Note: This is an annotated version of a post I did over a year ago on the Best Fantasy Books forum. I have since refined my strategies but will include them all one at a time in the order they happened to show the process. Consider this either an object lesson or cautionary tale...
Being completely oblivious to and avoidant of marketing, and without any web presence whatsoever (facebook/ twitter) when I put out The Woven Ring, I at first watched the MSWL twitter handle/ site (here). I won't get into this site too much, but they have a "pub tip" tab which led me down a rabbit hole of blogs where I was advised numerous times to have a website. So I built one via Wix. That complete and my marketing knowledge now utterly expended, I turned to google with a "ebook promotion" search. The two results I paid the most attention to were "How to get an eBook to #1 on Amazon" and "79+ Free Book Promotion Sites..." You can read those two links if you'd like, but my major takeaways were I needed to find a sub-genre in Amazon I could break into the top 100 on by selecting on that was not too popular (from the first link) and to use as many free ebook promotion sites as possible (second link). Finding a sub-genre to break into was not too difficult since my book fits into Historical Fantasy, so that was the first one I picked. Though my protag could be considered Young Adult, after looking over those top 100 and seeing their sales rank (explained in that first of the two links), I decided my second sub-genre should be Epic. Yes, that put me up against GoT and LOTR, but it kept me from competing with Harry Potter, which I can only hope was the right decision. My sub-genres picked, I then added "steampunk," "historical fantasy" and "gunpowder fantasy" to my search terms. Note: Two weeks later, reading up on better search terms, I have since added "strong female," "western," and "new." Over the following year, I have since added/ subtracted many of these terms, with “western” morphing into “weird west” and “new” being replaced with “grimdark.” I’ve also played around with adding other, more famous authors’ names with a few good results, but that’s probably worth its own post in the future.
Some of my current crop (I have different keywords for the paperback version).
Now to the actual marketing push. Modifying what I learned from the "How to get eBook to #1" link, I decided to go with a 5-day free giveaway of my book. All of these days were in a row to try and climb up the free ranks in Amazon and hopefully make a front page. So I made a list of all my friends and family, which is sadly only 35 people in total (I never claimed to be popular). Then, from the 79+ link above, I joined 9 free ebook promo sites. These are mostly newsletters of fellow self-publishers that want to shamelessly self-promote, but what the hell, thought I. I should note that the dates that I signed up for were A WEEK IN ADVANCE from when I uploaded my book so they would have time to get it listed. These dates I staggered so there would hopefully be one announcement per day (alas, this was not to be, but we'll get to that in a moment). I also joined the "wrote a book" and "fantasy self-promotion" subreddits. Seven days before my free promotion, I sent out an email to all my friends and family, alerting them to my book and the fact there would be a free promotion for it. I specifically asked them NOT to buy it because I think that would be gauche of me, but 19 did (I may not be popular, but at least my friends/ family are kind). My sister, bless her heart, then put a link to my book on facebook. As I was not on it at the time, I didn’t know how it went exactly, but my wife said a lot of people commented. The first day of my free promotion I was not listed in any of the free promotion newsletters I signed up for (this will become a theme), but my free downloads were pretty good (in my eyes at least) with 60. Day two: Still no mention in the newsletters and so I sent an email out to all my coworkers, asking them to download the free book. I had held off on emailing them originally so I could stagger the download dates and try to keep them steady instead of a whole bunch one day and then none the next. There were only 13 of them on my list, but I still had 40 downloads. I'm not going to drag the promo newsletters subplot out any further: NONE of them mentioning me in their newsletters, though one mentioned two books twice, one of which was in THE SAME EMAIL! I have since unsubscribed to all of them, though I did find an alright steampunk series from it. Exhausted of options, I just sat back and watched. Obsessively, because that's the only way I know to be. Days 3-5 were 34, 41, and 48 free downloads, and I have to say it was rather heartening to click on the "historical fantasy ebook" link in Amazon and see my book at #13. That was the highest it ever got, usually floating around #20-25 and #35-50 in "epic fantasy ebook."
Then my promotion ran out and everything went flat. Where it's remained ever since. But the high, such as it was, was fun while it lasted. One good thing I have to say about the free promotion websites though - I discovered the Best Fantasy Books forum from someone's blurb on one of them. So that's my case study with numbers behind it (approximately 240 total downloads, 224 of them free). I'd love for other people to let me know what I did well/ wrong and would be freaking ecstatic if someone else gave a case study so I won't feel so lonely and exposed here.
I have sense run three more with varied results and will put them up shortly.