WARNING – The following post contains considerable writer geek-speak, and may cause non-writing enthusiasts’ eyes to glaze over. DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY EQUIPMENT FOR AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR AFTER READING THIS POST. If you are easily offended by geek-speak, please do not read any further.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Yep, this one is going to be another “lesson” blog entry, so if you’re new to the business, pay attention and learn from my mistakes. And if you are a pro, sit back and laugh at my misadventures in the writing business.
THE PROBLEM — I’ve reached the point at which sales on Half Past Midnight and The Road to Rejas have pretty much tanked. In July, HPM had fifty-three sales (including international sales) and two borrows, while R2R had thirty-one sales with four borrows. And since Streets of Payne is a brand new release, it’s basically an unknown title in a sea of others on Amazon. As of today, it has sold thirteen copies since its release on July 11.
THE SOLUTION(?) — Obviously, if I ever want my writing to become a serious income stream – or even (dare I dream?) a career, I will need to learn to handle and use marketing to better effect.
As ominous as that sounds, what it really means is that I’m tired of watching the numbers drop without even trying to do anything about it. So I got busy looking for advertising venues, and found a few that were relatively affordable, and whose criteria my books met.
Criteria, you say? What criteria?
I’m so glad you asked!
You see, many of the advertising sites have become popular specifically because people who subscribe to them know they can count on seeing recommendations for quality books. After all, who wants to have a deal recommended to them, only to find out that the product is crap? And what site wants to be the one that recommends said crap? The site’s subscription levels would plummet which would quickly be followed by the loss of advertising income. So, to prevent such occurrences, most of them have certain requirements regarding the number of reviews, the rating of the reviews, and sometimes what kind of books. Sometimes they will make exceptions if an author is well-known and has a long track record of producing quality books, or if the book has been favorably reviewed by a well-respected book reviewer. But such occurrences are rare for new writers. The better review sites protect their reputations stringently, as they should.
And of course, there is always the little matter of cost. The big sites can charge hundreds of dollars for ad listings. For a new writer with a new book, these factors make it pretty difficult to gain any traction. Streets of Payne is in that no-man’s-land right now. As I mentioned earlier, it’s new (been out for less than a month), and as a result, it has no reviews. As such, it has a low sales ranking, which results in minimal visibility. Such are the breaks for a new book.
So, HPM and R2R sales have tanked, SoP hasn’t taken off, and I am faced with a harsh reality – it’s time to do some marketing.
I suppose I should mention that I really, REALLY hate the marketing side of the biz. I always feel like a sleazy street vendor, trying to hawk my wares to passers-by. Still, I know that marketing is part of the business. And I keep going on about how I need to treat my writing as a business, right?
So I bought an ad for HPM on BookBub. Yeah, it’s a gamble. I mean, you’d think I would concentrate on getting exposure for SoP, wouldn’t you? And I would, except for that pesky review requirement. So, while marketing for SoP is currently problematic, I’m hoping that if I get an ad for HPM, maybe that puts my name in front of some people who’ve not yet heard of me. And if they like one book, they may be inclined to buy another. Like I said, it’s a gamble. I also bought an ad for SoP on a new advertising site called BookGorilla.com.
Coincidentally, while I was working on all this, my good friend and fellow author Edward Lorn called me with a proposal that seemed perfect for increasing visibility. He was gathering a few new authors together to do a quick marketing slam fest. He had lined up a few review sites to get out the word. Needless to say, I was in. And since I hadn’t been able to get any other exposure for SoP, I went in with that title, with an agreement to run it free for five days (August 1st through August 5th).
August 1 – At the start of this little endeavor, my Kindle Sales ranking was #77,084. The book came out on July 11, had sold twelve copies in the US, and none in any other country. Our slam fest began on August 1, with a mention on Big Al’s Books and Pals. On that day, I gave away 190 copies of SoP in the US, 30 in the UK, and 13 in other international venues. It was nothing like what happened with HPM when I conducted “the great experiment” last year, but it was definitely better than I had been doing. On top of that, my Kindle sales ranking dropped from #77,084 to #1,697. Of course, that was in the “Free” listing, but I thought it was respectable.
August 2 – So after the first day, my “sales” rank rose dramatically, from 77,084 up to 1,697. Very cool. But there was no “slam-stop” scheduled for August 2nd or 3rd. So while I had gained momentum, inertia only takes you so far. As a result, my “sales” dropped to 78 in the US, 26 in the UK, and 4 international. My Kindle Free ranking rose a little more, settling in at #1,153.
August 3 – On the 3rd, with still no further advertising slated, the number of sales dropped. As I said, there was still a certain amount of inertia, so books were still moving, but the number dropped for the second day. 60 units in the US, 16 in the UK, and 16 international. However, the Kindle ranking dropped from #1,153 to #1,406.
August 4 – On the 4th was when the magic happened. Remember me mentioning the ad I bought on BookGorilla.com? Well it worked like gangbusters. During the course of the day, SoP moved 1,576 units in the US, 53 in the UK, and 41 in the other international sites. Better yet, the Kindle Free ranking rose all the way to #118! Woohoo!
August 5 – Momentum, once again took over. August 5th was the day after the BookGorilla ad, and the book was still coasting. Additionally, we had an ad at another review site called “ImAVoraciousReader” that I’m sure helped out a bit. SoP moved 627 units in the US, 91 in the UK, and 55 in other international venues. And the Kindle Free ranking rose just a little more, topping out at #108.
All in all, I thought it went pretty well. I was relatively pleased. Final number of units given out were: 2,531 in the US, 216 in the UK, 92 in Germany, 7 in France, 3 in Spain, 1 in Italy, 2 in Japan, 4 in India, and 20 in Canada. A total of 2,876 copies of Streets of Payne were given away over a period of five days. So would it pay off?
First, you have to look at what I was trying to accomplish. My first goal? I wanted to gain visibility for SoP. Second goal? I was hoping that said visibility would garner itself into a higher Kindle sales ranking, which would hopefully translate into the third goal of some reviews, and the fourth (and ultimate) goal of higher sales. So did it work?
Well, the first goal was definitely a success. SoP is now in the hands of over 2,800 people who likely never heard of it before last weekend. In the grand scheme of things, 2,800 people isn’t huge, but it’s much better than I’d started the weekend with.
Second goal? Well, that one was a resounding failure. That may sound counter-intuitive, considering the numbers I listed above, but here’s where a HUGE lesson comes into play. Remember how I mentioned that my sales ranking rose from #77,084 before the giveaway, to #108 on the last day? Something you have to bear in mind is that the #77,084 was in all Kindle books listed for sale, while the #108 was in all Kindle books listed for free. After SoP was no longer free, not only did the ranking not carry over (which was to be expected), but it appears that Amazon counted all five days of the giveaway as zero sales days, and knocked me all the way back down to around #400,000.
Third goal (reviews) – It’s really too early to say for sure, but I’m going to list this one as a tentative success. Up until this morning, SoP hadn’t gotten a single review. This morning (August 7) I received my first. Even better, it was a very favorable (five-star) review.
And the fourth goal (more sales) – Well, it’s obviously much too early to tell how that one’s going to turn out. I can only hope it will pan out in the near future.
Lessons learned – The first thing to come to mind is simple. NEVER, EVER, EVER GO FREE! I don’t know if it’s because of those mysterious changes that Amazon makes to their magical algorithms that we always hear about, or if it’s simply that free is so blasé now, but the loss of sales ranking doesn’t appear to be worth it anymore. If I had it to do over again, I would pay more to get an ad to sell SoP at 99¢. I can only speculate on how many sales I would have made, but at the 99¢ price point, half of the sales would still have paid for the ad, with perhaps a little left over. Additionally, the book wouldn’t have lost its sales ranking. Indeed, if I had sold 1,400 copies at any price, I can only imagine that my ranking would have shot upwards, and likely would have stayed there for considerably longer, and would have translated into even more sales in the long run.
Also, coordinate your advertising better than I did. If I could have managed to get ads in several locations all at the same time, I wonder just how big a splash the book could have made? Sure, it would have cost a decent chunk of change, but would it have paid off? I suppose there’s no way to know. However, I now have a better idea of what I need to do in future marketing campaigns. Hopefully, I’ll do a better job next time around.
So that’s it. Another adventure with Jeff Brackett “Learning to write”. Stay safe everyone.