Pen Name Update: 10 Weeks In (Earnings: $12,824)

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, Pen Name Project |


I’m about ten weeks into my pen name experiment, which I first blogged about back in November: Pen Name Launch: First Month Earnings $3043 (what worked and didn’t for marketing).

The first book launched around October 10th at 99 cents and went permafree about a week later, at roughly the same time as I launched the second book. The third book was ready to go four weeks after that. On Christmas Eve, I launched a fourth book, but there hasn’t been time for it to do much, so today’s post will focus on the first three books.

For those curious as to the earnings, my pen name has made approximately $12,824.88 between October 10th and December 25th. (I say approximately, because the second and third books are in Kindle Unlimited, so I’m guestimating what the December borrows will be worth, based on November’s rate). Also, several regular readers emailed me after my last blog post on this matter, letting me know that they had figured out who my pen name was. I know some of them picked up books, so we could subtract $200 or so from the earnings, since those books would not have been sold if the pen name author was not me. As far as influencing Amazon rankings, I believe those sales were statistically insignificant (as of December 25th, only one LB book appeared in the also-boughts for the pen names books, and it was eight pages deep).

I revealed my pen name to my newsletter subscribers and Facebook followers yesterday, so whatever earnings and rankings come from these books in the future may be a little fuzzier. I don’t know how many of my fantasy readers will cross over and try the science fiction romances, but I would guess it to be less than 10%. That will be hard to judge, though, so this will be the last post where I can say that these results could be achieved by a brand new author, coming into this without a following or even any family/buddy early reviews starting out.

I detailed my launch strategy (such as it was) in my last post, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but I’ll discuss the last 5-6 weeks or so, whether I experienced the 30 Day Cliff, and how I managed to “stick” in the Top 20 of my sub-genre for a good eight weeks or so before dropping. I’ll also talk about some of the things I could have done better, in the hopes that what worked and did not work for me can help others.

Sales Rising and Falling with the Success of the Peramafree Title

All of the books except for the first one are in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited (so they’re exclusive to Amazon). I’ll go into the why later on, but let me talk about the book that isn’t first.

The first book in the series, Mercenary Instinct, has been permafree since the second week I released it. I made it 99 cents at Amazon and free at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords. Eventually, Amazon price-matched.

As I mentioned in my last post, it did well as soon as it was dropped to free. Even though it wasn’t picked up by Pixel of Ink or any of the major sites that monitor such things, I think the 70 or 80 sales I manage to get while it was 99 cents helped thrust it onto people’s radars. Even though the cover art is just made with stock images, I think it’s better than a lot of what you see in the science fiction romance niche (admittedly, a tough genre to nail with stock art, since models so rarely dress suitably for a galaxy far, far, away), and I’m sure that helped get people to download it. It reached around 225 in the free list at Amazon and hung out in the Top 500 of its own accord for quite a while.

I did buy a few ads, the most useful being an Ereader News Today ad for $15. Later in the month, around Thanksgiving, I spent a whopping $85 for an ad on My Romance Reads. That was the most I spent on any ads, and it resulted in around 2,000 downloads, which was nice since the momentum had started to wane by that time.

In December, the freebie dropped further, hanging around 1,000 for a while, and it’s now dropped to 1600. A couple of days ago, I tossed $40 at eBookBooster to see if they could try to get it onto some sites that hadn’t already featured it. I also paid $30 at Kindle Nation Daily for a spot in their automated daily freebie roundup this weekend. I don’t think either service will give it a big boost, but maybe it will pop up a bit in the SFR free chart for a little longer.

Why bother?

As you might guess from the sub-title of this section, the sales of the second and third books have risen and fallen in sync with the freebie. As long as the freebie was getting a lot of downloads, the other books stuck in the Top 20 of the SFR sub-category on Amazon, which has resulted in steady sales. Lately, the books have been dropping off, appearing on the 21-40 page. They’re still selling — I can hardly complain about a 3,000 sales ranking (paid) in the Amazon store, especially when none of my LB books are in that range, except for the recently released Patterns in the Dark. But they haven’t sold as well as they did in November, when both were under 2,000 in the Amazon store for quite a while.

If my second and third books featured the same hero and heroine as the first book did, I suspect the sales would have been even better. Once of the tough parts of writing romances is that you typically wrap up the story at the end of the book and bring in different protagonists in future novels. All of the stories center around the same spaceship, and main characters become side characters in later books, so I’m sure that does help, but for those of you writing a clearcut series with the same heroes continuing the story from book to book, you might do much better than my pen name has done, especially if you can push a permafree Book 1 and keep it up there in the free rankings.

What I’ll be trying in the future with the permafree angle:

The big thing is that I’m mulling over making the first book $3.99 (the price of the others) after a while. I don’t think there’s much point in having a permafree that hangs out at 6,000 or some such in the free store. My Emperor’s Edge Book 1 is dealing with that now, after being free for years, and the sales have really dropped off on the rest of the series. I’m kicking around some ideas for bringing it back to life in 2015, but it’s definitely a challenge to keep even a free ranking up, because there are so many offerings out there. Also, for people who are KU subscribers, they have no need to browse the free books when everything in the KU store is essentially “free” for them.

If I revert Mercenary Instinct to a paid book, I’m thinking that I’ll either make something else in the series permafree for a while or I’ll use the Kindle Countdown Deals (an option for those in KDP Select) to temporarily make the other books free or 99 cents. One perk of this being an open-ended series, with different heroes in each one, is that people don’t have to have read Book 1 for Book 3 or 4 to make sense. So I do have the option of trying to get people into the series using the other titles. As I get more novels out, it may make sense to cycle between the first three or four, having a different one free at different times in the year.

Of course, it’s possible the pen name will get to the point where it has a big enough fan base that I don’t need to use permafree to gain momentum and keep relatively new releases in the Top 20 for the sub-genre, especially if I’m able to keep putting out books regularly. I would love to manage one a month, but I’m still writing books for my regular name, so it’s more likely that I will get a new novel out every 6-8 weeks. Still not shabby. We’ll see how things work out. In the end, science fiction romance is a small sub-niche, and the space operas I like to write are even smaller (I’ve been watching the Top 20 of the niche for a while, and the stories that are set on Earth, usually involving hunky aliens coming to visit, seem to be a much easier sell than the far-future outer-space stuff). I’m not sure how many readers there are, overall, to tap into. There’s a reason why the Big 5 doesn’t touch this niche.

Still, I’ve found a lot of people so far, and I can hardly complain about the early results!

Launching with More Than One Title (and why I wish I’d had Book 4 ready to go sooner)

A permafree alone doesn’t do much for you. As I’ve mentioned, one of the reasons the pen name books (2 and 3) sold decently right from the start is because Book 1 was free and a lot of free ebooks were being downloaded at the same time as I released Book 2. When I released 3 about four weeks later, the freebie still had some momentum. I did see some of that momentum wane in December, at which point I was basically ignoring the pen name stuff (not attempting to promo anything) and working on getting the new Dragon Blood book out.

I wish I’d had the fourth and fifth books in the pen name series ready to go like clockwork, 30 days after the release of the previous ones, as I think this would have helped keep the momentum going. No, not everyone writes that quickly, but if you’re launching something new, it might make sense to hold back on the release of that first title until you have some more in the pipeline.

I believe the reason launching with multiple titles really helps is because it gives you some more promotion options (you can make one free, or maybe trying some rolling Kindle Countdowns if you are in KDP Select), and it also gives readers more of a chance to connect with you as an author. A world or a set of characters is much more likely to stick in a reader’s head if they’ve read several of your adventures instead of just one. Assuming they like the experience, they will be more likely to remember you and seek you out in the future, even if they don’t sign up for a newsletter or follow you on the social media sites.

Also, when you’re releasing something every month, you have the opportunity to be featured as a hot new release in your category on Amazon. If you’re worried about falling off the “30 Day Cliff,” then having a new title to take the place of the old makes sense (I didn’t notice the cliff, but I think that’s because the permafree was what was feeding my Book 2 and 3 sales, rather than any particular loving from the Amazon algorithms).

Do you have to keep up this pace indefinitely? A book a month? I don’t think so. Ideally, you’ll reach a point where you have XXXX newsletter subscribers and so many people waiting for your new releases that even if you’ve got a 3- or 4-month gap between titles, your new releases should make it to the top of your category lists.

Of course, if you can put out a book a month, it can only help, especially if you’re writing in any of the romance sub-categories, where readers tend to be voracious. But it’s a pretty nutso pace for most people, and I’m sure I’ll drop back to one every other month or so, since I’ll be writing and releasing my usual LB fantasy novels too.

How often you need to publish to keep the momentum going likely depends on your genre. I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of churn in those romance categories, but in some other categories, where readers might take longer to consume books on average, it may be easier to stay in the charts without publishing every month (if you have thoughts on this, feel free to comment below!).

How Kindle Unlimited Helped with the Pen Name Launch

I talked about this in the last post, but right now, there’s an advantage for any author in Kindle Unlimited, because borrows get weighted as heavily as sales, insofar as your overall Amazon sales ranking goes (which affects how high up in your chosen categories you will appear). To get paid for borrows, a reader must get to the 10% point in the book, but right now, every single borrow that is made gives a boost to your sales ranking, regardless of whether the person reads any of it. (Here’s my earlier post where I hypothesized about this, and here’s a more scientific approach from a German publisher that backs up my suspicions).

What’s the big deal, you ask? A borrow is a heck of a lot easier to come by than a sale. As I mentioned above, for anyone enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, every book in the program is free under their $10 monthly fee. They can borrow 10 books at a time, and all they have to do is return one to grab another one. Just think about how you used to grab books off the shelves at the library (back before we were all doing this digitally). If you’re like me, you’d leave with a huge pile every time, even if you only ended up reading two of them. There was no punishment for checking something out, not getting past the first paragraph, and returning it, so why not do so?

In short, if you’re selling enough books to get into some Top 100 lists, being in KU can be a huge advantage right now, especially if you’re a new author. (As others pointed out on my earlier posts, being in KU doesn’t do much at all if you’re not moving enough copies to make those lists and show up in other authors’ also-boughts.)

Will my pen name stay in KDP Select indefinitely?

I doubt it. Even though I’m talking about the advantages right now, I believe that if you’re trying to build a career and want this to be a reliable source of income, then it doesn’t make sense to rely completely on Amazon. With my LB books, I could pay my bills and make a living (albeit a more modest living), based on my iBooks/Smashwords/Kobo/Audible/CreateSpace(paperback) sales. Even though I sometimes lament that I’m missing out on the opportunities that being exclusive offers (for the moment), I feel a lot more comfortable knowing I wouldn’t be dead in the water if Amazon decided to freeze my account tomorrow or if Amazon suddenly decided all ebooks only receive 35% royalties instead of 70%.

Because I don’t depend on the pen name income, and because KDP Select offers tools that help a new author with visibility, those books are in the program for now. I do plan to start cycling some of them out later in 2015. As long as being in there is an advantage, I’ll probably put new releases there, but I think these titles could do well on other sites too, especially since the first book is already out there as a permafree.

Social Media and Mailing Lists — did I use them?

I talked about this in the earlier post, so I’ll keep this brief, but I did start a mailing list and website for the pen name. Right now, I’m only giving information about book releases on the blog, and I send out a newsletter when I have a new release. There are 120 subscribers, so far.

I’m debating if I’ll give away a free novella or something like that in the future, as an incentive to get more people to sign up for the list. I haven’t done that with my regular list, but I know a lot of authors do give away extras, designed to entice existing fans onto the list (i.e. You finished the first book and want an extra epilogue with these characters? Sign up here…). I wouldn’t bother trying to get people onto the list who haven’t read at least one of the books, such as by giving away gift certificates or the like. Those guys don’t usually stick around, and they’re not the true fans you really want to gather to you.

As for social media, I haven’t done anything yet. I may do a Facebook page eventually, just because I enjoy sharing snippets of the works-in-progress, but as far as promotions go, I’m seeing that social media can help but that it isn’t necessary for every author. If you write fun stories and you’re prolific, you can probably focus on putting out good books frequently and on taking advantage of advertising and less time-intensive methods of increasing visibility at Amazon.

Advertising — how much did I spend?

Less than $200. For kicks, I tried to get a Bookbub ad for the permafree, but they rejected me. It’s probably just as well since I’d have to put these under science fiction, there being no SF romance category, and I’m not sure how many of those readers would turn out to be romance fans too. ENT, at $15, was the best deal, and My Romance Reads did decently, though I suspect that site is better for contemporary romance authors. I’ll see how the eBookBooster thing goes (these guys, for $40, submit to a big pile of the sites that will mention your free book for free), as some of those plugs should come out in the next week or two. Overall, though, I didn’t spend a lot, especially not when you consider the overall earnings in the last couple of months.

Cover Art — anything special?

A few people mentioned this in the comments of the last update, that I had money to spend on really professional covers (they hadn’t seen my covers yet at this point, har). With few exceptions, these are the cheapest covers I’ve had made. They’re completely based on stock photos. I’m lucky that this is pretty much what everyone in the genre does, unlike epic fantasy, where custom illustrations are common (and expensive).

So what’s the pen name… name, anyway?

For those who want to check things out, here’s the author page for the pen name. As I mentioned, the genre is science fiction romance (specifically space opera romance, so it’s a tiny niche, but I think it’s a lot easier to gain visibility if you can come on strong in a small niche).

Will there be more updates?

I just released a fourth book, and I’m enjoying writing these stories, so the pen name will continue. But since I’ve now shared the name with my regular readers, future results wouldn’t be as pure, insofar as the new-author-starting-from-scratch concept goes. I’m planning to continue to blog about how things go, though, most likely sharing what I’m doing with KDP Select and Amazon-specific promotions. So if that’s of interest, please stay tuned in the new year!

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Comments (40)

Great information, Lindsay. Thanks for all the information about what you did and how it worked. Very helpful. And congrats on the success. I’m planning on introducing a new mystery series and want to have three finished before releasing the first one. Don’t know whether I’ll release them all at the same time or stagger them every couple weeks. I don’t think mystery readers read as fast as romance readers, but I want to be in a position to release as many as six in the series next year if there’s interest.

Sounds like a good plan, Robert. I think by staggering them, you get to take advantage of being a new release (and potentially a “Hot New Release”) multiple times at Amazon in your category.

Lindsay, congratulations on your success with your pen name! Thank you for such an informative post. Your blog is my go-to blog for publishing information because I learn so much from it. Your first pen name post came just a week or so before I published my first book. So the timing was awesome.

I only had one book to play with, unfortunately, and it was a novella at that. But it is in a relatively popular romance sub-genre (Regency).

I published a few days before Thanksgiving on several platforms. I had friends and relatives who lived in countries that did not have an Amazon store, and I wanted to give them the chance to buy my book. I took a couple of cheap ads and got a nice boost from them, but I could see that I was slowly sinking in the rankings.

Based on your post on the advantages of Kindle Unlimited, I pulled the book from other stores after a couple of weeks and enrolled it in KDP select. The boost in rankings was quite noticeable after I started getting borrows. And the rankings seem to be stickier. So you’re right–for brand new authors, starting out in KU is definitely helpful.

I was one of those who guessed your pen name. I know you said your covers were stock photo art, but I thought they look professional. I already took a peak at Mercenary Instinct, and it is high on my TBR pile. (Still waiting, of course, for your next Flash Gold installment, but no pressure.)

I wish you great success in 2015!

(Now, I’m off to listen to the second episode of The Writing Podcast.)

Did I say “peak”? I meant peek.

Thank you for following along with the blog, Justice! Good luck with your own novels. Yes, I know how popular those Regency novels can be. 😀 If you’re not already hanging out on the Romance Divas forum, you might try joining there too. Lots of networking opportunities for those in the genre.

Thanks, Lindsay. I’ll take your advice and create an account with Romance Divas. Seems like a great forum for romance writers.

congrats on the success! I had no idea until I read the newsletter this morning that you had a pen name, much less that said pen name was the author of a recently discovered awesome new series (and double yay, I was just wondering how long the wait for book 4 would be)

Thank you. :) Working on Book 5 now, hah!

Thanks for the write up on this project, and congrats on your success!

Thanks for checking it out, Roland!

I’m 41% in and really enjoying book one!

Thanks for checking it out, Roland!

Lindsay, I’ve been looking forward to this follow-up, ever since reading the earlier post about the experiment. This seems like a smashing success! Thank you so much, both for running the experiment, and for detailing what you did and how it worked out.

A book a month, though. Yeah, that seems an incredible pace.

I think I could do it if it was for just *one* name, lol. For the most part, I find the romances easier to write and less involved than the steampunk/epic fantasy stuff where the storyline spans multiple books. Though I did write the first Yanko novel fairly quickly, so maybe I’m just getting more efficient (crosses fingers).

Mazel Tov, Lindsay, on your great success (and it really was a great success). Thank you for sharing all this information with your readers as well. :-)

Thank you, Ilana!

Thanks for sharing all this extremely useful information with us!
I downloaded the first book and bought the second two months later without knowing it was you, just because the writing is extremely good and the novels are a perfect mix of action and romance. You had my by the Firefly reference 😉
I wish you (and myself) a long run with the Mandrake Company, and if you ever want to venture into German translations, I’d be happy to help you any way I can.

Thank you, Jery. I’m glad you’re enjoying the books! Oh, I’d love to do German translations someday, but when I’ve done the math, it’s never looked that promising for earning out. Unfortunately (as I’m sure you know), it takes someone a lot of time and work to do a translation!

Finally, some new SF/R novels! Thank you! I’ll be picking them up as I can :)

Congrats on your success! I’ve been following your progress closely. I wish I could be as prolific.

Thanks, Steph!

Just started reading Mercenary Instinct and am really enjoying it! It seems like you have done a great job advertising and getting interest in your knew series, so well done! It’s very impressive how much you have managed to earn as a ‘new’ author in such a short time.

Thank you for checking it out and for taking the time to read my blog!

I’m so glad and am enjoying that you’re writing these books, I think I found them on amazon just after book 2 was released (which is my favourite). I love the sci fi romance/space opera stuff and find it hard to find new authors to read. Also, I had no idea it was your writing until the newsletter (I feel like I should have especially as other people guessed ;).

Thanks, Jen! I think some people had fun playing Sherlock and figuring things out. The biggest clue was probably that I had the usual editor and beta readers mentioned up front. But if you’re like me, you just skip over author acknowledgements and start reading. 😉

OOps, You did it again ! Read the four books in as many days (if not less). Quite close to my limit on the Romancey scale, but didn’t cross the (emperor’s ?) edge… Can’t wait for the follow-ups.

Should we give you a challenge ? I get Striker is there for comic(s) relief, but finding him a romancey girlfriend ? Ah, I DARE you !

Thanks for checking them out! Several people have asked about a girl for Striker. I’m just not sure I can do that to a girl… or write a novel with him as the hero. But maybe he can get a holiday hook up in a short story someday. 😛

I am quite happily in the less than 10% that’s going to be crossing over and reading whatever genre you publish in, and I’m very glad you revealed your pen name to us! I’m also glad that the freebie books are currently available — I discovered your work via the Nine By Night Bundle, and rewarded myself for being trapped in (and surviving!) retail hell by grabbing almost all of the Emperor’s Edge books after Christmas. As a reader, I am over the moon that there’s so many books I still have to look forward to, and at your break-neck production speed. As a writer, I’m inspired as hell, and grateful that you’re sharing so much of what you do with us. Thank you.

Thank you, Jolene! I’m glad you’re enjoying the adventures (and that you survived retail hell!). I hope you have an awesome 2015 — good luck with your writing, too!

As a new author I found this information extremely helpful! Thank you Lindsay! There is so much information on the internet these days about how to sell your books on amazon. There is also a million people telling you that you should price your book at this price or you should price it at this price.

To say the least, it can be confusing for a new author!

What I liked the most about your post is you did an experiment and tested the waters and got results. I got a degree in Biology so I appreciate experiments! I had never thought about having multiple books in the series ready to publish but this makes sense. I have a lot to consider for my future books now!

You’re welcome, Brianne! Yes, there’s a lot of advice out there. Lots of things work for some people in some genres and less well for other people in other genres (or even the same genre), so sometimes just being willing to tinker is part of the solution. :)

I love your LB series, having started as an EE fan. I haven’t classically been a SF reader, but what always drew me to your other works were your spunky characters, zippy dialogue and fast-paced action. The LR books have all of that plus the added bonus of R scenes. Consider me a cross-over! Impatiently waiting for the next books!

Thanks for checking out the pen name series, Hydrophilio!

I just had a shock and thought I would share it with you. Funny enough, I found the Mandrake Company books first under your pen name & loved them. Recently, I came across the Dragon Blood books and about to start book 4 of the series. I love them, so decided to find you on twitter and then found your website so I could sign up for your newsletter. While signing up, I saw this post about the pen name project and followed the link to the author page, hoping for more books to read. Who knew? I had already read them! Love your characters and I especially love the dialogue. On to Emperor’s Edge series next.

Thanks for following along on both names, Staci! That’s funny that you found the other ones first. I’m glad you’re enjoying the books. :)

Congrats on the pen name success – and I’m likely to buy them too this year. I’ve worn a hole in the page-turn button of my Kobo, approx 100 books per year for 3+ years & a non-touch version. Although it still works, and eventually will replace it with another kobo, I’m thinking of getting a Kindle too. Enough authors are only selling on Amazon that I want to read that I’ll have both.

I don’t think it’s healthy for authors or readers if one system gets a monopoly, and I read enough that it’s worth me having both.

I’m looking forward to reading your other-name works, cos about the only genre I won’t read is horror.

Thank you, Ista. I will eventually get the pen name books up on the other stores. I’m just taking advantage of those promotional opportunities on Amazon for the time being. Once I have more books out, I’ll probably just have the most recent ones on Amazon and push the other ones out to Kobo and elsewhere. (As a reader, I’ve been eyeing that waterproof Kob reader!)

How will you know when to go wide with the first books in the series? Will it be based on a specific number you have out in the whole series?

I’ll probably leave 3 or 4 in KDP Select at a time, so I’ll probably roll the first four out into the other stores when I have 7-8 in the series out. I hate to admit it, but it’s kind of nice not having to worry about the epub file or uploading everything to the other stores. 😛 I will be curious to see if the pen name can make headway in the other stores though. It took a while with my regular name.

Great results so far! Congrats! Hope the email list keeps growing well. It would be very interesting to see if you had enough to do email only launch first and how would that do for this pen name or normal name. What the conversion rate from email list amount to downloads/sales is, would be fascinating!

Covers actually look pretty well, one small tweak and they’d look less stock-y. But they work already.

Good luck!

Can I just say I LOVE the original post and truly appreciate this follow-up? You really inspired me as I developed my pen name for a teen paranormal series, and I’m absolutely following your advice in launching as a series (Check out this post by Hugh Howie BTW completely confirming your strategy: with four ready to go.

Follow-Up question related to your statement about transitioning out of KDP to other platforms: I was going to go permafree on the first book, and leave the rest of the books in KDP Select for the first 6 months before transitioning the bundle onto other platforms via Draft2Digital.

What has your experience taught you under your real name & pen name about the timing and transitioning of your books to other platforms? And how have you gotten traction there? I’ve run a few promos on a permafree book I have out under my own name, but the results have been “meh” at best. Amazon is definitely still my bread & butter but I do want to diversify. Any great advice?

Congrats again on your success and BIG THANK YOU for sharing it with the community!

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