotion, so I wasn’t too bummed.
The way I figured, if they guarantee 1,200 downloads, they won’t want to cut it close and only expose customers’ books to just enough readers to gain them the guaranteed downloads by a whisker, they’ll want to ensure most customers go well above that number, so that even under-performing books meet the guarantee, thus reducing the number of prorated refund requests they’ll receive. It seemed like a sound business model, and the one they’d use. I was wrong.
Needless to say, as I checked my sales stats throughout the rest of my promotion, my hopes and dreams of my book carrying on its temporary metamorphosis from literary caterpillar into fully fledged book butterfly were dashed.
Before I reveal my sales stats for the rest of the promotion, it’s important to note that when books reach high up into Kindle rankings, they organically garner downloads and sales from gaining exposure in the Amazon store. They’re exposed to readers browsing the bestsellers pages, appear higher in search engine results, and gain traction by word of mouth. Otherwise, handing your cash over to give away books wouldn’t be worth the effort and expenditure.
For the following days of the promotion, when Books Butterfly had joined the promotion party, I received the following sales stats:
Day two – Book 5 free downloads: 678, box set sales: 31
Day three – Book 5 free downloads: 340, box set sales: 32
Day four – Book 5 free downloads: 309, box set sales: 22
Day five – Book 5 free downloads: 306, box set sales: 30
As I’ve mentioned multiple times in this post, this wasn’t my first free-book promotion rodeo, so I know what download numbers to expect in the days following a FreeBooksy ad. They look more or less like the figures above, without the aforementioned dual-book-promotion symbiotic shit going on.
Bummed from both coming to the realization that crack cocaine is highly addictive and that I may have given $100 to some acne-ridden high school student who scammed me in return for non-existent book promotion, I emailed Books Butterfly stating my concern. I did so like a professional, leaving out the colorful language above.
Here’s the email:
Having received no reply after four or five days, I sent this email, which admittedly has a more-threatening tone, though I hardly come off sounding like Hans Gruber:
A gentleman who will remain nameless replied with the following email:
While reading this hostile reply, I dropped my crack pipe, smashing it on the floor. The evidence he supplied of their book promotion was the ranking I had available to me anyway, and his logic is that the tiny jumps in ranking are attributed to Books Butterfly. Although I’ve witnessed these jumps occur naturally after running a FreeBooksy ad, I still wanted to believe I hadn’t been a sucker by handing over my cash and that I had received my downloads. But I was more than skeptical.
The resolution offered to me was a free run of the same promotion package, just with a different book. I respectfully declined this offer, stating that if it hadn’t had an impact on my download stats the first time around, how can I assume it will the next time?
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I ran some numbers through a calculator to estimate what I considered a highly generous, best-case-scenario of their download results, no matter how unlikely, and sent them a reply. This wasn’t to give them my estimate of the downloads they’d gained me, as I had deposited that in the toilet at 5:55 am, like I do every weekday. But they ran with these figures, as you’ll find out. I also made them aware of my aforementioned “dual-book-promotion symbiotic shit” and couldn’t help myself but alert them to the fact that one of their representatives had gotten my name wrong.
It’s a lengthy email, so I won’t post it in its entirety, but here’s the most pertinent part:
The email correspondence between me and Books Butterfly that follows this email is too mind-numbing and long to document in this blog post, the outcome of which is their insisting on my receiving a $25 prorated discount for my missing downloads, based on the grossly generous figures I sent to them. But I will address the most relevant parts and try to sum up my experience with Books Butterfly and why it’s led me to believe they don’t know shit about promoting books and that they’re lunatics:
- Remember how they addressed me as “Jake,” the principal character in my book series? They addressed this in one of their tonally snide responses. Here it is:
They’re right. The name by which they address me has no relevance. When I made that point in my email, it wasn’t because I wanted to be addressed as Dan Taylor, BSc., or some shit. Hell, they could’ve addressed me as Uncle Runkle if they’d produced results. I mentioned it because in the email in which they’d called me Jake, they confirmed they would promote my book, so presumably they’d browsed the product page of the book to make sure the book meets their editorial standards, i.e. that it isn’t some 2-star-rated, typo-ridden piece of trash with a Microsoft Paint-produced book cover. And during that process, you’d think they’d have at least caught my author name in the corner of their eye. Or, as the representative said, “My real name.”
Books Butterfly likes to brag about how many readers they can reach, but what good is it having millions of prospective readers on a mailing list who are used to receiving advertisements for books that haven’t gone through a selection process? But more on this later.
2. They put me in my place about my “dual-book-promotion symbiotic shit” in the following email segment:
That’s right. They’ve “heard of” authors doing the reverse, but a paid book helping promote a free book is unheard of. It’s a huge assumption on my part. Remember how I got 3,344 free book downloads on the first day? I’ve run at least six FreeBooksy ads, and mostly topped out at around 2,000 downloads, never going much above. I can’t help but make the ASSUMPTION that, I don’t know, my advertisement at the top of the box set product page helped bring it up to this number. But then again, I don’t stand around listening to other authors, doing research for my shitty book promotion service.
3. In this segment, they address my assumptions. They love assumptions over at Books Butterfly.
I’ve read the first bullet point a few times, and I think what he means is that I shouldn’t assume my FreeBooksy ad would have a secondary impact on downloads the day or days following the day they promoted it. I’ve already addressed this earlier in the post, and why it’s patently false; I’ve observed it numerous times. But what I will address is Books Butterfly’s hypocrisy. Below is a segment of an email I received from them, where they state they’ll run my book from “August 26th to 28th” and that “Free book downloads would be on August 26th to 29th.” Looks like Books Butterfly also make the assumption that “some part of downloads MIGHT HAVE come as tail of previous day.”
4. I told you they love assumptions. This time, it’s Books Butterfly’s turn:
I figured I had come up with a pretty solid argument in the email earlier in the post for why I made the educated guess that Books Butterfly’s promotion of my book was a disaster. But here’s another nail in their coffin: Before my FreeBooksy ad went live, in the space of five hours, I received a shade under a hundred downloads. That’s with no ads whatsoever, and before most of America had even brushed their teeth in the morning. If that’s not a savage indictment of Books Butterfly, then I don’t know what is.
I could go on and on about how hostile, illogical, and ill-informed this representative of Books Butterfly was during our email correspondence, and provide countless examples, but this blog post is already far too long. But I will post my favorite email segment for your reading pleasure. This one’s a doozy:
Yep. After I’ve inferred that they played a negligible role at best in the relative success of my most recent book promotion, they suggested I wouldn’t be available to submit any of my books to them again. I’m without words, which is the reason I stopped emailing them for a resolution.
To conclude, do I think Books Butterfly is a scam? In a way, it isn’t. They probably did gain me a handful of downloads, definitely not enough to justify the cost of my promotion package, even factoring in my $25 refund, and certainly not enough to ensure a successful free book promotion. And remember, those free-book days only come around every three months, so they wasted my time and opportunity as well.
But in another way, Books Butterfly is a scam, and that lies in the downloads guarantee and the terms and conditions surrounding it, which aren’t written in explicit legalese and are open to interpretation.
The parts of the guarantee terms and conditions that are explicit are also heavily skewed in Books Butterfly’s favor. Take the screenshot below, that states all downloads and sales during the promotion period are attributable to Books Butterfly. The only way you can’t get swindled under these terms is if your book would receive 0 downloads without Books Butterfly, which is highly unlikely.
Let’s assume, however unlikely, that they did gain me the lion’s share of the downloads on that second day of the promotion, and address the three following days, when I received on average 325 downloads a day. As my sole book promotional channel, I could paint the title of my book on a fat guy’s ass and have him run out into the desert and produce the same results they did on those days, and it would probably be a hell of a lot cheaper.
Thanks for reading!
The book that’s the subject of this blog post is number 5 in the Jake Hancock series, so here’s an advertisement for the first book. If you buy it and hate it and think it ruined your life, kindly don’t read the others in the series.
Kiss Hidden Lies is the first chapter in this fast-paced and action-packed mystery series starring a private investigator so cool, you shouldn’t put your tongue anywhere near him. Check it out here.
…Oh, and he’s called Jake Taylor or some shit.
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