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5 Tips for Getting Accepted by Bookbub

| Posted in Book Marketing |

11

I mentioned on Twitter last night that I’d snagged another Bookbub ad for one of my boxed sets, and someone asked what the trick was, since they had been trying for years to get accepted. I thought I’d do a write-up with some tips, since I’ve had 20-odd ads with them over the years, between my pen name and my regular name (there’s one tip: you can technically have two Bookbubs in a month if you have two names). I don’t apply every month, but I do it as often as it makes sense. Maybe one day I’ll have enough series out there that I can keep cycling through my Book 1s and have a different one to promo each month of the year.

For those who haven’t heard of Bookbub, it’s the one sponsorship site out there that pays off for most authors who use it, meaning you’ll often make your money back and more on Day 1 or 2 of the ad if you’re doing a 99-cent title. If you’re advertising a free book that’s the first in the series, you’ll often make the money back and more in the sales of the subsequent books, though that usually takes a little longer, as people have to work through the series. Bookbub is also the most expensive site out there, with ads in some categories costing over a thousand dollars. But right now, the size of their subscriber base is far, far larger than that of any of the other sponsorship sites.

As you can imagine, they’re popular with authors wanting to purchase ads, too, and they hand at more rejections than acceptances. So, what’s the trick to getting an ad? I’m sure most, if not all, of this is already out there, so I’ll attempt to keep my list short. I’ve also included a video of an interview with a Bookbub employee at the end, and she answers a lot of questions about what they’re looking for and why some books are chosen over others.

1. Have a professional cover

They get tons and tons of submissions and can afford to be picky. I’m a subscriber to the sci-fi and fantasy lists, and it’s super rare to see a cover that looks homemade (usually when it happens, it’s an old trad published book!). Plenty of indie books get accepted, but they all have covers that look like a pro made them.

If you have a truly awesome cover (and sometimes it’s hard to self-judge on this), your odds can only get better.

2. Make sure you’re offering a big discount

I’ve had $2.99 books that I wanted to drop to 99 cents get accepted, but they’ve stated straight out in interviews that they want to give their subscribers the best deal possible. I believe this is why the boxed sets get accepted so often–a lot of these are 6.99 and more, and the authors are discounting them to 99 cents. If you’re selling your ebook at 99 cents or 2.99 right now and planning to apply eventually, you may want to bump the price up to 3.99 or 4.99 for the three months prior.

3. Make sure you’re promoting Book 1

Unless you have the kind of open-ended series where someone can jump in at any point, make sure you’re applying with the first book in your series. (If it is an open-ended series, I would mention that in the comments box.) Bookbub has specifically stated that they prefer Book 1s.

4. Have a LOT of reviews

I’ve had books accepted where there are less than 100 reviews on Amazon, but it just seems to be much more likely that you’ll get a spot if it’s clear that your book is already popular and that lots of readers have liked it. The more competitive the category, the more true this appears to be.

Yes, it’s a chicken and an egg thing — how do you get that many reviews before you’ve used something like Bookbub and gotten massive exposure? If you’re struggling to get reviews, consider doing a free run and using some of the smaller and less picky sponsorship sites to get some exposure to your book at the same time. Also, in the back of the book, politely ask your readers to leave a review. Believe it or not, that does make people more inclined to do so.

I’ve heard that Bookbub looks at reviews on Goodreads as well as Amazon and some other sites in determining whether to accept a title, so if you don’t have much going on over at GR, you might consider doing some giveaways there of physical books or just asking your regular readers to leave reviews there.

5. Make sure you’re a good match for one of their categories

With the stuff I write under my regular name, it’s easy. It’s all fantasy. I request the fantasy category.

With my pen name, things get trickier. It’s science fiction (space opera) romance, and they often balk at the idea of putting those kinds of books into their sci-fi category (I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s dominated by male subscribers).

The first two times the pen name got Bookbub ads, they insisted on putting the books into paranormal romance. That’s usually vampires and werewolves and the like, and the stories are set on Earth and have magic in them (in short, they’re fantasy). I didn’t think my space adventures would be a good fit. I paid for the ads anyway, because even a bad Bookbub experience tends to pay for itself or at least get you a lot of exposure, but they definitely underperformed compared to what I was used to. I knew that even with the romance element, the pen name stuff would do better in straight up SF.

So… when it came time to submit a boxed set, I redid the cover and gave it a pure space opera look (stars, a planet, a space ship!) with no sexy shirtless guys or couples in the clinch. I also composed a blurb that mentioned that romance was included (along with adults scenes), but which played up the adventure sci-fi aspect. The boxed set got in, and it did extremely well.

Tip: it’s tougher to get a Bookbub ad with a KU title, but if you can, you’ll probably do really well running it as a Countdown Deal, since you earn 70% on that 99-cent book instead of 35%, and you’ll also get a lot of extra borrows.

Note: you may be asking if it’s worth redoing your blurb and maybe even your cover just to have a better shot at fitting into a Bookbub category. It probably is, not just because of Bookbub, but because the book might very well perform better in general if it seems more inline with a specific category’s tropes. Sadly, originality isn’t usually what sells books. An original story on the inside is fine, but in general, people seem to be more likely to buy more of what they already know they love!

If you have any other Bookbub acceptance tips, please leave them in the comments. Now, here’s that interview and a couple of links to helpful articles on the Bookbub blog too:

How to Increase Sales at Apple iBooks

| Posted in Book Marketing, Tips and Tricks |

16

Before I jump into this post, I have to disclose that Apple is my #4 earner and that while I always sell books there, I’m not a rock star by any means. (For me, sales at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble always come out ahead.) Buuut, I’ve started to upload directly to Apple, and I plan to put more effort into getting on the radar with iBooks readers in 2016. I chatted with a rep from Apple and got some tips, and I also took notes at a “sell more ebooks at Apple” panel this summer at the RWA con. (The authors hosting it were rock stars on iBooks, with some outselling even the big Amazon kahuna.)

So this post is a summary/best practices from my notes. I hope you’ll find the information helpful. If you’ve found any tricks for improving visibility and sales at Apple, let us know!

First off, why bother?

Despite Apple being my fourth biggest income earner, it’s reputedly the second biggest market out there, so the potential for growth may be much more than at Kobo and B&N.

Also, Apple has global reach. Many of the sales I get there come from countries outside of the U.S.. They (and their iPhones) are all over the place. There are a lot of countries where an e-reader or tablet is too much of a luxury item for the average person go buy, but everyone gets a phone, and the iBooks reader comes pre-loaded on the Apple IOS (Google Play will be another market to watch out for, since they, too, are tied to a phone — I’m starting to get emails from readers who have enjoyed my books on their Androids).

The good news for authors is that in addition to all this sales potential, Apple seems to be making more of an effort these days to promote and sell their iBooks. Beyond adding the iBooks reader to their OS, they’ve been reaching out to more indies and running themed promotions in the various genres. Romance, in particular, seems to get a lot of love there, but there are plenty of self-published authors represented in other genres too.

How do you get on their radar and receive email about the opportunities they’re offering?

If you use a distributor to get into Apple, I’ve heard of authors getting in touch with the Draft 2 Digital and Smashwords people and asking about promotions (it probably helps if you’ve got several books out and are selling some already). If you’re able to go to any of the bigger conventions (i.e. Book Expo America, RWA, etc.) where Apple, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. have reps, it may be as easy as walking up to their booths and putting your name and email address on a sign-up sheet. I did that with B&N this summer, and I’m on their promo list now.

So, in short, Apple has a huge audience and they’re looking for indies to promote right now.

All right, here’s the list of things you can do to improve sales, with or without access to those promo opportunities:

1. Sign up for the Apple Affliate program and link to your iBooks on your website, newsletters, and from within your own ebooks.

Every author should post their book links to all of the main stores, so I won’t spend much time on that, but you may not know that Apple, like Amazon, has an affiliate program. I’ve finally gotten myself signed up and will use affiliate links for my own books going forward (someday, when I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll go back and update all of the links for my existing books on here too). I’ve used affiliate links with Amazon all along, and in addition to providing a small extra source of income, it gives you a means of tracking book sales that originate from your site and newsletters.

If you have audiobooks, you stand to earn more, too, on those affiliate sales.

2. Use their promo codes + pre-orders to launch with a boost and lots of reviews

Promo Codes for iBooks

Lots of people, from authors to e-tailers and distributors, have mentioned that pre-orders can really boost sales and rankings in the non-Amazon stores, where the sales help with release day visibility, but you may not have realized that Apple lets you give away copies of your book without the hassle of emailing people your files. Your non-tech-savvy readers will thank you for this, and it may make it easier for you to get iBooks specific reviews.

You do need to be uploading direct to iBooks in order to access the promo codes. Find them by heading to your iTunes Connect page, selecting “My Books,” clicking on the book, and clicking on the “Promo Codes” button.

I haven’t played with the promo codes yet, as I only recently started uploading ebooks directly there, but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can make a splash in 2016 with the launch of a new series.

Note: Apple now allows you to upload “asset-less” pre-orders up to a year in advance, meaning you don’t need the ebook file or even the cover, if you upload directly. If the sales are strong on a pre-order, it’s possible Apple will feature your book in their what’s-coming category.

3. Do a first-in-series free book

There’s been a lot of talk of how permafree isn’t working as well these days, especially at Amazon where the freebie seekers may have shifted en mass to Kindle Unlimited. Well, we’re talking Apple here, not Amazon, and in Mark Coker’s big end of year “what worked in 2015″ report, he reported that authors with free Book 1s were outselling those without free series starters in their partner stores, including Apple.

If you surf around in the iBooks store, you’ll see that the free books are fairly easy to find. One day, they’ll make me super happy by adding the ability to drill down into sub-categories instead of just lumping all of the fantasy stuff under fantasy. On that note, it’s also a good idea to browse around their store and to get a feel for how things work there and what books are selling well in your genre.

Extra tips:

#1 Make sure to use 2-dimensional covers for collections, boxed sets, etc.

I’ve noticed that you can get the 3D bundle images into the Apple store if you upload directly, but they’ve stated that they will only feature flat 2D book covers, so make sure you have a 2D version of all of your “boxed sets” for them.

#2 Tweet links to your books on Twitter and include the @iBooks account.

We’re all told not to spam our buy-my-book links on Twitter, but if you’re running a sale or have a new release, that’s the time to share on the social media sites. Instead of making a tweet with links to three or four stores jammed in there, do specific ones for each store. Make them clever or throw in interesting quotes, and include the @iBooks account on the Apple tweets. I’m sure they tagged often, but you can see from their feed that they do occasionally retweet things to their 500K+ followers.

#3 Be aware that iBooks readers may pay more for ebooks

I’ve heard in a couple of interviews with the folks who distribute to Apple, as well as the authors who led the iBooks panel at RWA, that Apple readers may be willing to pay more for ebooks than readers at other stores. The reasoning is that iPhones, iPads, and Macs are among the most expensive devices out there, so Apple users in general may have more disposable income that they’re willing to spend on quality digital content.

I wouldn’t charge more for a book on one store than I did on another, but I have been thinking about putting together a boxed set with my complete Emperor’s Edge series (7 books + a novella) and selling it for 19.99 on Kobo and Apple. There’s no point on Amazon, since you only get 35% on ebooks priced above 9.99, but it looks like Kobo and Apple both give you the 70% for higher priced items. (If anyone is doing this and wants to report, I’d love to hear about it.)

That’s it from my notes, but if you have any other tips or want to share your experiences with Apple, please comment below.

Oh, and if you’re a fantasy fan, be sure to grab Balanced on the Blade’s Edge or the first Emperor’s Edge book free on iBooks! :)

Apple’s: Marketing Your Book on iBooks page.

5 Ways to Promote Your Free Book 1 Series Starter

| Posted in Book Marketing |

10

You’ve probably heard that a lot of indie authors made their careers by giving away tens of thousands of copies of their series starters. (For me, The Emperor’s Edge, has been free since late 2011). You may also have heard that free doesn’t pack as much punch as it used to (i.e. it’s harder to get people to notice your free ebook and give it a try). I won’t deny the truth of that. There are a couple of things that have changed:

Amazon “hid” the free lists 

A couple of years ago, when you browsed through a Top 100 category at Amazon, you would see the top selling paid books side by side with the top downloaded free books. People didn’t have to click a special tab to see the free lists.

Amazon also doesn’t show free books in your also-boughts. If you look at the fourth book in my Dragon Blood series, Patterns in the Dark, you’ll see Books 2, 3, 5, 6, and the 3-book omnibus in the first page of the also-boughts. You won’t find Book 1 in there because it’s currently free.

This lessened visibility means it’s harder for people to stumble across your free book on Amazon. Readers have to consciously click over to the free ebook lists and browse for new stories to download. Some people still do that, but many don’t, especially if they’re Kindle Unlimited subscribers, which brings us to the next change.

Kindle Unlimited has reduced the need for readers to hunt for free books

In 2014, Amazon rolled out its Kindle Unlimited subscription service. Now, for $10 a month, readers can borrow and consume all of the ebooks in the lending library, which is a lot of books! You can see in my post from last week that Amazon offers a lot of incentives to get indie authors to enroll in KDP Select and KU.

A lot of price conscious and voracious readers — exactly the kind of person who might have surfed those free lists before — are now grabbing KU books instead of hunting for freebies. In essence, everything in KU is a “freebie” for them, so long as they keep paying their $10 a month.

There are more free books out there as competition

As I said, many authors have built fan bases and sold a lot of books by having their series starters out there for free, both in Amazon and on the other stores. Everybody now knows that you can get a book made permanently free or “permafree” on Amazon (a store that doesn’t allow you to price a book at less than 99 cents via the dashboard) by making it free elsewhere and waiting for Amazon to price match. You can also get a free ebook in Barnes & Noble (another store that doesn’t let you choose free as an option via the dashboard) by going through a distributor, such as Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital.

In addition to the widely known price-matching trick, KDP Select also allows its authors to make enrolled titles free for a few days each quarter. The result is that at any given time, there are a lot more free titles available these days than there used to be. And, as we’ve said, there may be fewer people looking for free books.

With all that being said, is having a free series starter out there still a viable option? Can it still “make” a new indie author’s career?

Yes, I believe so. In fact, I know so, since that’s how I kicked things off with my pen name last year. The pen name was anonymous at the time, so I was starting from scratch. You can read more about how that went in my 4-weeks-in and 10-weeks-in posts from last year. The short answer is that launching with three titles in a series the first month and making the first one permafree, at least for a while (it’s now 99 cents and in KDP Select), helped a lot.

But, as I said in the beginning, it’s not enough anymore to just make your book free. You have to promote it! (Most of us have always had to do some promotion, but there was a time when you could get thousands of downloads or even tens of thousands of downloads fairly easily.)

Here’s my list of five ways to get more people checking out your free series starter:

1. Buy Advertising

This is the obvious one. If you’ve got some reviews already and the average is decent, it shouldn’t be difficult to get some ads. There are a handful of lists out there with links to the major sponsorship sites (and many of the minor ones) that will promote your freebie for anything from a couple of bucks to hundreds of dollars. (Don’t pay hundreds unless it’s for a Bookbub ad!)

Ads do two things. First, you get immediate downloads from the people getting the sponsor site’s newsletter or following them on Facebook. Second, the downloads from those people help push your ebook up to a better slot in your category on Amazon, thus meaning that more of the people who surf the free lists will find and try your book.

Some authors like to buy an ad or two every month to keep the sales of subsequent books trickling in, and others like to “ad stack,” where they’ll buy several ads on consecutive days to try and stay at the top of their category for longer. Either plan can work.

2. Put an excerpt (or serialize the entire novel) up on your site and use social media to plug it.

Authors often struggle to figure out how to use social media effectively. It’s tough to get people to buy things on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., and if you write a lot of sales-pitchy tweets or posts, you might find yourself blackballed by your target audience.

It is, however, easier to promote when you’re giving something away for free. People are less likely to roll their eyes at the sales pitch and more likely to click and take a peek. They have nothing to lose but a few minutes of their time.

Andy Weir of The Martian fame started out serializing his novel on his website. Something that doesn’t always get mentioned was that Andy had a blog readership before he got started serializing the novel, so this isn’t necessarily a path to ultra success for everyone, but the combination of free + serialized installments + social media can definitely work to build an audience.

(You don’t have to serialize, but that gives you something to promote every week when you post a new installment, instead of always promoting the same free ebook.)

I’ve posted excerpts of my books and promoted those, usually with new releases, and I’ve definitely had people tell me they first bought one of my books because they got caught up in the excerpt.

Aside from my experience with Wattpad (more on that below), where I was serializing books that were already published, I haven’t tried serializing an entire novel yet. It is, however, on my to-do list for 2016 — serializing the first book in a new trilogy I have planned (before I publish anything).

3. Using Facebook advertising to drive readers to your mailing list (where they receive your free ebook for signing up)

Facebook is different from the sponsorship sites. Instead of paying a flat fee to have your book appear in a newsletter or on a site for a day, you pay per click (that click can go to a landing page on your website or directly to your book’s page on Amazon). You can target readers far more specifically than you can on other advertising platforms (i.e. you can have your ads display only to women over 30 who are fans of X popular author who writes in a style similar to yours).

The downside of Facebook advertising is that you might be paying 50 cents or more per click. That’s a lot if your only goal is to give away a free ebook.

Thriller author Mark Dawson has pioneered a system of using Facebook to get people to sign up for his mailing list. He sends them a couple of free ebooks from his starter library and then, after they’ve had a chance to read those books, tries to get them to buy a boxed set of later books in his series. By using affiliate links and tracking clicks, he can see which sales come from his list and how much each newsletter signup is worth in the end. I.E. maybe he pays a dollar or two to get people to sign up, but if the average person ends up earning him $5 or $10 in book sales, then it’s worth it.

This is something I’m planning to try soon, but I can’t speak from personal experience yet, so I’ll direct you to Mark. He has three free videos up that explain things (his goal is to get you to buy a course on the subject, but there is a lot of good information in the free videos).

4. Wattpad

I have the first three books in my Emperor’s Edge series up for free on Wattpad. It’s a big site where authors will post everything from completed novels to installments of new projects that they’re working on. There are a lot of people that read books on the site, especially teens, who may not yet have a lot of money to spend on paid ebooks at Amazon.

Like many authors, I’ve had trouble converting those Wattpad readers to paid sales, but I have definitely had people write to me and say that they first discovered my ebooks there and went on to buy the rest of the series. I also figure that young readers who may not yet be book buyers will become adult readers with income to spend sooner or later. Maybe they’ll remember my series fondly and come back to it (or other titles I’ve written) one day.

Note: since there are so many writers on Wattpad, it’s like anything else in that it’s a struggle to be noticed. I never had much luck networking with others (I didn’t put much effort into it either), which is usually recommended there. Posting your complete novel in installments seems to help, and as time passes, more and more people stumble across the book and give it a read. If you have an awesome cover (I still need to redo my EE ones, so I can’t say that I do), that can go a long way toward attracting attention.

Note 2: I’ve never seen anyone have a great deal of luck by only posting the first few chapters of a book here, though lots of authors try it. A lot of readers, if not the majority of readers, wait until a book is marked complete before jumping into it.

5. Podiobooks 

Podiobooks is a site that will host your completed audiobook (so you have to turn your Book 1 into an audiobook before you can do this) for free and then send it out to iTunes, where people can chance across it, much as they would a podcast. I have the first three books in my Emperor’s Edge series out there where people can listen to them for free.

I won’t lie: audiobooks are expensive to create unless you do it yourself (and then it’s time consuming, which is expensive in another way). Because of that, this method won’t be for everyone.

That said, because there is that higher barrier to entry, there are a lot fewer free podiobooks out there with which to compete. There are thousands of free ebooks in each genre on Amazon, whereas you might only find hundreds of free podiobooks in iTunes in your genre (if that).

I published my podiobooks in 2011 and 2012. I do absolutely nothing to promote them, but I still get people emailing me to let me know that they found my series this way (and often asking if I’ll ever put the rest of the books into an audio format!). Some of those listeners go on to buy the ebooks in the series. (If I had audiobooks for the rest of the series, they would probably buy that way instead, which can be more lucrative than ebooks.)

If you’re going to be putting your books out in audio format anyway (I’m doing my Rust & Relics series through ACX right now), then you could also consider putting a free version of Book 1 out there. Then people who enjoy that can go on to buy the rest of the series through iTunes/Amazon/Audible.

There’s my list of five ways to promote your free Book 1. Do you have any to add? Or any experience with these that you would like to share?

Marketing Your Series: a Plan for a Solid Launch and Sales for Years to Come

| Posted in Advertising, Book Marketing |

53

Let’s talk about publishing and marketing a series today. It’s generally what you’ll hear authors recommend doing, since it can be tough to gain traction with readers when you’re doing unrelated stand-alone novels.

A series has the potential to be a bread-winner for an author, with later books in the becoming “auto buys” for fans who enjoyed the earlier books. But if you don’t see a lot of early success (or you do well with the launch, only to have sales drop off for subsequent books), you can have a love-hate relationship with your series.

Maybe you’re getting some sales, but not the kind of sales you hoped for. And maybe you’re doggedly pushing on because you keep hearing people say, “Oh, my series didn’t take off until Book 3 or 4,” or “You’ve got to have at least five books out in a series before you can expect to make it.”

If you’re on Book 5 of Your Awesome Series, and you’re wondering if it’s worth continuing, I probably can’t answer that question for you, but there are some things you might want to try before giving up. And if you’re just starting a new series, here’s a little advice based on what I’ve done in the past and I’m doing now. For the new visitor, I’ve got a number of series going, including one that I started anonymously with a pen name (I published the first four books in that one before sharing the name and managed to get it off to a good start. More on that here and here.) Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I wouldn’t recommend writing a bunch of series at once unless you’re super prolific, and even then I keep telling myself to finish some and streamline things! (I keep waiting for myself to listen.)

Here’s my MO for marketing a series these days:

The Book 1 Launch

I usually tell people not to put a lot of time and effort into marketing the first book, especially if you’re a new author and this is your first series. Why? Because there’s nothing else for readers to go on to buy, so you’re spending all of this time trying to sell something where you can only get one sale maximum per buyer. When you have numerous other books out, you stand to make much more per customer.

That said, everyone wants to get things off on the right foot, so why not try to get the ball rolling? Every now and then, you see a new series taking off from the beginning with a good Amazon sales ranking and lots of reviews within the first month. It can happen. I’m actually seeing it happen more often right now, thanks to Kindle Unlimited (more on the why of that here).

Note: on the chance that this happens for you, it’s a good idea to have the second book already almost ready to go; these days, I’m a fan of holding off on a release of a Book 1 until a couple more books have nearly been completed, so you can publish them a month apart or so.)

To have any hope of doing well with this first book, you’ll probably need a great cover, a great blurb, and a good book. Yeah, state the obvious, right? But let me say that by “great,” what I really mean is: this book looks exactly like the books that are selling really well in my genre, and the blurb sounds pretty close to what’s selling too.

If you have a super original story, that’s okay, but I’ve learned that it’s better to emphasize the stuff that is the same, or even generic/formulaic-sounding to you, rather than showing off how different your story is. Be honest, of course, but you’ll probably find that even in your original story, there are some common elements that appeal to the masses. I’d highlight those.

(I’m in the process of doing this for some of my older works myself–redoing the covers and the blurbs to more closely fit genre expectations. Just a couple of days ago, I put up a new cover and blurb for my Emperor’s Edge 1-3 omnibus, and the sales ranking went from well over 100,000 to under 40,000 without a price change or any marketing. That surprised me, because at that ranking, it’s not like the bundle is super visible on Amazon anywhere. The reason I made the change is that I’m hoping to snag a Bookbub ad this spring, and that will be the real test. I ran this bundle with BB in May 2014, and it didn’t have horrible results, but it didn’t do anywhere near as well as my Dragon Blood boxed set, which I advertised in mid-Jan with a typical fantasy-esque cover and a typical blurb.)

Launch price for Book 1

Even though I have readers now, I’ll often launch a new Book 1 at 99 cents, at least for the first few days.

I’m going to tell you something that probably isn’t a secret: if you can get enough momentum at Amazon, meaning enough sales spread out over the first few days of your launch, Amazon will start selling your book for you. What I mean is that your book will be appearing in your category lists, and it will appear in the also-boughts of lots of other books, so you’ll have the kind of visibility we all hope for. If your book has wide enough appeal (note stuff about typical blurb/cover), it could “stick” and continue to sell well, based on its merits and that visibility.

In addition to mailing your list (if you have one), this is the time to try and snag some ads too. Most of the big sites won’t accept books without at least 10-20 reviews, so it’s going to be hard to picked up, but there are a few advertisers who will plug new releases, and the ads usually aren’t that expensive. Fantasy author C. Gockel maintains a big list of advertisers who promote 99-cent titles. (I wouldn’t spend more than $50 on advertising at this point.)

Note: This isn’t something that can only happen at launch. For example, I dropped the price on my Dragon Blood bundle to 99 cents for that Bookbub ad back in January. It had been out for a couple of months at $7.69, and that’s the usual price, based on the individual titles being 2.99/3.99. In the past, I had always raised prices again shortly after an ad like that because the sales ranking started to rise (this is typically what happens with Bookbub–you get a big spike and then Amazon sales gradually settle back down to normal) and there wasn’t much of a perk for only making 35 cents per sale on a book that wasn’t selling heaps. Well, the DB blurb and cover must have worked for a lot of people. For the first time ever for me, the book stuck at a pretty high level, hanging out in the 300s in the overall Amazon store for almost two months (I’m waiting for it to fall off any day now, and I keep debating whether I should raise the price up to 3.99 or so — still a bargain compared to the usual price — to see if I could make more before it drops off more drastically. But, I’ve seen increased sales of Book 4 and also of my other series, so I haven’t changed it yet.)

But back to the focus of the post…

In order to have a good chance of getting a bunch of sales early on, going with a 99-cent price tag for launch (i.e. the first week) can make sense, even if you already have fans and a mailing list (I’ll often do a 99-cent Book 1 just because I know I’ll discount it later anyway, and I want to give loyal readers who are on my list a good price).

Should you keep the book at 99 cents? Probably not. The exception might be if you’re selling so many books that you’re still making money and if you’ve got Book 2 ready to go soon, so people have something full-price to go on and buy. (The new pre-order system on the various sites can help out with this; if your Book 1 release has been hot, putting the pre-order up for 2 can help you grab sales before people forget about you.)

So what happens if your book doesn’t take off?

This is much more typical than the scenario I’ve written about. Even though we all hope for that awesome early success, it’s atypical.

So if Book 1 doesn’t take off, put the price up to 2.99 or 3.99 or whatever you’ve decided your regular price will be, and then forget about it (seriously, forget about it), until you publish Book 2.

Note: I don’t recommend leaving your book at 99 cents if it’s not selling that many copies. Later, you’ll want to run sales on it, and it’s easier to get ads on a book you’re discounting, rather than one that is always inexpensive.

The Book 2 Launch Strategy

First off, as soon as you publish Book 2 and get the store links, you’ll want to update the back matter of Book 1. (Do what I say, not what I do, because I’m not sure if I’ve done this with all of my older titles; I do make sure to do it now.) It’s up to you what you want to do (include an excerpt? just a link?), but you’ll want to let the readers know that the second book is available, so that anyone who picks up the first book and finishes it can easily go right on to the second.

Pricing

I’ll usually launch a Book 2 at full price, figuring the visibility on this title is less important (most people aren’t going to start at Book 2, so I feel Book 1 should still be getting most of the attention); there’s less incentive to start with a rock-bottom price. Besides, this is where I want to start earning some money by taking in the 70% earnings split from the vendors, especially if I decided to leave Book 1 at 99 cents, because it was doing well.

I’ll send out a notice to my mailing lists and plug the book on the social media sites, but I’ll probably put my focus on Book 1 again. I’ll often drop it down to 99 cents again and buy a few ads (if it’s only been a few weeks since it launched, I might not bother, especially if it’s still selling well, but if it’s been a few months, it’s time to renew interest in the series and try to get some new readers into the world).

I don’t do much on social media to seriously try and sell my books. I do know some authors who swear by their Facebook Events and Twitter links, but I find optimizing the sales page (especially on Amazon) and buying ads is a better use of my time and can get me far more noticeable results. Yes, it’s tough finding advertising where you come out ahead (make more in earnings than you spend on the ad), but this is still my preferred method, because it doesn’t take much time, and if you can sell enough to get on those lists and in those also-boughts, it can be worth taking a hit on the ads themselves, because you end up earning more in the long run. (Keep close track of this, as it’s not always the case. You have to have a plan. These days, I’ll try to line up five or six days’ worth of ads in a row to try and gain that momentum and “stick” on Amazon.)

Right now, I have more money than I have time, so time is a far more precious commodity. However, when you’re getting started, it’s often the other way around. That’s when social media and blog tours and such can make more sense. The good thing is that you’ll find it easier to use social media to plug a book that’s 99 cents rather than one that’s $4 or $5. That said, it’s even easier to plug a free book, which brings us to the next section.

Book 3 Launch

As with Book 2, update the back matter of the previous book.

This is often the time where I’ll make Book 1 free for a while. It’s up to you if you want to go with that tactic. You can try another 99-cent sale instead, but you can often get a bunch of extra visibility from bargain-watching-and-sharing blogs (I.e. Pixel of Ink) by making a book free, especially if it’s the first time it’s ever been free. Chances are, you’ll get a lot more people checking out your first book, people who might not otherwise have tried a new-to-them author even at 99 cents. (Don’t assume that the freebie seekers won’t go on to buy your other books; I’ve found that simply isn’t true. A free ebook is basically the same as a physical book checked out from the library. Haven’t you found authors whose books you went on to buy after first discovering them at the library?)

You’ll probably want to throw down some advertising to plug your free book. Even though that sounds counterintuitive (pay to advertise when the book won’t make you any money?), remember that you’ve got two more full-priced books in the series that people can go on to buy.

Note: you may briefly lower the price of Book 2 to 99 cents while you’re running ads on Book 1, especially if you get a big site like BookBub or Ereader News Today to advertise the first. If you make mention of that in the Book 1 blurb (i.e. Book 2 is also on sale for 99 cents, and here’s the link), you might get some people buying the second book at the same, or shortly after they download the first for free. I’ve definitely found that this works, and I think that if you can get more than the first book into the hands of readers, they’re more likely to get sucked into your world and become committed to the series.

To stay permafree with Book 1 or to boost it back up to full price or 99 cents?

This is up to you. My first Emperor’s Edge book has been free for three years. If people haven’t tried my stuff before, they can always try that one. It’s the library book strategy. Because I like having a free sample out there, I’ll probably continue to leave it free.

That said, with newer series, I haven’t been leaving the first books free. I had my Balanced on the Blade’s Edge free around the holidays, but after about three weeks, I put the price back up to $2.99. Part of this was to make the three-book bundle look like a better deal, but part of it is also because free downloads really drop off after a few months. You have to keep buying ads if you want that first book to stay at the top of the free lists, and with more people belonging to Kindle Unlimited (where they can get unlimited borrows a month), there seem to be fewer people surfing through the free lists overall.

If you’re not getting a lot of downloads of the freebie, you won’t be getting that many people checking out the following books in the series, so you might as well be getting paid for the sales Book 1 does get. Also, as I said before, it’s easier to get ads when you’re lowering the price of a book, as opposed to simply plugging something that’s always free. Most of these ebook sites and mailing lists want to share bargains with their readers.

David Gaughran, in his Let’s Get Visible, calls this strategy price pulsing. It’s up to you to see what works best for you, but if your Book 2 sales ranking is above 100,000 on Amazon, chances are your permafree isn’t doing much for you right now.

Book 4 and Beyond

By now, you’ve probably sensed a theme here. Every time I release a new book in a series, I’ll go back and put Book 1 on sale and buy some ads for it. Sure, I’ll plug the new book to my mailing list and social media followers (in short, the fans who have already read all of the other books), but I don’t do much else to promote the new book. It’s all about getting people into the series back at Book 1.

Now, if you have the kind of series where a person doesn’t have to read the books in order, then you might do things differently (for my pen name, any of the first four books could technically work as stand alones, so I may eventually do more advertising of books other than the first). But if your series and world will be confusing for those who don’t start at Book 1, I believe it makes sense to focus on getting people to try that.

By the time you reach Book 4, you do have a new advertising/sales strategy that’s available. You can, as I mentioned above, box up the first three books in the series into a bundle. I talked more about the whys in my 3 Reasons to Bundle the Early Books in Your Series post, but in short: it’s easier to get ads on bundles because you’re offering a big discount, such as $9.99 to 99 cents, and people who read the first three books all at once are likely to become more committed to the series than those who only read the first one. Also, it gives you the opportunity to play with covers and blurbs. Maybe you want to go a different direction, try to rank in different lists, try to target different keywords, etc. This is your chance without possibly ruining a good thing with your regular series books and sales.

Book 5 and Beyond

I only have one series (okay, two, since the pen name has five books out now) that I’ve gone this deep with, and I’ve been neglecting it (my Emperor’s Edge stuff) this last year, since it’s been finished since 2013. But I’m planning to see if I can get it some more loving this year (step 1 was redoing that boxed set, since that’s a lot cheaper/easier than redoing the covers for the entire series).

With that caveat shared, what I would recommend here is to do some evaluation. If you’re selling well enough that it makes sense to continue, keep going. Keep trying to get more people into that first book. Now and then, make it 99 cents or free and make the rounds with the advertisers. Once a year or so, make the bundle 99 cents and advertise it. I’ve even seen a few authors with big series out there make the entire 3-book bundle free, at least for a while. I’ve also seen people box up books 4-6, not with the intention of selling them at 99 cents but to give readers deals by giving them a couple of dollars off the regular price.

An idea I’m kicking around, since my entire EE series is finished (it ended up being seven books or seven and a half books, if you count a substantial novella), is boxing up the entire thing. The only reason I haven’t is because Amazon drops the cut back down to 35% if you price an ebook over 9.99, and I wouldn’t want to sell the entire series at such a low regular price.

But back to that evaluation stuff.

If you’re five books in, you should be able to tell… is this series thing working? Am I covering the costs of cover art, editing, and advertising for each new book? Am I making enough money after all of those expenses are accounted for that all of the effort is worth it?

If this is your first series, you want to come into things with realistic expectations, but at the same time, if you’re up to Book 5, and you’ve been doing all of the things I’ve talked about here, and you’re not making any money (or you’re in the hole), it may be time to either wrap things up or to put the series aside and try something else for a while. If you’re just writing it for the love of it and don’t care about money, then that’s one thing, but most people who are this committed to publishing their work (who have put this many books out) want a return on their investment.

If you’re worried that your existing readers won’t give a new series a try, that’s a valid concern, but if you stay within the same genre, maybe even the same world with some crossover between new characters, then they might just come along for the ride. You also have the opportunity to appeal to all new fans by starting over again with a Book 1.

Or… you could take what you’ve learned and try a different genre or sub-genre. A whole new world. Some authors strike gold with their first series, but your next idea might be the one that appeals to a lot of people. One thing I do know: it’s really tough to predict what’s going to be a winner ahead of time.

Final note: before scrapping anything, ask other self-publishers what they think about your covers and blurbs. We authors can be really bad at evaluating or our own stuff. But you would be surprise how much of a difference these two things can make!

Thoughts? Questions? Experiences you want to share? Please leave a comment below!

 

Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What Will Work?

| Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing |

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Lately, there have been quite a few people blogging about how 2014 was the year of the quitter, when it comes to independent authors, or that it was, at the least, the year that things got tougher.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen more and more ebooks available in stores (more competition), we’ve seen adjustments to the Amazon algorithms that make it harder to “stick” at the tops of categories, and we’ve seen reports that ebook sales are no longer growing (at least in the U.S.). In 2015, traditional publishers started using indie author tactics, such as running sales on first ebooks in series and discounting backlist titles. On top of all that, Amazon rolled out Kindle Unlimited this past summer. It’s been a boon for some authors (mostly authors who signed the KDP Select exclusivity deal and are in the program), but for those unwilling to go exclusive and for those who were already big sellers, KU has meant an income hit.

So, yes, things have probably gotten tougher. And the general consensus is that it’s not going to get any easier from here on out.

For myself, I definitely noticed the sales rank hit to my Amazon titles when KU came out. (More about why that happens in this post: KDP Select & Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage) In 2015, I found that I sold less of each title overall for my backlist books (specifically my Emperor’s Edge books, which are part of a series I completed over a year ago), most likely because the permafree Book 1 is being downloaded a lot less now — there are more free titles available at Amazon and elsewhere, and also I believe KU has siphoned off some of the deal seekers who used to peruse the free lists.

All that said, I didn’t take an income hit. I’m up overall in 2014 from the previous years, despite my efforts being scattered, instead of focused on one main series. Some of my success this year was simply because I was prolific, but I don’t believe, as some others seem to, that this is the end of the golden age of e-publishing. It’s probably the end of the “gold rush” years, but we all knew that was coming (some say it “came” back in 2011).

The industry is maturing, and we’re past the stage where you could sell piles of ebooks just by being an early adopter. But I think for those who are fairly prolific, who put out solid stories, and who can watch, learn, and adapt, it’s still a great time to be an independent author.

As I’ve talked about recently, I launched an anonymous pen name from ground zero in October (details here and here), and had very respectable sales numbers. The days of becoming a best seller with your first book are probably gone (there will always be exceptions, but I’m talking about for the majority of us here), but they’ve been gone for a while. More than ever, you’ll have to have a solid launch plan, make sure you nail the cover art and the blurb, and make sure your stories are as professional as possible and that they give the readers what they want.

Oh, you want some specifics about what’s going to work this year? I’ll give it a try. We talked about some of this over on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast last week, too, so check that show out if you like podcasts. But for the readers among you, here goes…

Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What’s going to help sell books and make more money?

Networking with other authors

You guys don’t know how hard it is for me to encourage networking, since I’m the stereotypical introvert, and I cringe at the idea of going out and schmoozing with people. (The internet makes it easier, but still!) But in the last six months or so, I’ve been invited to join a couple of multi-author book bundles, and I’ve seen how much more effective promotions can be when 10 authors are involved instead of 1.

Bundles aren’t the only thing you can do with others. On the day after Christmas, I joined about 50 other authors who all made a book free for a couple of days (or used a permafree title) and agreed to email their newsletter subscribers to plug the big list. Even though my book was borderline on fitting with the theme, I ended up with an extra 2,000 downloads in about 36 hours, something that a lot of the paid advertising sites can’t deliver (I paid about $85 for similar results on such a site a month earlier). For those downloads, all I had to do was send out a quick email to my list with a link to the page that the organizer put together.

Now for those of you who say, of course you get invitations to networking opportunities, because you’ve been out there blogging and building a list for years, here’s my response:

First off, my pen name got invited to a bundle w/ her 100 mailing list subscribers, because “she” raised her hand on a forum thread, so there’s that. Second, if nobody’s knocking on your door, then you have to be the organizer. Be the person who’s willing to organize the bundle or the group email event.

You may think that some authors will be too popular or too busy to bother saying yes to something you put together, but a lot of those authors are worrying about keeping their sales up, too. You might be surprised how many will sign up, especially if you make it easy for them, and all they have to do is email their lists/social media followings and chip in a little money for formatting/advertising.

What types of networking promotions can you do? Here are just a couple that I’ve seen work (or participated in myself):

  • Multi-author themed email blasts — Try freebies or 99-cent titles so it’s a deal to readers
  • Themed book bundles — These may not be as effective as they were a year or two ago, but they can still be one more funnel you have out there that leads into the rest of your work
  • Anthologies of short stories/novellas with new material — Recycled material can work for big bundles, but new material will appeal even more to your existing readers. Try short stories or novellas, so writing something new isn’t as big of a commitment.
  • Finding other authors who share your style and have similar sized fan bases, and plugging each other’s books in the back matter (this can be nothing more than cover art and a blurb) — You guys probably remember seeing publishers doing this in paperbacks back in the day.
  • Grabbing other authors with a similar style and sharing a pen name, so you can put books out every month — I’m just starting to see some of this among indie authors, specifically in the romance genre. It’s not something that would appeal to me, but I can see where it could be effective for people who are less prolific but want to take advantage of the Amazon algorithm benefits that can help new releases.

So how do you find these other authors in your genre to network with? Find out where they’re hanging out and go hang out there. When I started my pen name (science fiction romance), I joined the Romance Divas forum. Even though I don’t post a lot there, I watch for people starting threads such as, “Hey, I’m putting together a boxed set about XYZ — who’s in?” or “Who wants to do a multi-author mailing list promotion?” and I throw my name into the hat if it’s a fit.

I’ve also seen such threads on the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards, but you may have better luck if you can find out where the authors in your genre hang out. I’ve seen a lot of genre-specific Facebook groups, and some people are starting to put out genre-specific podcasts, as well. Even though our SF & Fantasy podcast has only been going for a couple of months, I’m seeing how having guests on is an opportunity to meet new people, people you might be able to collaborate with later on.

Yes, the first-in-a-series-free tactic still works

If you checked out my first pen name posts up there, you’ll see that I launched with the first two books in the series and made one free as soon as Amazon would price-match it. Even though my first and second books featured different heroes (the first-in-a-series-free tactic works best when you’ve got the same heroes and the second story is a continuation of the first), it worked well enough. In two and a half months, the pen name made over $10K.

The tactic is pretty simple: upload your book to Amazon at the regular price, then upload it for free at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sometimes Amazon price-matches it to free on its own, and sometimes you’ll have to report the price difference on the book’s sale page (and get some buddies to report it too). It’s been my experience that if a book is already selling some copies, Amazon price matches fairly quickly.

Make sure you mention the second book at the end of the free book. At the least, put the name of it in there, but you may want to make it a link right to the store page. Some people also add a blurb or an excerpt.

Note: I’m finding that it’s easy to get a lot of downloads for a newly listed permafree (especially if you buy some inexpensive ads to plug it), but that they drop off a lot after the first month or two. Something I’m planning to play with in the future is going in and out of permafree with a book 1, so that when it is free, it’s more of a deal, and it’s not something people have been seeing day in and day out for years.

Consider taking advantage of the opportunities that KDP Select offers, especially if you’re not selling on the other platforms

Like many indie authors, I’ve never been a fan of the fact that Amazon requires exclusivity to participate in its KDP Select program, and I completely ignored it (actually, I glared at it and gave it the squinty eye) for years. This summer, after I saw what an advantage it was to have books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, I finally decided to try it. Oh, not with my regular books, since I have a lot of readers on the other platforms, but with the pen name. I believe that, in addition to the free first book, it was a big part of why the pen name books not only rose to the Top 20 in their little category but stuck there for quite a while.

Since the borrows currently count as sales for calculating sales ranking (and category placement) and they’re easier to come by, it’s easier over all to stick. It’s quite possible that will change a few months down the road, but as we start out in 2015, KU is helping with visibility on Amazon.

I ran my first three-day Kindle Countdown Deal over Christmas, as well, lowering a 3.99 title to 99 cents, and I definitely found that it helped give that book a rankings and sales boost that lingered after the sale. I didn’t do any other promotions of it, but I’ll try to schedule some next time I try a Countdown Deal.

Note: just enrolling in KDP Select isn’t any kind of magic bullet. You still have to do enough promotion to get a title into the Top 100 of your category, otherwise it’s not getting any kind of visibility boost, especially if it’s a newer title and isn’t in many other books’ also-boughts. That’s why I did the combination of first-in-free and then KDP Select for the following titles in the series.

Working the other vendors 

Yes, this is the opposite of the try-KDP-Select advice. You might not be interested in going exclusive with Amazon, or you may decide to only enroll some of your books (since we’re being paid around $1.30-$1.40 for borrows right now, a number that may continue to drop, a lot of people are only putting their shorter/cheaper works in the program). So how do you make it work on these other sites?

Here again, having a permafree book 1 can really help, along with not going on and off the platforms. For instance, even though I was all-in from the beginning, it took me a while to start selling books on iTunes, Apple, and Kobo, in particular. I found it easier to get some momentum on Barnes & Noble, after using Smashwords to get a freebie into their store, but I know other authors have had different experiences with these vendors.

With Kobo, your freebie might not get much notice unless someone over there helps you along. Note: on Kboards, you can mention if you have a first-in-series-free, and Mark Lefebvre might add it to a special first-free page on Kobo. Kobo also does some promotions for those publishing in Kobo Writing Life (indie authors, essentially), so it doesn’t hurt to get on their radar. I’ll leave it to you networking pros to figure out the how, but hardly anyone comments on the Kobo Writing Life blog, so that might be a start.

iBooks is starting to do some indie promotions as well. They did one for 99-cent bundles last fall, and they’re running one for first-in-series-free right now. Again, you have to figure out how to get on their radar to get invitations (with these things, it seems to be a matter of getting added to the mailing list of the person in charge of indie relations). My invitations came through Mark Coker of Smashwords, but I know some people who upload directly to iBooks are on the Apple guy’s list too. Like I said, I suck at networking, but there are perks for those who put themselves in the position to be noticed, especially at these other vendors where it can be tougher to figure out “the algorithms.”

If you can’t summon the interest to network, at least check out the interviews Mark has done, as he’s very open about what works and what doesn’t at Kobo:

I’d love to hear Mark Coker and someone from Apple do some more podcast interviews, too, so go bug those guys if you know them. 😉

A note on Google Play: I’m not there yet (soon!), but I’m hearing from authors who have their books there and who are seeing their earnings grow. I interviewed my co-host for The Writing Podcast about his experience with Google Play in the second half of this show. He’s making over a thousand dollars a month there, right now, and I think he said it’s become his best earner after Amazon. For now, the keys seem to be a first in series free (notice a theme here?) and also to use keywords in the product descriptions. You do also have to be aware that Google will discount your books (there’s a chart at the bottom of that link that shows how much extra to charge in order to have Google’s prices match what you’re doing on Amazon and the other stores).

Making sure you’re not leaving money on the table (audiobooks, paperbacks, translations)

This isn’t necessarily about marketing, but as long as you’re trying to make more from selling your ebooks, why not try to add additional revenue streams to your income? Much of this advice is for myself as well as well as for others, since I need to do more of this too. In 2014, I focused on writing and publishing new material. I still plan to do that, but I’m going to try to make myself take a week away from writing/editing here and there to take care of the things I haven’t gotten around to, things that could be earning me more money:

  • Audiobooks — I have the first three Emperor’s Edge books out there on Audible and Podiobooks, but I got derailed when my narrator couldn’t continue. Since most people downloaded the free versions, I never made much from sales anyway, but one of my goals for 2015 is to get the rest of the series out there (I’m planning to go straight through ACX and not do free versions for the rest). I want to get my Dragon Blood and Rust & Relics books out on audio too. These are investments that only need to be made once (ACX also has a royalty-split option if funds are tight) but can continue to provide a trickle of income over the years. And every now and then, I come across an indie author who makes a lot from audiobooks.
  • Paperbacks — I have all of the EE books out there, along with Encrypted and Decrypted, but I need to catch up with the other novels. I’ve never made much from the paperbacks, aside from Nov/Dec when people buy them for gifts, but having a $12 paperback listed next to the $3.99 ebook can really make the ebook price look like a deal and might encourage more sales.
  • Translations — Honestly, I haven’t heard of anybody knocking it out of the park yet with foreign language translations of their books, but there are some indie authors who are trying it for markets where they believe their books would be popular. I just got an email from someone who translated my first Emperor’s Edge novel into German, and we’re going to look at getting an editor and then getting it out there to see if it would be worth continuing with the series (aside from the countries where English is the native language, Germany is my highest earner). The cost of having a novel translated makes it cost prohibitive, but sites such as BabelCube are coming out, where a translator may be willing to do a royalty split (it probably goes without saying that you’re going to need to have a popular book to attract someone).

All right, as usual, I’ve rambled on for a long time here. If you would like to share some of the marketing tactics you think will work well in the coming year (or years), please leave a comment!

Update: Joanna Penn beat me to the punch with talk of audiobooks and translations. Also check out her recent article on surviving and thriving as an indie author in the years ahead. “Write Books You Love. Think Global. Consider Multiple Streams Of Income