Tag:

Free

For Father’s Day, I decided to participate in a different kind of promotion than what I’ve been doing lately.

As we’ve covered in so much detail over the last few blog posts, free is winding down, so other than my last few promos that were already scheduled for my older titles (yes, some of those are ancient, and came out as long as ten months ago!) I haven’t got much going on into the summer other than writing and editing – a seemingly endless task.

So when my fellow author and pal Andy Holloman suggested a novel sort of promo, I though, hey, as my blood results and the slew of tattoos and scars attests to, I like to drink and try new things. Why not this?

And so it was that I woke up this morning to find myself participating in the FreeBooks4Dad promo. The idea is that this enables you to do something better than getting pops the usual crap pattern polyester tie or bucket of price-slashed spicy chicken wings at Hooters.

The way it works is this: You purchase one of the eligible books (obviously, I’d hope you would buy mine, but that’s just the greedy parasite in me talking) listed at the site and you get the other five free!!! Wow, you say, how does he do that? The answer, is of course, volume.

Actually, a group of like-minded authors grouped together to add a title to this promo in the hopes of creating something different that could work to everyone’s benefit – sort of like inventing game theory, without the maudlin Ron Howard script treatment and outdated meds (sorry, Russell, tough love).

It will be interesting to me to see if this does anything, as it seems like a viable strategy for promotions. As opposed to just giving away twenty thousand free books over a few days and hoping that the inevitably ensuing one star reviews will at least turn on spellchecker.

This promo will be live through Sunday, so if you’ve ever wanted to accumulate a sh#tload of quality books at a nominal price, perhaps this is up your alley. As with voting in Chicago, vote early and often, with your wallet. And remember that if you buy my book, I’ll be able to have that lifesaving operation I’ve been on the fence about. Not to pressure you or anything.

Share

Continue reading

9 Jun 2012, by

I Care

I care a lot.

I really do. About many things. Mostly, about how much abuse one’s liver can take, and whether it’s possible to collect the social security payments of one’s deceased neighbors in a foreign country. But other things, too.

One of the things I’ve found myself caring about lately is the wisdom of making my work free periodically. I speak to many authors, and most are concerned about the creation of a culture that doesn’t value our work. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, I can’t wait for that to go free so I can read it” after hearing that one of my books has been rated well. Often, that sort of a statement comes from another author.

++++++++++++++

NEW! Three Questions – a hyper-short interview with Van Heerling. Worth a moment of your time.

WOW! 5 star rave from The Kindle Book Review for The Geronimo Breach is truly worth reading

BOX BOX BABY: What’s that,  you ask? Why don’t I have any box sets? I do now! Three of my enduring faves at a 20% discount!

++++++++++++++

Which raises the question of whether we have created an environment where the very thing we do, which is write, is considered near, or completely, without worth. My hunch is that there is a decent audience out there that hasn’t bought a book in months. Why would you, if every day thousands go free? Doesn’t really make much sense to, does it?

I’m not sure what to do about it, as there is still merit to putting one’s work free via KDP Select, albeit at a 10% effectiveness rate of what it was 2 months ago. But you see 20K downloads, and then a net increase in sales of 200 books, does the incremental financial gain justify the damage that is done by creating an ocean of free content? Specifically, are we causing our own demise chasing nominal sales bumps?

Some argue that it’s all good, and that we shouldn’t fret all the free content. That the majority of readers still will pay for content they find worthwhile. Perhaps, but my sneaking suspicion is that a fair percentage of the small minority that were willing to take a chance on an indie name have converted to those who will do so, but won’t pay. I’m not sure what percentage of that group is no longer buying books, but my hunch is that it’s substantial. I know this because I haven’t bought a book in about four months, and most of my friends who read haven’t either. And we used to – before December, when the free thing hit. But now, I’ve got so much content waiting to be read, I haven’t bought anything for a while.

Now, some might say that makes me a bad man. Others claim I’m bad for a lot of other reasons, but that’s not my point. Whatever I am, I’m probably typical of a fair number of folks out there. I mean, I want to and understand why it’s important to support other authors by buying their books. And yet I haven’t. Actually, I take that back – I bought three this year so far. But last year I probably bought thirty.

Maybe I’m alone in this. Maybe everyone else is buying like crazy. But I suspect not – unless you’re a romance author, in which case you’re occupying most of the top 40 indie slots and your books are selling like coke at Studio 54 (how’s that for a dated reference?). Most of my author acquaintances aren’t selling very well over the last 45 days. Most are complaining that their sales are off by 50% or more over the last 2 or 3 months – and I’m talking around a hundred authors. Now, nothing scientific here, but if only a few out of a hundred are doing anywhere near what they were in April, then that’s not seasonality, or genre, or fickle markets. That’s a trend.

For that reason, I cancelled my plans to put my new release, Return of the Assassin, free when I launched it at the end of May. And my newest WIP, tentatively titled Silver Justice and targeted for a July 4 release, probably won’t ever go free. Neither will the next WIP, Jet. Because in the end, the hoped-for sales bump that was the lure for doing the free thing isn’t nearly as meaningful as it was, and I now see no evidence that giving away 150K free books (that’s about how many I’ve given away this year) is worth the potential damage it causes to my brand. When giving away 20K books translated into an extra 2K in sales at $5, that made sense. For an extra 200, not so much. And it fosters an environment that is counter-productive long term.

My goal in writing is to write the best work I can. My goal in running a self-publishing business is to sell enough books to make it worth doing. My business goal is to have a dozen or more paid  thriller titles available by year’s end (not counting deliberately free books like Night of the Assassin or the first book in Delphi). My thinking is that if I can sell a reasonable number of each title at a reasonable profit, that’s a decent business. It’s not a get rich quick business, and it’s not an easy business, but it’s one that could be sustainable and might build over time – one would expect sales dollars with twenty competent thrillers out to exceed what one would see from ten, and so on.

Free is antipodal to my long term goal.

My long term goal is to continue writing and make a decent return for my efforts. I can’t see how free will do anything but perpetuate a negative from here on out. I have a few free promos for the month, but I think that’s it for me. The extra few hundred books I might sell isn’t worth the long term damage I believe free is causing to the perceived value of books. That’s an emotional response, but I think it’s a legitimate one. And I don’t think I’m alone in that observation. We all delighted in the sales spike free brought before the algorithm change over a month ago. I know I did. Those were heady times. But they’re over. And now, like most drunk jags, we have to deal with the hangover. And this will be quite a hangover, I think. I believe we’re already seeing it in indie sales. Take a look at the Amazon Top 100 today. What percentage are trad pub or magazines? A quick glance says a much larger chunk that two months ago. I count 24 indie titles in the top 100, of which 80-90% or so are romance novels. The rest are trad pub. That is about 75% trad pub. I don’t think it was nearly that high a few months ago. Am I wrong?

So where does that leave me as an indie author? I’m still writing. I will still be putting out another five novels this year. Already know which ones I intend to write – Silver Justice, Jet, Fatal Deception, a Delphi sequel and an Assassin sequel. Already finished SJ, and will be editing for the next few weeks before launching into Jet. Next year, more like three novels. Maybe four. More of a sane pace. If you call that pace sane.

That’s where my thinking is today. I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow. But I probably won’t. Unless I do.

Share

Continue reading

17 May 2012, by

How it works

Funny thing has happened of late.

Many midlist indie authors who were ranked fairly well fell into a black hole around the first of the month, and their sales never recovered. A few of my titles did the same thing.

I found it suspicious that all of a sudden, one day, several of my titles could drop from being ranked in the 2000 area to the 6000-8000 level.

Seemed weird to me.

++++++++++++

WOW!!! New 5 star rave from The Kindle Book Review for The Geronimo Breach is truly worth reading.

GUEST BLOG: Sex. How much is too much? Yes, I’m writing about sex this time around.

NEW: Author Spotlight with screenwriter and novelist Lee Chambers! First of the season.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE REDUX: What’s that  you say? Why don’t I have any box sets? I do now! Three of my enduring faves at a 20% discount!

++++++++++++

Equally odd was how several of my other titles could sell 60% less than a few of my fellow authors’ books, and yet be ranked higher. I saw that multiple times. It wasn’t a glitch.

So I developed a theory.

As theories go, it wasn’t much. I posited that Amazon must have changed more than the way free units were accounted for around the end of April. I guessed that they had started basing ranking on dollars, not on units.

That gut feeling has been validated, at least partially. You can see an excellent blog on the topic here. I won’t duplicate effort by belaboring its points. Just read it.

This marks a turning point for indie authors. Amazon’s apparent tinkering with their algorithms has just made the now poor counsel to price your books at .99 a disastrous one. Besides undervaluing your work (unless it’s crap, in which case, you know your work better than I) it is now a recipe for lower ranking, and poor sales. Self-fulfilling prophecy, that.

I have mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, I believe that the .99 cent thing was a shoddy gimmick and poor branding. And it will now be even worse for anyone who followed the advice, because as I’ve said numerous times, it is very hard to move from being a .99 author to one where your work can command many times that amount. So not only are you now facing the whammy of having to sell 5 times as many books as a $5 book to rank the same (at least on popularity lists – don’t know what the future holds for bestseller lists), you don’t have any pricing power for your work, as you’ve valued it at a third of the price of a cup of big city coffee. On the other hand, I wonder how we indie authors will get any visibility, if Amazon is calculating ranking based on list price, not on sales price, as it would appear they are doing. That gives the trad pub gang, and Amazon’s own trad pub label, a huge advantage, as they can list price a book at $14 even if the actual selling price is $7. If I am correct and that artificially inflated price is the one the algorithms recognize as the “price” of a unit sold, then the game is forever rigged in favor of trad pub books. They will virtually always place better on some of the lists, if not most.

Is this the end of the world?

Not really. It just means that the crack high of free books and boom times from the associated promotions are largely over for indie authors. Because now that Amazon has won the war for market share and dominance, it is going to get down to making money. And a $10 title makes it a lot more than a $3 title. So which would you focus your efforts on selling if you were the company? To me it’s obvious. You go where the money is. Companies are not in business to better humanity or prove points. They are commercial enterprises whose sole reason for existence is to make a profit. I get it.

I don’t think Amazon is targeting indie authors for extinction in any way. I think that many will become extinct as a byproduct of this, though. Which brings me back to my blogs of six months or so ago. About why you write. To repeat myself, if you write because you hope to hit it big, or even make a decent living, you are writing for the wrong reasons, as the odds say you’ll starve. To me, that’s the wrong reason to write.

If, however, you wish to open a self-publishing business, where you create a product you hope to sell enough of to recoup your investment of time and money, and generate a profit, you need to care about these developments, as they radically impact your chances of succeeding. My own company included.

In the end, I think we can safely assume that Amazon will do what’s best for Amazon, just as your company will do what’s best for you. That’s how things work. But if you are still hoping to use last month’s strategy of going free to boost sales, or are thinking that cheap will translate into sales success, you’re badly mistaken, and will learn the hard way.

Or you can read this blog, and know about trends real time. Or at least, as soon as I become aware of them.

Good luck out there. For what it’s worth, I also believe that free is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur. It still has a tiny bit of life in it, but it’s on life support, and I bet it is dead within 30 days. I’ve pulled all but one of my promos for that reason.

Oh, and check out my new boxed set below. It will build strong teeth and bones, and keep Satan from your door. Mostly. Mileage may vary.

As always, if you want the artist’s contact info, drop me a line.

Until next time, go buy a bunch of my crap. Buy two. I need to pay my bar tab.

Share

Continue reading

Sales for every author I know have been dumping since March, on a month over month basis. This could be due to seasonality, but I suspect that it has far more to do with changing consumer behavior. We, as authors, have trained readers that they don’t have to buy books. They can just wait for them to go free. What kind of chump pays for a book when they can get the same thing for free, fer chrissakes?

I’ve heard this again and again. So while free has been good for some authors (like me) in the short term, in the longer term, it has established a new kind of hoarding behavior where the value of the work is degraded. We have done this to ourselves. We have seen the enemy, and it is us.

I’m guilty of it. Most I know are, too.

And sales across the board are languishing. Since Amazon changed the algorithms, my sales are down 35% from April, which were down about that much from March (which were almost 5X what Feb and Jan were, so can’t complain too much). The difference is the free promotions, or rather, the success thereof. In March, I would do a free promo, see 15K downloads in two days, and the sales would boom to couple hundred a day of that title for four to five days, then slow gradually, maybe hundred and fifty day six, hundred day seven, sixty day eight, and then settle into a “long tail” where they would bottom at around fifteen to twenty a day by week three.

The point is that by running a free promo every week, I would see that spike on one title per week, which was an extra eight hundred to thousand books a week. Averaged across a month, that was four thousand books. That’s a lot of books.

Now, though, I have done three different promos in three weeks, and seen 10K per free promo, I’ve seen sales struggle to maybe 20% of what I saw in March and early April, with the fall happening much faster. I believe that’s because of how the books appear on Amazon’s lists – they aren’t getting favorable placement any more, due to the algorithm change. So now you are invisible to readers, just as you were before, except for maybe one or two days of placing far down a list that has also been changed, again, as noted in earlier blogs.

That would argue for pulling out of KDP Select. No more free lunch. No benefit. And an actual harmful net effect.

And yet, I am staying in, for now, even if I’m not going to do many more free days.

Why, you ask?

Loans. As of April, Amazon increased the loan fee for each borrow to just a hair shy of $2.50. So if you get 1000 borrows, there’s an extra $2500. It’s actually not extra, as it cannibalizes a sale, but at $2.50 net, what do I care? That’s great compensation on a net basis (even if you have your book at $3.99, you won’t see $2.50 average net, as all the affiliate and non-US territory sales cut into that at a 35% commission rate, as opposed to 70%, blending out at more like $2.25 on average across a month). To my thinking, I’m now being compensated as if all my titles that are borrowed were retailing at $4.50 or so. That’s a sweet deal. Sweet enough to have me keeping my titles in the program to reap that reward.

I see about 30% borrows to sales. Sell 1000, you see roughly 300-350 borrows. How does that suck? Well, you are foregoing nook and other platform sales (although not really, if someone is willing to convert the MOBI and you haven’t enabled digital rights management). But no way are my nook sales 30% of my total.

One tell is that my UK sales have now grown to be 30-40% of my mix. But they don’t have borrows there. That would explain why sales have been growing even as US sales are falling. Far fewer seem to take advantage of free promotions there, and they can’t benefit from loans, so they just buy the books. I also note that the refund rate is far lower. In the US, I see roughly 1.75-2.25% returns. Doesn’t matter what title. That’s the average. I used to think it was because some were offended by language or politics or religion, but no – my dog bio sees the same returns as my most controversial work. In the UK, the return rate is more like around .25 percent. Perhaps there’s just a philosophy in the US of refunding things for whatever reason. Perhaps UK Amazon’s return policy is harder. Dunno. I just know that UK readers seem to whine less, return less, and buy more.

Viva the UK!

So what does this all mean for authors? Free is over, as I said before, unless you consider a 10%-20% effect worth it. Instead of seeing 150 books day two, you’ll maybe see 20-30. And that’s if you placed in the top 40 free overall. There will be exceptions, but that’s become the new rule, so free as a mechanism to increase sales due to the heightened visibility of the free/paid cycle is done. I do think the negative is that it is going to be a long time before the fringe crowd that would pay to read a new indie title does so – why buy when you have 100 free titles already on your kindle? That fringe buyer is who many of us were courting, and they are largely out of the game. Hence, sales slump, in addition to seasonality. And what you are trading for that extra 20-30 books sold for 5 days, is the death of your longer term sales market. Seems like a dumb tradeoff, to me, anyway. Maybe it’s worth it to some. But only, by my math, if you plan to sell maybe 200 books total per title. Otherwise, free is a bad deal now.

My tactic moving forward will be to run out the clock on the promotions I have scheduled, keep my books in KDP Select, but not offer them free. I will do this for the $2.50, no other reason. And if that declines, I’ll be out completely, focusing on other promotional tools.

And writing.

I think the single biggest differentiator I have from most of my peers who started publishing when I did, is my large and growing backlist. I’m so convinced that makes a difference I have committed to writing five more novels this year, if it kills me. I think once you have critical mass of, say, 15 paid titles, there is a lot more chance for someone to stumble upon one of your works. And when they do, they might work their way through all your books, which translates into considerably higher revenue over the long term. Because you have gained a reader, not made a sale.

In the long run, and I’m talking years or decades, I believe making a living as an author will come down to supplying consistently high quality work in the genre your readers like and want. Promotions, pricing, giveaways, hype – all are good, but nothing will build a career like putting your head down and writing as well as you are able. Not as fast as you can, but as well as you can, at a sustainable rate. So if you can only get out one or two novels a year, my advice would be prepare to do that for the next five years, and dig in for the long haul. That’s what I’m doing. My magic number is to have 15 paid titles, then next year I will back it off to maybe 3 or 4 books a year from there on out. Because it’s not like I don’t have enough titles out. But all of last year, I felt hunted and driven, because a part of me said, “You need more.”

Turns out that was right.

I have been told that summer will be miserable from a sales standpoint, and also, in the same discussion, that sales will increase due to summer beach reads being bought. My gut says free saturated a lot of those discretionary indie beach read purchases, but I hope I’m wrong. However that may turn out, I’ll still write my five more books, and be gearing up for the Dec-March boom again.

Because Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor will any career be. Unless you’re a Kardashian. Meh.

Speaking of shameless self-promotion, check out my new box set – that’s a lot of books for a lousy ten bucks. As always, the art was done by my usual guy, whose contact info can be yours for the asking.

Share

Continue reading

The crazy, mad crack high of free books is now officially over.

I can’t say for sure, but I am about 99% confident that Amazon has made changes to its algorithms, so instead of seeing massive spikes in sales coming off free, you will see a paltry spike, if that.

I have several friends who just came off free in the last week, saw 15K downloads, and saw a marginal increase in their sales – maybe 10% of what they would have seen a month ago.

+++++++++++

BREAKING NEWS: New interview with Kevin Rau and yours truly. Because it’s all about me.

NEWS: An excellent new blog featuring my thoughts on promotions by @inkwellHQ. A good read.

MORE NEWS: New book review for King of Swords sequel, Revenge of the Assassin, by bestselling author Steven Konkoly.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE TWO: A lengthy interview wherein I cover everything from the war on drugs, to central banking, to writing.

+++++++++++

I just did the same thing with Zero Sum. Actually, that was an odd one. I think Amazon hates Zero Sum. Remember that it “lost” the book for 24 hours, trashing the ranking when it “found it.” Went from #1300 or so to #8500, and never recovered. Nice. Thank you, Amazon. Whoops!

But this time, Amazon didn’t pull it off free at midnight when it was supposed to, at the end of day two. No, 12 hours into day three, and it was still free. Which made the promotions I’d scheduled a moot point. But it saw over 10K downloads and hit #30 overall. So not terrible. Certainly not bad for the third time it’s gone free.

Day one paid, I priced it at .99 for one day, to boost paid sales on the critical first 24 hours, when the algorithms used to give a sh#t. I saw a whopping 100 sales at .99, versus 350-500 on similar promos just a few months ago. So not as large a bump – maybe a quarter or less what April might have brought. Then, in the first 24 hours at a discounted price of $3.47, I saw 21 sales.

To put that into perspective, the book typically sells 20 a day. Some days 15, some 25.

So a modest effect on deeply discounting the book, and then virtually nothing once at normal price.

Two months ago, I was seeing 150 a day following a free promotion at full price, and that lasted 7 days. Now, not so much.

Thus, the giddy days of big sales from going free are officially over. I’m hearing similar tales from everyone I know. So it’s O-V-E-R. We’ll have to come up with something new.

I won’t be doing any more free promos if there’s no lift from the free days. Makes no sense. I’ve already seen well over 150K of my books downloaded free over he last 6 months, so another 10K of one title or another ain’t going to bring in the tide of readers. I’ll run out the clock on the existing promos, and collect the loan fees on the borrows – which DO offset sales, contrary to some claims to the contrary (I’ve seen it now for several months, where the first few days of the month borrows go through the roof, and sales drop by precisely the same amount – makes sense, as those folks are waiting for their free book from Select, rather than buying the title). But as to breaking big on a book because of free, I believe that’s finito. It was certainly fun while it lasted. But now the hangover sets in.

I wonder how long it will take others to figure this out? My prediction is 30-60 days, if they don’t read this blog. Allow me to be the first to proclaim the end of the free era on Amazon. Long live the new, new thing. Whatever that might be.

Share

Continue reading

Amazon’s KDP Select program, and its feature of enabling authors to make a book free for a few days, has treated me well. Since participating in it my sales have boomed and stayed high long after the giddy glow of free is over. So what could possibly be the negative?

Glad you asked. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much reason to write this blog, other than to tout my crap in unabashedly self-promotional fashion. Which I will do, early and often, but that’s besides the point.

As every one is by now aware, if you rank fairly high on your free days, you see a bump in sales for four or so days after, due to the Amazon algorithms treating free downloads the same as paid downloads for the purposes of things like the Movers and Shakers list, as well as “also bought” recommendations. That exposes your book to a whole new universe of potential readers, some of who will buy your book to give it a whirl. All good. Everybody wins. Or do they?

+++++++++++++

NEWS: New book review for King of Swords sequel, Revenge of the Assassin, by bestselling author Steven Konkoly.

MORE NEWS: Book review for pet biography An Angel With Fur from Pets Weekly.

+++++++++++++

One well documented downside to putting your book up for free for the majority of authors is the dreaded one star review – the drive-by slam that slags your work, often written as though the reviewer didn’t even bother reading it, by a reviewer who’s never reviewed anything else. My pet theory is that free exposes you to readers who would never buy your book and for whom it was never intended – they don’t like the genre, or they don’t like whatever the topic or underlying theme is, etc. But because it was free, they loaded up their kindle with whatever was hot on the lists, and then they started reading, and…blech. That book sucks.

Sometimes a book sucks. In fact, books often suck. Sucking isn’t unknown with indie books, where authors may have failed to get professional editing or proofing, and manuscripts can read more like incoherent first drafts than finished product. Typos, grammatical issues, continuity problems, echoes…and on and on.

But professionally executed books also get one star reviews, invariably after going free. Often, the review will say something like, “I don’t normally read erotica because of all the sex, but I thought I’d give Spank Happy Oiled Gladiators a try, and was reminded of why these books suck a bag of d#cks. I couldn’t finish it. Ugh.”

What we have here is a failure to communicate. (Note that I am not saying that low reviews are always, or even mostly, unwarranted. Everyone has different tastes, so one person reads Da Vinci Code and finds it gripping, and another finds it sub-custodial twaddle. That’s what makes a market. No, what I’m describing is well documented – the spate of one and two star reviews that invariably follow a free promotion, on a book that has universally gotten only positive reviews until then – where the consensus is that it’s a decent example of the breed)

The free reader who is leaving that one star slam wouldn’t have purchased the book, ever. It’s safe to say that reader wasn’t the audience it was written for. But free brought them to it, and now they feel they must share their dislike of it with the world. Hence the one star reviews after free. It’s just a theory, but my hunch is that if you are willing to pay $4 for the epic tale of greased up, corporal punishment-crazed warriors, you know what you’re buying, and thus are more accustomed to the norms in the genre, the content, etc.

It’s rare that I put a book free and don’t see the one star effect. Many authors dread it. I tend to be more philosophical. Free brings out all kinds, many of whom aren’t going to ever like anything you write, or in your chosen genre, because the filtering mechanism that is the reader laying down his/her money to read the work has been eliminated. Just as readers get everything from complete drivel to brilliant discoveries when they download a bunch of free books, authors get a mixed bag of readers from free – from “U ar a stoopid riter and ur buk suks!” to “Scintillating, salubrious sophistry structured with sartorial slyness.”

That’s just how it is. Welcome to the free book binge.

The other negative I’ve seen is that the fringe buyer for indie books, the reader at the margins who might have been willing to give a new author a test drive in exchange for a few bucks, now doesn’t. Instead, they download free books. Their kindles are clogged with books they will never have the time to read, but they can’t help themselves. It’s free, GD it! Getcher free stuff while you can! Obviously, poop and dirt are free, too, but most don’t load up and eat it just because there’s no cost. But the problem is that there is a glut of content that has taken those fringe readers out of the mix for indie authors, as they’re struggling to digest 1000 free books, and so aren’t buying anything right now. I believe that’s substantially contributed to the lower sales I’ve heard so much about over the last 30-60 days from many name indie authors. These aren’t folks struggling to sell a few dozen books. They are established authors with plenty of titles who are well regarded. And yet their sales are down, across the board, by at least 40-50%.

My pet theory is that this is the inevitable effect of free, and it will likely take the remainder of 2012 to rinse through the system.

What will stop the race to free for authors is the other negative nobody likes to discuss in polite company – namely, that the “bump in sales” effect free can create has gone from hundreds or thousands of sales, to only a few. The market has absorbed the promotional technique, and it’s no longer effective – just as other techniques worked until they didn’t – think .99 for an example.

In 2010, .99 was almost a guarantee of massive downloads. In 2011, not so much, and in 2012, it’s hit or mostly miss, at best. You still see some authors doing it, because they are reading “how to” books written in 2011 about what worked in 2010, but most quality authors don’t like the idea of making 1/6 the revenue at 35% commission on .99 as they would on 70% commission at $2.99. So it has lost effectiveness for two reasons – readers believe (often correctly) that .99 equates to barely readable dross, and authors believe that they are giving away their work at that price, undervaluing their product to no good purpose. Some still do it and are successful, so whatever, but most don’t anymore if they have any pricing power at all.

Free is great until it isn’t, and readers finally figure out that there’s a resource more precious than a few dollars: time. If they can pay $5 and be guaranteed of a read that gives them 10 hours of well-executed escape, that’s a better value than poring through dozens of marginal or worse books they got at no cost, only to delete them after the first twenty or thirty pages. Time is a commodity that doesn’t replenish, so in the end, I believe that most discerning readers will pay an equitable price for competent work. What that price winds up being is debatable. But it won’t be free, and likely won’t be .99, except as limited time promotions.

And now we come to the crassly commercial part of the blog. Check out the new cover below – I’m in the process of redoing the covers for Zero Sum, Fatal Exchange and Geronimo, and am almost done, so if that’s what you’ve been waiting for, get your credit card ready. That’s it for my blatant self-promotion for this episode. Now go buy something.

So there’s your installment of the view of the literary marketplace as seen through a tequila shot glass on the beach in Mexico. As with all things, your mileage may vary. In the end, the only things you can really control are the quality of the writing, the level of professionalism of your finished product, and the number of hours you invest in marketing. The rest is up to a finicky and randomly chaotic universe, so don’t quit your day job…

 

Share

Continue reading

My last blog focused on the positives and negatives of the Amazon KDP Select scheme, particularly pertaining to the loan fees and how they compare to outright sales commissions on higher priced books.

This blog will focus more on the value of the actual promotions, and explore what, if any, benefit one can hope to garner by giving away thousands of books. I’ll do this by describing my own experiences with one of the titles I made free.

Last month, I dipped my toe in the water by making The Geronimo Breach free for three days. During that time, I saw about 12K downloads. Not too shabby. Then, when it went back to paid, a funny thing happened. After languishing for the first day, it shot like a rocket, finally hitting #165 in the paid kindle store.

All good. Or rather, all should have been good. One problem was that the book was .99 rather than $3.99, due to price matching with Barnes, which after three weeks still hadn’t taken the book down, even after numerous e-mails. And .99 was the wrong price anyway, but I digress. The point is that Amazon’s software matched it, so folks were downloading 500+ books a day at .99.

Sales peaked at day 3-4 of being paid, and then started dropping off, bottoming at week three or so.

At the time, I didn’t know what to make of the data. I was frantic on day 5 – what was going wrong? Why did God hate me? Were the clowns behind it? What gave?

Turns out that this is a very predictable and knowable cycle for those who have done free days. Reason is because the Amazon algorithms pick up on the ranking from when it was free, and begin featuring the book on their recommendations pages about, you guessed it, 24 hours after going back to paid, as well as in the “also bought” strip at the bottom of other books your shoppers picked up. Over the next two to three days, love is in the air, and sales roll in. But then the book, whatever it is, gets pushed off to the second tier to make room for the more recent titles that did well since then. And the buying from folks Amazon was presenting you to dries up, little by little, and you’re back to your old run rate. Sort of like being a Hollywood starlet who briefly dates a celebrity, you have to be satisfied with and enjoy your moment in the sun, because it won’t last.

But knowing this presents an opportunity. It suggests a way to play the game so you can win, if you’re an author. Specifically, you can understand the phenomenon and capitalize on it. How? By running another free promotion 4 to 5 weeks after the first one. Maybe at 6 weeks, maybe at 3 1/2. Depends on sales. But you can repeat the performance.

Let’s go back to The Geronimo Breach. Thursday, it went free for 24 hours. It saw 10K+ downloads, and hit #11 in the Amazon free store last night. Most of the day, it, and one of my other free titles, The Delphi Chronicle, were #2 and #5 in Kindle free Action/Adventure.

That’s the second promotion, and it was more successful than the first – 10K in one day versus 12K in three. And the best part? I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t do anything. Because I’d forgotten I was going to run it, and only figured it out halfway through the day when I checked my rankings. So that was with no social media at all, other than a few tweets from some friends (thanks Claude!) and being listed as free on several websites that picked it up. One of the best I’ve found for thrillers being Epic Kindle Giveaway (I follow it on Twitter at @eBookSwag), as well as The Digital Inkspot, and Digital Book Today. Others that may or may not pick it up are Cheap Kindle Daily, Pixels of Ink, and a host of others. Google them for a complete listing. There seem to be new ones every week. Most are very good for what they are, and save a lot of time.

I am now at day one of The Geronimo Breach being back to paid. Before the promotion, I was #9K-#11K overall. Today, so far, I’m at #2300 or so. At $3.49 – a sale off my usual $3.99 price to encourage folks to buy over the weekend. I’m sure if I lowered the price to .99 it would sell a lot more books, but given that I would need to sell 8 times more books at .99 to see the same revenue as at $3.49, I question whether it’s a smart idea. I also don’t want to brand myself as a buck a book author. Lord knows that is played, and there are more than enough of them out there. We shall see how sales go as of late this evening and tomorrow, but I’d say the trend is positive at this point. Even if it only stays at 2300 for four days, hey, that’s an improvement over where it was, and there are 10K more people with it on their kindle now – probably the most important thing for an author like me, who has a slew of titles and is adding to them seemingly every month. Because I believe the primary value of free is familiarizing readers with the work.

To put that into perspective, I’ve had around 70K free downloads of my work since I started giving books away. That’s a lot of downloads. A lot of folks who can decide they love, hate, or are ambivalent about me.

What is the takeaway from all this? Do Select freebie promos every 4 to 6 weeks, don’t freak out when day one sucks or starts slow (remember the algorithm, my friend) and then promote the hell out of it days 1-5 of it being paid. Recognize that the decline in sales over the next two weeks isn’t a function of an angry and vengeful deity singling you out for persecution, or that word of mouth has spread and your book sucks (I mean, either are possible, but not a given, is my point), or anything else. It’s a function of the Amazon algorithms having moved to new, fresher, more exciting faces.

Think of that first 4 or 5 days as your time at the bar where everyone wants to buy you drinks. Day 6 on is where a new kid on the block captures everyone’s attention, until you are ultimately yesterday’s news. Unlike the dating world, though, you can repeat the performance over and over (well, I suppose that is a little like dating – wink) and hopefully see a higher trough each time you decline. Then again, I’ve also heard that the effectiveness of the free days diminishes for a title each time through the cycle, so there is probably a point where it won’t work any more. But cross that bridge when you come to it.

For now, if you’re in the program, make hay while the sun is shining.

Share

Continue reading

12 Feb 2012, by

Future Shock

I had an interesting short discussion tonight, the topic of which was where the hell the world is going. Specifically, where the world of books/publishing is going.

A major concern for many authors is the free & .99 book phenomenon. One person advanced the idea that the whole pricing model will wind up being free (or almost free) for all content, essentially shutting out most authors who hope to make a livable income writing. Ultimately, if you can’t get paid to write, many will bow out, leaving only those who write for passion publishing their work. And of course, not paying for things like editing and covers, because there’s no way to recoup the investment.

Perhaps.

Another wag chimed in that the future is likely to be ads on kindle, or some other mechanism whereby authors can get paid for creating decent work. I suspect that will be closer to the truth. Or at least, I hope it will. Looking at the glut of demo tapes parading as “free” content from every musician with a sampler and shareware editing software, and seeing how robust the music business continues to be a decade after all was supposed to be lost because of CD purchases going the way of the Constitution, I tend to think we’ll adapt. Amazon isn’t going to want to be in the book biz long term to give it away for free. Even if that has been the short term effect on the indie publishing business of their KDP program.

I think we’re all seeing, as authors, the impact of KDP making free an option for everyone with an ebook. Which has created a glut. Ditto for the marketing guidance that one should price one’s wares at .99 – it’s interesting that even the pundits espousing the wisdom of .99 are now struggling to make decent sales at the $2.99 point, having lived in a .99 purgatory for long enough, it would seem.

I’ve played with pricing. I think there’s a place on a book introduction for a short time to price at .99. How long is more art than science – and even then, I believe only until you’ve established a reputation as being worth more. I was at #165 in total paid kindle sales with The Geronimo Breach for a few giddy days in January at .99 as a cheapskate promotion. When I raised the price, sales dropped off. Now, I realize there are many factors that could have affected sales besides pricing. Other offerings hitting. Saturation of those interested in giving me a whirl that week. A belief I suck harder than a Hoover. Whatever. Next time around, maybe I’ll keep my .99 book on an intro or a special for a few weeks, rather than a few days. We live and learn. I don’t think it’s going to much affect my overall trajectory. King of Swords, I went out with at $4.99. Sales are decent and trending higher. My $3.99 roster are selling well, if not briskly.

I’ll try .99 again in a while, maybe on Geronimo, or with another book. Maybe The Voynich Cypher when I release around first week of March, although I’m inclined to price it at $4.99 right out of the gate. I’ll be asking a lot of opinions before I do. But I will state that I’m disinclined to offer all my books on a rotating basis for free, or .99.

The market, ultimately, will decide what my books, and yours, are worth. It’s a weighing machine, that pesky market is. A product is worth whatever the market will pay for it. No more, no less. You can create liquidity (sales) by lowering the price, but if you want to maintain brand integrity, price wars are a lousy way to go. It’s best to just know what the product is really worth, and not try to get more, or less, for any length of time, as that will establish what the market perceives your brand as being worth. It’s either cheap crap, or overpriced. You won’t be able to please everyone. But if you have a good sense what other similar books are selling for in the same genre at the same level of writing and production/editing/cover, you should know what yours is worth.

My caution is if you are selling it for .99 when the “real” authors are at $4 or $5 or higher, you need to rethink what you’re doing, because you might be digging a hole you can never get out of, and tarnishing our work out of the gate.

One thing I do believe is that there’s value for mainstream readers in having a filtering mechanism to sort through all the dross and find quality books. It’s no secret that many free or cheap books are lousy, or marginal. People are generally surprised when they aren’t. I believe there will ultimately be a value proposition someone will pay for to find the decent, so they don’t have to sort through 100 duds to find a winner. What that mechanism is, I’m not sure. It’s not going to be Big 6 traditional publishing houses trying to get $12.99 for something that is presumably reasonably edited, and may also suck. There’s value in the filter, but for many, not THAT much value. Somewhere, my hunch says in the $5 range, there may be a middle ground. I don’t pretend to know. Or maybe the business will go to the ad driven model, where advertisers pay to be in your book based on the demand. Whatever it is, there will be a mechanism whereby authors of merit get paid. It’s just the intermediaries that will make a lot less. At least, that would be my hope.

Having said that, I do think that free is here to stay, until Amazon pulls the plug on it. At some point they’ll look at their overall book sales declining versus whatever they hoped to make off KDP, and some bright lad will figure out that it’s not a good direction. Or maybe not. I have two titles for free at the moment, purely as promotional loss leaders, and ironically, neither in KDP – the philosophy behind my free titles being that if you try my work, a substantial portion of you will not mind parting with the cost of a cup of coffee for more of it. So far that’s working, but I’m not sure how I’d feel if I only had one or two titles. I’d probably be railing against the free thing. Maybe not.

I waffle on all this quite a bit. For a while, I believed that all content would eventually get to the .99 point, as in the music model created by Apple. But that ignores that a song is 3 minutes of entertainment, whereas a novel is many hours. So maybe not. Maybe most readers won’t find it burdensome to pay $3-$5 or whatever for an author whose work they like and trust. I’m quite sure there will always exist a segment that won’t pay for anything, and believes that everything should be free – except of course, whatever it is they do for a living. They howl like spanked dogs if you propose they work for free – it’s just everyone else that should. That segment will always exist, as it has with music – but I note that Eminem isn’t quitting and getting a day gig as a result of all the free demos masquerading as finished product.

So what do you think? What’s going to happen? Are we going to be living in a world of free content, where the real talents fold up their tents and sell real estate instead of books? Or will there be an alternative mechanism to monetize the work, just as there is now an alternative delivery system to dead trees for pages? I tend to think the latter. Or maybe that’s just hope.

What do you think? What will the future look like?

+++++++++++++++

Update Two: At the end of day three of my Twitter moratorium, sales are basically unchanged, as is the trend. Blog traffic, however, has dropped by 40%, signalling that Twitter is an effective way to market it. Also, I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and messages from folks who chimed in to point out that they’d have never heard of me if not for Twitter, thus it works, or did on them. Therefore, I think it’s valid to resume tweeting, but at a reduced rate. How’s that for waffling? Didn’t affect sales, did affect blog traffic, unknown on how much it affected would-be buyers – that’s the sales growth part of the curve. How many more people would have bought? I mean, I can assume none, but that assumes a static market, which it ain’t. So my approach will be akin to some people’s approach to prayer: can’t hurt. There are no atheists on Amazon.

Update: Two days into my Twitter holiday, my sales are basically flat with where they were with dozens of promotional tweets per day a week before. I’ll give it one more day, and if still flat, will be scaling back my Twitter presence to some product specific promotional tweets, a few review reprises, and mostly just me shooting the breeze with whatever comes to mind whenever I have a break. Nude ice dancing and clown warfare included. Interesting, as I would have expected a huge drop off. But reality is that  Sunday, the last day of 50+ tweets per day effort, was down from Sunday a week before by 10%. Monday was off by 13%, and Tuesday was up by 4%. Which tells me what everyone else has been saying is likely correct – social media saturation is ultimately meaningless, and perhaps accounts for 10% of sales, once you’re established. After three days of it (assuming similar results manana) I think it’s safe to say that I don’t need to live on Twitter. There’s no point. That should be freeing for those of us who have been doing so. That’s all for now.

 

Share

Continue reading

15 Jan 2012, by

Free Lunch

I have been asked how my recent three day jaunt on Amazon went.

The one where I made my thriller The Geronimo Breach free for three days.

I think I’d accurately compare it to being sixteen, and handed the keys to dad’s Porsche while discovering that I have the house to myself for three days…and the liquor cabinet’s open. It’s that kind of “Wow” moment.

First, to the numbers. Over the three days. roughly 10,400 people downloaded the book. That’s a lot of people. How many will actually read it is probably a fraction of that – maybe 20%, maybe 30%. I’m using highly scientific proprietary algorithms to come up with those number, by the way, incorporating numerology and magnetism (available in my upcoming releases Attraction, Repulsion, Alignment and Of Course He Tricked You, Douchebrain).

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

NEW INTERVIEW: I was interviewed by South African blogger Nadine Maritz, and the result can be seen here.

IMPORTANT! Night of the Assassin just went FREE on Barnes and Noble. Please help me out here. Go to the Amazon page for Night here, and scroll down below the rating, where it says “Tell Us About A Cheaper Price.” Then click that, and enter the link to B&N, which I post below, and enter 0.00 as their price. I would appreciate the help in having them price match it. Thanks so much. Here’s the B&N link.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/night-of-the-assassin-russell-blake/1108178602?ean=2940032947783&itm=6&usri=russell+blake

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Those are big numbers. And oddly, downloads increased roughly 20% per day over each prior day. Extended out over time, that’s an exponential curve that will have more people on earth with a copy of The Geronimo Breach within a few months than have spent days with Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest reading about shopping trips to Ikea and frozen pizza. Which is why I put a stop to it. Shut it down. Promo nomo. I didn’t want to tip the poles or cause a cosmic imbalance due to all the kindles filled with my work. Not for free, anyway.

Why would I give my book away for free – a book that’s garnered rave reviews, and has been described as unique in most of the 23 four and five star reviews? Obviously, because I hope to get something.

Readers.

My bet is that if, say, 2000 of those fine, discriminating folks actually read the book, most will become repeat customers of my other titles. That would translate into a nice sales bump. Additionally, it would increase my visibility as an author, which should translate into a long term net positive both in brand recognition, as well as sales. So it’s really a loss leader. Like a dope dealer. First time’s for free.

I fully expect some of the one star drive-by reviews to happen, as I’ve seen that as a regrettable by-product of free book distribution. Some might say miserable pr#cks with no lives who delight in trashing things for no good reason are drawn to free books, and that these lowlife f#ckwads, who are easily recognizable due to their never having reviewed a book before, are basically vandals who delight in tearing down the work of others, good or bad, for the thrill of any attention it might bring, and should be dragged behind a garbage truck through rusty nails and broken glass while splattered with battery acid and bleach in any kind of just world. I take a more charitable stance, and view them as mentally ill – the not too bright angry cousins who would be torturing animals if they weren’t busy prowling the net expressing their disturbances in a more benign way. I’m all about tolerance here, and when I say my critics can bite me, I mean it respectfully, of course. Let’s be clear about that.

I believe the vast majority of readers will vote with their wallets. If they think the work is redeeming, they’ll buy more of it. If not, they’ll shut the kindle off after a few minutes and move to the next one. That’s what I do. Life’s too short to read crappy books.

If my belief is correct, and if Geronimo is actually as good as everyone has said (and as of this writing, it has 21 five star and 2 four star reviews on Amazon), people will read it, hopefully like it, and then buy another of my titles.

I shall keep everyone informed of how that works out. I’d hope to see a 20%-30% increase in sales in January, and a sustained increase thereafter. We shall see.

To everyone who downloaded it, thank you, and enjoy. Let me know what you think. It’s one of my favorites – Al was a fun character to write, and it was a delight to do so. I hope you enjoy reading about his exploits as much as I enjoyed creating him.

If you like this blog, hit the green “Stumbleupon” button at the bottom and recommend it to others. Spread the word. Oh, and vote for me for a shorty award so you can watch me annoy legitimate talents with my inappropriate antics at the presentation ceremony. I understand drinking may be involved. Wink.

++++++++++++++

I’ve had numerous folks ask me who my cover artist is. E-mail me through this site and I’ll give you the skinny. Good, fast and cheap.

Share

Continue reading

UPDATE November 1: An Angel With Fur and the Pet Wall get spotlight coverage at Justin Bogdanovitch’s blog. Great pooch photos too.

URGENT NEWS: Zero Sum, Book 1 – Kotov Syndrome, is #1 Bestseller on Amazon free Action/Adventure downloads, and #14 on overall free downloads!!!

BREAKING NEWS: New review for Fatal Exchange from book blogger Kate’s Reads.

****************************************

Thanks to everyone who registered a pricing alert with Amazon. It’s been a long week with a lot of help from my twitter buddies, but I’m happy to say that the mission was accomplished.

Zero Sum, Book 1 – Kotov Syndrome – is now a free download from Amazon.

You can download it there, and should. Early and often.

I know that hundreds of you sent messages to Amazon alerting them to the pricing disparity, and it looks like it worked.

Amazon is under no requirement to lower the price to free. They don’t have a price parity guarantee on anything but televisions. With books, it’s more of a smart business policy. But sometimes when you’re dancing with elephants you have to do so nimbly; with a little help from your friends. And so hundreds of messages alerting Amazon to the pricing disconnect were registered, and eventually a switch was flicked, and Zero Sum Book 1 is free.

That’s you guys – the power of the crowd, if you will.

Now I can market the books as they were intended – Book 1 for free, to familiarize readers with my intrigue/thrillers, fostering a trust in my style and reassuring the reader that I can write competently, and hopefully in a manner they enjoy. I know the biggest hurdle when I consider a new author is the concern they aren’t up to the task of keeping me entertained, and will come off as amateurish, or pedantic, or poorly executed in myriad ways. I’m pretty sure that once a reader has spent ten to twenty minutes with any of my books they’ll figure out quickly whether I suck or not, and if they believe I don’t, will then be interested in mushing forward through the remainder of the trilogy, and perhaps even to other books.

That’s the hope, anyway. Give the reader a taste, and then let them decide if further reading is warranted. Many will likely never read the download, or decide it’s not their cup of tea, which as John Locke points out, is par for the course, as is the likelihood of some hating you, some loving you, and some being ambivalent. It’s all part of the game. The only trepidation I have is that those who download free books might not fall into the demographic of those that buy books, but that’s risk anytime you hand out free anything. You have to expect those who go to Costco just to eat dinner by trying complimentary samples, along with legitimate customers who have no problem buying if they like it. At the end of the day, it all evens out, and the good will float to the top.

So now I have one more favor to ask, and then that’s it. For a while.

Please tweet to your following that Zero Sum Book 1 is now free on Amazon. The link is:

http://www.amazon.com/Zero-Sum-Book-Syndrome-ebook/dp/B005O0QISE/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

And always, thank you. I absolutely know I couldn’t have done this without you.

2011 was definitely the year of the book for me. Ten books released in one year (and one more I’m not releasing as it will make you all hate me and believe me to be the devil or something). Don’t try this at home. I never will again.

But never forget that the real push began when Zero Sum went free, and that was entirely due to support from the indie author community and my twitter crew. To all of you, Muchas Gracias! This may all wind up a tempest in a tea cup, but my bones say no, it’s the beginning of something big. We shall see. At least you all have front row seats!

Thanks again to everyone who contacted Amazon on my behalf. And thanks in advance to everyone who tweets about Zero Sum Book 1 – Kotov Syndrome – now being free on Amazon! As well as those who post honest reviews as to how they liked the books. Your feedback is important, and I try to read and respond to every critique.

Share

Continue reading

Copyright © Russell Blake 2010-2014 All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress

Join Russell Blake's Mailing List

  • Get Latest Releases
  • No Spam
  • Exclusive Offers

The best way to get the latest updates from Russell Blake