StoryOrigin Blog
Your guide to book marketing

From Almost Quitting to Hitting My First 100+ Sales Day

How to build and engage your audience, vet newsletter swaps, and get more reviews
Elysia Strife
Elysia Strife
March 14, 2022

Note: Highlights on original text have been added

Unicorns aren't real, except in the case of StoryOrigin.

Cheers, and welcome to the program that can change your author career!

I'll spare you the long intro and just say that I struggled as an author of two genres and over twenty books until I found this gem of a program created by Evan Gow.

He is supportive and kind and has built the most useful tool in my author arsenal.

I've used other reader connection platforms before and, I'll be honest, I still use some of them.

But when it comes down to quality, getting my time and money's worth, features, author relationships, and business boost, nothing beats StoryOrigin.

If I had to cut back to one program, this would be it.

I admit I'm not a millionaire (yet!).

I think I've got a common story of writing and publishing and struggling to find success that you might relate to.

I worked for years on my first few books and saw just a handful of change in royalties, not nearly enough to cover what I'd spent.

Everyone deemed it an expensive hobby and wondered when I was going to get a real job.

Ouch, right?

A lot of it is my fault for not picking genre niches with hungry audiences.

But I like what I write, and now I have figured out what I was missing: the proper reader connection platform.

There is an audience for your work. You just need to find it.

Here are just a few of my stats from StoryOrigin:


I found my readers on StoryOrigin, quality subscribers who buy, review, and post about my content on their social media.

I'm still shocked when I get tagged in a reader's book review on their social media.

(They found me! They're talking about my book!)

It is truly inspiring and makes me want to keep going.

There were so many days before StoryOrigin that I thought of burning everything I'd created.

I was that frustrated.

I almost called it quits in February of 2021.

Then I found a trial run of StoryOrigin and was hooked.

I quickly signed up for the paid version in April.

Life changed.

Books started selling. Kindle Edition Pages read has increased dramatically. And I'm still excited about it a year later.

bestseller screenshot

Before StoryOrigin, I could only get attention on my books if they were free and heavily advertised, so I was operating at a heart-breaking deficit.

I ran ad after ad on expensive sites.

Sure, I'd get a few thousand downloads, but maybe only a review or two.


Because those readers weren't interested in my content; they wanted free content.

Finding my readership is major because my bestselling books are Christmas romances, which normally only sell November and December.

Now they sell year round.

After joining StoryOrigin and getting my first Newsletter Swaps and group giveaways set up, I went from less than $30 a month in royalties to several hundred a month.

I now have money to invest in my business.

My royalties cover my bills for running the website, email, and all my connected assets.

I have hit number 1 on Amazon's charts with several titles, and I had my first single-day of 100+ sales of a single book.

I've gained over 3,000 subscribers and had thousands of book sales I would otherwise not have.

Each time I hit a goal, I make a new one. With StoryOrigin's help, I know I can get there.

over 100 sales in 1 day screenshot

You know what else held me back with running all those ads?

Not having reviews.

I'll explain my review process more later. For now, just know StoryOrigin is now you can change that.

How I grew my subscriber lists

Reader Magnets are so important.

I wish I had known this seven years ago!

They will change how you entice people to be on your list.

You offer a Reader Magnet - a short prequel or a sample of your book.

To get it, readers subscribe to your list.

But it's super important in those initial Reader Magnets, that you link to either the next book in the series or to a series they would like if they enjoyed that book.

That's how you double your perks with Reader Magnets: subscribers and purchasers of your next book!

Readers discover my Reader Magnets through:

  • Newsletter Swaps
  • Group Promos
  • Front matter of my first in series
  • Back matter of later books in the series, especially if the next book in the same series isn't ready yet

Newsletter Swaps do the most work for me.

Group Promos are great because subscribers will trickle in for the duration of the promo.

When I first started, my lists were really small.

I just started a brand new one, and I'm looking forward to linking to StoryOrigin soon (my third one!)

I started with a few hundred subscribers between the first two, but they were really disengaged with low open rates.

I didn't understand click rates at that point in time.

This was a problem, and it was a result of not collecting readers interested in my specific genres or having a way to really track engagement.

I'll talk about this in just a bit.

Now I have over 2,000 subscribers (sometimes called subs) on my main romance list and over 500 on my Sci-Fi.

Could I have more?

Yeah totally, but I clean my lists of inactive subscribers weekly.

I want highly engaged audiences.

I'm proud of my open and click rates, I want them to be even better.

The point isn't to have a big list, it's to have the right list of people interested in your subgenres, tropes, and themes.

That's a list of people who will buy your next book.

For example, I just swapped with someone who has almost twice my subscribers I do but I sent 9 times the clicks they did.

It's a competition for me.

I want to kick butt in the clicks department.

I don't want spammy clicks either.

My ultimate goal is to give my readers content they like, so they stick around.

But I know that other authors who swap with me are looking for sales and sign-ups too.

I want them to get bang for their buck like I am.

If someone does send more clicks than me I'm like: rats! New goal!

Don't pay for silence:

A lot of people hoard free books. (This was my biggest issue before StoryOrigin when I ran expensive ads. No one read or reviewed my books.)

I don't want those kinds of people bloating my email lists.

I have to pay for those non-reader subscribers to sit there and never open anything.

When we don't make a lot in royalties in the beginning, we have to be extra cautious about where our money goes.

I give readers five campaigns or 1-2 months, whichever is longer, then I set them free.

I unsubscribe them and/or archive them (depending on the service).

After years of working on my lists, I've learned that if I lose their engagement in the first few months, they aren't going to remember who I am three or four months later.

We all just get too many emails.

That said, you can run re-engagement campaigns to try and entice them back.

My best open rate day has been Fridays, so I send my regular emails Friday, then a “resend to non-openers” on Monday.

I usually recover 5-10 percent of my readers then.

Genre specificity in newsletters:

It's really important, in my experience, to make sure you're not just sharing whatever swaps you can get with your readers.

Sure, I could share any broad romance books, but readers who like steamy billionaire romance aren't typically going to like sweet small town romance or vice versa.

This is where StoryOrigin is the best.

You can search tags when looking for newsletter swaps and group promos and find exactly what you're looking for.

The tags option has massively improved my reader targeting.

Take Science Fiction, for example.

You are likely going to get requests for swaps with a range of tags from fantasy to cyberpunk, alien invasion, military, and more.

You know what your readers like, because it's what you write.

If you write hard military Sci-Fi, don't swap with someone who writes fantasy romance Sci-Fi, no matter how big their list is.

The swap won't get a lot of clicks because it isn't what your current readers are interested in.

With as many emails as we all get these days, you have to be engaging and stick with your promise of the type of content they're used to getting.

It seems like a no-brainer until you get a request from someone with a huge list.

It's not easy to turn it down. But trust me. It won't help either of you.

You can get really specific on StoryOrigin when searching for Newsletter Swaps.

The tags let you search by only books with “Post-apocalyptic,” “Cozy,” or even “Gaslamp.”

Then you can scroll through the newsletter options and select books or newsletters with that interest.

Want to build a list from only “Gamelit” swaps? How about “Horror” or LGBT?” Totally possible with StoryOrigin.

Another important factor when selecting niche swaps is to take a look at all the books offered by that author/PA/publishing group.

I have had many requests to swap with a newsletter for a campaign which displays swap opportunities for books in multiple different genres.

Guess what?

Their list won't be as responsive because it's compiled of all of those readers.

But this is the key: a list can be divided into groups.

Some authors will specify this in the notes for their campaign.

If they don't say that they send to a separate sci-fi-only newsletter of 1,000, be wary.

There's no way to tell how many of their subscribers are actually interested in Sci-Fi unless they mention it in the notes.

Be as narrow and picky as you can be to keep your readers hooked and ensure you get the most out of the swaps you do with others.

Getting reviews

My first book has 35 reviews. I published it in 2016. Blah. Terrible. I know.

I just published a new book on February 7th, this year. It already has 34 reviews in less than a month.

Six years or one month? I'll take the month, please!

You can send out advanced review copies using either the Reader Magnet feature or the Review Copy feature.

With Reader Magnets:

With the Reader Magnet feature, readers sign up to your mailing list to get a copy.

I put in a note at the beginning that lets them know it's an early copy, that there might be a few mistakes, and that if they enjoy the book I would appreciate their review.

I always do ARCs before I do my final proof for the last mistakes.


Because I want my paying customers to get something my free readers don't. It's an incentive.

I also add all of my final chapter heading images and divider art in the published product only.

I keep the ARC simple.

At the end of the early ARC version, I add review links to Amazon, BookBub, and Goodreads.

I make it as easy as I can for them to review.

When I send my newsletters with information about the book and the link to the ARC Reader Magnet, I add the review links as well.

With Review Copies:

With the Review Copies feature, readers have to apply to get a copy.

The Review Copies feature is special, because it allows you to check a reader's review completion percentages and take a look at applicants' review pages to see if you're a good fit and if the chance is worth the price.

If you've already published your book, and it's exclusive to a site like Amazon where you can't give away copies for free (KDP Select Enrollment), you're required to purchase a copy of the book for purposes of a review copy.

StoryOrigin has a great setup for including a link to a prepaid book, so you don't have to contact the reader on your own.

Then you can check back later to see if they reviewed or even claimed the book.

If they haven't claimed it, you can reuse that prepaid copy for someone else.

No money lost!

If your book is free and not published, you can get reviews.

And if your book is published on a site like Amazon, you can also still get reviews.

Peachy, right?

Universal Book Link Benefits:

On top of it, when you share your Universal Book Links made in StoryOrigin's dashboard and swap with other authors of similar genre, you'll be getting paying customers who you “filtered” to like your content (assuming you picked related tags!).

And, in my experience, people who pay for books are more likely to review them.

Cue fanfare and confetti!

I use Direct Download links and Reader Magnet links as back-ups to ensure my new subscribers (who undoubtedly joined via a Reader Magnet) can access the books again without hassle just in case they lose their copy or their internet dies or whatever.

I never want my readers to be bummed. I want them to know I've got their back (so hopefully they'll have mine when I need it).



In the beginning (seven years ago) I only did emails when I had a book coming out.

This does absolutely nothing. No one remembers you or what you write.

Everyone is busy, and I know it seems like they take forever.

You'll get faster at creating them.

It now takes me about 30 minutes per newsletter.

If I think about how much I would normally make in that half hour ($6 as a personal trainer or warehouse worker) and consider how many sales and subscribers I get, it's more profitable.

Sometimes it's $30 or more from one swap. And I usually put in several.

The minimum frequency I recommend is once a month.

I do suggest if that's all someone can manage that they resend the campaign to non openers 3 days later.

Personally, I send 2-4 emails a month.

I would love to do it every Friday so it's steady, but sometimes I just can't.

Twice a month has earned me about a 40-50% open rate and a 15-25% click rate.

I do send out an email on the day of publication if it doesn't line up with a newsletter.

It has shown to be best to publish on a newsletter day for me because all my subscribers will see the book is live and will be more likely to add their reviews.

I don't email more than once a week if I can help it, mostly because I'm on some of those lists and I do not have time to open their emails every single day or even more than once a week.

People have things to do.

Filling up their inbox with something too often will start getting you increased unsubscribe rates. No one wants that.

How to Keep your Peeps Entertained:

Share books they like that match genre, niche, cleanliness level, and topic/themes they enjoy.

Share what you're working on so they know there's more to come.

It's always good to consider adding some extra content that relates to whatever genre you write in.

With sci-fi, I often add a tidbit of the research I've done: translocation of DNA, electromagnetism, genetic mutations, or whatever is relevant.

With romance (since they are primarily invested in relationships) I share a bit about what inspired a character or an event or some history related to or that motivated the story. I tell them about our travels in our RV or some funny moment.

Building Reader Rapport:

I have a section I dedicate to my reviewers, where I say “thanks to these awesome people for reviewing and/or recommending (pseudonym) books”

In my reviews sections, I list everyone who has reviewed my books (across Amazon, Goodreads, or Bookbub) since my last newsletter.

Since I started doing that, I've regularly had readers email me: here are my reviews!!

Which is super cool. I mean they absolutely deserve thanks for taking time to review.

Reviews make or break our business.

I can't believe I haven't seen more people regularly thanking their readers.

Is it time consuming? Yeah.

Do I get everyone? No, and sometimes I thank people who reviewed on a site but maybe aren't a subscriber.

I don't take the time to check every single name on my 2000 person list.

I never promise them I'll share their names. (You can't offer anything in exchange for reviews.)

It's just something I do.

I have done signed paperback giveaways, but only my romance readers seem interested. And it got to be expensive. After Covid hit, I stopped.

Reader Dedication Contests

I actually just started doing Reader Dedication Contests, where I do something silly like have a month of questions and give “tickets” to readers for each answer, then I do a randomized Excel selection drawing and write a book dedicated to that reader.

The Last Blue Christmas is my first reader dedication.

I'm currently working on the second.

Readers really seemed to like this.

For this year's contest, I did Wombo AI renders of seven of my titles then had readers try to figure out which books were which, and I did the drawing from those with correct responses.

I send the reader who won a packet of questions to help me build a book just for them.

They had a lot of fun.

Now I'm working on Reader Dedication Two. I'm going to keep doing this, one every year.

It's a good challenge. And it's only for my subscribers.

Cross-promos (Newsletter Swaps):

Before publication, I always try to set up several the month leading up to a launch for preorders, as well as launch week and the first month of publication.

I have tried cross-promos more than a month out, but the clicks to preorder ratio is much smaller.

I get maybe 1 preorder for every 10-15 clicks if I try to swap more than a month away from a preorder publication date.

If I do it in the two weeks leading up, sometimes I get a preorder for every 2 clicks, which is stellar.

I think a lot of people only want to pay for a book if they can get it soon.

For discounted titles, I hunt for all the newsletters occurring in that time frame relative to my subgenres and do my best to get an even spread of their campaign dates.

Of course, I set up ads too.

Say I'm doing a KDP Select free discount for 5 days and I've got ads scheduled on all but one day (sometimes you can't get in when you want) then I try to just set up all my newsletter swaps to happen that day, so I get a consistent promo week.

Ads you can often set up months out.

A lot of authors don't plan newsletters until a few weeks before.

So I usually set up ads first, then newsletters.

But sometimes, I see a book in the newsletter swap section that I think “Oh, my readers would enjoy that,” and I go for it.

I want that swap!

The number of swaps you share depends on your readership and your mailing list service.

With my sci-fi list, I keep swaps to fewer, more relevant books.

I try to average 2 UBLs and 2 RMs, but they range from 1-2 sales swaps and 2-3 free books.

I also call my UBLs “Book Spotlights” which I think sounds more glamorous and enticing.

I also share a group giveaway or two with lots of books in case they aren't interested in featured titles.

My romance list loves all sorts or books.

They are what we call a “warm audience,” and far more eager to read what's presented to them as long as it's the right heat level.

I have had up to 4 sales swaps and 5 free book swaps and still had decent clicks.

The more images and links you have, though, the fewer clicks each title is likely to get, and the more likely you'll get marked as spam or the features will be cut off by “view entire message.”

The key is relevance not number.

If you can't find anything that matches, then don't share anything.

I admit, sometimes I haven't been able to time a cross-promo with an author, or they haven't wanted to share with me because my list is smaller. (It happens.)

But you know what?

If I think my readers would like their books, I'm going to share them.

Keeping my readers happy is my number one priority.

Final thoughts

My approach to mailing lists has completely done a 180 since starting StoryOrigin.

I used to have multiple genres on one list and inconsistently shared, didn't know what to share, or how to keep my readers entertained and happy.

StoryOrigin helped me schedule campaigns, find related authors and content to share with those awesome filtering tags, and check their performance and mine.

It's organized in a way that it really helped me focus my author brand.


Starting from zero?

It's important to show you participate in swaps with clicks sent, so if you're starting with a really small number of subscribers, first join a "Giveaway" Group Promo (that's genre relevant so people really want your book!) one that runs a while, like a month or two.

(You'll need a Reader Magnet for this.)

Set your share date for two or three weeks after the promo has started, after you've had some time to accumulate subscribers that established authors have sent to the promo in the earlier days.

It's always good to let the organizer know you're new so they don't boot you for zero clicks in the first week.

Some authors do this to ensure only active sharing authors get the perks.

Yes, there are freeloaders that try to get in then don't share. Other services have more of a reputation for this happening.

StoryOrigin is great because the tracking metrics can prove if someone has had many swaps or promos with no shares. If we work as a team we win as a team.

Once you have some subscribers, you can start doing swaps with other authors (cross-promos) and more group giveaways.

You've started building your list! Congrats!

What makes StoryOrigin unique

Easy Contact Info/Email:

Tons of people on StoryOrigin and in the StoryOrigin Authors Facebook group are super helpful and willing to take a bit of time to ensure you're set up and help where there are issues.

I love the email options for cross-promos where you can contact the other author via email and discuss what you want to do.

I miss this on other platforms.

It really helps to be able to say “Hey, my readers really like your books. How about we do a monthly promo swap?”

It builds your network as much as your subscriber list.

Cover Search Feature:

When you're looking for Newsletter Swaps, under “Search By” if you select “Swap Opportunity” it lets you scroll the swaps with a preview image of the cover.

I can't tell you how much time this has saved me.

I know instantly if something is what I want without even having to open a bunch of windows to scroll through the newsletters or scan through the tags.

It's the difference between Sci-Fi>>Erotic Romance with an alpha dude that has horns and Sci-Fi>>Cyberpunk with a man in a trench coat in a dark city lit with neon.

Both are swaps I'd use, but on very different lists. I do not want to mix them up.

Goal Tracker:

This year, I've started using Goal Trackers to track my word count.

It's been a huge motivator to watch that little graph jump with each entry. (I write a lot on my phone in down time)

This tracker keeps me excited and pushing myself.

I've already completed 4 books at about 200,000 words with 12 more titles to go this year!

And it's only March 2nd!

Can I do it?

I have no idea, but I'm going to give it my all!

goal tracker screenshot
Feeling intimidated? Why it's worth doing anyway

It is absolutely career changing.

I can tell you this platform is the most organized, intuitive, and constructive one I've found. It promotes equal participation.

It has Goal Trackers to keep you motivated in your writing projects.

You can do Beta Copies to get feedback on chapters, Reader Magnets, Direct Downloads, Review Copies, UBL Sales Pages, Audio Review Codes, Universal Audio Links, Goal Trackers, Campaign Planners, a Calendar, easy to read Stats, and Group Giveaways.

There are quite a few mailing list integrations.

The only thing holding you back is not signing up.

For real. I'm so glad I made this decision.

It is always scary at first because it's money you're spending on something you haven't really tried yet.

But after 7 years (as of this post) and 25 books later, StoryOrigin is where it's at.

Did I mention I broke 60,000 KU page reads in December? Yeah. StoryOrigin.

Write yourself a Reader Magnet.

Join the Group Promos

Build your list.

Do Newsletter Swaps with authors.

See your royalties, subscribers, and author network grow.

I tell everyone about this program because it gave me something better than hope.

It gave me solid results.

About the author: Elysia Strife is a romance and sci-fi writer