Monday, January 25, 2016

Marketing a Debut Novel Pt 3: Life & Death of a Salesman

Kindle Countdown Deal & Promotion Sites
Last week, I talked about deciding which platforms to publish on and why I enrolled in KDP Select. Another reason I wanted to try Select was the promotional tools it offers exclusively to Select authors.

A sale is a great way to tempt readers into trying a new author. It’s a tricky proposition, though. Finding the right price point, timing, and promoting the sale are pieces of a puzzle which is missing the picture on the front of the box—and a four year old likely fed some of the pieces to the dog. Corner pieces. %*#&$! It’s a lot of trial and error.

KDP Select offers three promotional tools: Free Days, Kindle Countdown Deal, and Ads.
(I’ll address Ads next week, because they’re a whole other can of worms.)

Free days can be useful, because everyone likes free stuff, right? However, they’re not particularly useful for debut authors. For an author with a series or backlist, offering one book for free can entice readers to try it and then buy other books. But debut authors got nothin’. We’re standing there with our one pitiful book, saying, “Sorry, still working on the next one.” The reader probably won’t remember us by the time the next book comes out. We gave away our work for little to nothing in return. So I don’t recommend using free days unless you can point readers to another book they’ll pay for.

Kindle Countdown Deal, on the other hand, can be a great tool for debuts. A discount means less risk for readers with a new author, but you still get some royalties. And, if your regular price is 2.99+, a Deal still nets 70% royalties, instead of 35% (you only get 35% if you just drop the regular price under 2.99.)

You can only use it once during a 90 day Select enrollment. It can run from 1 to 7 days and have up to three price increments. Amazon shows the regular price so readers know it’s on sale and a countdown clock, which can create a sense of urgency. So it might look like this:
Regular Price: $2.99, 3 day sale
Day One: 99 cents and the clock shows 1 day, 12 hours until price increases to 1.99.
Day Two: 1.99 and the clock shows 1 d, 12 h until sale ends and price goes back to 2.99.

I tried a 7 day Deal the weekend after Thanksgiving, with hopes of catching some of the Black Friday/Cyber Weekend frenzy. It goes without saying my goal was a big bump during the sale. But I also hoped for residual sales over the holiday season, in part due to an expected increase in ranking (bestseller list) and better visibility.

I set up the sale, created ads on various outlets, and scheduled listings with several promotion sites in advance. In addition to my advertising of the sale, Amazon lists Deals in their own search category and promotes them—unfortunately, they don’t offer any analytics for sales that come from that specific page/promotion.

In the weeks leading up to the sale, I averaged a little over 1 sale/day and a little over 1 “sale”/day for KU (based on number of pages read, where the equivalent of one book read actually nets higher royalties than 1 regular sale for my price point and pages.) So I was at about 2.5 books per day. My ranking was hovering between #20k and 100k in overall Kindle sales and around #300-5000 in my genre categories (which isn’t bad, especially since my genres aren’t obscure ones.)

I used 2 increments, with the initial price at 99 cents and an increase to 1.99 halfway through the sale. Here’s what happened:



The sale worked well, but not fantastic. I got a great bump in sales and ranking, but not quite as high as I expected. During the sale, I netted 232 sales. The KU benefit was more residual, since it’s based on when they read, not when they download. In the month after the sale, I ended up with no increase in sales over the previous month, but a slight increase in KU reads (1.2 books per day to 1.7). My ranking increased significantly, up to #1200 in Kindle sales and #12, 19, and 62 in each genre category. But I didn’t break the top 100 overall or top ten in genre, as I’d hoped.

I suspect timing was the issue. Because the sale ran over Black Friday/Cyber Monday, while Amazon put almost ALL books on sale, I was competing against other books on sale. It simply couldn’t compete against the big names that were also on sale and getting bumps in ranking. I’d failed to consider that competition. So when I do another Deal, I’ll try to schedule it for a quieter period when competition won’t be as strong. (Another tip is to not do a sale during a big event, like the Super Bowl, as people are occupied elsewhere and not shopping.)

As for the promotion sites I used, I booked promotions 2-3 weeks ahead of time.
Paid: Books Butterfly, Ereader News, Booktastik, BettyBookFreak
Free: eBookLister, Choosy Bookworm, and Fussy Librarian.

The only site that seemed to drive significant sales was Books Butterfly—it is expensive ($50* and up), but it did pay for itself. They guarantee a certain number of sales and offer a pro-rated refund if you don’t hit that threshold (there are restrictions on this, though--read the fine print.)  They also offer special analytics that are helpful. For me, they were well worth the investment.
*UPDATE: I went back to schedule a new promo with Books Butterfly and found, to my disappointment, they have raised their prices while lowering the number of guaranteed sales. I'm more luke-warm in my enthusiasm now. The ROI is much more iffy at their new prices, because unless the sales nearly triple their guarantee, the promo won't pay for itself. It's entirely possible for the sales to do that--overall mine were at least double--but it's a very thin line . There's also still the ranking benefit to consider, which is worth a lot if it hits the right level. But...where'd I leave my waders?

Ereader News is also expensive ($35 and up), but I saw little or no sales I could attribute to it. I wouldn’t use them again. Booktastik and Betty were inexpensive ($8-10); if they drove any sales, it was a small amount, but since they’re cheap, I might use them again. EBookLister had no appreciable impact, but since it’s free, no harm no foul. Again, any of the sites’ effectiveness may have been limited due to the timing of the sale, but I think that’s minimal. Some promotional sites do better in different genres, I believe, so do your research.

[Choosy Bookworm and Fussy Librarian didn’t have available slots during the sale, so CB didn’t run one, and FL ran it after the sale. FL had no impact when it did run. If you choose to use them, you’ll need to schedule well in advance (ie at least a month.)]

The overall ROI was around 60%, which is a very good ROI in absolute terms. That doesn’t include time invested, however, and I spent a lot of time on the sale, creating graphics and posting for the promotion on social media. And while I loved the sales, missing the goal for ranking and exposure was disappointing.

I think a more effective use of the Deal is shorter length and few increments (3-4 days, one increment) and better timing. I intend to use the Deal again shortly, and hope for even better results. We’ll see….

Next week, I’ll discuss a Goodreads Giveaway and the pay-per-click ad options on Goodreads, Amazon, and Facebook. Keep the waders handy and order an extra truckload of wine.



Monday, January 18, 2016

Marketing a Debut Novel, Part 2: Into the Jungle

Part 1 is here

Which Jungle?
One of the biggest decisions a debut author will make is which digital platforms to publish on. It seems simple—ALL THE CHANNELS—but there are some wrinkles to iron out. With myriad options, it’s easy to get lost. Most of us know we'll want to publish with Amazon (KDP), but what about the other outlets like Barnes & Noble or Kobo?

Rather than publishing individually on the smaller single-site publishers like Nook or Apple, it’s much easier to use an aggregator like Smashwords, Lulu, or IngramSpark that distributes to most of those. However, easy is relative, and none are user-friendly, in my opinion, so order a case of wine before you even turn on the computer.

Genre is a big consideration, because some do better with some outlets like Kobo or Apple—depends on your audience and where they shop. But for most authors, more than 90% of sales will come from Amazon. Conventional wisdom says the best strategy is to publish to KDP for Amazon, then if you want to add other sites, use one of the aggregators to distribute everywhere else. But hold on. You have a decision to make first and may not need the other platforms right away, at least for ebook.

KDP Select
The decision is about KDP’s optional program, KDP Select. It allows readers to loan books within the program for free through the Kindle Lending Library (KOLL), or download through Kindle Unlimited (KU) for a low monthly subscription, but you still get paid—with a catch. You must subscribe for 90 days (opt in at any time and no limits on how often,) and the ebook must be exclusive to KDP during that time. It cannot be available at any other retailer (just the ebook, not print.) So you have to put all your eggs in one basket. But you're saved from dealing with the other platforms, and that's a relief, trust me.

Author payment for KDP Select has been controversial (and there are some very harebrained conspiracy theories about it … something about aliens and anal probes.) They recently changed the pay schedule; it used to be a flat fee per download, now it is based on a per-page-read schedule (number of pages is standardized to account for different font size, etc,) and the money comes from a monthly fund from which all authors draw. So far, it’s worked out to an average of around $ .005-6 per page. This was implemented to combat a sneaky trend of authors flooding Select with 20 page books and getting the same payout as a 400 page book. This means shorter works like short stories or novellas won’t earn as much as a novel—which is perfectly reasonable, in my opinion—and likely won’t benefit from the program as much. It also means a book people don’t read all the way through will suffer. My answer to the critics: Write longer, better books.

However, like many, I was quite skeptical of Select. My book debuted just after the payment overhaul, with the rumblings of mutiny at a fever pitch. After I investigated the critics’ claims and found them exaggerated or blatantly untrue, I took the leap.

Here’s why:
There are over 2.5 million books published every year now, around 500k of them in the U.S. Readers have a lot of choices, but limited money. When we look at reader habits, we have to recognize various levels of budget and willingness to try new authors--and recognize that those two things are directly related. We also need to get paid. Select is a way to straddle that divide. We still get paid and may gain a fan for future works, while the reader can take a chance at a lower cost, without feeling burned if they don’t like the book.

The next issue to consider is payout. As I said, shorter works suffer a bit in Select. The longer a book is (to a point,) the more reasonable the payout. Mine is 87k words. At the average payout over the last few months—$ .005—I earn around $2.60 if they read the whole thing. With my book priced at $2.99, that’s a higher royalty than if they bought it. Until and unless the payout rate changes a lot, I’m way ahead there. I’ll likely bump my price up in the next few months. Even if I price at $4.99 (the highest I’d go even once the second book is out,) I’m still losing less than a dollar on the sale…or not losing anything.

There are a lot of KOLL/KU readers, and they’re often the ones most likely to give an unknown a chance because their budget within Select is unlimited—so they’re less likely to buy at retail. They probably won’t stumble on my book and buy it for $2.99 when there are tens of thousands of books they can choose from in Select. So I’m gaining readers and royalties I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Finally, the biggest concern a lot of folks—and I—had about Select is the exclusivity. We’re aghast at the idea of cutting off other channels and “losing so many sales.” As I pointed out earlier, genre and audience are a big factor here, but the majority of debut authors won’t have a lot of sales on the other channels. A generous estimate is around 90 to 10 in favor of Amazon vs all other sites combined.

In a little less than 90 days in KU, I had over 45,000 pages read, equating to about 87 books. That’s 1/5th of the sales I had in that period. If we compare numbers, I might have lost around 35 sales from other channels (but that’s likely a huge overestimation,) while gaining 87—at a higher royalty rate than any platform—from Select. Select had probably triple the sales I might have had on other outlets. I’ll take those numbers any day.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. But Select has been great for me, and I believe it’s worth a try for most. If it doesn't work, you can quit in 90 days and put the book on the other platforms and see how it plays out, after getting a boost from Select.

In my next post, I’ll cover the Kindle Countdown Deal and the promotion sites I used during the sale. While the Countdown Deal is only available for those enrolled in Select, promo sites can be valuable for any sale, so there’ll be something for everyone. Rest up and stock up on liquor. The swamp gets worse from here.

Part 3: Kindle Countdown Deals & Promo Sites

Image courtesy of mapichai at

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Marketing a Debut Novel: Bring Wine, Waders, and an Iron Will

The launch of When Doves Fly, my debut Historical Fiction/Western, has been a whirlwind, and I’m still a bit dizzy. I discovered that authors, especially indie authors, are no longer just writers. We must wear many hats to ensure success, and my most recent chapeau is that of Book Marketer Extraordinaire. I’m certainly no expert, but I have gained some knowledge, and I’ll explain the different options I've tried and detail my experiences (and mistakes) through a series of posts. I hope it sheds light on the process and makes it a little less overwhelming for those learning how to pimp their wares.

I immersed myself in research about how to sell books. It’s involved a great deal of time, frustration, and strong cocktails. The first thing I learned is there’s little reliable information available for newbie authors. Few authors are willing to let others in on what’s worked for them—or if they are, they write a ten page book, charge $10 for it, and proceed to tell you that you need to invest in a sandwich board and a bell. Take any advice you glean from some random “bestselling” author who “sold” eight million books in a day with a huge block of salt (chances are their rank lasted for 5 minutes on Amazon in an obscure subgenre that contains 5 books, and the "sales" were free downloads.)

Much of the advice bandied about is contradictory; use Facebook, Facebook sucks; offer a giveaway, giveaways don’t work; make your book free, free books are bad. There’s also a lot of downright false information and a good number of people advocating unethical practices contrary to various platforms’ rules, either due to ignorance or lack of integrity. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines for each platform and follow them. Don’t take shortcuts or shoot yourself in the foot by breaking the rules—it’s not worth it. Wading through all of this is exhausting, and it often feels like you’re no further ahead than when you started. But if you educate yourself, you’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunity.

The second thing I learned is that there’s no magic bullet or formula that will work for every author or book. We must tailor our approaches to genre, audience, platform, budget, time, moon phases, and planetary alignment. A debut author with no backlist will need a different approach than an author with ten books. Marketing plans need to be individualized and flexible. I adapted strategies to meet my needs, and you should do the same. My novel is a debut that straddles genres, and it’s not in a “hot” genre, so I’ve had to find ways around those hurdles. A YA author will typically have more options and need to use different platforms, or an obscure genre will need to target much tighter and be able to focus resources rather than spreading them around. You’ll need to analyze your genre and audience to find the best ways to reach them. Your readers’ habits will determine which strategies work best for your book. So your first task is to figure out who your readers are, where they hang out and look for books, their spending habits, and their underwear sizes. Some of the answers may surprise you.

Then, decide your goal before implementing your marketing plan. Some marketing will focus on long term results, and some is more about short term. One strategy might gain exposure, while another will produce sales. Some tools require more time or money, or both; figure out which resources you have and focus on the methods that utilize those.

In the three months since the launch, I’ve worked on both exposure and sales, and found methods that work and ones that don’t. In short, Amazon ads produced the most sales; Goodreads ads and a giveaway produced good exposure and some reviews. Book bloggers, especially a team of reviewers, are excellent advocates, but finding the right ones is tricky. Enrollment in KindleUnlimited was a good decision; the Kindle Countdown deal, while not as successful as I hoped, did give a good bump in sales. Some promotion sites I used during the Countdown deal had a good ROI (Return On Investment,) some did not. Facebook ads were a miserable failure—but I concede that for certain genres, with a lot of work, they could be successful. However, I don’t believe they offer a good ROI overall. Of course, all of these require a strong presence on social media, and it goes without saying that your success will depend a lot on the quality of your book, cover, and blurb.

Stay tuned over the next month for the nitty gritty and feel free to ask questions.


Find Lauren's book on Amazon: