Short version: unless greater benefits roll in over time, I didn’t get anything from Story Cartel which I couldn’t have done just as well myself, without spending $25.
Big Ol’ Nonsense Alert
Stop the presses and hold everything. Fellow writer Libi Astaire pointed out a line in the drawing rules I’d missed:
They are rewarded for downloading your book, whether or not they have any intent on reading it, any interest whatsoever.
This violates my primary principle of free: it is not a price, it is a strategy.
“Here, download this” is not a strategy.
The founders of Story Cartel are authors. And they may be good at marketing their service. But they have a long way to go to be good at marketing our books for us.
Your genre or network may deliver completely different outcomes, so this isn’t a sweeping condemnation of the tool. It does what it claims to do. My book was exposed to a wider audience, and I got reviews. It just didn’t add enough value to offset the cost.
During the experiment, I got two 4-star reviews from Story Cartel readers. In the same time period I got two 4-star reviews plus one 5-star review from my own network.
Some folks responded to my email to the 23 addresses Story Cartel provided. At least a dozen, more than half, didn’t participate in any manner beyond downloading the book. No review, no response to my two emails, nothing.
One old friend tried to download, couldn’t sort it out, and bought a print version instead. There’s a sale which may have been triggered by Story Cartel, but was consummated because he’s been a friend for 20 years. (I offered him a free copy, but he graciously wanted to reward me for my effort.)
The page for the book disappears after the giveaway, so there’s no long-term benefit to having it.
If the one Story Cartel reviewer really does read my other books, from a purely ROI perspective, they’ll have to buy (or be directly responsible for recommendations turning into sales) of at least a dozen books to reach break even point. That’s math, not real marketing. The impact could be far greater than the money I spent.
I re-read Story Cartel’s FAQ and sorted out the drawing/prize/entry thing I was confused about. Each month, they give away, erm, stuff. Books, Kindles, other things not clearly spelled out anywhere I could find. Some quick math tells me any individual review has far less than 1% chance of winning anything. With the small chance of winning and the vagueness of the offering, it’s not likely quality fans are lining up to leave reviews based on that.
What Will I Do, Then?
If I’m not using Story Cartel, what will I be doing?
I’ll be using their method, just not paying them for the privilege of using their tools. Give away some copies to people who’ll promise to write an honest review. Not a challenging concept.
I already have a website, so paying them for a download page for my book makes little sense. And I can gather and track much better data on my own than what they provided. I’ll also be directly engaging with folks who know me and care about my books.
There may be some residual benefit from the exposure, those other downloads, and if so, I’ll point it out — if I can see it and measure it. One challenge of marketing is that if you can’t source the return, you can’t tie it to the investment.
We’re pondering another experiment to get reviews. I do believe in reviews, honest reviews from real readers, and it’s worth giving away a few more copies to get them.
But Story Cartel didn’t add enough value to convince me to go that route again.