Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing | Posted on 05-01-2015|
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:
- Selling Books at Kobo (The Creative Penn interview)
- How to Sell More Books at Kobo (The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast)
- Free-to-Paid Conversation at Kobo (The Self Publishing Podcast)
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“