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book marketing

It’s almost the end of March, and I promised everyone following my self-publishing saga an update on how the month went.

Frankly, it surpassed all my expectations.

As of today, 5:00 p.m., 3/24, I have sold over 10,000 books in March. Those are paid copies, not free downloads. Free, I’ve seen north of 60K this month. One way to view it is a 20% ultimate ratio between paid and free – maybe a little higher, as I still have till the end of the month to see all the sales on the titles I went free with this month.

That’s a lot of books.

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NEWS: An interview with author Felicia Rodgers and yours truly on The Voynich Cypher.

UPDATE: New guest blog at Manic Readers on writing The Voynich Cypher. A good one.

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Why the big jump from January and February’s 3000 books per month? One reason is that on March 17, I released The Voynich Cypher, which sold over 3,000 copies in the first three days, and to date, has sold within kissing distance of 4000 copies. That was unexpected, and looks good to continue, if not strengthen moving into April. Feedback has been positive, so it looks to become one of my most popular titles. My personal feeling is that it could be my breakthrough book, but who the F knows anymore? Let’s just say it’s looking good so far.

I had a body blow, too, though. Zero Sum disappeared from Amazon for 24 hours, with no explanation, about a week ago, midway into a promotional push. Just vanished. The resulting loss of about 70 sales during that period was painful, but more painful was the drop in rank from 1480 to 3500. The momentum I’d built on it came to a crashing halt, through no fault of mine. There was never any explanation of what happened. To call that frustrating is to understate it in the extreme. It hasn’t recovered, which makes sense, as below #2000 rank it gets recommended based on the algorithms, but above that number it doesn’t.

This underscores that we indie authors are creatures of Amazon, whether we like it or not. They give, and can take away. Like a deity, they can be mercurial, or accidentally cause large, unintended consequences – perhaps those numbers don’t seem like the end of the world, but when one considers the additional incremental decreased sales (25 a day versus 70) it starts looking like hundreds of books. Ouch.

Still, all in all, I can’t complain, and am very fortunate that readers like my work enough to catapult my books to well over 10,000 books sold this month, so far. I would guess sales will ultimately wind up being more like 11K to 12K by the end of the month, but one never knows. Even if we pull out the 4000 Voynichs, that means that my existing titles jumped from 3000 to 7000-8000 by month’s end. My hunch is that I’m getting better visibility over time, and word of mouth is slowly spreading – remember that 99.99% of all readers have never heard of me. My job over the next few years is to change that, to the extent that it’s possible.

Loans increased to over a thousand, as of this writing. That number isn’t counted in my above 10K – those aren’t technically sales. But they do throw some cash to the bottom line, and I’m happy to report I won’t run out of tequila or diesel fuel this month. The number is actually lower than it would be, as I’ve had several books expire from KDP Select and haven’t re-upped them. King, Delphi, Angel, Night, all are out of the program, with only Voynich, Geronimo, Zero Sum, Fatal and Gazillions remaining in. ZS will exit next week at some point, and Fatal in a couple of weeks; then it will be down to only three in the program.

So that’s the roundup. I will do a year-end summary for those playing along at home, and while there are no guarantees, I think it’s safe to assume that barring a disaster, sales for the year could exceed 100K sold. I could probably double or triple that number by moving a few titles to .99, but I don’t want to do so. I believe the work is under-valued at a buck a book, and I won’t sell a title for that. I’d rather give ’em away for free. Which is what I continue to do on Night of the Assassin, and The Delphi Chronicle Book 1. Although I am considering ending those free promotions in June or July, writing a bit more content for Night, and making it a paid title as well. I’ll be releasing the sequel to King of Swords, for which Night is the prequel, in late April – Revenge of the Assassin – so it might make sense to take Night paid at that point, as it starts to look like a real series then. I already have the idea for the next one – Return of the Assassin – so that’s a strategic play. Return will probably be my next book, while my head’s still in that groove.

Here’s the takeaway for indie authors:

1) I began doing this in June, 2011. I made $16.87 that first month. Sales exploded to $80 by August – after three months of nonstop marketing, writing, and releasing 2 more titles. It took till December to make $1460 that month, by which point I had released twelve titles, and promoted tirelessly. Now, ten months after my first book, Fatal Exchange, went live, things are moving. Obviously, it takes time, and hard work, and good quality product.

2) It is possible to make good money as a self-pubbed author – way more than I’d be making if I was trad pubbed with those kinds of sales numbers. So the landscape has changed. Obviously, if I sold millions via a good tradpub deal, that would eclipse my results to date, but nobody’s knocking with that deal, so it’s a moot point. As it is, I’m seeing roughly double income from what I’d see trad-pubbed per unit. That’s significant, and there’s no agent taking 15%.

3) Part of the secret, at least for me, has been building a substantial backlist to promote. So if you are writing, write more. More good books is like fishing – more lines in the water to snag the passing schools.

4) Write most of the time. I write about 12 hrs a day, and tweet and facebook maybe two to three. Be prepared to work hard for many months, or years. I still do, and plan to, as I understand that one good month does not a career make. Neither does one good year. That’s just how it is.

5) Treat your publishing like a business. That means invest in editing, proofreading and copy editing, as well as professional covers. Be sensitive to what’s working, and what isn’t. Be willing to adjust your prices to meet the market – this isn’t about ego, it’s about selling books. As an example, I believe Voynich is a $6+ book, but I have it priced at $3.33. Why? I want maximum readership and a relatively low barrier to entry. The price will increase over time, as it has with King of Swords, which is selling briskly at $5, but to maintain max sales at a fair return for the first phase of the Voynich Cypher launch, I slashed the price and have kept it slashed. And I’ve done one facelift on all my fiction covers since last year, and am in the midst of a second phase of improvement – it’s a visceral world, so putting forth something visually appealing is worth spending time and money on. On the editing front, I’ve added a copy editor and a proofreader to my normal editor, so three sets of eyes checking for errors. I still get them, but far fewer. In other words, I do what the trad pub houses do – I invest in quality control so my brand has integrity and consistent appeal.

Thanks to all the readers who are enjoying my books. It’s inspiring to see so many downloading and reading, and mostly, liking. A few hate me, but as always, they can bite me before returning to their apartment in their mom’s garage, or dressing their 14 cats in Christmas outfits, or waiting in sleeping bags for the next Twilight movie release. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for those who get it. If you’re reading this blog, that is probably you.

 

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Readers of my blog know that I began my experiment with KDP Select in mid-January. The main attraction for me was the ability to put a title free for a day or three, thereby enhancing visibility and presumably giving me a boost on the “most popular” and “also bought” lists following the free day(s).

So how has that worked?

Glad you asked, internal dialogue that always seems to know just what to inquire for maximum effect.

Sales of my books increased by a factor of four in January, from my most popular month ever – December. Given that I have been at this for a whopping nine months, that would kind of make sense. December, everybody on the planet got Kindles for Xmas, and needed content for them. Ergo, more books would sell.

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BREAKING NEWS: Fantastic guest blog at The Veil War on the writing of The Voynich Cypher.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: Interview, book review of The Delphi Chronicle, Book 1, and a short story. Must read! With author Kathleen Patel.

UPDATE: Monday, 3-12. Interview with Digital Ink Spot on Amazon promos, process & thoughts.

UPDATE: New interview just posted with Eden Baylee. It’s a fun one.

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I also released a slew of books in December – Night of the Assassin, King of Swords, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy. Night and Book 1 of Delphi were and are free, so I increased my available paid titles by two that month, bringing it to a total of seven possible paid titles to buy. I don’t count the first book of Zero Sum, because that was free as well, nor do I count the individual books in the trilogies, as nearly everyone who buys, buys the bundles.

If all things were equal, I would have expected an organic growth of 20-25% from the new titles, which is about what I saw from November to December. All very predictable.

In mid-January, I enrolled my first book in KDP Select, and ran a couple of days free. The Geronimo Breach saw 12K downloads in its two free days, and then sales took off like a rocket for 5 or 6 days, eventually dropping back to a sustainable rate that was above December’s run rate, but nothing like what the post-free week was like. That got me looking at other authors’ experiences, and sure enough, the post-free phenomenon was being discussed, although it was still largely too new to rate.

I then ran a few more titles free, for a day here and there, and lo and behold, saw the same effect. This resulted in a reproducible sales boost, and appeared to have pulled my other titles along with it. I finished January giddy, with four times December’s bucks in my pocket.

February, for the first two weeks, sales were down 30% from January. Other authors indicated that was a well-understood effect of readers digesting all the books they’d downloaded. Made sense, but still not a lot of fun to see. In the final two weeks, I ran Geronimo free for one day, and Zero Sum free for two, and Geronimo saw 10K in one day, and Zero Sum saw about 20K on two days of downloads, hitting number 5 for free downloads. Post free, sales took off like a scared rabbit again, and I finished February at the same sales level as January, which is to say back at four times December sales, but income was up 25%, at five times December’s sales, due to a higher ASP after the artificially low promotional pricing I’d tried on a few titles in Jan. I figured it would be down 20%, so that was a pleasant surprise.

March, Zero Sum has been continuing its run from the free days the end of February, performing well and holding in the 500 paid range now 8 days post promo, which is unexpected but nice. But here’s the amazing part about the KDP promotions: by March 10 I will have sold more or less as many books as I did all of Feb. Obviously, that portends good things. If sales stay on track the rest of the month, I can expect a double to tripling over the course of the March, or roughly eight to twelve times December sales.

That’s an eye-opening number. Extrapolating, if March comes in as it’s shaping up, from that point on with no sales growth at all (even though I’ll be adding a slew of new titles this year), I will sell well over 100K books in 2012. Needless to say, if that happens, I’ll be one of the very very very few indie authors making a significant living from my passion. That’s amazing for two reasons. First, up until Amazon created its revolution in self-publishing, it would have been impossible. Utterly, completely impossible. A pipe dream. Second, it’s astounding because I will be a failure by traditional publishing standards.

Failing has never felt so good.

If I have 12 paid titles out by the end of 2012, and I’m selling 100K books, I’m only moving 9K books per year, per title, mas o menos. That’s a disaster by traditional published standards. And yet obviously, by living in Mexico self-publishing standards, it’s a home run. The numbers assume that none of my books really hit in any way big. In fact, these numbers might. My new one, launching on March 17, The Voynich Cypher, could blow things wide open. It’s that kind of a book. Mainstream, accessible, my take on a Dan Brown/Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure/thriller. If it gets traction, it could be a big book. Early readers are enthusiastic, so I’ve got high hopes for it, but even if it sort of of putters along flat, I’m still in the mix to hit my 2012 numbers. Again, this all assumes that none of my books really get discovered, or in any way hit the mainstream.

I attribute my success to date, such as it is, to two things. First, to writing a heartfelt blog about a beloved & perhaps misunderstood public figure and comparing him to my dad, and having it go viral. Okay, maybe not so much that. Seriously, it’s because of being fortunate enough to have delivered a reasonable product to those brave or stupid enough to try my offerings, and building slow recognition organically. And second, it’s because the KDP Select program has created a venue whereby indie authors can displace the big name brand authors, and get a small slice of awareness from an audience they previously would have had no chance of reaching. The first takes 15 hour days, 7 days a week, for 10 months. The second took KDP deciding to offer “free” as a perk for joining the Select program.

I owe Amazon deep and sincere gratitude, and hope they crush the bones of their competitors to jelly and dance in the still-warm blood of their adversaries as they rule the book world. At least, for another year or two, it would be nice. My game plan is to have twenty titles out by the end of 2013, all selling for between $2.99 and $6.99. If Amazon’s KDP program stays in place and their algorithms don’t change, I and a whole group of writers who had no real shot at making a decent living suddenly have become viable. Perhaps Indie will become the new slush pile – but one that pays well. Or perhaps there won’t be any more slush piles, and the phones will go unanswered in NY sometime soon.

On a related topic, my UK sales are now trending at 10% of my US sales, so the UK is having more of an effect than I would have expected. Given that I have done exactly zero marketing beyond twitter and a lackadaisical Facebook presence, that also portends good things. Although I will say that I have been participating in Melissa Foster’s World Literary Cafe, and the visibility from that group’s efforts have likely played a role in my sales. I recommend them highly, for those looking to participate in a good organization.

Loans have also increased, and as of today, for March 8, I have 450 borrows. As I said in a prior blog, on titles at my price point at least some of those are displacing sales at a considerably higher net rate, but the overall positive of being in the KDP program is outweighing that negative. Hard to bitch over the cost of doing business on that one.

That’s where we are as of today. Whether sales continue apace, or dirt dive, is unknowable from this point on, but I’ll keep everyone updated. It’s been a fascinating experiment so far. I’ll post an end of year summary in December, and maybe a mid-year one in July – really, the first full year of being in this game. Beyond that, thank you to my readers, and good luck to all the authors following this blog. It can be done. It’s just not easy. Nothing is.

UPDATE: As of March 10, midnight, I have sold 3015 books this month and had 540 borrows. A little slower than I’d hoped, but the last few days were laggards. Still, difficult to whine too much. I’ll save that for the end of the month when I’ve crashed and burned…

 

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17 Jan 2012, by

So it begins

Night of the Assassin just went free on Amazon.

Thank you to everyone for your support in getting Night of the Assassin free. This represents the next phase in my marketing plan – to give away the prequel to King of Swords, in an effort to broaden my readership and gain exposure.

Night is one of my favorite books, for a host of reasons, not the least of which that it is the prequel to what is arguably my best work, and absolutely one of my all time favorites. I don’t know why these two books turned out the way they did, but for whatever reason, I’m thankful.

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MORE ACCOLADES: Fatal Exchange was the favorite book of 2011 for Kate Farrel at The Kindle Book Review.

INTERVIEW: I was interviewed about writing and craft by @WritingTips101. Worth a look, & please Stumbleupon it at the bottom using the little green button.

BIG NEWS: International bestselling pet bio An Angel With Fur is free on Amazon for a few days. If you want a whole other side of me, pick that up. Guaranteed it will move you.

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So why give away what is one of my favorite books? Isn’t my craft something worth being paid for?

Absolutely. My conviction is that once readers get their hands on Night, they’ll know two things. First, that it is a different kind of read, and one that’s a good representation of my unique writing style. And second, that they’ll want to read King of Swords next. I’m so convinced I’m willing to skip the part where I get paid for Night, at least for a limited time, so that readers can see what I’m talking about – so I can back my mouth without risk to them. I would say that they’ll know where they fall in their opinion of the book within the first 10 pages. That fast.

People are either going to love Night, or hate it. That simple. Doubt that there will be many “I don’t know, it was okay” reviews. It’s a polarizing book, that chronicles the making of a monster – the super assassin El Rey, from King of Swords.

Pick up a copy, and see if I’m full of it or not. And enjoy, with my compliments, for as long as it lasts. You can get Night of the Assassin here. And if you like it, or any of my books, please take the time to leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

If you like this blog, hit the Stumbleupon button down at the bottom (the little green guy) and share it. Gracias.

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And for those who keep asking who my cover artist is, shoot me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll get you the contact info. Good, fast and cheap.

 

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4 Nov 2011, by

Free or Not?

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has just been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th Amazon review, and who just released Black Flagged. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch just published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur. It’s really a must-read review. And the Pet Wall also gets spotlight coverage at Justin Bogdanovitch’s blog. Great pooch photos too. And the book is currently back in the #2 position in Animal Essays on Amazon UK!

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I have had a number of comments from author buddies that question the wisdom of offering Book 1 of Zero Sum, Kotov Syndrome, for free.

The sentiments range anywhere from the idea that it cheapens the perceived value of the work, to that I deserve compensation for my efforts, to that I will attract a type of reader who expects something for nothing, and thus won’t have any legacy value.

So I started to think through the question, and I can see both sides of it.

On the one hand, you have the largest single hurdle as a new author, which is generating name recognition and building a base of readers who will ultimately appreciate, like, and buy your work. It would seem to me that offering some of that work for free isn’t a bad way to crack the nut of getting decent exposure. With Zero Sum, Book 1, I decided to offer the first book in my serial trilogy for free, figuring that would give readers a chance to see whether they like my work or not. If so, super, perhaps they’ll convert into fans and purchase other work. If not, I haven’t really lost anything, as they likely wouldn’t have bought anything at any price.

But it does raise an interesting question; namely, is it a good idea to give your work away to generate buzz and get exposure?

The marketing guy in me says, hell yes. Every business has a marketing budget, and when breaking into new markets, you have to spend money to make money. So the value of the work you give away is part of your sunk cost into marketing. It’s like offering a loss leader, in the hopes that enough qualified buyers will become familiar with your work to convert into legacy customers over time. It’s why manufacturers do free tastings at Costco, or drug dealers give you the first time for free.

The author in me says, if I’m going to invest countless hours into creating a compelling work, and then further invest my money into hiring qualified editing and developing a professional cover, then I should get paid for going that distance. There are plenty of poorly written, badly or unedited works with horrendous or free covers, and I’ve taken the expensive steps to elevate my product above that bunch. Thus, the product is worth something, and then the battle becomes what is the product worth? That’s a different question. The point is, the artisan in me would like to be compensated for delivering value.

But the marketing guy says, screw it, give it away!

So what do you think? Where do you stand on the subject? What’s your take? Is giving away a part of a trilogy a viable marketing strategy, or cheapening the work? Or should you just give an entire 150K word novel away free? By giving product away for free, am I likely to attract perennially dissatisfied cheapskates who expect everything for free, and who troll the kindle store and the web for freebies? I can certainly appreciate that there’s a subset of folks that expect everything for nothing, just as there’s a subset who sue when coffee is served hot. I naively believe in human nature, and believe that most people will not have a problem buying work once they believe it has the quality they’re looking for. Yes, there will always be those looking to take advantage, or who feel entitled to everything for free because they’ve gotten free stuff before, but in the end, I think most adults, and certainly most erudite adults sufficiently literate to read a lot, are basically fair, and will have no problem exchanging value for value. There will always be predators and malcontents, but I tend to believe most aren’t.

But where do you stand? What do you think? What are you willing to do to get exposure, and what aren’t you?

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