I Just Lost $719 On One Book Launch Tactic (ouch!)

So everyone is always sharing their success stories, myself included. But I’ve got an awesome FAILURE story to share with you. I got stung badly trying out a new marketing idea.

So, I’ve written before on the importance of building up your email opt-in list. Personally, my favorite ways to grow my email list are:

  1. Help Everyone (Guest Posts & Social Media & answer emails)
  2. Boosters (Checklists, Quizzes, Giveaways)
  3. Free Kindle Books with CTA Inside (Bait: Free book, course, etc.)
  4. Facebook Ads

(This list is from my video: 4 Ways To Build Your Email Subscriber Opt-In List which you should watch, like and then subscribe to my YouTube Channel, hint hint)

Out of those four things, #2 (specifically giveaways) is the best way to build your opt-in list, fast.


Because I wanted to grow my list exponentially AND promote my new book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, I decided to give away an Apple iWatch.

Why did I choose the iWatch?

Normally I would recommend that authors only give away books from competing authors. That way you are getting people into your list who (1) like books, and (2) are interested in your topic. But I wanted to be especially aggressive with this new book launch, figuring the extra boost in sales during launch time would have long term dividends.

So I chose the iWatch with the obvious tie into my time management book (pretty good, I know), it’s a hot prize that would get virally shared, and I thought “time management” was generic enough of a topic that a lot of people see the reference and buy the book.

Now that I had my prize selected, I needed a contest tool that could make it happen. Enter KingSumo Giveaways created by BuzzSumo.

I used KingSumo before and like it because it’s a wordpress plugin that’s easy to set up and has a viral element to increase contestant shares on social media. The more people share your giveaway, the more entries they get into your contest and the more subscribers you get on your email list.  And at $198 for a lifetime license, not a bad buy.

To set it up, you make the title of the post less than 140 characters (when people share it on social media, your headline becomes the tweet).  I made mine,

#AppleWatch Giveaway to Celebrate NEW BOOK: 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management

temp sumo

The KingSumo plugin also lets you set your twitter handle (mine is @Kruse) so that each time someone shares your giveaway, you get a mention. (This can get annoying, yes, but it’s a great way to connect with your new leads and start warming them up.)

I ended up getting thousands of these mentions, which is great, don’t get me wrong, but there was no way to tell for sure if they helped book sales (ie, there was no way to embed a trackable link).

After you craft your perfect tweetable headline, you choose your contest start & end dates and then hit publish and voila! Your giveaway is live.

Ooops! It turned on early!

I planned to run this contest two weeks before my book’s launch date (October 2nd to October 12th).  Again, to enter the contest people have to give me their email address. Then on launch day I could blast them all with the contest results AND let them know that my book was on sale for a low low price of only $0.99.

I knew launch week was going to be crazy, so to get ahead of the game, I set it up in June and was planning to turn it live on October 2nd. So that’s like four months ahead of time.

But, I accidently set the start date as August 10th (oops!). I was actually on vacation in Bermuda when I saw all these tweets from strangers about the contest. Damn!

My initial thought was to take it down, and to tweet all the people who entered and just explain that it was a mistake. But a friend wisely told me to do the right thing, and just leave the contest open, even though it was ridiculously early.

Can you guess how many subscribers opted in before October—meaning before I did ANY announcement about the contest?

Over 1500!

That’s without any blast to my house list and no social media updates of my own.  Just straight up word of mouth marketing from other contestants.

Launch Time!

I eventually DID blast my house list and sent out a few tweets and social media updates to promote to my current fans.

I ended up with 3,641 entries (or new subscriber opt-ins). 

On the one hand that’s a lot of new “subscribers”. But on the other hand, you can find case studies online where people claim to use giveaway software and it gets them 100,000+ subscribers etc. Even with an iWatch that didn’t happen.

What do you do with all of these new email addresses when you’ve never emailed them before?

I wanted to sell them my new book, but I had to get them to open the email first (and remember, they probably could care less about me, they just wanted to win the Apple iWatch).

This is what I sent the folks that didn’t win…

The Subject Line:

your Apple iWatch Giveaway Results

The Email:

temp thanks

Final Results

How’d it go?


The email was sent to 3,640 contestants.

  • 1,253 people opened the email (34% Open Rate).
  • 83 people clicked on the link to buy my book on Amazon.  (7% Click Through Rate)
  • Assuming all 83 people bought the $0.99 Kindle copy, it means I made $28 in royalties.
  • 154 people unsubscribed (they just entered for the free watch, don’t care about me or my book)
  • 7 people said I spammed them.  (this was MUCH lower than I expected, thankfully)
  • 264 emails bounced (people were probably entering fake emails to boost their number of entries into the contest)

My total cost was $747 (I spent $549 on the watch, I already owned KingSumo but let’s assume I got it just for this campaign at $198).

$747 in costs minus $28 in book royalties = -$719 (that’s a negative $719!).

But at least I got all those emails, or did I?

Well you could say that my “loss” is really just the acquisition cost of getting email subscribers. Like paying for Facebook ads or something.

It’s true I acquired 3,215 new email opt ins. (That’s 3,640 – the 264 bounced emails – 154 unsubscribes – 7 spam complainers.)

That means my Cost Per Lead was .23 cents or $747/3215. (I know this SEEMS amazing.)


…I don’t want those leads.

I’ll leave them in my list, but I doubt I’ll ever mail to them. They clearly joined the contest to win the watch, didn’t buy my awesome $.99 book, and I bet mailing to them would just artificially depress my open and click through rates.

So, I’ve done a lot of things right with book marketing. But this was the single biggest and most costly mistake I’ve made to date.

– Kevin