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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.

 

 

 

Amazon Advertising Services for Indie Authors, Yea or Nay?

| Posted in Advertising, Amazon Kindle Sales |

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If you’re in KDP Select (i.e. exclusive with Amazon), you now have the opportunity to sign your Select titles up for pay-per-click advertising campaigns. As you can see in the screenshot below, your book will appear on other books’ sales pages, under the buy links. (That’s not my book; I enrolled a title in the program but couldn’t find it on display anywhere — more on that later.)

Amazon-Advertising-on-book-pageSo, is it worth trying? From what others have shared and from my experience with other pay-per-click advertising programs, such as Google Adwords, Goodreads, and Facebook, I assumed it wouldn’t be, but I threw some money in just in case I was wrong (and so I could blog about it). Before I jump into my experience thus far, let me go over a couple of the basics, for those who are new to this kind of advertising.

What is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising, Anyway?

There are a couple of kinds of advertising available to us as authors. You’re probably already familiar with the flat-fee stuff, where you pay a site like Bookbub or Ereader News Today $X (or maybe that should be $XXX/$XXXX for Bookbub) to have your book featured for a day. It doesn’t matter how many views or clicks you get. The price is the same.

There are also sites that will display an ad or banner for you for $X amount per thousand impressions. (Not many authors have had luck with these–Banner Blindness is a horrible disease that has been affecting web surfers since 1997).

Finally, we’ve got the pay-per-click stuff, where you pay $0.XX amount every time your ad is clicked. If that sounds expensive, it’s because it is, especially when you’re talking about something low-priced, like an ebook that might only sell for $2.99, netting you a maximum of $2.05 for a sale.

If you’re only paying ten cents a click and one in eight people who click buy the book, you’re coming out ahead, but with most of these sites, you have to pay more like $0.30-$0.50 a click in order to have your ad displayed with any regularity in the rotation. (You’re bidding against other authors for this display space, and sometimes people are desperate and pay far more than makes sense for advertising. Basically, they’re willing to lose money to sell books. That could possibly make sense if doing so can get you into some category Top 20s on Amazon, where your books would be more likely to be noticed and sell themselves, but my first impression of this advertising system is that you’re not going to get enough clicks and sales per day for it to make a difference in ranking, at least at the lower end, where it could help with visibility.)

My Amazon Advertising Campaign

Campaign is a lofty term, since I have one ad running for one book. Since my pen name is the only one with titles in KDP Select, I’m limited with what I can experiment with. So I picked a book that could work as an entry point in the series and gave Amazon the OK to charge my credit card a hundred dollars. That’s the smallest amount you can pay to get started.

Amazon walks you through setting up an ad, and it’s pretty easy, because you don’t have the option to write copy. As you can see from the screen shot, they basically just show the book cover, title, author, and the star rating. If you don’t have an amazing, OMG-must-click! book cover, this program probably isn’t for you. (I’ll admit that my pen name doesn’t have any covers like that. They’re inexpensive stock-photo covers, which is very typical for the genre–I’m not hiring models for photo shoots for my side project. :D)

After you’ve selected a book, Amazon asks you how you want to choose where your ad is displayed, “by target” or “by interest.” 

If you choose by target, you can search for specific items in Amazon’s catalogue, such as books that are similar to yours. This is what I did (I’m sure those authors will be so tickled to see my book on their sales pages). My pen name writes space opera romance, which is a small niche genre, so it didn’t take long to pick out similar books. I picked a couple of the top sellers, even if I hadn’t read them, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get many ads displayed if I was too narrow with my focus (this turned out to be true, even with picking some top sellers, books with sub-500 sales rankings).

If you choose by interest, you get to pick from the book categories at Amazon, but you can’t drill down. I could have my sci-fi romance showing in general romance (not a good idea, since 99.9% of people reading romance are not looking for spaceships and aliens in their stories), or I could have it showing in general science fiction & fantasy. Also not a good idea, IMO, because that’s too broad. Even if I was advertising a book with a much wider appeal, something that falls squarely into epic fantasy, let’s say, I wouldn’t want it showing up on the pages of science fiction thrillers or paranormal romances set in Chicago. Those readers aren’t likely to be my target audience.

So I went with “by target” and picked about 25 books, going for top sellers in the niche. I figured anything with a sales ranking over 20,000 or so wasn’t getting enough eyeball attention to bother with sticking an ad on the page. I could have chosen more books, and I may go back and try and add some more in an attempt to get more impressions, but this really is a small niche, and there aren’t that many sub-20,000 books in it.

The last thing Amazon asks you is how much you want to bid. For my book, The Assassin’s Salvation, it suggested $0.05. I have no idea if it makes different suggestions, based on how much competition is in a particular niche. I would guess so, but maybe someone can verify that for me. Since five cents is so low compared to what Goodreads suggests, I was happy to go with the flow there.

I agreed to the price and clicked the button to make my campaign live.

Results (or not) for My Campaign Thus Far

After the first 24 hours, I checked in. I had about 50 impressions (meaning my ad had shown up fifty times on other books’ pages). I didn’t have any clicks.

I wasn’t surprised about the lack of clicks, given the placement of these ads (since they’re tidily worked into the same column with the buy links, they’re pretty easy to overlook) and the fact that readers are presumably more interested in the book on the page they actually surfed to rather than some random ad on the side. Even if I had an awesome cover, I don’t know that it would make much of a difference, since the ad itself is so small. The book does have over 70 reviews, which is something that’s fairly prominent in the ad.

Since 50 impressions is kind of laughable (you’d really need tens of thousands of impressions to expect to get noticeable clicks and book sales), I boosted the bid to ten cents, to see if that might get me more displays. It didn’t. The ad has been running for just under a week, and it’s only up to 159 impressions (still no clicks).

The good news is that I’m not being charged for those impressions (although Amazon does have my $100 sitting in their bank account), but the bad news is that I’m not getting any clicks and thus I’m not getting any extra sales from having the ads running.

For kicks, I just boosted it to 20 cents to once again see if that might get me more displays. I’m not sure how high I’ll go. Probably not above 50 cents. I may end up asking for a refund, simply because right now it’s not looking like I can even spend the money I’ve paid in.

Sometimes these things (how often ads get displayed) are based on what the CTR or click-through-rate is. Ads that get clicked more often get preferential treatment. But it’s not as if I can do anything to tinker with my copy and try to increase that CTR in this situation, since, as I said, Amazon doesn’t allow you to write any copy.

I’m sure I would get more impressions if I selected that broad “science fiction & fantasy” category and had my ad displaying on books all across the genre, but as I explained, that’s really too broad of an audience for a book in a small niche.

Conclusions

It’s hard to reach any really useful conclusions when I’m only using one book and haven’t even received a click for it yet, but based on my experience so far, I wouldn’t recommend giving this a try if you’re in a smaller niche or sub-category. If your book has really wide appeal (and that awesome cover we talked about) and it makes sense to go broad, maybe you could get some clicks and sales. I do have a feeling, though, that in going so broad, you’d end up paying a lot for few results (i.e. paying for clicks from people who aren’t your target audience and who aren’t going to buy the book).

I would absolutely love to hear from other authors who have tried the program. Have you had different results? Anything positive to report?

 

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

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, Pen Name Project |

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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!

Pen Name Launch: First Month Earnings $3043 (what worked and didn’t for marketing)

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales |

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If you’ve been following the blog and Twitter, you may have heard me mention my pen name project. I haven’t shared the details with many people — mostly just my editor and beta readers — because I wanted to see if I could start from scratch today and do reasonably well as a “new author.”

I have a breakdown of sales and borrows farther down, but the quick summary is that I earned about $3043 in the first month, most of that coming from one book (but that book being bolstered by another free one). The book was priced at $3.99, participated in KDP Select (and therefore Kindle Unlimited), and received 638 sales and 683 borrows between October 17th and November 16th.

Note: I’m using the $1.33 October figure to calculate earnings from borrows. If that drops in November, it might knock off $100 or $200 from my earnings estimate here.

The multi-book launch strategy

I knew it would be hard gaining any momentum with just one book, so I planned from the beginning to launch with three, with the goal of putting out another novel (or at least a novella) each month after that. I wrote the rough drafts for the three novels this summer, but of course I was working on my own LB novels at the same time. By the time the pen name books were beta read and edited, it ended up being more of a launch with two novels with the third coming almost a month later (it went live on Friday night, November 14th, and had 79 sales and 59 borrows Sunday night when I tallied everything). But at least I had two books to work with from the start and that was key in gaining some momentum.

Here’s a look at what I tried for marketing, what worked and what didn’t, and what I didn’t bother with.

Pre Launch

I didn’t want to make a whole second persona that I would have to manage, so I didn’t sign up for any of the social media sites with the pen name. I did put up a website, using WordPress as the backbone, and started a mailing list with the sign-up form on the front page of the site. I put some samples chapters up on the blog, but I don’t think that did anything, since nobody knew the site existed yet.

So far all I’ve done on the blog is post release information. Honestly, because I already sink time into my posts here, that’s all I’m planning to do in the future.

Wattpad Experience

In the hope of finding some people who might review the first book when it launched, I made a Wattpad account for my pen name. I started posting chapters as soon as I had the rough draft finished (around July) and updated regularly to try and get some early fans. There were a handful of people who found it and followed along, but I never gained much traction on Wattpad. I had a few positive comments from the people who did read it, but part of the trouble, I believe, is that the novel has R-rated material in it, so I had to check the R-rated box. On Wattpad, users have to specifically checkmark that they’re looking for adult content in order to see it, and I don’t think they even see that option if they’re younger than 18 (perfectly understandable).

(For those who are wondering at the how and why the pen name came about, I got some backlash from readers last spring when I published Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, a steampunk romance which had a sex scene in it. Even though I haven’t exactly been a prude in my other novels, most of them are less detailed in that area. I decided to split things off and use the pen name to write stories that include more, ahem, naughty bits.)

I have heard of authors gaining a good-sized following when they have R-rated content on Wattpad (even though there’s a large user base of teenagers, I learned in an interview with a Wattpad representative that there are also some 20+ readers), but I should point out that I am writing in a small niche here. There are some voracious readers (i.e. the types of people who go through a book a day) in it, but it’s quite a limited pool of people overall. I wouldn’t have tried jumping into this niche at all if Amazon hadn’t finally made a subcategory for it about a year ago.

(I’m debating here whether to share the niche, but because I’m still incognito with the pen name, I think it would be pretty easy for curious people to go find me if I talked about it here. By the end of this post, you might be able to guess anyway, but I’m going to wait another month before going public, as I want to see how the “30 Day Cliff” and other things effect the pen name before muddying the waters as to where readers are coming from.)

I won’t say that Wattpad was a total waste of time, but it was pretty close, at least in this case. I ended up with two pre-launch mailing list signups, and I don’t think anyone commented more than twice over the course of the novel, so I didn’t feel we had enough of a relationship for me to send them private messages and ask if they would like review copies of the final book.

The other thing I did with the pen name was join Romance Divas, a forum where self-published and traditionally published authors hang out. I had a notion of maybe finding some readers there by chatting about the industry and including a link to the Wattpad chapters in my signature (with a promise of review copies for anyone who was interested), but I didn’t end up posting there that much, as it felt weird to chime in and give advice on self-publishing and marketing when I was, for all they knew, an utter nobody without any books out.

In short, very little that I did pre-launch mattered.

Launch Week

On October 11th, 2014, Book 1 went live for 99 cents at Amazon and for free at Smashwords and Kobo (I ticked the distribution box, so it would eventually end up at Barnes & Noble and Apple for free as well). I knew I was going to launch the rest of my books in KDP Select so I could take advantage of the way Kindle Unlimited borrows count as sales (for more details, see my earlier post on Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage), so the only reason I was putting Book 1 in the other stores was so it would be made free on Amazon.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take for Amazon to price-match the first book to free, but I didn’t expect it to happen quickly. It’s generally been my experience that already-popular books get price-matched almost right away, whereas it can take much longer for books that aren’t selling.

I wasn’t planning to do any marketing whatsoever of Book 1, since there was little point until I had Book 2 out, and since it wasn’t as if I would make much money with it at 99 cents. But a few people found it within 24 hours of publication (okay, three) and apparently liked the 99-cent price tag enough to give it a try, even though it was by a new author. That got me a little excited (yeah, I know, it doesn’t take much), so I decided to see if I could find any place to advertise.

Attempts at Advertising Book 1

If you’ve tried to buy advertising lately, you probably already know that there aren’t many places that will plug books with no reviews and on short notice. I was also limited by the fact that these books don’t fall neatly into any of the categories that book blog sites offer, so I stuck with sites that basically just say, “Yo, this stuff is free/99 cents today — go get it.”

That first weekend, I paid $5 each to bknights and genrepulse through Fiverr. Bknights has a site where he posts free and 99 cent ebooks, and GenrePulse (which has since moved off Fiverr, but still offers the same service) plugs your book through his Android and Kindle Fire aps. I had heard about these guys on Kboards.

I think I can attribute about 10 sales to each service (they went out a day apart). This was enough to get the book into the Top 100 for the subcategory. It currently takes a 9300 sales ranking to hit the #100 spot (that makes the category sound more popular than it is, but there are a ridiculous number of books in it that don’t belong there, and yes, it’s irritating).

I bought a couple more ads from places that accepted books but that had more of a delay. None of them went live until the book was free, something that happened after about six days.

Overall, I spent about $50. The only other site that gave me results worth mentioning was Ereader News Today, which currently allows you to plug a free book for a mere $15. This was a deal as I ended up getting over a thousand downloads that day from their site (even though the book ran with a big pile of other free books). I’m sure people publishing in more popular genres would get many thousands of downloads.

I should mention that the book got as high as 225 in the free list of its own accord when it first went free (before the ENT ad kicked in). I think that it helped that I had actually sold some copies at 99 cents before it went free. I also made sure to use the right keywords to have it listed in about five different subcategories, rather than the two Amazon gives you in the dashboard. (I admit I was a little nervous about adding those extra action-adventure types of categories, because even though the story surely qualifies, there are a lot more male readers browsing those other subcategories, and this was also clearly a romance. But overall, the experience has been positive, and I got some nice emails from male readers who probably would never have wandered over into the romance subcategory to look for it.)

As I write this now, Book 1 has dropped to 528 in the free store, but I have an ad coming up later in the month on My Romance Reads that may give it another nice boost. After that, I think I’m going to put the book back to 99 cents, rather than keeping it permanently free. Since the other books are in KU, I can play around with free or 99-cent days on them when sales start to fall.

How effective was permafree for selling copies of Book 2?

I published the second book in the series on the night of October 16th (I don’t think it went live until the 17th). The day before that, the first book went free, so that was nice timing. I immediately added a link to the second book at the end of the Amazon version of the free book. (Note: the afterwords also include an invitation to sign up for my pen name’s mailing list.)

I don’t think permafree is nearly as effective as it used to be (there are more free books out there now; thanks to KDP Select making it easier for authors to make books free; the lists aren’t displayed as prominently as they used to be; and KU subscribers can essentially get all the “free” books they want for their $10 a month, so there’s no reason for them to browse the free lists anymore), but it was instrumental for me in my launch of Book 2, which jumped into the Top 100 of its subcategory right at the beginning.

It hung out in the 60-100 range for the first week, then gradually improved to make it into the Top 20. It topped out at 8 or so, which was about a 1350 Amazon sales ranking. It’s been around 2000 for a couple of weeks now, thanks in large part to the borrows. On sales alone, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the Top 20, so I’ll thank KU for the extra visibility (even as I loathe this aspect for all of my other books, which aren’t in KU and which don’t get their sales rankings artificially propped up by borrows).

The book has been out for 30 days now, so I’m expecting to see it drop in rankings, as a result of the 30 Day Cliff, which I mentioned before. Countless authors have noted that books seem to get a boost in visibility when they’re first published on Amazon, but then start a downward descent after being out for a month. This doesn’t hold true for every book — some have enough sales momentum behind them that they keep going — but it’s true in enough cases that just about every author on Kboards knows exactly what you’re talking about when you mention it.

Permafree when Book 2 has different characters from Book 1

Even though having Book 1 free definitely helped me sell Book 2, I should point out that it wasn’t as effective as I think it would have been if Book 1 had left some things unresolved and 2 had picked up with the same characters. I am writing in a series, but all of the books stand alone and feature different main characters. Outside of writing serials that follow the same heroes across the different installments, it’s tough to get around this with romance-centric novels, where readers expect the hero and heroine to get together in the end. If you continue on, you’re not really writing a romance anymore, not to the formula anyway.

You’ll see from my numbers (below) that a relatively small number of people went on to buy Book 2 compared to the number who downloaded Book 1.

I do think more people “hoard” freebies these days, since there are just so many of them out there, and don’t try them right away (or ever), but I do see a much higher buy-through ratio with my Emperor’s Edge series where Book 1 is free and Book 2 continues on with the same characters.

On the plus side, because each novel stands alone with its own characters, I can experiment in the future with making different books in the series free or discounted — something that didn’t make much sense with EE, since it would be confusing for new readers to start with Book 4. With this series, there would be some spoilers for someone starting in the middle (the old heroes and heroines stick around as side characters), but it’s not as if there’s any surprise about whether or not people are going to hook up in a romance anyway.

Okay, this post has gone on forever, so let me include the numbers, for those who like that kind of thing, and then I’ll sign off on this subject for another month (I’m planning to post another update before I share the pen name with my regular readers around Christmas).

Book 1 sales and free downloads (Oct 10th to Nov 17th):

Sales at 99 cents: 89

Free downloads at Amazon to date: 14950

Book 2 borrows and sales at $3.99 (Oct 17th to Nov 17th):

Oct: 166 sales, 139 borrows

Nov: 472 sales , 544 borrows

Book 3 borrows and sales at $3.99 (Nov 15th to Nov 17th):

79 sales, 59 borrows

Book 2 sales chart on Amazon, for those who are curious about the snapshot for the month:

PenNameBookSalesAmazon1Month

 

A couple of extra notes

Books 1 and 2 have 50 reviews on Amazon now (and some on Goodreads as well), which I credit to making it clear in the back of the book that review copies were available to anyone who would post a review. I’ll likely take that out soon, since they have enough reviews now, but in the past, this is the kind of thing I would only put out to my mailing list. Since the pen name had two subscribers when I started, that seemed a little pointless. But I was more than happy to give away free copies to get some early reviews.

The mailing list is up to 58 subscribers (I sent out the first email on Saturday to announce Book 3).

I used my regular editor (who isn’t the cheapest out there), but I did go cheap on cover art, having someone make collages with stock photos. Even so, the covers are better than a lot of them in the subcategory. (This niche is probably one of the few out there where there’s still a lot of really awful cover art in the Top 100).

Closing thoughts

Overall, I think the pen name is off to a nice start. As I’ve been saying, it’s not a very popular genre, but there’s something to be said for the big-fish-small-pond tactic. There will doubtlessly be indies who start in 2015 and rock it by publishing in a big, popular genre, but I’m positive it’s easier to get noticed today if you can find a subcategory that you want to write in and that has some readers but that isn’t super competitive. (The Big 5 publisher presence is entirely non-existent in my subcategory, presumably because they don’t think it represents a big enough market to bother with.) I would guess that if my pen name established herself here, then later moved into a more popular category that was closely related to this one (so readers would cross over), she would find it much easier to get the sales necessary to rank there.

I’m going to stop talking about myself in third person now. Thanks for reading this beastly long post. Good luck with your own endeavors!

KDP Select & Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales |

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Until a week and a half ago, I had never enrolled any of my books in Kindle Select. The program came out after I started self-publishing, and I already had readers on the other platforms. That doesn’t mean I’ve never been tempted! Oh, I’m not in favor of giving exclusivity to Amazon, but from the beginning there have been perks to those who are a part of the program.

As you doubtlessly know, the latest is that the ebooks enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (available only if you’re in Select) can be borrowed in addition to being bought. Since borrows currently pay around $1.50 (this amount fluctuates from month to month, depending on the number of books in the pool and the total money Amazon puts in the pot), this may or may not be a good financial deal for authors. If you have a 99-cent ebook in KU, you’ll get that 1.50 (assuming the reader reaches the 10% mark in the book) instead of the usual 35 cents for a sale. Great deal. If you have a 5.99 ebook in KU, you’ll still get that 1.50, instead of the $4 or so you would get for a sale. A less great deal, assuming borrows cannibalize  sales instead of existing in addition to sales (I’ve actually heard from many authors that such an assumption may not be true, that borrows don’t affect their total sales numbers to a large degree).

If you don’t sell enough books to make it into some Top 100 categories and appear in a number of book’s also-boughts around Amazon, you may want to be a part of the program (or not), based purely on whether you’re coming out ahead (or not) with the borrows. But there’s something else to consider here.

How KU borrows affect sales ranking (a lot)

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a pen name side project that I haven’t gone public with yet. I launched the first two books in October, one at the beginning of the month, and one a week and a half ago. Since the first one is up on Wattpad, I couldn’t put it in KDP Select, but with the second one, I decided to finally give the program a try. I didn’t have readers on other platforms waiting for it, so I figured nobody would be irked when it wasn’t available elsewhere.

Around the same time, one of my writing buddies launched a new book of her own, one in a new series in a new genre. She did not put her title in KDP Select.

Neither of us were expecting piles of sales. What was interesting (or depressing, for non-exclusivity supporters) was how different our sales rankings were right out of the gate, even though we were selling nearly the same number of books in those first few days (we compared numbers).

My KU book started its life at around a 10,000 sales ranking, even though it only got six sales that first day (and two were to other countries, so would have no affect on sales ranking in the main store) and no borrows (at least no borrows that showed up on my dashboard — more on that in a minute). My friend’s book had a similar number of sales (if memory serves, she was ahead for the first couple of days) but had a significantly higher sales ranking. At 10,000, my book squeaked into the Top 100 of its little sub-category. My friend’s book didn’t make it onto any category lists.

The next day, I had four sales and two borrows. The day after that, the book had eight sales and two borrows. It crept up to around a 5,000 sales ranking. It’s hung out between 6,000 and 4,000 for the last week now. A week and a half in, it has a grand total of 77 sales and 84 borrows in the U.S. store.

I’ve been kind of floored by the sales ranking. From my other books, I know it takes a lot more sales a day than that right now to maintain a ranking that high. Even if I counted each borrow that shows up in my dashboard as a sale, the ranking still shouldn’t have been that good. My assumption is that I’m getting credit every time the book is borrowed, even if the reader hasn’t started it or if the reader abandoned the book before reaching the 10% mark.

How many sales would it take for a non-KU book to obtain a similar ranking?

It’s hard for me to answer this without guessing, since I don’t have any other non-KU books quite in that sales range, but as an example, Thorn Fall (not in KDP Select) sold an average of 63 copies a day in the same time period that the pen name book has been out, and its sales ranking has been hovering around 3200.

Just as a guess (and if someone knows of a site that actually figures this out, please let me know), I’d say a non-KU title would need to be selling 30-40 copies a day to stay in that 6,000-4,000 range. On Saturday, October 25th, my KU book sold fifteen copies and had eight borrows show up on the dashboard.

I’ve known all along that borrows count for as much as sales over at Amazon (I’ll let you guys debate on whether or not they should), but what I’m assuming is happening here, based on the fact that I don’t have enough sales or borrows to justify the sales ranking, is that you get credit (your sales ranking gets a boost) even if readers never get to the 10% point required for a borrowed book to “count” and show up on your dashboard. So even if someone just tries your book, decides “meh, not for me” and returns it, you get a sales ranking bump.

I will say that because my book is so new, it’s possible the borrows-credited to actual-borrows-made ratio will even out (as a KU customer, you can check out up to ten books at a time, so mine could be in waiting in a lot of to-read piles) and that in another couple of weeks, I’ll have a lot of borrows show up that haven’t yet. But even so, this is a huge advantage to a new release KU title, as opposed to a new release non-KU title, which can only improve its sales ranking through actual sales. (Novel concept, eh?)

So, what’s the bottom line?

It’s not all that surprising, but it appears that ebooks that are in KU have a big advantage over the ones that aren’t, because as we all know, a better sales ranking means more visibility in Amazon (once a book gets to the point where it appears in Top 100 lists). Books that aren’t in KU, that may have previously only needed 5 or 8 sales a day to appear in a category chart might now need 10 or 15 sales, because they’re competing with all of those borrows.

Anyway, I doubt this is news to most of you who have been in the program for a while, but I hadn’t previously realized that books are getting a boost for all borrows, whether a reader gets past the first page or not.

For more on Kindle Unlimited, here are a few other blog posts covering it:

 

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