When people first consider writing, they believe that writing is the hard part. Then, once they have a written draft, they assume editing and getting it ready for release is the hard part. Once they’ve published, they find that getting people to consider reading what they’ve created is actually the hard part.
A number of sites have been created trying to sell help to writers for marketing their books. Some will just send out a link to your book to their twitter followers, while others will help prepare ads or ad campaigns. Others will just charge the author for writing a review. Each of the four sites in this posts title were recommended by authors who found them useful and offers a more sophisticated way to connect readers with your works. Unfortunately, even the sites themselves do a poor job conveying how they actually work.
BookFunnel is the Coca-Cola of this style of sites, and it is the most established, fully featured, slick and expensive. They have three tiers of membership ($20, $100, $250 all annually), with more features / functionality being unlocked at higher tiers. There’s no free tier.
The most fundamental functionality, which all of these sites provide, is to give away copies of your book. These can be review copies (where a free copy is given with the expectation of an honest review), reader magnets (where a free copy of a book is given in exchange for signing up to the author’s newsletter), or giveaways (where a free copy is given away to introduce readers to the author’s style or as the first book in a series).
Initially I was confused why the sites were needed. I can send someone a link to my ebook on Google Drive or Dropbox or email them the actual file. The value of the sites is that they let the reader pick between formats (epub, mobi, pdf), lets the author approve or disapprove giving a copy to a particular reader, and track downloads. Often stats about readers are available, such as whether or not they followed through on providing reviews for other review copies they got for free.
I thought originally that these sites would also provide an audience of reviewers, that they had a ton of readers waiting to get free books in exchange for reviews. It turns out this isn’t the case, and the writers are still responsible for promoting their work and finding these reviewers (with the exception of BookSprout, which offers this as detailed below). BookFunnel just provides writers with an attractive page to send to potential reviewers (who the writer has found themselves).
With reader magnets, free content is provided in exchange for readers’ email address. BookFunnel integrates with most of the major email newsletter services. This makes it quite nice when someone agrees to sign up for your newsletter, gets the content and is added to your mailing list without any action required from the author.
BookFunnel can watermark copies given out, with the email address of the recipient. This discourages readers from sharing their copy or posting it to public download sites (the author will know who gave it away).
Group promos are another activity that I didn’t understand initially. Basically, authors promote one another on their mailing lists. BookFunnel doesn’t provide readers or leads, but instead provides the infrastructure to make help authors share their readers as easily as possible. When I first read about this, I assumed that quickly all the writers on a site would share the same readers and their mailing lists would all be the same. Given their different audiences and that writers are also building their mailing lists elsewhere, this has certainly not been my experience.
BookFunnel creates a custom link and an image to use for promos. Participants in the group promo use these to send their audience to a page with a bunch of books from different writers on it. Other authors doing the same gets you free promotion. Each group promo has some theme and genre to tie it together, to ensure that the readers will be somewhat interested in the works being presented. How many readers each participant sent can be tracked, putting pressure on freeloaders (people who try to get traffic from other authors without promoting them in return).
Group promos can be for collecting email addresses, telling readers about free review copies, boosting giveaway or discounts, directing them to your books on Kindle Unlimited or even just sending them to the page where they can buy your book.
I haven’t used them, but BookFunnel also provides functionality for individual download giveaways and audio books.
Another writer’s review: 10 Things You Need To Know About Bookfunnel
If BookFunnel is Coca-Cola, StoryOrigin is Pepsi. The functionality between the two sites is very similar, with StoryOrigin having been in free beta for years. They just recently announced that they would begin charging and that some of the previously free functionality would become part of a paid membership tier.
StoryOrigin’s reader magnets and group promos are very similar to BookFunnel’s. StoryOrigin has Newsletter swaps, which is a specialized group promo (for two people, with a focus on building mailing lists). StoryOrigin has a “Goal Tracker” productivity feature, which may be useful for some writers.
I have spent the most time on StoryOrigin and have found it to be a well designed, useful site. It’s been nice having the full featured site for free. It will be interesting what happens between StoryOrigin and BookFunnel once they’re both changing for membership.
Because there are different communities on both sites, having an account on both would make sense for many writers.
I wrote another post, going into far more detail, about using StoryOrigin to build a mailing list.
Another writer’s review (and interview with the creator): StoryOrigin An Innovative Book Marketing Tool For Authors
Apparently Prolific Works pre-dates BookFunnel and StoryOrigins, but was then surpassed by both of them (it’s coca wine if we’re continuing the cola metaphor and you know cola history).
The three tiers of membership is offers are free, $20 / month and $50 / month.
It’s functionality is focused on letting users download your book and, with paid membership, collecting their email addresses. It has far more limited mailing list integrations (just MailChimp and MailerLite). They clarify that they’re a giveaway site, not a review site.
Frankly, the only reason I can imagine anyone using Prolific Works (let alone paying for it), is if they weren’t aware of BookFunnel or StoryOrigins.
Another writer’s review: Prolific Works review: is it worth it?
Like Prolific Works, BookSprout is a feature limited version of BookFunnel and StoryOrigins, focused on giving away review copies. Their membership levels are free, $10 / month and $20 / month.
They don’t let you collect email addresses.
Their big selling features are anti-piracy functionality, which is fairly pointless, and a reviewer community. This is nice that they have a group of people you can promote your work to, instead of having to beat the bushes yourself.
This might be considered a cola / coffee mixture that is incredibly niche – most people aren’t interested.
Another writer’s review: Booksprout for Reviews!
Your Own Site
I find these sites interesting as they’re organizing activities that writers COULD do themselves, but making it far easier to execute through their sites. Ultimately, having your own website that you have complete control over is still important and should be a part of any strategy, even if you use one of the above sites.
carole penfield says
Thank you for this brief, concise comparison of Book Funnel, Book Sprout, and Prolific Works, which is fairly recent as opposed to many articles from 2018 or earlier. Things do change quickly in the world of self publishing. I am stuck in the quagmire now that I am satisfied that the three novels in my series The Midwife Chronicles are well-written, properly edited, proofed, and formatted. As you said, getting readers interested in my books is just as difficult as the prior steps. I think I will try Book Funnel as I like the idea of watermarked copies.
John Champaign says
Hi Carole, thanks so much for your comment! With three novels in a series, you’re definitely in a position to benefit from marketing. Have you done anything with a mailing list? Come back and let me know how you like Book Funnel if you end up signing up!
Thomas Greenbank says
Interesting article, John. As was mentioned above, it’s hard to find up-to-date info like this. I like that you’ve included the date of writing the article.
I have just one novel published so far. I’m working on a prequel and haven’t done much promotion as I feel I need to wait until I have some sort of back catalogue before I can justify the spend.
I signed up for the free version of Prolific Works. I think Story Origin sounds like a better offering.
John Champaign says
Thanks for the comment Thomas! Lots of bloggers hide the dates, trying to make the information seem “timeless”, but that alwasy irritates me – I want to know how old the info is.
I’m at a similar experience level as you, so this is just me repeating advice I’ve read elsewhere: to benefit from advertising, you need multiple books, so that if a reader likes you there’s other stuff for them to buy. You make money from all the books they buy, even though you only had to pay to advertise the first. The minimum to “earn back” what you spend on advertising is at least 3. Apparently, it’s almost impossible to advertise a single book and make money (you’ll spend more on advertising than you earn). Your mileage may vary, as they say.
Once you’ve tried prolific works (and maybe Story Origin), report back on your experience.
Thomas Greenbank says
Cheers, John. Becoming a successful author is a slow process. I’m thinking of putting out a short story collection as a free ‘tasting plate’ to introduce potential readers to my work.
I’ve heard mixed opinions about short story collections, though. Do you think they work? I’d appreciate your opinion, and also the opinions of anyone else out there.
John Champaign says
I’ve heard the same thing, that short stories aren’t very marketable these days. I’m working on a set of, connected, short stories right now. In the end, it will be like a novel, composed of short stories about the same characters.
I suspect more than a short story collection being a taster, you could use individual stories as reader magnets (offer one free when people sign up for your mailing list, for example).
You could also post them place like Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/r/shortstories/ (and other more specific subreddits here: https://www.reddit.com/r/TheDirty31/wiki/index/approved_subs). I really don’t know how successful this would be though…
You could also consider submitting them to short story collections, literary magazines, or story websites (like Wattpad, Royal Road, etc).
This is all just me shooting from the hip. Honestly, I’m not sure what the best way (or even any somewhat effective way) to give away writing to attact readers is (if you figure it out, let me know! =).
Remember that promotion does not always come with a cost. Getting in touch with book bloggers via the Goodreads Forums can be beneficial, or even setting up a ‘book’ Facebook page with tidbits posted, along with one for the Author. I’ve launched 5 books so now have little fear left to conquer!
John Champaign says
Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment! I’ve found that it’s hard to generate much interest from book bloggers. I send them free copies, but never hear anything back. I’ve gone to them directly mostly, I haven’t tried the Goodreads Forum, so maybe that’s worth having a look at… Any other tips?
Thomas Greenbank says
Good suggestion, Jennifer, about the FB book page. One that I hadn’t thought of. I’ll definitely add that to my to-do list. I’ve got most of my reviews from Goodreads so far. It’s a great place to be seen.
John, the fact you haven’t used BookFunnel is very clear in your review. (Or if you have, you haven’t used it widely.) I’ve been using it for well over two years now, and to me, it is one of those tools I wish I’d had earlier in my author career, and is one I recommend to authors just starting out. I thought I couldn’t afford it, but as it turns out, I really couldn’t afford to be without it. My readership, sales, and newsletter have all expanded greatly since I joined BookFunnel.
Many authors use the $100/year level as the top level is only required if you have more than one pen name. I use BookFunnel on an almost daily basis, and have no idea how I did without it before I joined. I use it for sales promos, newsletter builders, giving out prizes (it’s the click of a button), and sending copies to my ARC readers. One thing I don’t like about BookFunnel is they charge for newsletter integration. StoryOrigin doesn’t, which saves $50/year for simply linking your newsletter by adding a code. (BF now has a newsletter swap option, but I haven’t used it yet.)
I’ve recently joined StoryOrigin and it has more functions than BookFunnel. I’m still finding my way around SO and learning about all the options, but so far, so good. I paid monthly for a couple of months, then changed to yearly. What I really love about their newsletter swap function is you can see how big other authors newsletters are, and what their open and click rates are. That is a huge benefit to authors.
Prolific Works I have found pretty useless and far too expensive for what they offer.
John Champaign says
Glad you’ve had a good experience at BookFunnel and StoryOrigin. Thanks for commenting and sharing.