Mar 112012

Well, it was time for another post, and Mike made the below comment, and once again, I was well into another long winded reply before I realized this was more appropriate as a post than as a comment.  So once again, here is Mike’s question, followed by my reply:

Mike Oakes

Hi, Jeff

Looks like things are still going well for you. There’s a couple of things I’ve been thinking about as far as ads go, and I was curious what you thought.

My first thought (and I apologize for being negative) is what percentage of the people who bought your book because of the ad would have eventually bought the book anyway–even if it was over the course of the next year. My guess is it’s not that high, but let’s say, for example, of your 268 sales, 200 of them were a result of the ad, but only 50% of them were sales to people who would have otherwise never bought your book. That’s a net of 100 sales from the ad–not enough to recoup your investment.

On the flip side, every sale that’s generated by the ad has the potential to spawn more sales. So if 100% of the sales that wouldn’t have otherwise happened generate each generate another sale that wouldn’t have happened, you’re back in the black.

It’s probably impossible to ever determine any real numbers on this, and all the ones I used are probably grossly inflated (I do figure the smaller your niche is, the larger these percentages might be), but I’m just trying to cover all possible scenarios.

What do you think?


Hi Mike,

You make some good points.  However, I’m approaching this from a different perspective.  While it’s possible that many of the people who bought Half Past Midnight would have eventually found it and bought it on their own, I don’t think it too likely.  You see, I’m just one new, no-name author with a new book – among tens of thousands of others.

I view it like this – I’m an entrepreneur with a new product that I want to use to make a living.  Therefore, I have three jobs with regards to this product; create the best product I can (within reason – there must be ROI), package it as attractively as I can (also within reason), and place it in front of people who might be interested in buying it so that it has the best chance of success.

I have covered the first two steps by writing a (hopefully) entertaining story, hiring and working with a first-rate editor, and hiring a cover artist and formatting company to wrap the product up in an attractive package. I’m now working on the third step, and my job is to get my product in front of as many of my target audience as I can, to see if it’s something they would be interested in buying.  I think we can all agree that if they never see it, the odds of purchasing go down considerably.  :)

But here’s the thing – if I simply place the product out there and hope people find it on their own, the odds of them ever seeing it remain very slim.  Books that are way down on the sales chart tend to stay way down on the sales chart – unless something happens to raise them up.  Look at it like this, if my book is rated #1000 in the Action/Adventure category, and #100,000 of all Paid books, what are the chances that Joe Q. Public will ever see it?  It’s up to me to do something to make it more visible.  And that’s where I have to learn to work the system.

When you’re ranked that low, you are among the tens of thousands of other new authors, many of whom are not really serious about making it as a writer.  Most of them are going to be the folks who have always wanted to write a book, but never wanted to put in the effort that it takes to make it successful.  (Remember the video that Justin put out on DRS?)  :)

I like to think of this as the free-market version of the traditional slush pile.  If these were the days of “traditional” publishing, there would be junior editors at the publishing house sifting through the slush pile, looking for the gem that is worth putting some time into.  That is part of what they deemed as their job as “the gatekeepers”.  But anyone in the industry knows that the traditional model has been turned up on its ear.  The role of traditional houses as gatekeepers has been negated by the new technologies that make it so easy for us to self-publish.  But the other side of that coin is that it is now up to the individual author to raise themselves out of that slush pile on their own.

As I said, most of the books that are that far down in the listings are stagnant.  But believe it or not, that can actually work to your advantage.  When a book is that far down, the sale of a single unit can temporarily move it up in rank.  The sale of four or five books in a short timeframe can move it up quite a lot.  I know of a fellow author whose novel went from around #196,000 to around #45,000 with only four sales in one day.

Now think about what can happen if you can sell a few hundred in a few hours!  And beyond the abrupt climb in sales ranking, there is another, less obvious advantage that can be triggered here.  You also stand a good chance of hitting Amazon’s list of “Movers and Shakers“.  These are books that have jumped dramatically on the rankings charts, and there are a lot of people who watch that list to find the next “breakout” book – which in turn leads to even more sales – which brings you further up in the rankings – which gets you more exposure – which gets you more sales…

Remember my comments on the Ouroboros effect in my earlier post?

Now, I’ve heard lots of people more knowledgeable than myself talk about Amazon’s algorithms.  I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I do know that getting your product out to as many people as possible is only part of the equation.  To maximize your sales potential, you have to get your product out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible!  Otherwise, you will never get the visibility necessary to continue to make the sales.

Basically, there are several things you want to use on Amazon.  I already mentioned the Movers and Shakers list.  There are also the Top 100 category lists and the “Also Bought” lists.  These lists help keep you visible in the groups of people who are already interested in the kind of stories you write.  Conventional wisdom also says that choosing your genre category or sub-category is also very important.  I have read blog posts by other authors who will intentionally bypass an obvious category to publish under, so that they can hit another, lesser used sub-category with a higher ranking.  I currently have my book listed as “Action & Adventure”, but I could just as easily have listed it as a “Thriller”.  I don’t know how that would have worked out, but there is obviously some overlap, since during my POI experiment, HPM ended up moving into the Top 100 list for Thriller as well as A&A.

And I will go back again and mention that getting high enough in your sub-category gets you more exposure.  And once again, more exposure means more sales, which can bring you higher up on the coveted Top 100 of all Kindle books sold.  That’s not top 100 in your category, that’s all books.  I keep coming back to it, but it all boils down to getting that exposure.  You know the old ko-an about the tree falling in the woods, with no one around to hear?  I don’t want to be that tree.  I want to be the tree that people have to block off the road for, that stops traffic and has everyone’s attention.  That’s the tree people notice.

I keep banging this same drum.  Sorry.  There are likely hundred of other ways to make it as a writer, and I’m doing my best to learn about them.  But one thing I’ve learned that seems to work well is to get the best exposure you can that will give you a rapid climb in ranking.  That has to be the result of some sort of advertising or marketing campaign.  Whether it’s a day of free giveaways, or a paid ad, the best ROI seems to be exposure to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, to prime that old Ouroboros express.

On the other hand, you have to remember to keep working on the next project.  Keep writing.

And on that note, I think I’ve rambled on enough here.  It’s time to take my own advice and get back to writing.

Be safe.  :bye:

Feb 292012

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.



This is a sort of followup to my post from February 15 (In answer to Mike’s question…) in which Mike wanted specific sales numbers from when I put HPM up for free.  In that post, I explored what happened during “The Great Experiment” from the perspective of using Amazon’s KDP Select “free” marketing tool.  Well, this post is about another marketing tool I just used — paid advertising.

Yes, I actually paid for an ad for my book.  I once again had some great guidance from my fellow Red Adept Select authors in chosing the proper ad.  Truth be told, I sat back and let them decide what ad location would be best, and I went along for the ride.  And what a ride it was.

There was a short list of sites that most of them felt would be worthwhile with regards to buying ad space.  You have to balance several factors: the readership or traffic on the site, the cost of the ad space, the length of time the ad will run, and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment.  You may also run into problems with some of the more reputable sites with actually getting in.  Some have relatively strict requirements and considerable waiting lists.  The site I got on is called Pixel of Ink.  POI is a little expensive (I think it was $275, but I could be wrong), a bit restrictive (requires that the book have at least ten four-star or five-star reviews on Amazon), and has a HUGE following.  I paid for my ad last December, and it just came out on February 24.  When I just went to their site to check specific requirements (I don’t actually remember them all), the site shows that they are closed to further submissions.  I can only assume this is because they have already filled their slots for the current time period (quarter? year?).

So, the ad for HPM came out shortly after 2PM on Friday, February 24th.  As soon as I saw that the ad was out, I struck a base line on my sales and started tracking hourly (yes, I’m that kind of geek) :)   See the chart over there to the left?  (Click on it if you want a larger view.)  Notice that at the beginning of the chart the unit sales per day were dancing around the fifty sales per day line.  That big spike there?  Yep, that’s the day of the POI ad.

The numbers on the chart show that I sold 239 on that day.  But that’s not the whole story.  You see, when I started my base line for the POI ad, HPM had made 922 sales during the month of February.  But that base line started at 2PM, and I draw my daily figures at 8AM.  So, in order to draw a more accurate picture of my sales due to the actual POI ad, I started tracking on a separate spreadsheet.  Starting at 2PM I made it a point to check numbers as close to the hour as I could manage.  Here is a chart of the numbers during that twenty-four hour period.  The blacked out portion is when I finally succumbed to sleep.  :)   (Again, click for a larger image.)

As you can see, I began charting from my 2PM baseline (Row 2 – 2-24 1400) with “1400” representing the time.  It was easier to keep the columns sequenced properly using military time.  There are some obvious observations here.  For instance, note that as the number of Domestic Sales (red column) increases, the various rankings on Amazon decrease (they don’t show up until row 5 because that was when HPM broke into the top 100).  This inverse relationship is shown even more obviously in the earlier chart.  You will see that when that huge red spike of Domestic sales goes up, the other lines (representing the various rankings) goes down.  The exception is the lowest line at the bottom, which represents the number of units borrowed in the Kindle Prime library.  Note also that at 10PM (Row 10), HPM unexpectedly broke into the Top 100 Kindle Sales in a whole new category, (Thriller).  I’m not honestly sure what prompted that, but I’ll take it.  :yes:

But something that’s not quite as obvious, and in fact might actually be mistaken for a discrepancy between the two sets of numbers, is the fact that the first chart shows 239 domestic sales, while the second shows 268.  This is explained by taking into account the two different timeframes.  The first chart covers the period of 8AM, February 24th, to 8AM February 25th.  But the POI ad came out at 2PM, so when I tracked for a twenty-four hour period, I covered from 2PM of the 24th to 2PM on the 25th.  That covers more of the “hot” period after the ad. 

Here is another chart that exclusively covers that time period.  This picture is simply a graphical representation of the same data shown in the spreadsheet above.  In this one, the relationships between the trends is more difficult to see because the scales are so disparate.  Nevertheless, these two graphics show that, rather than the 239 sales indicated on the 8AM to 8AM chart, there were actually 268 sales for the twenty-four hours immediately following the POI ad. There were also 11 borrows during that same time period, when there are typically only three or four per day.

It looks like my peak rankings were right at midnight, when I hit #8 in Paid Kindle A&A, #13 Paid Book A&A, #66 Paid Book Thriller, and #302 in All Paid Kindle Books.  And right now, it’s 8AM February 29, five days later.  Checking my numbers shows HPM is still in the top 100 A&A in both Kindle and Book categories (#62 and #79, respectively).  It is also #2149 in all Paid in Kindle Store.

So was my ad purchase on POI a success? Absolutely.  Is it going to work like this every time for everyone?  Of course not.  Buying the ad alone is not going to guarantee sales.  There are your basic prerequisites here.  You have to have at least a marginally well told story.  That story must be well-edited (hire a good editor folks – it is a necessary investment in this business).  You have to have decent packaging (a good cover and title is also necessary – if you can’t do the cover yourself, hire someone).  THEN worry about promotion.  If you’ve done all this, and you still have some cash to gamble – because it is a gamble – then you can think about purchasing advertising.

But I’ve read about many authors that have done the same thing, and for whatever reason, they didn’t recoup their investment.  Like I said, it’s a gamble.  So think before you make the leap.  Ask yourself “Do I have the money to drop at the poker table?”

Now, for all of you who couldn’t care less about my lessons along the way to learning the business of writing in today’s market, I promise to have something less geeky/writer-y to post in the next few days.

In the meantime, be safe everyone. :bye:

Nov 282011

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving (those of you who celebrate it, that is.)  Mine was great (thanks for asking), but I kept chomping at the bit, wanting to write instead of spending time with the family.  Not wanting to miss time with them, I found myself in the den, with my better half, friends and family–and my laptop trying to keep up with both, and unsuccessful with either.  I finally gave up on trying to get much writing done, but then spent much of the time working with my cover artist trying to come up with some kind of cover that approached the quality of the artwork he had presented in the “young adult, vampire slayer” cover.  I still love that cover as artwork, but it’s just not right for Half Past Midnight.  We went back and forth on various ideas, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to accept the fact that I’m just not going to be happy with whatever we come up with.  The first cover was good enough that anything suffers by comparison.  And since I’m not going to find anything that I like as much as the one he already did, it’s time for me to quit stressing over it and just get the thing done with something that is at least acceptable.

So we came up with an idea, and we’re going to push through with it.  It may not be great, but the cover is the only thing holding me up on getting the thing published.  That means I have to get something done sooner, rather than later.  Then, once the cover is done, I hope to have the thing published within the next week or two, which means I now need to think about marketing.

I know it’s likely been said before, but it occurs to me that marketing a novel is analogous to the old “tree falls in the woods” koan.  If you write a wonderful novel and no one knows it, did you actually accomplish anything?  Sure, there is all the self-satisfaction of having seeing something you created with weeks, months, or even years of work, finally come to fruition, but unless all you want is a one-time bump in your personal pleasure index, you need to shoot for more. 

Personally, I want to eventually make a living at this writing stuff.  And for that to happen, people have to buy my work, which in turn means that it’s up to me to get their attention somehow – and that’s what they call marketing.  So I find myself reading a lot of blog posts to see what other authors recommend.  So far, all my reading on the subject has revealed one irrefutable truth; no one has any real, definitive idea of what works, and what doesn’t–at least not as far as I can find.

Actually, scratch that.  What I should say is that everyone has their irrefutable truth, but they all contradict one another.  One recommends that you schmooze reviewers at all levels (beginning reviewers, and experienced) to get them interested in your work, another says schmoozing is nothing more than pandering to your baser self, and will do nothing more than turn reviewers against you.  One recommends immediately buying advertising on various well-known sites to jump-start your sales, another says don’t waste your money, as you’ll only dig yourself into debt, delaying the time before your book actually begins making you any money.

So what else?

Post on writing forums!  But what could I possibly have to offer a community of writing professionals who have already trodden the path I am only just beginning?  And I already know from reading some of the proposed forums, that asking for advise is going to garner me so many contradictory tidbits of anecdotal wisdom as to be basically pretty useless.

Podcast your work.  But… no, podcasting is tantamount to giving your work away for free, and you should never give your work away for free!  Oh, and then there are the guys that say you shouldn’t bother with advertising of any sort until you have at least three titles available for sale, so just publish, and let it lie dormant until you have multiple titles ready to go.

So reviews (or not), advertising (or not), podcasting (or not), and what else?  Singing and dancing to garner attention?  Not likely, you don’t want me singing anywhere near you, and my dancing is to be avoided even more so.  So what’s a starting author to do?

Well, once I weigh all the advice and balance the equations, I’m pretty much left with a blank slate.  The “do”s and “do not”s cancel one another out and leave me back at the beginning, asking the same question–what do I do about marketing?  And viewed through the various contradictory advice offered from so many sources, it’s suddenly quite clear.

I simply do whatever feels right for me.

I have people I’m working with who are willing to help, are in fact eager to help, and that is wonderful advertising in and of itself.  I have some ads lined up, and am beginning again on recording the novel for podcast.  Reviews will come or not.  I have no real control over that, so why worry about it?  I can send some advanced copies out to a few folks, and let those particular chips fall where they may.  Other than that, it looks like reviews are pretty much a crap shoot.

The singing and dancing are still right out, though.  I absolutely, positively refuse to budge on that one.