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Increasing Sales on an Old or Flagging Series

| Posted in Advertising, Amazon Kindle Sales |

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Do you have a series that isn’t selling as well as you wish it would? Do you have a series that once sold well but has dropped into obscurity? Do you have a series that’s never made it out of obscurity? (Is this blog post sounding like a late night infomercial pitch? Hmm.)

Even though people like to say that ebooks are forever and that you can continue to earn money from them indefinitely, the natural order of things is for new releases to sell better than older books, especially in the case of a series that’s been finished for a couple of years.

Yes, I have my Emperor’s Edge series in mind here. I published the first book in December 2010 and wrapped things up in June of 2013 with the final book, Forged in Blood II. There’s been one more novel with the same characters, but the main series and story arc ended two years ago. It’s continued to sell month in and month out (thanks mainly, I believe, to the permafree Book 1 and the occasional ads I take out on it), but it doesn’t sell like it did when I was still publishing books in the series.

This isn’t surprising, of course, and since I’ve been working on other series, I haven’t put as much effort into promoting EE as I once did. But a few months ago, I started thinking about ways to get the numbers up again. Even if I’m publishing new stuff, it doesn’t make sense to ignore the old books. After all, it takes less work to market something you already have than to write, publish, and market something entirely new.

So, today I’m going to talk about three things I did in the last month to give the old series a little boost (I roughly tripled sales on it from March to April and added a few thousand dollars to my income reports). Maybe this will be helpful if you’re in the same boat and trying to sell more in an old (or not-so-old) series.

Before I jump in with what I did, I’ll say that there’s one big thing that I haven’t done yet and that’s to get new covers for the entire series. I’d love to get some cool illustrated ones in the vein of Republic, but those covers aren’t cheap, and it’s hard to justify that expense (we’re talking custom illustrations for seven novels plus one novella) for an older series. It’s something I would like to do eventually, but I decided to go for the low-hanging fruit first.

1. Putting together a permafree epic fantasy bundle with other authors

Since the first EE book has been free for a long time, it naturally languishes in the free lists, and as I’ve admitted, doesn’t have the most epic cover. I figured that a way to get more people to try that book would be to try and get it to stick at the top of the free lists for a while. Even if I could get a Bookbub ad, that would have been tough to do with an old title (it’s been advertised on BookBub a couple of times in the past already), so I decided to try doing a multi-author permafree bundle.

I contacted seven other authors with permafree Book 1s that had been out for a while, and we paid $200 for a new cover and around $200 for ads when we released the set. One of the authors, Jo Lallo, did the formatting in house, so the cover and some ads are the only things we had to pay for.

The bundle didn’t do as well as I was hoping (we were eyeing a couple of urban fantasy bundles as examples, ones that had stuck in the Top 200 overall free at Amazon for months), but we’ve still given away over 30,000 copies, and I’m starting to get emails from readers who said they found me through the bundle and checked out my other books. I also started seeing an uptick in sales for the second book in the series after a couple of weeks.

Overall, it didn’t take a lot of work or money to put the bundle together, and I’ve more than seen a return on my investment. The new cover brought new eyes to all of our older permafrees, and it’s still getting about 300 downloads a day at Amazon.

2. Getting a new cover for my existing Book 1-3 bundle and reworking the blurb

It’s been a couple of years since I boxed up the first three books in the series, and I’ve run sales with ads a couple of times since then. If that’s something you haven’t already done, then go for it (I’m still riding the wave from an awesome Bookbub ad for my Dragon Blood bundle back in January). Your first time is always the best. With bundles anyway. 😉

Since I had already advertised the EE1-3 bundle twice with Bookbub, once in 2013 and once in 2014, I wasn’t sure if I’d get much of a boost if I just ran the same copy again. Also, the blurb wasn’t very good. It was basically a quick summation of the three books in the series. After the success of my DB1-3 set, I realized that a more generic fantasy blurb was probably best, something on the simpler side. I know that sounds contrary to common sense, but people really seem to want to buy what they’re familiar with rather than something wonderfully original. (The original stuff can always be on the inside.)

After I rewrote the blurb, I also decided to redo the cover, making something new that screamed epic fantasy and wasn’t just a mashup of the existing covers. Even if I’m still planning to get those custom illustrations someday, this was an inexpensive way to give a new look to the boxed set. We just used a stock photo dagger for the front.

And guess what? It worked. Before I did any price changes, sales of the bundle doubled. (Right now, it’s still 99 cents, probably until the end of the month, but it usually sells for $7.69.) That was without mentioning it anywhere (I was waiting to see if I could get some ads before doing a price drop and making announcements).

In short, a new cover and a new blurb can be surprisingly effective at increasing sales, especially if you’ve got a permafree or something out there that’s already helping draw attention to your bundle and other books.

3. Putting together an advertising campaign

From the beginning, my strategy was to lower the price on the boxed set to 99 cents and try to get a pile of new readers into the series. Unlike with my Dragon Blood books (which only had one more novel out in the series when I made the bundle), I had four more $4.95 EE books that new people could go on to grab if they liked the first ones, as well as follow-ups and tie-in novels.

As I mentioned, I got lucky with the 99-cent Dragon Blood set, since all it took was a BookBub ad to get thousands of sales and stick on Amazon (and also on Barnes & Noble). I’d never been that lucky or really had anything stick before (at least not that high in the rankings), so I fully acknowledged that this was atypical. I didn’t expect to be that lucky with a bundle that had already been out and advertised everywhere before, but I was going to try my best to get some new readers.

First I applied to Bookbub. If I didn’t get accepted there, I was just going to wait until I could get in. Fortunately, I’ve had good luck getting bundles accepted (probably because a $6+ savings is more appealing than a $2 or $3 one), and they signed it up.

Next, I went to the various other sites and tried to get ads that would appear in the days leading up to the Bookbub ad, so that the bundle would have some momentum and have a better chance of sticking. I risked booking ads even with sites where I haven’t previously earned as much in sales as the ads cost, in the hope that the combined result would be greater than the sum of the individual sales from the ads. (As we’ve talked about before, Amazon usually ignores sales anomalies, such as 2000 sales in one day from a BB ad, and the book drops back down to its former spot within a week or two. A sustained burn is more likely to result in a sticky book.)

Some of the sites I hit up were: Ereader News Today, Kindle Nation Daily, Fussy Librarian, Free Kindle Books and Tips, and Bargain Booksy. There were a few other smaller ones that didn’t cost much and deliver much, but I was just trying to get about five days worth of ads leading up to the BB one. I spent around $400.

In the end, I more than made my money back, and sold about 2500 copies of the bundle that week. Honestly, the numbers were a lot smaller than with the DB set, but like I said, this was a bundle that had existed for years and had been advertised everywhere before. It didn’t stick at a high level, but it’s still sub 1500 in the Amazon store about six weeks later. It’s not earning a ton on its own, not at 99 cents, but sales of Books 4, 5, 6, and 7 have been much higher than usual. I said three times as much, but I just checked the sales stats, and I’ve already sold 515 copies of Book 4 this month in the Amazon US store (it’s May 15th, so halfway through the month). Before all of this started, the individual EE titles were averaging 150-180 sales a month there.

Even if this round of advertising didn’t turn all the books in the series into best sellers, it was definitely successful. Eventually, when EE1-3 drops further in the rankings at Amazon, I’ll put the bundle back up to full price and focus on the next series I want to promote, but you can bet I’ll plan to do something like this every year, even for my older series.

Thanks for reading through this, and hey, if you’ve had any success with reviving older titles, let us know about it in the comments.

 

 

 

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Comments (16)

Great ideas. I like the idea of bundling with other authors.

Thanks! Great info, and I will certainly keep the bundle idea in mind.

Working on releasing four novellas this year, and continuing the series with four novellas next year. And I thought to create a bundle of the first four (which star the same two MCs) to either kick off the new set or revive it when it comes to the end of 2016.

Thanks, as always, for sharing your experiences! I’ve often thought that if you re-did the covers, your sales would increase (no offense to your covers). Sometimes, a different appearance makes people see the book in a whole new light.

I’ve taken a _long_ time to read the bundled 1-3 of EE, I think I’m close to nearly 1.5 years now, I love it but somehow the same lust I had for devouring books I had as a kid and teen has long since been excised and over taken by too many other digital things.

That said, you’ll have some more sales soon when I pick up the other volumes on my birthday in June. Though likely from Smashwords rather than Amazon (I prefer my books DRM free, and being able to choose the format I want it in)

I admit I’ve been half hoping you would bundle up the remaining books into a mega book 🙂

Thanks for checking out the books, Robert! Hah, I’ve thought about bundling the rest. Amazon doesn’t give you a lot of incentive to do one for higher prices books, though, as they drop the split if you price anything above $9.99.

Have a nice birthday!

Thanks for sharing, Lindsay! I fell into a permafree bundle with the first book of my very first series, and that has revived the series beyond my wildest expectations. Next step is to write an exclusive prequel that will be part of a Halloween box set.

Experimenting is fun – and I love reading about your different approaches. 🙂

~Cate

Hi Lindsay,

I’m a little late finding your website and blog, but I swear I think it’s about the most informative self-publishing blog that I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I’ve seen a few. I’ve been reading some of your older posts and they are very helpful. I was surprised to see you post some actual income numbers from your books. Most authors don’t have the guts for that.

Keep up the good work. I just subscribed so I’ll be getting your posts from now on.

Cheers,
Dale

Thanks for surfing around and checking out the posts, Dale! I appreciate the kind words, and I’m glad you’re finding the information useful. 🙂

Hi Lindsay,
Thanks for the tips. Mine are kid’s picture books so the rules do not apply for the most part but I’ve been thinking about whether and how I could bundle my nature book collection (finishing up the 3rd book now) You’ve given me some ideas. I’m also thinking about bookbub but it’s a lot of money to mess it up and waste the opportunity, and the pool for children’s ebooks is pretty small. I have a lot of doubts but I have to do something proactive as I have 7 books, professional quality kindles and only 1 has “stuck” in it’s category. – all the best. Beck

BookBub is pretty good about adjusting its prices per category, based on the number of sales/downloads people average in the genres, so I’d think that even with children’s fiction, you would come out ahead. I haven’t come across too many people who lost money on an ad there.

Either way, I hope you do well with the books. Children’s fiction is tough to sell in the digital format, as I’m sure you know!

Thanks for the great advice, Lindsay! I’ve published two books (in two different series—I know, not the best marketing strategy), and I can’t wait until I’ve got three in a series out so I can play with marketing more. I’m inspired to get to writing!

I happened to come across a couple of your bundles when loading up my Kindle app for a summer holiday cabin trip here in Norway. So they work all right. Reading the last third of the Emperor trilogy bundle now, and I’m intrigued. While you may not find it all that appropriate (?), my initial impression of you as a writer is that you blend elements I associate with Pratchett, Doyle and MacLean into one cohesive and fun package. And the culture itself – inspired by Japan or China?

For some reason Amazon pointed me towards them after I had searched books by Rex Stout and Mercedes Lackey respectively, and seeing that they were not all that costly I decided to give them a try, alongside a few other bundles.

So beside giving you feedback about bundles working, I’ll also state that it was good coming across your creations. Following Pratchett’s much to early passing I’ve been looking for an author with a writing style that manage to captivate me, and your books appear to fill that need quite nicely.

Heya, Olav! Thanks for checking out the books! Hah, Pratchett is much funnier than I am, but I appreciate the comparison. I didn’t have any cultures specifically in mind for Turgonia, but I think they have Russia’s weather. 😛

Great ideas! I’m filing this away for later when both of my series are complete. 🙂

Lindsay, I’m curious about the logistics of the BookBub promo timing in relation to the other promo sites.

For example, if you got accepted for the BookBub on Feb. 1 (just choosing an arbitrary date), do you just target the week before for the other ad sites? And is it done via price matching or is this like a 5 day KU sale?

Thanks!

If you’re doing a permafree book (one that you want free for more than 5 days), you do need to rely on Amazon price matching it. You can definitely run promos around KDP Select free days though. People will generally do something like this:

Jan 4 Ereader News Today
Jan 5 Fussy Librarian
Jan 6 Bargain Booksy
Jan 7 Bookbub
Jan 8 whatever else you can get. 😛

I’ve seen people both try front-stacking and stacking the tail. I’ve tried both ways and am not sure I’ve noticed a difference. The one time I really had a book stick high up on Amazon, it was based on Bookbub alone. It just way outperformed anything else I’d had on Bookbub, so I guess the cover and blurb appealed more than most.

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