book promotion, book sales

Another Report from the Front

Having seen my book sales stall spectacularly over the last year or so (big news, I know), I decided to hoard my pennies and buy some ad time to promote some free giveaway days on Amazon.com. (I know, I know. The irony of having to pay to give your books away is not lost on me, but I don’t want to get into that.) Simply making your books free on Amazon will get you bupkis in terms of downloads, ‘cuz who’s going to notice? So you pay for attention. The hope? That among those who download the book for free will be a fair number that will actually read it, maybe review it, maybe like it well enough to buy your other books and give them to all of his friends, including the indie movie director looking for fresh product for her next feature film production.

You get the idea. To be honest, I have done this before and reported on it here.  The results never actually pay for themselves (nor did they this time) but a giveaway does generate a few sales after the fact, and some royalties from folks who read the books on KU.

I did things a little different this time. Mostly, I made both of my older titles (Spark and Flight of the Wren) free at the same time, and ran a variety of promotions, both free and paid. I did not promote the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, and I do not think I missed much by not doing so. I’ve never gotten a noticeable bounce from posting in either location, even when I used Facebook’s paid ads.

So where did I promote? Robin Reads, Awesome Gang, Free and Discounted Books, ebooklister, Digital Book Today, Ask David, Bookangel, Frugal Freebies… Basically, a bunch of websites and emailing services that exist precisely for that purpose (Including the rather ominously named Ignite Your Book).

Basically, it goes like this:  You make your book free for up to five days (as a member of KU, you can do that every three months). Your promoters list your book as being free in their promotional material (some are email lists, which can be pretty effective. Some are simply listings on their websites, which tend to be worthless.) Readers notice, and go to Amazon (hopefully with a simply click) and download your book for free. This downloading causes your book to climb up the Amazon lists, specifically the Top 100 Free in Kindle Store list. Only that list isn’t nearly specific enough. Your book will begin showing up on the sub-lists, like Top 100 Free Historical Fiction list, or Top 100 Free Genre Fiction list. But even that isn’t specific enough. You may get to those lists eventually, but the lists that really help you get noticed break it down even farther than that, because these lists have 100 titles (right?) which are spread out over five pages, and who’s got time to search five whole pages? No. You want to get on page one, preferably near the top.

Fortunately, the sub-category lists are made to make this possible, and your book will end up on several of them, depending on what categories and keywords you chose when you were publishing your book on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Here’s how it worked for me. On KDP, I listed Spark as Fiction>Science Fiction>Alien Contact. Since you can put it in two categories I also listed it as Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction. These aren’t optimal, but you only get so many options to choose from. Under Keywords, I chose: female protagonist, high school, parallel universe, gnosticism, paranormal, extraterrestrial, girl’s basketball. I know, this is a pretty funny list, but I was trying to cover the bases. I wanted both some popular lists (on which my book would be obscure) and some obscure lists (on which my book would be popular, or at least prominent). During the giveaway, Spark made a good showing on the Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction>Aliens list. Also the Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction>First Contact list. It also got some play on the Paranormal, Occult, Supernatural list. It got to #1 on all of these lists and #4 for the Top 100 Free Science Fiction list. Even on the BIG list (Top 100 Free in Kindle Stores list) it made a tiny splash, topping out at #74.

Genre Fiction>Society>Marriage

Obviously, appearing on numerous lists in higher positions perpetuates more downloads, causing your book to climb even higher, and so on and so forth. This is what drives downloads once the initial push from promotion peters out (and it does quickly). Flight of the Wren didn’t do as well as Spark, only reaching #99 on the BIG list, but it did spend considerable time on page one of Teen & Young Adult>Coming of Age list, and the Genre Fiction lists, getting as high as #20 for Genre Fiction, putting it in company with a considerable amount of rather generic looking chick lit and a lot of gay smut. (For a long time, Renny’s face floated among the chiseled male torsos of fire fighters, navy seals, and rodeo ropers.) Spark, on the other hand, spent most of her time bobbing around among such titles as Earthkid Hero, Mickey the Martian, Starship Conquest, and Deck the Malls with Purple Peacocks.

Then, after your giveaway times out, it all ends. Abruptly. My download totals were as follows: Day One — 1822 downloads. Day Two — 2203 downloads. Day Three — 798 downloads. Day four had 26 downloads, but those were just residuals, because I had ended the promotion by then. In the three weeks since the promotion, I have sold nine books. (Don’t be jealous, kids.) Also, and more importantly, I have had 5798 page reads through KU. Probably, these have already peaked, but they could continue for a while. I’ve had a couple of near zero days, but only four days ago I had a 575 page day, so you never know. For the record, KU considers my books to have 426 and 411 pages respectively, so 5798 pages is equal to almost 14 complete readings, and royalties are roughly equal to that many sales.

So, worth it? I dunno. Certainly I lost money, but I knew I would. But for every reader I know about, there might be dozens more. Nearly 5000 people downloaded my books, and some of them will read them, eventually, maybe. Some isn’t many, probably, but it has to be something. A mere two percent would be one hundred readers.

We’ll see. It takes time. I’ve gotten a few reviews already. That takes time too.

But that seems like the subject for another day.

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book promotion

How to Make Sure Your Book has a Beautiful Cover

[Note: I am in the process of updating and completing this post series.]

I’m sure you’ve heard something along these lines: “the [book] cover’s job is to get readers to start reading the description.”1 Think about it for a minute. How often do you buy a book with an ugly cover?  Continue reading

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book promotion

Many a slip…

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Not a lot can go wrong if you have a publisher, can it? Obviously, the promotion effort is on you, but that’s to be expected. If you’re lucky, the publisher will do their bit – after all, it’s in their interest too to let the world know you’re launching a book. At the very least, you’ll discuss with them what sort of promotion campaign to run – when, where, for how long and so forth.

But there’s many a slip etc. Your publisher could go bankrupt – that’s happened to me before. Or else go silent – that’s happened to me now. We’d planned the release of Perfume Island for 20th September, but as the date drew nearer and I had no news, nor any answer to my emails, I somewhat reluctantly called a halt to the whole operation. Then I finally got a response apologising for the absence.

This post is not a gripe. I’m not complaining or denouncing or accusing. On the contrary, although this has thrown me off kilter, I’ve been happy with our relationship up to now, and the ending has been amicable and fair. But obviously, I can’t pretend it never happened. After all, a few people were aware that Perfume Island was due out shortly, and some were poised to write a review, so I needed to clarify the situation in order to be able to move on.

Move on where? Self-publishing. It’s the only option I have. I could hunt for an agent or publisher but none will ever accept the second book in a series if they don’t already have the first. Besides which, the book is ready for release now, not in some distant, uncertain future.

In terms of promotion, the strategy remains the same, more or less. When you have a series, the central plank of your strategy is to offer the first book free, or heavily discounted, using it as a ‘reader magnet’ to draw people on to the second. So what we’d planned was a two-week promotion, offering One Green Bottle free, starting a month before the launch of Perfume Island. That way, people would have time to read OGB, love it (or not) and hop over to Amazon to buy Perfume Island (or not). Cunning, eh? But when the time arrived, I saw that the price on OGB hadn’t changed. Clearly, there was a problem.

The cause of the problem? KDP Select. Now, I did know that OGB had been enrolled in KDP Select at the outset, but I thought it was just for the first 90 days. So I’d assumed that it could now be offered free for a full two weeks, rather than just for 5 days, as stipulated by KDP Select. I repeat – I blame no one here, or at least, the blame can be shared. I should have made sure the book was no longer with KDP Select, rather than just assume so. A misunderstanding, shall we say.

As I see it, KDP Select can be useful, but probably not at the beginning. Fantasy author Suzanne Rogerson has a slightly different take on the matter, which she details in two helpful posts (one and two). My view is that once you have an established readership, fine, but until then, you need the flexibility to make your first book free for as long as you like. Permafree, if you’re up for it. Which is what I intend to do.

As soon as I saw what had happened, I started a novella, prequel to OGB. It’s now turned into a hybrid – part novella, part explanation of the writing of OGB. I’m aiming for a November release, with Perfume Island to follow shortly after.

Phew! As if writing itself wasn’t hard enough, getting it out there and (maybe, conceivably) noticed can be harrowing! Still, the initial dismay having passed, I’m now feeling more serene. I’m not saying that one day, I won’t have another crack at the traditional route, but for the moment, I’m savouring the truth of what everyone says about self-publishing – however much of a struggle, you’re in control of the process.

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book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

I’ve Looked at Publishing From Both Sides Now.

A few years ago, when I was relentlessly querying anything that moved trying to find a literary agent, a woman I hardly knew asked me a simple question: Why? As in what can an agent get you? What advantage do you imagine professional publication offers over self-publication?

At the time, the questions seemed a bit naïve, maybe even disingenuous. Publication had to mean something. It meant getting past the gatekeepers of the industry. It meant acceptance. It also meant professionalism. How could that not be better than self-publishing? One was rolling out a sleek new model on a showroom floor; the other was stuffing a note in a bottle and throwing it over Niagara Falls.

And yeah. Part of me still feels that way. I have been professionally published (and will be again soon) and I have self-published and let me tell you, there ain’t as much difference as you might think.

My first book, Spark, was published by Lycaon Press. It was professionally edited by the staff at Lycaon. Victoria Miller produced a first-rate professional cover. With the book’s release, I was launched on a blog-tour (six blogs? four blogs? I don’t remember) with interviews and excerpts and a couple of guest blog pieces. It felt so professional. I was part of a stable of authors. I received royalties and quarterly reports.

Well…yeah, technically. Although actually it took a long time before I got paid my first royalties. And—kaching!—let’s just say they didn’t exactly pay for dinner that night. And I don’t mean dinner at a nice restaurant, I mean dinner. Like whatever we happened to be having for dinner that night, my quarterly royalties probably didn’t cover it. And I don’t think my sales results were exceptionally bad. During March, the paperback of Spark was featured for 25% off at the Lycaon website. It sold eight copies, and the owner congratulated me on having a good month.

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Shelf esteem.

Just before publishing my second book, Lycaon folded up their tents and got out of town. So there I was. Two books with all the professional trimmings and no publisher. So, I self-published. You know the routine: Kindle, Createspace, etc, etc. I had an advantage, of course, in that I didn’t need to hire and editor or cover artist, but otherwise, I was right back at square one.

And that’s exactly how it felt. I blogged, and I tweeted, and I maintained a Facebook presence, but I was pretty much just a lonely little bottle floating in an ocean, with countless other little bottles all bobbing around with me.

When I first contemplated self-publishing, that is precisely what killed my enthusiasm for the idea. According to Amazon’s own figures, there are over 3.7 million books available in the Kindle Store. If you spent a brief 5 seconds on each title, it would take you over seven months (no sleeping) to browse the entire stock—and by that time, there would be several hundred thousand new titles to look over. While this is a boon for readers (maybe), for authors it’s horrifying. The odds of being plucked—even once—from this vast sea are, well, staggering.

As far as self-pubbing versus traditional, there are some differences. Free editing and artwork are very nice perks, and it does feel like more of a thing—you are professionally and officially published. But as for the rest of it, I haven’t seen significantly better sales from one approach or the other. Either way, it’s a long, hard journey. There are some advantages to self-publishing, too. For one, you can set your own prices (I was never happy with how much Lycaon was charging) and collect a greater percentage of royalties. This also comes in handy when trying to run a promotion or offer a discount. Or when handing out review copies—most publishers will make a number of Advanced Reading Copies available, but if you’re your own publisher, you can decide this stuff for yourself.

But it’s the ways in which the two approaches are the same that tells the real tale. Either way, you will be primarily responsible for spreading the word about your book, for having a platform of some sort, for social media stuff. And (sorry to be a wet blanket) either way the odds are not in your favor. Success requires luck and perseverance. And perspective. These days, success might require setting very modest goals and giving yourself a lot of time to achieve them.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. You wanted to write? So write. No one said it was going to be easy.

In case you missed it, yeah, I’m mostly talking to myself here.

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