Saturday, March 23, 2013

What A Difference A Year Makes

It occurred to me I really should do a wrap-up post for the blog since it doesn’t look like I’ll be posting here much anymore. I think I simply hit that wall that many bloggers who’ve blogged for a few years hit. Been there, done that, time to move on to something new. Not without regret, of course. It’s been a great place to work out and share the first steps of my self-publishing journey, as well as a great place to share data and put forward marketing theories. Had I known earlier self-publishing could involve so many lovely spreadsheets and data analyses, I would have jumped in far sooner!

In that spirit, I thought it appropriate for this post to cover three topics:
  • Amazon Select Then And Now – One Book’s Journey
  • Steel Magnolia Press – One Year Later
  • The Latest On The Pop List Watch – Math-Free Version!


I first enrolled SECTOR C in Select on January 6, 2012. Since then, it’s gone free 10 times. It’s always lucked out and had fairly good runs, and was one of the books that saw immediate success in the Golden Age of Amazon Algos, when free book downloads were counted as real sales. It hit #1 on the SF poplists a few times and made a couple of appearances (with its old cover) on the Amazon splashpage for ebooks.

When authors ask whether or not frequent free eventually reaches saturation, I point to SECTOR C. In a string of 8 months where SC went free each month, it still had a decent showing of 11,000+ downloads in the 8th month. And, after being downloaded about 63,000 times in the 9 free runs prior, it still managed its best run yet on its 10th time out.

Granted, it had a little help via a BookBub ad on Day 1 followed by a late rally on Day 4 from a FKBT mention, which resulted in over 44,000 downloads. It hit #1 Free in the store late in the day on its first day free and then again on the afternoon of its second free day.

But what of the post-free sales bounce? In January 2012, SC had 16,000 free downloads, then went on to sell 1930 copies, netting over $4300. Bless those old algorithms!   

After its late February 2013 run with 44,300 downloads, it’s had over 750 sales+borrows, with an anticipated 30-day total of 850 sales, with a net of about $2000. Almost 3 times the number given away this year resulted in less than half the number of sales and royalties from January last year. Still, it sextupled what had been its monthly sales average for the 5 months prior, so I still count what was probably its last free run for a while a grand slam.

In all, SECTOR C (pubbed Sept 1, 2011) has earned about $17,000 over its lifetime. Not a groundbreaking figure, but one I’m still pretty pleased with.

Does Select Free still “work”? (Weren't we asking that same question back in August?) For many of the titles in the Steel Magnolia Press inventory, the answer is YES, with caveats. Those caveats are common sense. Freebook site mentions, of course, play a huge part. But we have titles that can still hit high in the Top 100 without a major site mention, even competing against titles with BookBub, POI and ENT backing. That’s due in large part to one or more of the following:  
  • being penned by a name author
  • being a boxed set with a higher perceived value to begin with
  • being in a highly popular genre

Shorter works, titles without a high review rating, and/or titles that don’t get an advertising push don’t do well. No surprises there. For those books, we have to figure other strategies to get them noticed.  


On January 1, 2012, Steel Magnolia Press had my 2 novels and short essay collection and 3 of Jennifer Blake’s novellas in its inventory, and had been in business for about 6 weeks.

Today, Steel Magnolia has 50 titles by 4 authors published, with 49 of those titles in Amazon Select. SMP also has an honorary bestselling Magnolia with 2 titles in (though her sales are not included in our overall totals). We’ll be publishing another backlist novel from Jennifer Blake, Sweet Piracy, at the end of March, then a brand new book in Jennifer’s Italian Billionaires Collection will release in early May. In June, we’ll put out 2 more box sets, then follow those this summer with 12 backlist novels as we give the box sets a rest. On top of that, we have a handful of Blake’s backlist novellas waiting to be formatted, and new titles to come soon(ish) from Tamelia Tumlin and me. By the end of 2013, we’ll have close to 80 titles available once we bundle some more of them up in time for Christmas giving.

But having a large inventory and selling them are two different things. Now, we could go with the KKR-DWS approach of pricing high, publishing to all platforms and then ignoring the books as we move on to publishing the next. Instead, we concentrate our marketing on Amazon, use the tools available there, advertise strategically, and price competitively and aggressively to gain the visibility that leads to more sales. Using this approach on mainly backlist titles has worked well for us as we’ve grown Steel Magnolia to its current 50 titles, the majority of which are novels and box sets.

When reading our sales figures, keep in mind that we did not start publishing out Jennifer’s backlist novels until last July, and then it was only 4-6 books per month from July-October. October also saw the release of a brand new book by Jennifer, The Tuscan’s Revenge Wedding, which hit #1 Free in the Amazon store with 37,000 downloads, jumped to #91 Paid overall, then went on to sell 25,000+ copies.  In November, we bundled the existing books into virtual boxed sets and released 8 of those. We published nothing new in December, and then published two more box sets in January, with no new titles being published in February and March.

One of the box sets, the Louisiana Plantation Collection hit #14 Paid in Amazon in December, stayed in the Top 100 through January, hopscotched in and out of the Top 100 through February and finally fell out in March after selling well over 65,000 copies. As I write this, it’s at #198.

In all, over the past year, Steel Magnolia has had 10 separate titles in the overall Top 100 Paid bestseller list in the store, and several more ranked under #1000.

Sales Figures For Steel Magnolia Press, January 2012 – Feb/March, 2013

195,347 - Total # of Books Sold (through March 22, 2013)
724,456 - Total # of Books Given Away (through March 22, 2013)
$163,660 - Total Royalties (through Feb 28, 2013)

96,581 of those sales have happened since January 1, 2013. I think, maybe, we’re finally getting the hang of this indie publishing thing ;o).


Having been among the first (maybe The First) to point out how Amazon uses the popularity lists as tools in its internal marketing and recommendation engines -- and changes those algos to better reflect the browsing and buying choices of its readers and to better influence whatever buying choices it wants its customers to be making -- I figured I should end by throwing out a couple of things for the new Data Avengers among you to mull over.

First, the UK is still using algorithms that are quite favorable to indies who run free, whether via Select or price matching. Spoil of War was recently price-matched to free in the UK for a couple of weeks, during which time it had 2077 downloads. When it came off free (by my choice, I no longer wanted it price-matched so was actively trying to get Amazon to re-price the book to paid), it was quite nicely ranked in the poplists:

#1 Arthurian Fantasy
#1 Historical Fantasy
#5 Historical Fiction
#5 Fantasy

Those rankings were true to the algorithms of the Golden Age of early 2012 that we all knew and loved on the .com store. Sales at the UK-equivalent of $3.78 began promisingly enough: 28 the first day after it came off free, followed by 25 sales the next day. Followed by 4 sales the next. Sigh. Amazon, in its infinite wisdom, had seen fit to re-price the book to free again. Since it’s full price elsewhere, it could only be price-matching some cached version of iTunes, or price-matching the US store.

Still, enough of a glimpse to know the UK remains firmly entrenched in the Golden Age algos. For now.

But here’s the kicker on the .com site and the tease for all you data watchers. The higher (better) SECTOR C climbed the poplists and the KOLL lists, the worse its sales seemed to get, on average. Yes, even before that 30-Day Cliff that still looms ahead for SECTOR C. Yesterday was its best placement on those lists since being free – but yesterday was its worst sales day yet.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to figure out why.

Peace out.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Amazon Select Free Dead?

Yes! No! It depends!

If all you're using Select Free days for is to bump more sales, then your answer will be shouted from whichever side of the sales curve your book happens to be on after a free run.

And, because things with Amazon are always changing, it appears a waking dragon is starting to make some interesting noise.

Let's look at the trends over the last two months. Oh, wait, there are no trends. Results are all over the map, and each book I'm privy to sales figures for seems to have its own idea of how to perform duing and after its free run. Maybe YOU can spot a trend.

I'm going to arbitrarily break the books down into New Releases, Series, and Standalones because maybe it makes a difference where a book is in its lifecycle. Or maybe not. I'll include genre, free history and site mentions. Note that none of the books I've seen sales figures for has had a paid ad for its free run. For the books I have permission to name, I am. Others I don't, so I won't.

At the end, I'll compare how my strategy today for a free run is different from what I posted way back last February.

And what about that waking dragon, you ask? For US-based authors, it's beginning to look like the UK has raised its sleepy head and is starting to roar. But like the rest of the Select Free equation, if you're on the wrong side of the sales curve, you might not be able to hear it yet. More about that in the individual results below.


NIKO'S STOLEN BRIDE by Lindy Corbin - Contemporary Romance - Standalone

Notes: Definitely an out-of-the-ballpark hit that defies all lessons learned about free runs. New author, no reviews, no major site mentions. Only the smaller sites that auto-list all the free books picked it up.

Free Stats
Free for 5 days, July 12-16 (set free within a few days of publishing)
#5 overall in both the US and the UK
US: 30,000 downloads
UK: 5000 downloads

Sales Stats July 17-31
US: 1800 sales (1460 sales in Week 1 at 99c, 340 sales in Week 2 at $2.99) and 104 borrows
UK: 250 sales (220 sales in Week 1 at 99c, 30 sales in Week 2 at $2.99)

PARANORMAL ROMANCE by a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author - Series

Notes: This book is the beginning of a new series set in the same world as one of the author's traditionally published bestselling series. Unlike Niko above, this book had a "name" author, 6 reviews before it went free, and was picked up by every single major site.

Free Stats
Free for 3 days, Aug 9-11 (set free 2 weeks after release)
#14 overall in the US
~#200 overall in the UK
US: 15,500 downloads
UK: 290 downloads

Sales Stats Aug 12-18
US: 280 sales at $2.99 and 39 borrows (compare to 250 sales at $2.99 during its first 2 weeks in release before going free)
UK: 8 sales

ARROW TO THE HEART by Jennifer Blake - Historical Romance - Standalone

Notes: This is a backlist re-release of an older national bestseller, with high-profile reviews for other editions. It got no major site mentions.

Free Stats
Free for 5 days, July 11-15 (set free within a few days of publishing)
#17 overall in the US
#89 overall in the UK
US: 22,000 downloads
UK: 1000 downloads

Sales Stats July 16-31
US: 340 sales at $2.99 and 58 borrows
UK: 28 sales

SPANISH SERENADE by Jennifer Blake - Historical Romance - Standalone

Notes: This is a backlist re-release of an older national bestseller. It got a Free Kindle Books and Tips mention only from the majors. Mixed reviews since, but we simply didn't see a bump even before the reviews started coming in. Sales are even just a little below pace of the 3 other historical romances released at the same time that did not go free.

Free Stats
Free for 3 days, Aug 9-11 (set free within a few days of publishing)
#33 overall in the US
#179 overall in the UK
US: 10,700 downloads
UK: 430 downloads

Sales Stats July 16-31 
US: 42 sales at $2.99, 8 borrows
UK: 14 sales

DEADLY IMAGE by Tamelia Tumlin - Inspirational Romantic Suspense - Standalone

Notes: With no reviews upon release, we didn't expect this book to get picked up by the majors in July, and it didn't. We did hope for a pickup in August after it got a handful of nice 5-star reviews, but again, no major mentions.

Free Stats
Free for 1 day on July 12, and 3 days Aug 10-12
July: 1250 downloads
Aug: 1050 downloads

Sales Stats
July: 71 sales (60 at 99c, 11 at $2.99)
Aug: 14 sales (10 at $1.99, 4 at $2.99)


Anecdotal only, but based on the collateral sales for other books in a series when one title is free, it does appear that series sales remain strong when free books hit in the Top 100. Several successful books that are not Steel Magnolia titles, but whose authors have kindly shared data, have had collateral sales in the couple of hundred copies during the course of the free run and in the immediate aftermath. Having other books in the series discounted during the free promotion also appears to be quite attractive to readers.


In July and August both, we had books free that had all at one time or another been in the Top 100, many several times and many in the Top 50 once or twice.

Books that received one major site mention landed in the Top 200, but none cracked the Top 100. Each run in July and August, about half the books that were not new releases fell into this group. A far different scenario from having 7 out of 10 free books in the Top 100 in May. I did, however, have 3 books I was managing in the Top 35 in August. So, for a while, we owned 10% of the top third of the Top 100 Free list :o).

Downloads averaged 1000-1500 with a major mention, and 200-1000 without a major mention.

Post-free sales ranged from 30-100 in July and August during the first week post-free for books with 1500 downloads and 10-20 sales for books with fewer than 1000 downloads.


Then there's my thriller, SECTOR C. This book has had a free run each month since January. Data for Standalones above would indicate diminishing returns for books that keep pulsing free. Yet, somehow, SECTOR C keeps plugging along (helped, of course, by the kindness of at least one major freesite mention each run - in July, it got a mention from Ereader News Today and in August from Pixel of Ink and Kindle Fire Department).

A brief history of its free run download numbers:
Jan - 17,000
Feb - 2300
Mar - 2400
Apr - 1900
May - 11,500
Jun - 3850
Jul - 3450
Aug - 9400 US, 1770 UK

Concerned that 1) SECTOR C may have played itself out on the free circuit and 2) total sales each month have been on the downslide, I decided I needed to do something to help inject new life into this little book. Fond as I continue to be about the saber-tooth image the cover originally sported, one thing I'm certain helped this time is the cover change I made. It's much more obvious this is a medical thriller now. And by putting a woman on the cover, I hope to appeal more to women readers.

POI readers seemed to respond well to the new cover; the last time it was featured on POI (in June), it got fewer than 4000 downloads.

Also, it's never gotten more than 200 downloads in the UK before. I think it received so many this time for two reasons:

  1. The new cover has a broader appeal
  2. Freebies in the Mystery/Thriller genre seem to be more popular across the board now than in the past. Another thriller free the same time SC was followed SC up the charts, then went on to dominate overall with an additional 2 free days. And a mystery went gangbusters there, as well. Both authors tell me this is the best their books have done in the UK.

Of interest, I had only 3 days for my free run. UK downloads kicked in hard near the end of Day 2 and the rank was still improving in the UK when I canceled the free run at #17 overall. By then, its US rank had gone from #34 to #55. Another day or two free in the UK would have made a huge difference, I think. I'm not sure it could have rivaled the 5000 Niko's Stolen Bride got in July, but it might have come close.

But a great free run without a sales bump would be disappointing, no? As a pleasant surprise, the UK delivered. Why? Because the UK is still running the old algorithm for its pop lists where freebies are weighted close to the same as a real sale. Great visibility in the UK is the reward for a successful free run.

Sales comparison for the first 7 days post-free for the last 4 runs:
May - 173 sales at $4.29 and 38 borrows
Jun - 142 sales (43 at $4.39, 83 at 99c, 17 at $3.89) and 35 borrows
Jul - 75 sales (45 at $4.39 and 30 at $2.99) and 23 borrows
Aug - 146 sales at $4.39 and 69 borrows in the US, 175 sales at $2.99 in the UK

Current Thoughts on Freebook Strategy

These are editorial in nature only. Typical caveat of "your mileage may vary" applies.

  • New releases (along with virgin titles that have never been free) can still do very well.
  • A free run continues to be part of Steel Magnolia Press' release strategy.
  • We have modified that release strategy to have only 1 title free in each Collection of 2-5 backlist titles of Jennifer Blake's that we're releasing each month. Each of the other books in the month's Collection is getting paid advertising.
  • The new release itself does not need to go free if another in the series can be made free instead.
  • Successful series sell well during a successful free run of one of the titles.
  • Go big. Earlier, it seemed to matter where a book was ranked when it came off free. Now, it's all about the raw number of downloads a book can manage.
  • If the first day's number of downloads is less than 1800, cancel.
  • The algorithms have a built-in 30-day cliff. Each free run is evaluated case-by-case as to the benefit of having a reserve of free days left to always keep that cliff 2 weeks out.
  • We'll likely hold all current books in Select until March, then re-evaluate the benefits then, unless...
  • If things change drastically, we're prepared to make what changes are needed to best optimize our promotional opportunities. 

There's nothing stagnant about this business. We all have to keep trying new things, watching the results, and tweaking our plans on the fly.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Just How Do Those $&%*# Amazon Algos Work Anyway?

(Yes, I'm still around -- thank you to those of you who have emailed their concern. I'm just concentrating on other social media areas and posting to a few private and public groups, which is cutting into personal blog time.)

Warning: This (very long) post contains math.

Authors are a funny lot. Since a core group of us introduced the idea that Amazon's algorithms for its popularity lists contain a price bias and that freebies now seem to count about 1/10 as much as paid sales on those lists, the amount of misunderstanding regarding the findings has been, to say the least, staggering. Misinformation and disinformation propagating through the interweebs and the various forums point to a serious non-grasping of the underlying concepts.

And the authors reacting to just plain wrong information are understandably questioning why they aren't seeing results in line with what they're reading.

So let's quickly revisit what those findings are and what they aren't. Then we'll take a look at how the algorithm for determining rank on the popularity lists probably works at its most basic structure. Mind you, the actual algorithm is likely much more complicated than what I'll present, but the simple form you'll see here should help you to understand how it determines the playing field.

Popularity List Findings

First, the popularity list is NOT the bestseller list. They are two different beasts. On the Amazon webpage and on Kindle devices, you have to actually navigate to the bestseller list to find it. The BS list will show the paid bestsellers in one column on the left and the free bestsellers in a column to the right. If you're not seeing BOTH paid and free books on the page, you are not looking at the actual bestsellers. If at the bottom of the page you don't see links to specifically scroll through the Top 100 books and ONLY the Top 100, you're not looking at the actual bestseller list.

What you're looking at is the popularity list. And it's THIS list we'll be discussing.

Differences between the popularity and bestseller lists:

  • The popularity list figures in freebies. The bestseller list does not.
  • The popularity list does not figure in borrows. The bestseller list does.
  • The popularity list has a price bias. The bestseller list does not.
  • The popularity list influences the bestseller list more than the bestseller list influences popularity.
  • The popularity list figures in sales (and sales-equivalents) over the last 30 days. The bestseller list weights sales history, but not to the extent the pop list does.
  • The popularity list recrunches about once per day. The bestseller list recrunches hourly.
  • The popularity list has a lag time of about 2 days. The bestseller list has about an hour lag time.
  • The popularity list rank does not display anywhere except in the list itself. The bestseller rank is the rank you find on a book's product page.

The only way to know where your book ranks on the popularity list in any given category is to tediously scroll through the list to find it. (If you're pretty sure you're several pages in and don't want to scroll through every page, you can change the page numbers via the url in your address bar; but this option is for advanced users only who can find the page number designation in the url code.)

So, to make this as clear as possible:

  • The number of freebies you give away during a free run does not in any way affect your bestseller ranking. 
  • The price of your book does not in any way affect your bestselling ranking.

These variables are used only for determining a book's rank in the popularity lists.

The reason the popularity list rankings are important is that your book's visibility in those lists seems to be a huge sales driver. YOU may not personally find books by browsing that list, but a lot of folk apparently do. Also, some of the recommendation emails Amazon sends out display the top 6 or 7 books in a category, then provide a link to the pop list to discover more books in that category.

Watching your pop list numbers is as important -- and for some, even more important -- than watching your bestseller numbers.

Algorithm for Determining Popularity List Rank

The popularity list algorithm has undergone at least 2 major changes since it came under scrutiny in January. Back then, freebies appeared to be weighted 100% of a sale and borrows appeared to be counted in as well. Because of these weightings, books in Select that went on a successful free run with 2000 or so downloads would wind up at the top of the pop lists after the 2-day lag to get there. That resulted in the famous 3-day bump when browsers would start seeing a book on the first page of a pop list and hit Buy, catapulting a lot of indie books into the stratosphere. That was the Golden Age.

In March, Amazon started doing split marketing, testing different algorithms to create its popularity lists. Between late March and early May, there appeared to be 3 separate lists being tested, and predicting the popularity of a freebie following its free run was difficult because of the multiple lists.

In early May, Amazon apparently settled on a single algorithm to display to the majority of its customers. (Caveat: the list for the Fire seems to be out of synch from the rest -- either Fire readers are being presented a different list entirely or else the servers sending out the data to Fires are delayed.) There are umpteen possibilities as to WHY Amazon settled on the algorithm it did. I've speculated elsewhere about the why as have others, and this post won't rehash those speculations. We're simply accepting that Amazon wanted to elevate certain classes of books and decelerate the meteoric rise of others. It's how they're accomplishing this that we'll look at today.

Remember, we're working on best-guess speculation here, figured out from watching how the books on the list perform against each other. It's reverse-engineering -- and subject to a lot of variables that those of us outside of Amazon are simply not privy too. There will always be outliers, and there will always be minor differences in rank performance due to those other variables. For the most part, though, this simple formula seems to be the base for the current popularity list algorithm.

[(.1 x A) + B] x C / 30 = number of sales equivalents

A = the number of freebies given away in the past 30 days (notice it gets multiplied by 0.1 or 1/10);
B = the number of actual sales in the past 30 days; and
C = the weighting given for pricing.
30 = the number of days in a month (hence, the 30-day cliff that's talked about in conjunction with the pop list)

C is guess work since it's hard to figure exactly how Amazon is weighting price. It's a big enough variable to be noticeable, but not so big that it skews the results in a truly huge way. It also seems that the weighting of price goes by ranges of price, so a 2.99 book might be weighted the same as a 3.99 book. As a guess, the following matrix might be reasonably close:

99c -$2.98 = 1.0
2.99 - 3.99 = 1.1
4.00 - 5.99 = 1.2
6.00 - 7.99 = 1.3
8.00 - 9.99 = 1.4

So let's put some real numbers in there to see how this works. I'll use SECTOR C's past 30 days as an example since it had only a modest free run the last time out and its overall July sales were modest as well.

So for SECTOR C,
A = 3325 (number of freebies given away on the US site)
B = 328 (number of US sales from July 4 - Aug 3)
C = 1.2 ($4.39 is the book's typical list price)

Plugging the numbers into the equation, and showing our work, we get:

[(.1 x 3325) + 328] x 1.2 / 30 =
(332 + 328) x 1.2 / 30 =
660 x 1.2 / 30 =
792 / 30 = 26.4

So, 26.4 is the average daily sales equivalent for the past 30 days. Because of a healthy number of freebies being figured in, that means that SECTOR C is going to enjoy a better popularity rank than another book that has sold 328 copies over the last 30 days -- even if that other book currently has a better bestseller rank.

26.4 books is equivalent to a bestseller sales rank of around #3500. On Aug 3, SECTOR C's actual bestseller rank was between #5565 and #6930.

Now, because we don't know the exact number of books other authors are selling, we have to look at current ranks to make some best guesses to see why SECTOR C is at #29 on the popularity list for Technothrillers. And because books that have been on free runs are more volatile in the ranks, it's best to compare books that are not in Select (who is this Tom Clancy that has books on either side of mine on that list?!).

Here are the ranks and prices of the non-Select books closest to mine at #29:
#25 - 3178 - $3.99
#26 - 6030 - $8.99
#27 - 5380 - $8.99
#28 - 8720 - $4.95
#29 - 3500 (equivalent) - $4.39 (This is SECTOR C)
#30 - 24,365 - $3.99
#34 - 3931 - $3.99

"Aha!" you say. "A flaw in the calculations! Look at the 24,000+ rank on the book at #30!" Well, yes, I did look at that book and I found through Google that it had been free on at least July 25, so it was either price matched during the last 30 days or left Select in the past week. Variables like this are what makes reverse-engineering difficult -- and likely what makes many folk looking at a single snapshot question the accuracy of the findings. It has taken several snapshots over an extended period of time and deep research to come up with the guesstimations that we have.

While we can never draw conclusions from such limited data, we can look at the data above and see a couple of things:

At about the same price, the books at #25, #29 and #34 line up in the rank right where we would expect them to in relation to one another. We've already determined that #30 is skewed by an earlier free run. As I can only see today's rank for #28 (it's not listed on any of the tracker sites), it could well have had a better rank 2 days ago (another reason it's important to look at all this stuff over time as well). The 2 $8.99 books at #26 and #27 are Tom Clancy books that have been selling steadily at those ranks and are a demonstration of the price bias in action.

So, Realistically, What Can You Do With This Information?

Honestly? Not a whole lot. A higher price will give you a slight advantage, but only if you're selling well enough to be near the top of the pop lists anyway. It's not like a $4.99 book is going to rank dozens of ranks better than one that sells the same number of copies at $3.99. And a 99c book that sells 1000 copies will still rank higher than a $2.99 book that sells only 300. Simply pricing your book higher is not going to automatically boost your ranking.

Giving away a LOT of books during a free run can certainly help. Even so, the 3325 copies of SECTOR C given away last month only equaled about 332 sales equivalents. Depending on the category your book is in, that could be a drop in the bucket. In categories where the top books are selling 1000 copies a day, you'd have to give away 300,000 books to compete for first-page visibility. If you only gave away 200,000 books, you'd have to make up the difference with 10,000 paid sales. For most of us, it ain't gonna happen.

So if you're looking to the algorithms to help you sell, understand exactly what the algos are doing for you -- and how they work against you. There's no magic to them. It's all pure math. And Amazon may choose to change the math that feeds them tomorrow. Just maybe, the next changes will be in our favor...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It's Christmas in July!

Get back into that holiday mood with heartwarming romances by bestsellers
Susan Mallery, Christina Skye, Jennifer Blake, Diane Farr and Lisa Mondello.

9 featured titles plus many more sure to fill your quota of holiday cheer! 
Be sure to check each book's product page for more specials, themed titles and new releases by some of your favorite authors.

Find these specials and more on the Christmas in July Amazon page at

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June Bride Celebration

8 Bridal Romances - 99 cents
Save up to 80%
June 20-21

Participating authors include Jennifer Blake, Pat McLinn, Sandra Edwards, Shadonna Richards, and Geralyn Dawson. Check their product pages for steep discounts on more titles!

Find them on this special Amazon sale page:

Plus, 12 Steel Magnolia Press books also on sale for 99 cents each. Ends June 21.
See Steel Magnolia Press' special Amazon sale page at

Sunday, June 17, 2012

May Sales Voyeur

(A little late posting as my wireless connection has been iffy for the past few days. Boo.)

For me and for Steel Magnolia Press, May was a month to truly test the benefits of Select free runs. With no other marketing campaigns going -- not even a new release -- other than our collective free run on May 9 and 10, we were at the whims of free, Amazon's newest algorithms and a twitchy recommendation engine.

How did we fare? Well, it turned out that we got some nice promotional pushes during our free run that helped us tremendously. That meant most of our books saw a little spike mid-month to help buoy sales within their crucial 30-day windows that are a huge part of Amazon's algos. Whew!

It also validated my latest mantra regarding Select free: Go big or don't go at all.

The flaw in that advice, of course, is that it's difficult to know in advance whether you're going to go big or not. The best I know to do with it is to go out for one day to test the free waters and, if nothing spikes then, to pull back and wait till next time. If a book gets some nice mentions from the major sites and the downloads are ticking along, keep going.

How big is big? For us, it looks like 3000 freeloads is the minimum to make a difference on a book's own, when it's not propped up by other campaigns or promotion from the other books in our inventory. Until Amazon changes its algos again, that's the deciding point for me for whether it's worth continuing a free run or not. A Top 100 spot used to be a fairly good indicator a book would do well post-free, but even though we put 7 out of 10 books into the Top 100 Free, not all of them generated enough freeloads to make good on the promise of post-free sales. So Top 100 by itself, for us, isn't big enough. And honestly, that's pretty daunting news.

I documented our free run and its results over the first week post-free in painful detail in earlier posts, so I won't rehash that here. I'll just provide the highlights to help, um, highlight the differences in sales among our books for the month based on how well they did during their free runs.

#17 with 10,600 freeloads
383 sales @ $4.29
65 borrows

The Warlock's Daughter
#24 with 9700 freeloads
187 sales @ 2.99
21 borrows

The Rent-A-Groom
#32 with 9000 freeloads
347 sales @ 2.99
48 borrows

Out of the Dark
#42 with 7400 freeloads
180 sales @ 2.99
11 borrows

A Dragon's Seduction
#89 with 3300 freeloads
326 sales @ 0.99
14 borrows

Catering to the Italian Playboy
#95 with 3400 freeloads
185 sales @ 2.99
15 borrows

Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever
#98 with 2570 freeloads
30 sales @ 2.99
0 borrows

Gypsy Bond
#134 with 1950 freeloads
75 sales @ 0.99
1 borrow

Vet Tech Tales
#145 with 1600 freeloads
249 sales @ 0.99
14  borrows

Spoil of War
Price Matched - 1924 freeloads
67 sales @ 3.27 (+Apple)
$136 (+Apple Royalties)

Cumulative in May across SECTOR C, Vet Tech Tales and Spoil of War (could I be more genre-diverse?), my royalties came to $1326 with a few iTunes sales for Spoil still to be reported.

SECTOR C crossed two exciting-for-me milestones in May:
  • Over 5000 copies sold
  • Over $10,000 earned
Steel Magnolia Press as a whole is coming along nicely right now as well. Jennifer re-released a novella in June, and we're gearing up to start releasing her 36 rights-reverted novels in July, along with new novellas by Lindy Corbin and Tamelia Tumlin. Cumulative over 2012 (Jan-May, excluding the Extinct anthology), SMP has seen the following:
  • Copies Sold - 19,169
  • Borrowed - 1358
  • Downloaded Free - 168,600
  • Royalties - $24,580
I'll have some comparisons between the free run in May and the one in June in my next post.

And don't forget the June Brides Celebration starting Wednesday, June 20, where you'll find some incredible deals on bridal romances by Pat McLinn, Sandra Edwards, Shadonna Richards, Geralyn Dawson and Jennifer Blake. Check back here for links on the day! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kick Back With These 23 Beach Reads - Just 99 Cents Each

June 13 and 14 Only!

Why 23? Because that's how many books are in the two awesome promos my books are a part of.

The first, 10 4-Star and Up Beach E-Reads, features 10 books by 10 different authors at up to 80% off. You'll find Thrillers, Fantasy, Romance and Historical Fiction, with an 11th bonus LitFic short thrown in for good measure. SECTOR C is among them. Many of these authors are offering steep discounts on their other series and standalone titles, so go check them out.

You can find all these books together on a special Amazon sale page at Why yes, that really is an Amazon page with multiple books that have no other association with one another than that they are a part of this promotion. Pretty cool, huh?

There's also a new blog site for announcing the occasional promos I'll be helping put together: The Virtual Shelf. Subscribe by email or put it in your RSS feed to follow the different promotions I'm involved in. I'll be discussing their effectiveness in later posts.

And, of course, there's also a new Facebook page. If you stop by, please Like it :o) (I'll be updating its first post soon.).

Oh, and if you're a fan of Monique Martin's Out of Time series, she's just released Book 3, Fragments!

You may notice that there's another Steel Magnolia Press title in the mix: A Dragon's Seduction. I figured this would be a good time to drop the prices of 12 SMP titles to 99c and use the above sale, which has paid advertising associated with it, to our own advantage. (Don't worry, the other authors are also capitalizing on their pieces of the Beach E-Reads promotion, extending the sale and its reach even further.)

In response, I set up another Amazon sale page for Steel Magnolia Press at added a mention about the sale on the product pages. And voila, an 11-book campaign turned into a 23-book one for anyone clicking on SECTOR C or A Dragon's Seduction :o).

Will that help sales? We'll find out together over the next few days.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June Promotions and an Award

Indie Book of the Day has chosen SECTOR C as today's winner! And they sent along a very lovely badge for me to display. Why not go Like them and check out their past winners?

Ebook Promotion

Promoting books is not terribly hard work. I sit at my desk, feet propped up, snacks and beverages at hand, with the occasional dog or cat nudging me for attention, walking across my keyboard or curling up in my lap. So no, not hard -- but it is time-consuming. And I don't even fuss much with social media.

Where I do put my attention is on learning what others are innovating and then doing the necessary follow-up to see how successful different activities and ideas are. And then, of course, figuring out if other factors influenced that success. And finally, trying to come up with ways to tweak those ideas so they work for the goals I've set.

Sometimes what's worked well for others doesn't work at all for me. Sometimes I can make something work that others seem not able to. Why? Because timing, audience, price and just plain luck are all part of marketing. Why do some books seem to take off on their own and others don't?

In May, a group campaign with 10 Steel Magnolia Press books yielded moderate post-free sales across all titles. We had lots of nice promo push behind that campaign and, when our June freebook campaign came around this past week with 12 books, we didn't expect as much push. We did get a couple of nice mentions, but a couple of major sites also declined to feature our books again (not at all unexpected and probably a smart decision on their part), and one surprise mention was especially welcome.

Even with a more low-key campaign, we still managed to put 5 books into the Top 100 Free. I'll have details about post-free sales in June compared to May a little later this week. The short version is that my observation from last month seems validated. If a book doesn't get at least 3000 freeloads and sit in a Top 100 overall spot, there just isn't going to be a sales bounce any more. The divide between the books that see even a moderate bounce and those that don't is much more clearly defined -- and much, much wider.

So I've been working on promotional opportunities beyond freebooking.

There is an upcoming group sale I'll be a part of June 13-14. We have feature spots booked on two popular sites and 10 top-rated books by as many authors that will be on sale for 99c (up to 80% off). SECTOR C will be in that sales group as will A Dragon's Seduction, another Steel Magnolia Press book. In addition to cross-promoting the 10 books in the campaign, we'll be putting all our SMP titles on sale for 99c as well and see if we can't get a few collateral sales that way too.

I'm also running a June Brides Celebration promotion focusing on bridal romances June 20-21, featuring Jennifer Blake and other authors not affiliated with Steel Magnolia Press. We have three spots booked for that promotion, and will use the same tactics for cross-promoting the bridal books foremost and the SMP titles secondarily.

I'll report here on how well those campaigns go. We're hoping well enough that we'll be incentivized to continue to run a couple of themed campaigns per month.

Look for links to the website and Facebook page that will host these special sale campaigns when we launch on Wednesday.

Thursday I'll have a wrap-up on May sales.

And if you've been in or seen any promos that were especially successful (or spectacularly unsuccessful) for your books, feel free to share the details!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting "The Call" -- Indie-Wise

Michelle Hauck (aka Michelle4Laughs) is doing a wonderfully inspiring series of posts from authors who've gotten "The Call." Wanting a little balance, she asked me if I'd like to do an indie version of "Getting the Call," and of course I said I'd be delighted. Michelle has been an online friend and staunch supporter since, well, forever. What she and I didn't know at the time was that the indie "Call" post would be scooped by Ruth Cardello, whose self-publishing success has been miles ahead of mine. But you know what, my little books and I have worked hard to get where we are today, and I figured a little grounding for readers following the series wouldn't hurt.

My version of "The Call" is now up at Michelle's blog. And she's cross-posted it as well to her team blog, For the Love of Writing. I hope you'll take a look.

ETA: Oooh, looks like Michelle has issued a comments challenge! Please leave a few words over at her place when you visit.