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Ebook Marketing Thoughts — What’s Changed and What’s Still Working? (guest post from Collin J. Earl)

| Posted in Book Marketing |

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As we move into 2013, a lot of new authors are coming into the e-publishing world and many of the older ones are realizing that selling ebooks isn’t as easy as it was a couple of years ago. Collin J. Earl, the CLO of Darkfire Productions (the company putting out the Emperor’s Edge audiobooks) is a fellow indie fantasy author, and he’s been at this for a while now, so he’s seen marketing trends come and go. He’s here today to talk about what he’s doing for his latest project, The House of Grey.

So you want to be a writer: marketing in the 2012/2013 publishing world
by Collin J. Earl

How quickly the world changes, no? Feels like just yesterday I was writing blog posts similarly to this. Books. You’ve written them. Now how do you sell them? Since the start of the publishing/independent writer evolution has anything changed?

You bet it has and its about time someone says it.House-of-Grey-1-collin-earl

Couple of things: first, this article “Ebook/book Marketing” is targeted more for the independent writer. I am sure that some of the thoughts could carry over to the traditional publisher and author, but I seriously doubt they are reading it. Chances are its just you and me – I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing.

Marketing Thoughts Introduction

Authors are always looking for the next greatest thing to help sell books; back in the 90s it was the Internet, then shortly after that, email, closely followed up by blogs, Myspace, YouTube, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, Podiobooks and more. There is so much to do, so much to get your head around, it’s hard to know where you should be spending your time. I’ve suffered from similar time management problems. Most authors, myself included, have jobs, families and other obligations outside their writing. Until we make enough money to meet our everyday obligations, writing is the career we are supposed to have and not the one we have currently. What does that mean? It means the obvious that an author has to outline, create, write, market, blog, and be social through social media all while navigating our real lives, families and alternative careers. Time is the biggest thing working against us and it can be difficult to know what the most efficient use of that time is.

You’ve probably read thousands of blog posts, books, ebooks, or heard hundreds of talk shows on the exact subject. While my thoughts aren’t anything ground breaking, I think its important to remember the true key to success. This is the universal characteristic that all successful authors have in common. I will get to it. I know you want to know, but worry not. This is something you are probably already aware of. I am just reminding you.
You need to write. That is the key, writing, writing, writing. Content, content, content. You’ve got to do it. I cannot say it enough. That is the one thing that has not changed in the last five years. You want to be a paid author, (I don’t say successful because there are different definitions) I mean a paid author – one who makes money off of books, you need as much content as possible.

A look at the past – a couple of case studies:

Amanda Hocking – everyone knows this little vixen – Hocking lives in Austin, Minnesota. Employed as a group home worker until 2010, she wrote 17 novels in her free time. In April 2010, she began self-publishing them as e-books. By March 2011, she had sold over a million copies of her nine books and earned two million dollars from sales, previously unheard of for self-published authors. In early 2011, Hocking averaged 9,000 book sales each day.

John Locke is a writer of crime fiction and the first man to sell over a million self-published digital books in Amazon.com. He was born in an unspecified municipality of Puerto Rico to a Canadian military father and an American mother. He is the author of several e-book novels. His works are predominantly published electronically by Telemachus Press, a work-for-hire author services company. One early work was published by iUniverse.

Michael J. Sullivan is an artist and American author of epic fantasy, best known for his Riyria series, which has been translated into over ten languages. In 2012 io9 named him one of the “Most Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors”. He has written two series, The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles. The Riyria Revelations is a six book epic fantasy series while the Riyria Chronicles is an ongoing series that centers on the early adventures the two main protagonists of Riyria Revelations.

Between these three INDEPENDENT authors millions of book were sold from around 2008 to 2011 and there is a lot of speculation on how they did it. John Locke even wrote a book on it – “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months” (This book received less than stellar reviews). So much speculation and scams out there – allow me to offer my two cents and you might be surprised at what I have to say. The three things these authors had in common to make them successful were: timing, content and price. That is how they each sold so many books –there was not much beyond that.

I am really serious. If you took time to read Michael’s blog, Amanda’s Twitter feed, or even John’s “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months” book. They really didn’t “do” much in the way of promotion. Michael used book bloggers to some extent, John really likes Twitter and Amanda used some combination of both. So what was so instrumental to their success? Well first was price. All of their books were less than five bucks. Still are for the most part. Second, and content, books, books, books, each author had books to spare when their sales blew up. Third and I think the MOST important, they were the front-runners in a space where consumption was EXPLODING, they used price and content push themselves to the forefront of that explosion and sold a whole lot of books because of it. Yep, it was a simple as that.

So what has changed? Why aren’t I selling 9000 books a day?  Several things I think:

  • Ebooks aren’t new anymore – just a couple of years ago ebooks were new, exciting and while Amazon and Barnes & Noble are still selling thousands of ebook readers the consumption of ebooks has or will top out on its share of the market place at a bit above 30 something percent. Don’t see it going much above that. It’s established.
  • Competition – lots more authors and wannabe authors out there. Amazon ain’t a “pond” like it used to be for ebook writers – is a freaking ocean and its real easy to get lost in that ocean.
  • Pricing – “wars” have driven down the price enough so that .99 cents for an ebook is not out of the ordinary. People expect it now because there are so many people doing it.

I could name more. What’s my point? My point is that putting up a book, making it free or low priced is not enough anymore. With changes in the market place, stiffer competition and the like going on, you need to have a better plan. (Notice I say plan)

Several suggestions – Global strategy – this is the first step now that you realize its not as easy as it used to be or you used to think. You need to come to a strategy to create exposure.  Obscurity is the greatest enemy of the author. That’s where marketing comes in and planning comes close after that.

Have a Marketing plan, but only after you have several projects out. I wouldn’t even start thinking about spending any real time marketing until I had at least 3 books out. Remember! Content is key. You need to have content to gain traction in the market place.

Once you have content, come up with your plan. My plan involves a mix of paid and unpaid marketing platforms. I base my plan on the “Free Loss Leader” meaning I give a book away for free knowing that a certain percentage of those readers will “convert.” I like this platform because it allows people to “enter the fold” at little to no cost. So step one in my plan is to push people towards a free product. Step two, use five different platforms in conjunction. Here is what I am using right now.

1.     Twitter
2.     Google Adwords
3.     Bloggers
4.     Bookbub/Pixel of Ink/FreeEbooks.com etc
5.     Facebook

These are a combination long term and short-term exposure sites. I don’t do use more than five platforms at any given time, because then you cannot manage everything. Remember doing something half way is like not doing it at all. Time is important with these endeavors, try to coordinate to use your endeavors in combination to create even more exposure. This is part of the reason I like the loss leader so much. Getting that free book moving on Amazon can put the Amazon marketing algorithms to work for you. If you can get those algorithms working for you. You are going to sell books.

There is more to say on the subject but perhaps we can leave it at that for now. Just remember these few thoughts. Have a plan, keep it simple, use a combination of different platforms that have both long and short term repercussions, don’t spread your efforts thin by doing many different things half way and try to get the big sight algorithms working for you.

Let me know about your success!

***

You can visit Collin at his website, or on Twitter or Facebook, and you can download the first book in his House of Grey series at Amazon, Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

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Comments (21)

I would like to report that has of yesterday – my combination marketing effort has been successful with over 9000 downloads of the loss leader of the House of Grey!

AS of yesterday! Excuse me!

Congratulations, Collin! 🙂

Thanks for the info and the encouragement Collin! As an indie author myself, I’m glad you spoke about time management and keeping it simple. One thing I struggle with is my time on social media versus time developing new content.

I have a novel and a novella out right now so I am experimenting with advertising. I am glad you mentioned Google Adwords. I will give it a shot.

Agreed mostly, except that I hear people saying the opposite about your “pricing” and “newness” points. Ebooks aren’t new, but the numbers of ereading devices are exploding. I also hear that readers are wary of ebooks under a certain price point.

There’s conflicting information about everything in indie pub these days. It’s nice to hear the reasoning and evidence behind the theory.

Jim & Rob, thanks for the comment, a couple of points to consider:

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating a certain price point. When I was talking about price, I was merely discussing how the three authors I mentioned in my post became successful — low price point, timing and content. When discussing price point in the now, you are right people are “weary” of a low price ebook, but if you look at the sales ranking — they are still buying them because the thought is “hey its only 99 cents!”. My real point was you can charge what you want if you have the exposure you need but PRICE is not a way to get exposure (unless its free.)

For me, there is only two price points, free and everything else. I can expound if you are incline to hear.

I also wanted to point out what people buying are TABLETS not ereaders. People with ereaders tend to read more. People with tablets tend to read less because of the other mediums of entertainment they have available. Look at what Amazon and Barnes & Nobel are really pushing…Fire HD & Nook HD those are for more than reading.

[…] Ebook Marketing Thoughts — What’s Changed and What’s Still Working? (guest post from Collin J…. […]

Good article.

There is a lot of conflicting information out there, definitely.

I still think that if an indie author writes a good page turning book, adds a good visual book cover and gets their book edited to look like a professional traditionally published book. Then creates some buzz on the internet by working with popular book bloggers and social media, they will find success.

I don’t agree with most of the info out there that implies that no one can duplicate what Hocking has done. Hocking writes page turning books that are fast paced. They entertain a certain audience, a large audience who are loyal to authors who continue to entertain. Like Stephanie Meyer’s audience.
The writing can be just above average but it’s got to entertaining.

I did a lot of Twitter experimenting during my summer sales slump. As I figured, not much of anything. I couldn’t even detect an effect on my sales from any of what I tried.

Pretty much the only thing that’s worked for me these days is a combination of giving away books for free combined with heavy promotion through Bookbub/KND. It got me from a complete unknown in July to competing with some of Lindsay’s books on Historical Fantasy lists in October 😉 The drawback of this is, however, a sharp fall in sales once the ‘bump’ expires.

Social networking and online presence has very low translation into sales for me, for the effort, and I’ve seen people reach high in rankings with even less of a presence than I have. So I don’t really have too much respect for that marketing route.

Price-wise, I’ve been experimenting all the time and found a sweet spot at around $4. More than this and the sales drop too much. Less than this, and the royalties drop too much. I didn’t see any special effect of $0.99 or $2.99 price points; I don’t think at least in my genre a $0.99 book is acceptable anymore. Readers don’t trust the quality anymore.

[…] Ebook Marketing Thoughts: What’s Changed and What’s Still Working by Collin J. Earl. […]

James,

I’d be curious about the specific tactic you are employing to use make gain on Twitter. I’ve had good luck with it. Mind telling me exactly what you were doing on Twitter? We may be able to improve your conversation rate.

Collin

Some great insight. Finally someone mentions that timing is very important and is often the reason why bestsellers become bestsellers. Right things align (good content, new trends in technology and explosion of readers coming onto the platform with LITTLE competition). What worked last year won’t work now.

I’d like to wonder tho, why use AdWords for books. Seems expensive waste of money. Why not GoodReads promotion instead?

Great question – adwords on its own isn’t a great tool, it can be expensive and not work very well depending on what it is you are looking for, but in combination with other factors it gains you access to people who are not trolling the kindle boards or top ten list. When you are trying to get a book charting, downloads from different sources can be the key to getting that lose leader high in the kindle charts. I have not tried goodreads as of yet, but it may be something that I place in my quiver next amazon rush. Another thing to consider is Adwords will often give you “credits” just for signing up. We use those free credits to great worth.

I’ve definitely tried and used free credits. Blown through them in 2 days with no results. And I am selling a service that seems an easier sell and more of a match for AdWords than books. I may be wrong but I never looked for book on AdWords.. That’s why it’s an interesting thing you chose to go there. But if it worked than its all good!

How were the prices? What CPC?

I’d put my money on GoodReads or any other book site outperforming AW. If you could do a test and follow up post on that it would be awesome! 🙂

[…] Selling your e-book in the brave new world. […]

Good article! Your suggestions and professional insights were very helpful to me. Now I have a better plan 🙂

If you want to try to get them to act in a different way,
you will rarely evoke that change by trying to reason with them or trying to
convince them to see it your way. The person
who initially wanted the real truth hidden has
the most to lose but anyone who has knowingly assisted in hiding the truth and changing the story will
also suffer to some extent. It allows you to do all
the cool stuff, like engage in multiplayer games online, visit with friends
via Kinect, stream movies and TV, listen to music and much,
much more.

It is important that we understand what will interest the readers and write our book accordingly. A correct opening is very important and must have some catchy lines, which would interest the reader more.

Thanks for the article. I’ve got my ebooks on sale at Amazon for 99c because being fables they are short and I can’t justify a higher price. It’s frustrating to see much longer books advertised as free or at the same price as mine but that’s eLife I guess. I’m thinking title numbers and dense word clouds will help me out over time.

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