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Just curious. If you have, please share your story and your book so we can see the blurb/cover/etc. Is it possible or likely to get good sales only with a really great book and cover?
 

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Back in 2011 when I started publishing, there was very little advertising or promotions.  A few people made books free to promote their other books.  It was difficult to make a book free in those early days though.

For some reason it was easier to sell books then.
 

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When I published my UF series in 2014, I couldn't get any paid promo to take me, so I didn't do any. Releases every 3-6 weeks and having a good book + great cover etc took me to making 5 figures a month within two months off only two books. I didn't get paid promo until almost a year into it. First book in series was .99, second 2.99, all others 3.99.
 

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I've never sold many, but I sell something each month and have since 2011. I did a Fiverr ad with BKnights for some of my later short stories...those I can't give away. LOL  But other than that, I've never been able to do paid advertising.

But yes, it is possible to sell without advertising, but selling in a quantity that could change your lifestyle would be incredibly difficult. But not all advertising needs to be paid advertising. You would just need to get a bit creative and try to generate some word of mouth.
 

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I put my first two books on Amazon (both science fiction) back in the middle of 2011 with homemade covers (HORRIBLE covers...whatever you think of the ones I have now, these were MUCH worse) and half-assed formatting for 99 cents each.  I did NO marketing whatsoever other than mentioning to the people I hung out with on a non-book, non-SF related message forum that I'd finally published them.  In the last six months of 2011 I sold over 30,000 copies of the two books combined.
 

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My books have never been free (although I've been giving my mailing list a link to download some shorter stuff now and then in the last few years - didn't start a mailing list until 2013). I started in 2010, though, and things were different then. The biggie, IMO was that you could post about your books in the Amazon reader forums. That's all I did with the first book I published, the cozy dog mystery, and it sold 7 copies in its first 24 hours. Because there was so much abuse, authors were banished to the Meet Our Authors forum eventually, and that was the end of that, although it had already become ineffective because of the people who made a buy-my-book post I swear every hour on the hour.

What got me off the ground back then was word of mouth, and because of that word of mouth, I was fortunate to have good reviews from places like Dear Author and All About Romance on my western historical romances. I don't know for sure, but I saw a post somewhere that said mine was the first indie book ever reviewed by AAR, and considering the shock some of the anti-indie crowd expressed, I think that's probably true. Those of you starting now would never believe the intensity of the vitriol toward indie authors in some quarters back then. Red Adept gave the dog mystery 5 stars, which I'm sure helped it, as word spreading in the Rottweiler forums probably also did.

I haven't paid for ads except a couple book-of-the-days here at KBoards, which much as I love KBoards, I consider a donation. So far as I've seen and heard, those ads don't do anything for sales. I'm also a one-book-a-year writer since I'm retired and consider the books a part time gig, not the full time all out job some younger folks do. I keep promising myself I will start doing ads and other marketing and keep not doing it. I do have a website, blog, and mailing list.

However, while I'm no prawn, I'm not a big earner either. I've had a steady supplemental retirement income now for these last 7 years monthly in low and occasionally mid four figures. All that said, I'd never recommend my way to anyone else, just can't help pointing out that putting out a book every month or two isn't the only path for some of us.
 
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Yes. Word of mouth is way more effective than most advertising sites. Pay attention to your cover/blurb/craft, too many people think an ad will wallpaper over cracks in the product. It won't.
 

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I don't know if it's possible anymore for a new author to sell in substantial numbers with absolutely no marketing. I can tell you it's possible in 2017 for a new author to sell over four thousand books and get over 2.5 million page reads in KU over five months.
I published three books in an urban fantasy series within six weeks of each other beginning in mid-February and paid about $600 for initial promotion. Since the end of March, the only promotion I've done for the series is free marketing and spending about a buck a day on Amazon pay per click ads. I don't think this is a typical experience, but a series can still take off with limited marketing if you get lucky.
 

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Tilly said:
Yes. Word of mouth is way more effective than most advertising sites. Pay attention to your cover/blurb/craft, too many people think an ad will wallpaper over cracks in the product. It won't.
This right here. My personal opinion is this: if you DON'T get organic sales naturally then advertising won't do a whole lot for you.
 

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On my legal thrillers, I haven't run an ad yet. As of today, I've sold about 15,000 of those books, total. The first one came out in early March, and still hangs around in the 7,000 rank. All those books are in my signature.

I don't know how I've managed it, though. I captured favorable algorithms from the start, as an established legal thriller writer pimped me to his list. I sold 200 books that day on the strength of his list, and I think that's what the got the ball rolling. I started to appear in people's also-boughts because of that initial boost and I appeared on the HNR because of that as well.

Thus far, I've managed to sustain momentum from that early boost by publishing monthly. I also put all my subsequent books up for pre-order. That gets them on the HNR from the start of the pre-order period, and they stay on the HNR at the same position when I release them. That said, I've gotten some advice that maybe that strategy kills momentum, and that I should try releasing without pre-orders. I'm nervous about doing that, because the pre-order thing seems to be working for me, but I might try it without preorders in the future. I haven't yet decided.

If I were to put my early success into a formula I would say it is write in a popular-but-not-saturated-genre + write in a series + publish frequently. It also helps if you can get early momentum, like I did.
 

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I didn't use anything but word of mouth for the first couple of months. I sold maybe 50 in that time - word of mouth is definitely the best promotion. But once my second and third books were released, the sales improved. I use AMS and I use Twitter a lot now yet still couldn't live off my sales alone, but I seem to be doing better each month so maybe in the future, after more releases, I can write full time.
 

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Domino Finn said:
This right here. My personal opinion is this: if you DON'T get organic sales naturally then advertising won't do a whole lot for you.
This.

My solitary novel never gets any organic sales. I've run promos on it and waste money.

On the other hand, my series gets organic sales and gives a pleasing performance during sales/promos. So I absolutely agree with Domino Finn's logic.

It is hard to make strong sales without promotion. I don't do much of it, just when I can because my funds are limited but it's enough to keep me afloat while I work on my next release. But I also write very much to market and release within 4-6 weeks dutifully.
 

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None of my books have ever had any advertising or promo, other than a once off mention in two SF Facebook groups. Sure, I might not get the high sales of other Indie authors, but with the most recent release it has had decent organic sales and helped ease me back into writing after a break of a few years since 2013.

The latest book (Georgia) fluctuates in the Top100 Paid Sales charts from the low 20,000's to 100,000+ (meaning anywhere from a few sales a day up to bursts of 10+ once a week since launch.) My plan is to release another two books in this series in the coming month or so, add another book to the existing series, and then start a new series in the same setting (as all my books share this setting). It is also improving visibility for the 4 other books in my back catalogue. 

At this time, my budget and finances don't allow for a promo budget thanks to relocating between countries/hemispheres several times with a young family, so I'll be doing it by constant releases and word of mouth where possible. I know one or two well-timed promos might make a big difference, but will see how I can do that down the road as the back catalogue gets built up. I'm also wide, not going down the KU route, so I do pick up a good amount of sales from Apple as well... not as many as Zon, but enough to motivate me to stay wide for the moment.
 

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I have at least one or two sales on a new book as soon as it goes live, before I have a chance to even post it on my facebook page or notify subscribers. One of my books sold 20 straight off and that is still my best seller. It is possible to sell with no promotion, but not very many.
 

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I think organic book sales are a product of your history as an author. If it's your first book, and you have no fan base at all, whether you advertise or not (in today's market, not 2011) it's going to take time to build up your readership. I can say "oh, I put out a new book last month and it's sold a few hundred copies since and I haven't advertised" and that could be a true statement, but only if I'm ignoring all the advertising and marketing I did for all of my other books before now. The people who buy my new books are the people who were on board for my earlier books.
 

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I'm a greedy person and do minimal adverts other than lucking out with Bookbub. No amount of advertising will help if a book is garbage.
 

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I've twice run Facebook promos to get a FB post distributed more widely. The first cost me $5, the second $20, so I won't be using FB again.

Years ago, Google offered me $100 credit to run an AdWords campaign. I did it, found that the fewer the clicks, the more I had to pay per click, so the $100 was used up in no time and I doubt if it sold any books.

This month I budgeted $100 for an AMS ad for a newly launched book that was outside my usual interest. It's received 800 impressions and not one click, so it has neither sold a copy nor cost me anything.

That's the only money I've ever spent to advertise (to wit, $25 out of pocket) 26 self-published books over nearly ten years. As another poster said, it was a whole lot easier in the glory days, from November 2007 to the winter of 2011-2012 when Kindle Select came to live with us. ("Oh gosh, I can GIVE my book away? Wow! Where do I sign up?")
 

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I published the first book in my contemporary romance series in Sept 2015. I did no advertising for the first few months (newbie error on my part). But sales were decent. I was pleasantly surprised. I started looking into different advertising strategies and they helped boost sales, but I didn't make much money. After the cost of the advertising, I was lucky to break even, but it did help my rankings. But, it seems marketing changes frequently. What worked last year doesn't work as well today. It's an ever changing game.

I find I make more money without advertising, though it's not much (I only have 2 books out right now). But if I want decent rankings, I have to promote. I went more than 6 months without advertising and my rankings fell in the toilet. So right now I'm choosing to break even or make very little to grow my readership and improve my rankings.

The best results I've received have come from newsletter swaps. It's free and I always see a boost in my sales.
 

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Last September, after deciding to try my hand at a new genre, I released book 1 of my dystopian series.  It took such a long time to write (because for me, writing is a fourth-string activity) that I'd completely lost any enthusiasm about it.  But since it was done, I put it out, planning to forget about it.  Amazingly, it stayed at a rank of about 1500 for several months, without a single ad or promo.  I decided at the time that it was because it hung pretty high on the Dystopian charts, giving it visibility. 

Unfortunately, books 2 (January) and 3 (July 5) have not done nearly as well.  They seem to hang around between 20k and 40k.  Book 3 has never gotten in to the Dystopian top 100, even with a few ads and promos.

So I now think I must have gotten lucky last Autumn.  Maybe the planets were aligned and there weren't any other new Dystopian books to read.  Or maybe the category has gotten tougher real quick.

Right now I'm tweaking and learning about AMS ads, which I think are the way to go for somebody who doesn't have a ton of time to manage promotion.  They seem to keep the books from falling too deep into the weeds...
 
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