Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shelf Placement

In a not-so-surprising twist, I had planned a post on holiday placement at the various venues before Amazon stepped in with their quite surprising site change, which pre-empted this post with yesterday's.

What's amazing to me on Apple's iTunes site as well as Amazon's is how comfortably traditionally pubbed books rub shoulders with the indies. At Barnes and Noble, not so much.

Two of the books that I published out to Apple (through Smashwords) for Steel Magnolia Press got some lovely placement last week just before Apple announced most of their crew would be off for the holidays. While the bestseller lists are automated, the other lists seem to be manually overseen. So at one of the busiest times for ebook buying, these books have prime placement with the potential that they'll keep that placement through the first of the year.

On the US iTunes site, on the Romance splashpage, Out of the Dark is the first book on the Under $5 promo spot. How cool is that?

On the Contemporary Romance page on the US site, A Vision of Sugarplums has a spot on the New and Noteworthy list. And it's even a free title!


Even though Spoil of War has dropped off the bestseller list for Historical Romance in the US store, someone at Apple continues to give it some love as it still has a place on the What's Hot list for Historical Romance. It's still clinging to the What's Hot lists for SFF in the regional stores, too.

Allowing Spoil to go free last month was one of the best decisions I could have made for it. At Apple, it continues to perform well (although I won't know what that means in actual numbers until next month). It's getting great exposure in the iTunes stores.

Spoil is currently #9 in Historical Fantasy in the US and is on the What's Hot lists for both Historical Fantasy and all Fantasy.

In the Canada store, Spoil is #1 in Historical Fantasy, and has been for over a week now. It's #30 there in ALL Science Fiction and Fantasy titles.


I'm not sure what its actual rank is in the UK. It doesn't appear in the Top 10 on the Historical Fantasy splashpage, but when I click the link to see how far down it is, this is what I get:

Nice, and I'll take it certainly, but sort of WTF? :o)

Spoil has also been #1 in Historical Fantasy in Australia for the past 4 days. The screenshot looks very much like Canada's up there, so I'll spare you that image.

At OmniLit, sister site to All Romance eBooks, Spoil got a featured spot right before the holiday weekend. Pretty, huh?


In Amazon, Spoil has been selling steadily -- certainly better than it's sold previously. It's still in the halo effect from being free, I think, so I'm watching closely to see what happens in the next couple of weeks. So far, it's sold 329 copies this month across all venues, with Apple not yet reporting in.

Vet Tech Tales is up to 194 sales after its free push.

Now I'm anxiously waiting to see what my promo over at Kindle Nation Daily on Wednesday might do for SECTOR C, which has sold 176 copies to date this month.

Lessons learned this holiday season: Pushing a lot of unrelated books? Not easy. But in its way, quite fun. I'm beginning to feel like a "real" author ;o).

Monday, December 26, 2011

For Some Gifts, It's All In The Timing

We talk about luck in the publishing industry all the time. Today I'm the beneficiary of a small stroke of it. Amazon has given me a gift.

Well, OK, it's not really MY gift. In fact, it's a small gift meant for readers and I'm just collateral damage. And not just me. A number of authors are receiving the same gift -- and all because we were in the right place at the right time.

Overnight, Amazon made a small change to its site design. Nothing much -- the webmasters just removed a couple of tabs and made them links instead. It used to be when you clicked on the Bestseller lists, you got two tabs you could click on to see the Hot New Releases and the Top Rated titles. You couldn't see what any of these titles were until you clicked on the tabs. Amazon took away the tabs and put links to the lists in the sidebars right on the Bestseller pages themselves. Had the webmasters stopped there, the links (like the tabs often) would likely have gone unnoticed. But they drew attention to the links by adding the covers of the Top 3 books in each list.

One small change -- one potentially huge effect.

Every time a cover image appears on Amazon it's an advertisement for that book. Publishers pay money for product placement in brick-and-mortar stores, and cover displays are Amazon's equivalent of the front tables and cover-out rather than spine-out placement.

Now, last Thursday and Friday Vet Tech Tales was free on Amazon. On the US site, it garnered 1287 downloads. Over the weekend, it "sold" 129 copies. Sold is in quotes because 53 of those sales were really borrows through the Prime Lending Library that Amazon counts in its sales. I am honored more than 50 readers would choose my book as their one borrow for the month. At the same time I'm perplexed why someone would choose a little 99c book with no reviews and no buzz over some really hot, really expensive titles being offered. More on buying/borrowing behavior another time when we understand it better and when the authors find out how much each borrow is worth toward their monthly royalty check.

Sales over the weekend put Vet Tech Tales into the Hot New Releases for all 13 of its eligible categories:

Nonfiction
Science > Medicine > Vet Medicine
Medicine > Vet Medicine
Professional & Technical > Professional Medicine > Vet Medicine
Lifestyle & Home > Home & Garden > Animal Care & Pets > Essays

It also made the Top 3 Hot New list for 11 of those categories. It's #40 Hot New in all Nonfiction and #14 in the Lifestyle & Home category (should it really have to compete with all those Kindle games and puzzles?).

That means that its cover image today shows up at the top of 11 Bestseller pages (above-the-fold in old newspaper-speak for prime placement) in addition to showing up in the lists themselves. More exposure, more impressions, more chances to buy.

For example:

Vet Tech Tales is #15 in Science and appears further down the page, but is ALSO listed in the sidebar, since it's the #2 Hot New Release in Science.

And double exposure for overall Medicine where it's #4 (it's #1 in Vet Medicine) and the #1 Hot New Release.


That's 11 new, high-profile clicks buyers have to reach my book.

Last week, the book wouldn't have had this exposure at all. If I hadn't made the book free when I did, it wouldn't have started selling yet. And if the book hadn't done well over the weekend, it wouldn't have had this exposure right at the start of what's expected to be a big ebook selling season. As I said, timing played an important part in all of this.

Now, of course, the little book needs to make good on all the help it's getting from Amazon.

And that's the real takeaway for all authors from this. Amazon can be a strong partner for anyone. They push traditional and indie books both. Traditional publishers can "come to an arrangement" with Amazon to get their books exposure, but books that don't get that kind of help can still get a push if they first prove they're worthy of a push. Amazon helps books that help themselves. But it doesn't care which books it's helping, so it's up to the author to keep pushing for sustained attention.

Scrambling now to see what I can do to sustain it...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Use Change To Your Advantage

Where indie/self-published authors have a disadvantage is in not having ready access to historical data about the selling cycles for books. Where they have an advantage is in having a selling cycle that no longer resembles the old cycle of trad-published books.

The trick now is to aggregate all the sales data across authors so we can apply it to future trends the same way large publishers do. But how can we be sure the data we collect is even applicable when the landscape changes not just yearly but seemingly monthly?

Well, we can't. Nor can the traddies. Publishing as an industry just isn't set up for change, especially at the pace we've seen change occur in the last handful of years. We're all continually playing catchup and watching the numbers and today's trends trying to extrapolate what that means for tomorrow, only to be hit by something new in the market that throws old data into a tailspin.

The best advice to any author entering the biz now, whether self-publishing or through the traditional route: Stay flexible and realize that change will happen, and that some changes can't be planned for.

Of course, not all change is bad. That's most true when you understand that change is meant to benefit at least one segment of the industry. You just gotta hope you're in that segment.

Be adaptable. Be the proto-mammal in the world of dinosaurs when the asteroid comes crashing to earth. Be ready to change yourself to survive the changes around you.

Make 2012 your year of change.

Happy Holidays to All!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Recommended Read And Promo Update: What's Working?

Yeah, yeah - full disclosure: I beta read this tale and have known Sylvia virtually for awhile now, but does that mean I'm not allowed to recommend a good read? No, it does not. And it is.

You Fly Like a Woman is a 12,000-word true account of a woman in a man's sky out to prove the equality of the sexes, only to find that "equal" doesn't always have to mean "the same."

Plus, I love that cover more each time I see it!

My review is on Amazon. Where you can also buy it for only 99 cents. What more do you need to know?

How about that Sylvia was recently interviewed as an aviation expert for an upcoming segment on ... well, I don't know if that's public knowledge right now, but I can say you'd recognize the venue. You just can't beat promotion like that!

Speaking of promotion, I have an update on some of the promo I've been trying. Whether you're traditionally or independently published, all authors will be faced with figuring out how to promote their work.

Social Media

Some folk can work Facebook and Twitter like champs. I can't. Well, technically I can. Meaning I can do the technical stuff. I haven't put the effort into my own pages so much (OK, at all), but I have set up a Facebook page for Steel Magnolia Press with a custom splashpage and given Jennifer's page a facelift as well.

Did you know you can customize your author page like that, including extending the area for your avatar in the sidebar? (Note you can't do this for your regular personal profile, but if you're planning on being an author, it's never too early to set up your author page!) The techie things you need to learn to be an author these days!

The tech side, though, is the easy side. I'm still learning how to actually use the social aspect of the media, and am not sure my efforts are paying off much.

Newsletters

Author or not-yet, you should start building a newsletter list now if you plan on being published any time in the next year. Certainly don't abuse it. And you don't even have to send out a newsletter regularly unless you have something important to say.

Will you get subscribers immediately? Well, I've had a newsletter signup on my Animal Junkie blog since it went live and no one's signed up. Why? Because I haven't given anyone a reason to sign up there. Lesson learned. The newsletter signup there is gone. But, I'm now using the Steel Magnolia Press newsletter to convey news.

Plus, one of the advantages of being able to control the content in your book is to be able to include links to your blog, Facebook page, Twitter, etc -- and to your newsletter signup page. If someone has just enjoyed your book, it's possible they might want to know when your next book is due out. Let them know they can receive an email when it's released.

We're using MailChimp to handle our newsletter list and to create our newsletters for Steel Magnolia Press. The upside is how professional the signup process appears and how nice the newsletters look. They have several templates to choose from, and you can customize the look to match your brand. They even allow a little HTML modification, so if you know a bit of coding, you can tweak the look even further. And they keep track of how many times the mail is opened and which links are getting clicked.

Best of all, it's FREE for up to 2000 subscribers on your list and up to 20,000 sends per month. The SMP newsletter has about 600 subscribers, and we would never send more than one mailing per month -- with the exception of offering something free just for our subscribers (and that won't happen more than a couple of times a year). (Ad spot: You can sign up here.)

Because Jennifer has a fan base she's been sending a monthly newsletter to, we'll continue the monthly mailing. The newsletter will be a good mix of promotion for our books and some newsy stuff about what's going on with us personally and maybe a download or two. For instance, Jennifer loves to cook and she has a recipe for Country Cornbread Dressing -- with instructions for preparing the cornbread and the dressing both -- in the December newsletter. I prettied it up in PDF format and added it to our download library.

The downside is that not all email clients (programs) translate the HTML the same. Some block images. Some block formatting. But that happens with ANY HTML mail. MailChimp also provides a text-only option that subscribers can choose (blecchh) and a link to a webpage with the newsletter looking all pretty if their browser is blocking. The web option means you can also embed the newsletter into your blog, if you want (I created two versions of the first newsletter before we merged the SMP subscriber list with Jennifer's.)

Check out the webpage version to get an idea of what you can do newsletter-wise using MailChimp. If you have suggestions for what's worked well for you or what you like to see in an author/publisher newsletter, please let me know!

Promotion/Advertising On Popular Blog/Websites

By far what has given me the biggest boosts yet, with the exception of making a book free (more on that in the next section), has been some free promo spots. Be sure you know what you want from each promo: awareness-building (marketing) or immediate sales. For today's post, I'm looking at immediate sales.

Free Promo

Finding sites with large followings willing to help push your book for free is becoming far more difficult. Plus, the few that will often have waiting lists measured in months. SECTOR C has been fortunate to receive a boost from two such sites.
  • Kindle Lovers: Featured in October on their website and on Facebook. Resulted in about 26 sales in 24 hours. A nice boost that the book was, unfortunately, not able to sustain at the time. I do have a request in to see if they'll feature SECTOR C again, but don't know if or when the request might be honored.
  • Kindle Books for a Buck: Featured on Dec. 5 on their website, which also has a Kindle feed. Resulted in 68 total sales within 4 days of the promo. This time there seems to be more stickiness, which I hope will stick until Dec 28 when I have a paid ad.
 So far this month, SECTOR C has been selling a few copies a day steadily. Compare to October, its best month previous, when it sold 75 copies (and 1/3 of those came from the Kindle Lovers promo).

127 - AMZ US
....3 - AMZ UK
....2 - B&N
....0 - Everywhere Else
______
132 - Total (month-to-date as of Dec. 17)

Paid Ad Spots

I've invested in a couple of banner ads for SECTOR C on moderately popular review sites and a FB ad that yielded no measurable results. I'll be thinking very carefully about future investments in banner ads for advertising purposes (immediate sales) versus marketing awareness.

I have an upcoming sponsorship on Kindle Nation Daily, one of the most popular book-finding sites around, for SECTOR C. It will be featured with a cover image and book description copy right before the website shows what the Kindle Daily Deal is for that day. The sponsorship ad -- which I signed up for in early October -- will run on Dec 28, which I think will be an excellent day, giving folk with new Kindles time to charge their readers up and find sites featuring bargain books.

The ad space I bought is the cheapest they offer: $60. It used to be nearly every book advertised on KND made back their ad fee. In recent months, though, it's becoming more hit-and-miss. Book price and genre will always play into which books have a successful run, but beyond that I think the honeymoon period is just over with the "old hands" at Kindle ownership. With a few million new Kindle owners on Dec 25, I'm hoping that changes a bit. Plus, the KND audience seems to favor thrillers. I'll let you know how the promo goes, of course.

Because the most effective sites are inundated with people wanting to advertise on them, many of them are setting up policies where the book to be advertised must have 5 or 10 reviews on Amazon, with an average of 4 or 4.5 stars and/or one of the reviews must be from a recognized review blog, and/or some other criterion designed to throttle submissions. This puts a new work at a disadvantage since many of these sites are booked months in advance and getting legitimate reviews takes time.

With Amazon's internal promotional algorithms favoring books that get driven up the ranks by outside sales and getting the promotion necessary for driving sales harder to come by, newbies to self-publishing are finding it more difficult to break in. Given time, I think there'll be a self-regulating gatekeeping going on in the background across the whole of the ebook landscape.

Freebooking

For the business-minded, putting a book up for free for a limited period of time is never just about putting the book into hands of readers because you just want the book to be read. (Please note there is absolutely nothing wrong, IMO, with anyone who publishes for the love of it and not the money. That's a very personal decision for all of us.) (And I never, ever mean to infer writing is all about selling and that the reader is necessary collateral damage in the process. This is simply an objective look at the business side of distribution.)

Freebooking is all about the results AFTER the book is no longer free. If the book is the first in a series, hopefully you've linked to the next book or to a newsletter signup. In my case, I regret I did not have a newsletter to link to at the time Spoil of War went free. I did, however, provide a link to my blogs and I included a few sample pages from SECTOR C, along with a link to Amazon.com for it and for the Extinct anthology. Not ideal, but the purpose is to offer something more of your writing.

In addition, going free on Amazon usually results in a better ranking on the paid side when you come off free than you had right before you went free. Because of the way Amazon displays its Bestseller lists differently across the site, if folk aren't interested in free books or don't know where to look for them, it's possible they'll never see them. That means once a book comes off the free list, you want it with the best rank possible -- generally in the Top 100 of its categories -- so that the folk who only search the paid Bestseller lists will see your book and possibly buy it.

The strategy usually works well, and many books see a nice spike in sales for 4-5 days. A few books will climb in rank and sell hundreds of copies within a few days of going free. Some books will stay steady in the rankings for a few weeks. And a lot of books will fall off the charts within a week. Each book, though, has its shot to succeed. For some, it's the book's only chance of ever finding an audience. So watching the sales cycle immediately after the book is put back on the paid list is important.

Spoil of War's Results

Spoil of War came off the free list in the US on Dec. 3 at a price of $1.99. Previous to this, its best sales month was back in June (when readers were buying their summer reads) when it was 99 cents and it was still on the Hot New Releases list at Amazon. It sold 184 copies then.

179 - AMZ US
..12 - AMZ UK
....4 - AMZ FR
....5 - B&N
....3 - ARe
....0 - SW/Sony/Kobo
....? - Apple (won't know the number until next month, but it's been holding at #3 or #4 in Hist Fantasy all month in the US and is #2 in AU, so I'm assuming some sales have been made)
_______
203+ - Total (month-to-date as of Dec. 17)

In the last week, Spoil sold 64 copies on Amazon US, about 1/3 of what it sold the week it came off free. Still, it's maintaining a decent rank. This morning it was at:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,948 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#26 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical
#56 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

Spoil was also free in the UK for 3 weeks. It came off free yesterday in the early afternoon (early evening UK time). Before the end of the day, it had sold 12 copies.

I don't have any promotions planned for Spoil in the near future. Just hoping it can maintain visibility till Christmas when all those new Kindles are gifted.

Freebook Plan for Vet Tech Tales

I've better prepared the Vet Tech Tales book to go free. For one thing, I put it in the new Amazon Prime / KDP Select program. That means that the content must be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. You'll note I've taken down all the Friday Vet Tech Tales posts on my Animal Junkie blog in order to comply. What does an author get in return for not allowing their book to be sold on any other site?
  • The book is added to the Kindle Prime Lending Library, where a member is allowed to check out one book per month for free. At the end of the month, authors will divvy up a set amount of funds ($500,000 in December) pro rata according to how many copies of their books were lent (note that selling price doesn't matter). Do I really think someone will opt to check out my 99 cent Tales? No, of course not. But the prices of the books are not displayed on the catalog page. Readers only see the prices after they click onto the book to find out more about it. The benefit for me is the possible exposure my book could get, plus the odd impulse buy. On its own, not enough to entice me to be exclusive to Amazon.
  • The author also gets the option of making each of their books in the program free for a total of 5 days during the 90-day exclusive period. The author can set the days for the book to go free however they want to apportion them and can schedule everything in advance. Being able to plan the free period with precision is why I opted in with the Vet Tech Tales. Not only will I be able to put the book up as free for just a couple of days at a time, when the maximum number of downloads occur anyway, I can let the books-for-free sites know in advance exactly when my book is going free and coming off free.
I also added in all the good back matter, such as a link to the SMP newsletter that will let readers know when Volume 2 is available, a link to the SMP site, a link to the Animal Junkie blog, a sample of SECTOR C, and a direct link to SECTOR C at each of the Amazon country sites (with Vet Tech Tales exclusive to Amazon, I can assume most of the readership will buy from Amazon). Since one of the MCs of SECTOR C is a vet and one of the secondary characters a vet tech, I also made the connection in my introduction to the SECTOR C sample.

Vet Tech Tales will be free Dec 22 and 23. I'm hoping enough lovely readers won't be too overwhelmed with Christmas preparations to download a copy and help it up the ranks so it has some nice visibility come the week after Christmas and can take full advantage of being on the Hot New Releases lists for its categories for the duration of its eligibility.

I'll do another roundup of results and plans in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vet Tech Tales: The Early Years - Launch Day

Something I've been remiss in discussing that's obviously writing-related is how fiction writing compares to that nebulous nonfiction-y writing realm that slides around and melts into something that looks very much like fiction around its edges but that is memoir instead. How have I managed to overlook that topic after spending 4 months writing in that very nebula? Especially when I've run thin on topics to talk about here? This is a "duh" moment if I've ever had one. And trust me, I haven't had just one.

However, I'm not going to talk about memoir writing today, but do look for a discussion on it soon. In a nutshell, the mechanics are quite similar to fiction but the angst level of writing in first person and actually meaning first person in memoir is a lot higher.

In any case, the first volume of my Vet Tech Tales, which I've been serializing over on the Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog, is now available exclusively at Amazon. For 99 cents.

Wait, did I say exclusively? Why yes indeedy. I opted it into the new Amazon Select program. You'll be hearing more about that in the coming weeks as the first bits of data start trickling in and we can begin making hypothetical guesses as to who's benefiting from the program and who's getting screwed. You're welcome for being one of the 30,000 guinea pigs opted into the program who's ready to report back so you can play along right from your easy chair.

Interesting times for us all.

Oh, and did I mention -- the Vet Tech Tales volumes is just 99 cents at Amazon. US? Links to the book on Amazon's other sites are in the sidebar.

I'll also have more new books from friends of the blog to talk about at the end of the week, along with more sales numbers.

Happy mid-month!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Week In Review

Whew. It’s been a big week on the ebook front!

1.
Two of my critique group are gearing up to release their first ebooks this month. Wishing them much success. I’ve seen the cover for the one I beta read and every time I see it I love it even more. I’ll have visuals soon.

2.
I’ll be releasing the first volume of my Vet Tech Tales within the next few days, so I’ve been busy cleaning up and formatting those pages, plus writing a foreword for the series and the volume.

3.
I’ve been working with MailChimp’s email tools to put together Steel Magnolia Press’ first newsletter for release next week or so. For a free service (for up to 2000 subscribers), it seems to offer some nice tools for producing a professional-looking newsletter in a wide variety of pre-formatted templates, plus the option to customize those templates. Since I can also hand-code some sections, I’m finding it versatile enough to work with. I’ve only run into a couple of instances where I wished it could do something without me having to code the complete newsletter from scratch, which I don’t think I’m clever enough to do on my own – at least, not without spending tons of time on research.

So far I’m liking it and would recommend it to any author or blogger setting up a newsletter or email capture service. If you go with their pre-formatted options, you don't have to know a lick of HTML to produce a decent-looking newsletter.

The true test, though, will come next week when we import about 300 more names into the tool. It appears to be straightforward enough ...

4.
Amazon opened up its Kindle Lending Program -- which allows Kindle Prime members to borrow one book from its Lending Catalog free per month -- to everyone who publishes with them. With one little catch: whatever book an indie author elects to put into the catalog must be exclusive to Amazon. That means it can’t be offered for sale through any other distributor at all. As you may suspect, this has put a lot of folk into a terrible tizzy, with torches and pitchforks appearing on schedule.

First of all, the exclusivity and catalog featuring is completely optional. There’s no requirement for anyone to play. Second, each book in the program is only contracted to stay exclusive for 90 days, with optional renewal at the end of every 90-day cycle. Amazon has put up a pot of $500,000 to be split equally across the number of downloads. That means authors with one extremely popular book or with a lot of moderately popular ones will see a bit of income, while most everyone else will likely see nothing to a couple of dollars.

Fair enough. This alone would not entice me to throw my books into an exclusivity deal, especially as I price mine so low I can’t see a whole lot of folk using their one freebie lend to get a 99c or $1.99 book. But Amazon also now allows any author in this new “Select” program to make their book free for 5 days, spaced out however you like, across the store during that 90-day period. Having precise control like that is the bait tempting me to test this new program with my new, virgin Vet Tech Tales book. It’s a great guinea pig, being the first in a series and not up for sale anywhere else. And since the Steel Magnolia Press site sends buyers to Amazon (or BN) to make the actual purchase, I can put it the book up in our storefront, no problem. Plus, Amazon has hinted there may be other tools soon available to folk who opt into the “Select” program.

Do I think this program is right for every book and every author? Absolutely not. But for certain books and authors savvy enough to know which books those are, I think it’s another strong marketing bullet in the arsenal.

5.
Two new Amazon ebook stores are in full swing (Spain and Italy), to go along with France, which opened about a month ago. This month, I’ve made 2 sales in the French store, both Spoil of War, which rocketed it to #1 in Historical Fantasy, #43 in all Fantasy and #464 in all of the English-language store on Friday when the second sale was made. Obviously not many English-reading French are buying from Amazon when you realize 848,000 books from Amazon.com were ported over for the opening of the store. And since Spoil is still hanging on to the #1 Historical Fantasy spot today, that means no other sales of anything labeled HF have happened between now and then. Still, it makes for a great photo op ;o)

6.
Speaking of Spoil, it came off free in the US late in the day last Saturday, leaving the paid free list at #473. I had a stomach-lurching moment when it reentered the paid ranks at around #210,000, which is about where it would have been had it not sold a single copy in a month, and off of every list. OK, technically it hadn’t sold anything, but the Amazon algorithms had been counting free book downloads in a way that allowed free books that had done well to reenter the paid ranks at a decent ranking and to stay on the bestseller lists.

A lot of authors have reported that their books’ rankings sometimes don’t show up for days when the books transition from free to paid. Since my rank back on the paid list was visible within a couple of hours, I was simply privy to how the cycle normally runs behind the scenes. Apparently it takes a while to recalculate rank and filter downward (upward? There really needs to be a standardized way to refer to a book achieving a better rank). Spoil spiraled down and landed in the #3000 range, with visibility on the Historical Fantasy and Historical Romance lists. Yay! But how would that translate into actual paid sales? Getting to a good rank because of a short-term promo or by being free for a bit is one thing; sticking is quite another.

After about 6.5 days, it’s been holding its own, bouncing around in rank from around #4000 to #8000. As of 5:00 am CT Saturday morning, it’s at:

• Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,225 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
o #20 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical
o #30 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

What does that mean in terms of number of copies sold? It looks like 106 copies have sold on Amazon.com at $1.99 since it came off free.

7.
Spoil is also trying hard to stick in the Apple store as well. Right now it’s #4 Historical Fantasy, #66 All Fantasy, and #96 in All SFF. I won’t know sales till next month, but I was really disappointed to discover that if you go through a distributor like Smashwords to get a book into the Apple store, Apple doesn’t disclose numbers of free downloads. Apparently you DO get that info if you upload direct, but you need a Mac to do that and I’m Mac-less. Boo.

8.
As far as Amazon deigning to pick up the two other books I'm trying to make free now, it hasn't. First there was a lag time in getting the search sites (like Google) to pick up the free price on Apple so the Amazon bots could even find the books listed for free in order to price match. Then the new "Select" program kicked in on Amazon and authors made nearly 1000 books free in the last couple of days. How Amazon will treat price matching to free in the future for books not in the "Select" program is anyone's guess.

9.
Whether a promotion works short-term and/or long-term depends a lot on timing and luck and the generosity of readers. On Monday, SECTOR C was featured on the Kindle Books for a Buck blog. That resulted in a nice surge of sales: 46 copies in a little over 24 hours, which left the book at:

• Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,774 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
   o #15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > High Tech
   o #16 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Medical
   o #22 in Book > Science Fiction & Fantasy >Science Fiction > High Tech

Ah, but I’d seen this before with SECTOR C, when another site promoted the book in October. Although the rank never got this high, the book lost rank as quickly as it gained it. This time, though, the promotion was a bit stickier.

Since Monday, SECTOR C has sold 81 copies on Amazon.com. It only started slipping rank on Friday. Before that it was solidly below #7000. At 5 am Saturday, it’s at:

• Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,307 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
   o #34 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Medical
   o #42 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Medical
   o #60 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > High Tech

One helpful bit is that Amazon added that first category, “Medical Thrillers,” on Tuesday (at my repeated prompting), which may have aided with the sticky factor this time around.

Off now to prep Vet Tech Tales: The Early Years for its exclusive debut on Amazon (and only you and I will know what that really means!).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nov Sales Recap and Why I Love Apple

Tired of hearing about freebooking yet? I hope not, because the saga is far from over. We've seen it can be an effective strategy for gaining visibility and exposure among an audience eager to download free books. How, though, does that translate into sales among the readers who don't frequent the free shelves?

Well, I don't have the answer to that yet, based on this current campaign, but Spoil of War has crossed another milestone, so I thought I'd share.

Remember when I was frustrated with Apple for keeping Spoil free long past the time I wanted it to be free? They unfreed it yesterday, about the same time some other free books that I'd been following went unfree too, although those books had been free for a shorter period of time. Guess it was time to clear the old books off the free shelf to make room for new ones.

I've notified Amazon and am waiting for them to reprice Spoil (I see the other books haven't been repriced on Amazon either, so this appears to be a normal cycle).

Meanwhile, I can amuse myself by following the book's progress through the various iTunes stores. Did you catch that plural? As informed as I kid myself that I am, I completely missed the fact that Apple has 123 regional store fronts. Not all of them carry ibooks, much less books in English, but there is a healthy selection in the UK, Canada and Australia stores that I was totally missing before I found out how to access those storefronts last week. In case you have the iTunes app loaded and haven't figured it out, if you scroll ALL the way down to the bottom of any page, there's a little button with your country's flag on it. Despite there being no instruction for doing so, if you click that button, a page opens up that allows you to click through to any regional store of your choice.

And here is why I have grown to love Apple. At least why I love Apple US, UK and Australia. I only like Apple Canada right now, but that could change.

Spoil of War is not special. I don't share these stats because I think it is, but because this is a sales tool given to us by these online stores. Not every free book will enjoy this kind of exposure, but for those in popular genres that resonate with readers, these are results that can be replicated. In fact, because there are a number of blogs and Facebook pages that push free books, and because the majority of these sites elect not to push erotica or books with controversial content -- such as Spoil -- Spoil received even less exposure than many free books. Still, Apple gave the book the same in-store exposure every other free book receives.

Rankings

When Spoil went onto the paid list yesterday, I expected it to drop off the bestseller lists completely. However, it was #5 on the Historical Fantasy list yesterday afternoon in the US and Australian stores, and by Saturday morning it had climbed to #3. Not getting real-time updates means I don't have any kind of a feel for what this means in terms of actual sales. It could mean 2 sales or 20. Amazon and BN, with their real-time updates, have spoiled me (pun not entirely unintended). Not knowing sales numbers for an indie author is something akin to a 10th-circle-of-hell punishment. Having to wait 30-60 days to discover what the numbers mean is an excrutiating eternity.

Ratings

Spoil has 133 ratings from all 4 regions now, for a 4.3+ average.
78 5-star
30 4-star
17 3-star
5 2-star
3 1-star

With 76 ratings for a 4.5 average, the US store has by far the most ratings, including 3 5-star text reviews that I love.

If it does nothing else from a business perspective, putting the book up for free has helped me see that the majority of readers are responding positively to it. This is priceless information for any author, and especially priceless to me.

Visibility and Placement

I could not afford the kind of "front of store" placement the book has earned in the Apple stores. Say what you will about the difficulty of finding a book that isn't in the Top 100 in a genre in iTunes (and there is plenty to say on that subject), if you're in the Top 100, you can be seen. In the Top 12, you're golden.

In just a bit over a month, Spoil went from no visibility as a paid book to a paid book with the following placements.

US

Let's do this one pictorially.

Historical Fantasy

 All Fantasy

Historical Romance

All Romance: The featured category is an "Under $5" list, which comes up with a default sort by "Recent Bestsellers." Spoil is in the middle of the first page.

Australia

Historical Fantasy: #3 paid list; first spot for What's Hot
All Fantasy: top third on the What's Hot list
All SFF: first page (top 36) of New & Notable
Historical Romance: 2nd row of the What's Hot list
All Romance: 1st page (top 36) of New & Notable
 
UK
Historical Fantasy: top row on What's Hot
Fantasy: middle of the What's Hot list
All SFF: 1st page of the Featured list
Historical Romance: top third on the What's Hot list
All Romance: 1st page of the Featured list

Canada
Historical Fantasy: top row on What's Hot
All Fantasy: bottom row of What's Hot
Historical Romance: middle of the What's Hot list
 
Total Downloads and Current Rankings
 
Amazon only, since I don't yet have Apple's numbers.
 
US
Spoil has been free in the US store since Nov 2.
 
19,772 downloads
 
#474 in the Free Store (highest rank was #37)
#4 Historical Fantasy (highest rank was #1)
#21 Historical Romance (highest rank was #5)
 
UK
Spoil has been free in the UK store since Nov 23.

1247 downloads

#169 in the Free Store
#2 Historical Fantasy
#10 Historical Romance

Spoil has also been for sale at the following sites during Nov for 99c, $1.99 and $2.99 (it's $1.99 everywhere now -- or will be once Amazon puts it back in the Paid Store):

Smashwords - 3 at $2.99
BN - 8 sales at 99 cents; 1 at $1.99
Omni - 2 sales at $2.99
Amazon UK - 16 sales at 75p/99c before it went free
Amazon DE - 1 sale at 86e
________

31 Total Sold

SECTOR C, meanwhile, has been the neglected child. I'll have a paid ad for it on a popular site around Christmas, so I hope that will generate interest again.

60 - Amazon US
1 - Amazon UK
1 - BN
_________

62 Total

December Plans

By mid-month, I'll also be releasing the first volume of the Vet Tech Tales. For a sneak peek at the covers for Volumes 1 and 2, click over to the Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog :o)

Jennifer Blake's novella, A Vision of Sugarplums has just made it into the Apple iTunes store for free and Amanda le Bas de Plumetot's "Last Seen" short from the Extinct anthology has just been repriced to free there. So two more ebooks to try to take through the freebook ride on Amazon in December. (When did freebooking become a full-time job?)

Wish us luck!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Freebooking Doesn't Always Go As Planned

A short but lovely trip to Louisiana to celebrate Thanksgiving with about 50 of my closest relatives almost netted me two new puppies -- but I was strong! Meanwhile, I learned a fair bit about the book biz while there, so maybe I can write the trip off come tax time... :o)

For those of you who have been following the freebook journey, that trip's had a few unexpected twists, some of which have been pleasantly surprising and others of which have been downright frustrating.

To recap, I decided to put Spoil of War up for free in late October. The plan was to get it free on Amazon and keep it free for only a few days. Since any good campaign plan includes a list of expected results, I hoped to 1) garner a few more credible reviews for the book and 2) capitalize on the book's better visibility once it came off free to spur sales before the holidays so that post-Christmas it would be in a favorable position to be discovered by lots of happy readers with new Kindles and nooks.

The first part of the plan went brilliantly. Apple kindly made it free right on schedule, followed by Amazon. I immediately started the process to unfree it -- and that's when I hit the first major detour. Apple simply refuses to unfree the book. I don't know if it's because of a glitch in the automated system between Smashwords, who distributes to Apple, and Apple, or if there is a human decision involved. Smashwords last week sent a message to Apple to help me expedite the unfreeing, but as of this writing, Spoil remains free there.

Amazon will presumably keep Spoil free now for as long as Apple does. In fact, Amazon decided being free in the US store wasn't enough, and, last Wednesday, they thoughtfully made the book free on the UK site too.

Now, lest those of you following this journey think this is the route all books take, let's look at one of the short stories excerpted from the Extinct anthology that went on this same trip earlier this month. The request to free it was honored on schedule by Apple and Amazon, just like Spoil. As with Spoil, I immediately began the process to unfree it the day it went free on Amazon. Unlike Spoil, Apple returned the book to paid status after exactly one week of being made free. Amazon followed suit within hours. Exactly the path I wished for Spoil.

Why the difference? Clueless.

My initial plan was to return Spoil to the paid list on Amazon while it was still in the Top 100 on the free list. When that milestone passed, I hoped it would still be in the Top 200, then the Top 300. Now I'm holding my breath for 2012. Free books usually start to lose their appeal and their rankings after 7-10 days. Spoil has enjoyed a decent overall rank for an extended period of time (which MAY be why Apple is reluctant to unfree it just yet), but a major fall in the rankings is inevitable. I'd really, really like to be shunted over to the paid store before that happens and the chance for visibility is lost.

Here are the numbers to date.

Apple:

#1 Historical Fantasy
On the What's Hot lists for all of Fantasy and Historical Romance

I won't know total downloads through the Apple store before next quarter, so maybe mid- to late-January I'll have those figures.

63 ratings (38 5-star, 16 4-star, 8 3-star, 1 2-star) for an average of 4.5 stars. Three text reviews, all 5-star.

Amazon:

US / UK
#3 / 2 - Historical Fantasy
#20 / 13 - All Fantasy
#14 / 5 - Historical Romance
#86  / 39 - All Romance
#388 / 107  - Overall Free Store

18,481 US Downloads
622 UK Downloads

16 new reviews since going free -- still pretty mixed.

It's frustrating to know where you want to go but to not be able to get there when you want to despite careful planning and through no fault of your own. I've enjoyed seeing the sights along the scenic route, but I'm ready to be at my destination now. Surely we must be close. Are we there yet???

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Covers And A Free Gift

Jump down to the end if you can't wait to see what the FREE GIFT is :o).

For any author, book covers can make or break the book. Traditionally published authors often get little say in the final result. Sometimes that's a good thing; other times, it can cause a maelstrom of controversy -- especially if the cover tries to cater to a PC mindset (blond-haired, white MCs, for example) when the actual story is anything but.

Authors who self-publish have the luxury of adapting a cover to the story as they see fit. Sometimes this means working directly with a professional design artist. Sometimes it means working with the design software yourself.

For the Steel Magnolia Press (SMP) books, we're swinging both ways. We've bought a couple of premade designs from a talented design artist and tweaked the titling text ourselves to get a feel for what we're happy with. Jennifer wanted a signature font and styling for the author name on her books, and we settled on a feminine cursive design that can work with anything from historicals to contemporary. We've also progressed to buying a premade design and letting the designer run with the titling text to stunning effect. I'll have more on the topic of finding a cover artist and the different types of cover work, along with examples, in a future post.

Some covers we keep in-house. A Vision of Sugarplums, a reissue of an award-winning novella by Jennifer Blake, is one we produced ourselves. Jennifer found a stock image that she knew captured the essence of the story perfectly. All that was needed was to make it Christmas-y. I suggested the santa hat and another SMP author, Kathy Faucheux, suggested the bow on the teddy. And to make things even more perfect, while Jennifer was updating the story to account for technology changes since the story was first released, she changed a ragdoll the baby carries around to a teddy bear. Having that kind of flexibility is priceless.

The image went from the standard stock image to the final cover with only one wrong turn along the way. (I seem to need to create one stupid draft first before understanding how obviously bad it is. Let's just say my skill with design software is maturing.) Another opportunity we had was to create a nice title page that plays off the design of the cover. For those of you self-publishing, the advantage to uploading directly to vendor sites such as Amazon and BN rather than going through an aggregator like Smashwords is being able to create nicer-looking interiors (even though there are still tight limitations on what translates over to the e-reader). It's double work to produce two different master copies, but some things are worth the extra time, you know. For instance, that pretty title page in the Smashword's editions is plain text, nothing more.



So What's The Free Gift Already?!

Among the romance reading audience, Jennifer's name is well-enough known that folk will readily pay traditional publisher prices for her new releases. In-store promotions helped rocket her recently released The Three Graces trilogy to thousands sold over the last few weeks. When I published A Vision of Sugarplums to BN and it went live yesterday morning, the cover image -- which is served out from a separate server from the rest of the information -- hadn't even populated onto the page yet and the book was already selling. A Jennifer Blake ebook for 99 cents had been unheard of before now.

Jennifer, though, wants the 30,000-word novella to be free -- a gift to her readers for their support, not just over the years, but for following her across publishing models. We're working on making that happen. For now, you can pick up your free copy -- in Kindle, epub (nook, Sony, iPad, etc) or PDF format -- at any of the following sites:

Steel Magnolia Press (Don't forget to sign up for the newsletter while you're there!)
All Romance eBooks (I uploaded the "pretty interior" versions here)
Smashwords (These are the "dumbed-down interiors" required to get through Smashwords' ebook converter, affectionately known as the "meatgrinder")

Here's the tease (see, you WILL be required to write a pitch at all different lengths even once your book is published!):

Meghan Castle is a real Scrooge about the holidays ... until she finds an abandoned baby in her store on Christmas Eve. Change is certainly in the air — especially when customer Rick Wallman agrees to watch the baby with her. But the secrets they're hiding could destroy the fragile future they start to build together.
Enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Own Secret Dinosaur by Jo Antareau - Freebooking It Now!

Yay! Another story from the Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever anthology is now FREE on Amazon!

Jo Antareau's very excellent "My Own Secret Dinosaur" is one of the BEST examples of voice I've seen. At just 2000 words, it's well worth your while to read it to check out the voice, especially if you write middle grade stories. While the underlying themes are really adult-level (though younger folk can certainly enjoy the plot), the story is told through the eyes of an Australian youngster.

Download your copy at  http://www.amazon.com/My-Own-Secret-Dinosaur-ebook/dp/B005FG17CO

It's also free on Apple iTunes and Smashwords, so no excuses for not picking it up.

We'll probably make another couple of stories from the anthology free, but we'll do it sequentially and unfree each previous book before the next goes free.

Speaking of free, Spoil of War continues to be free on Apple, which needs to unfree it before Amazon will put it back in the paid store. It just broke 16,200 downloads on Amazon. While it's still #1 in the Apple and Amazon free stores for Historical Fantasy -- and in Amazon it's #8 in All Fantasy, #9 in Historical Romance and #51 in All Romance -- its overall rank on Amazon is dropping. It's now #203 in the free store. I'm hoping it will still be in the Top 300 when it's unfreed.

On Apple, Spoil now has 48 ratings with a 4.5-star average. The two text reviews it has are both 5-star. Just sayin' ;o).

I'll have an announcement about another free book soon! Stick with me here and you may never have to buy another book again...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freebooking Update And The Influencers Of Reviews

So 13 days in and Spoil of War is still free, despite my best efforts to unfree it. On the day it went free on Amazon I immediately repriced it on Smashwords, who distributes to Apple, expecting Apple to reprice the book within 2-3 days and Amazon to stop the free price-match by Day 5 or 6 at the latest. Apple still has it listed for free.

So, after Day 13 at Amazon:

#2 Historical Fantasy
#5 All Fantasy
#9 Historical Romance
#37 All Romance
#133 Overall in the Amazon Free Store

Times Downloaded: 15,034

at Apple after Day 18:

#1 Historical Fantasy
#9 All Fantasy
Historical Romance - Not on the Top 10 Free chart, but the book is listed in the Top 100 What's Hot, which includes only 7 free books.

Times Downloaded: Wish I knew, but I'm not provided that data in real-time. Maybe at the end of the quarter they'll let me know. Or not. Clueless as to how they report out free downloads.

After neglecting Apple as a retailer until 3 weeks ago, I'm beginning to develop a real affection for the iBooks/iTunes store.

Ooh, first position under What's Hot and #1 under Top Charts - Free in Historical Fantasy.
The only reason getting it unfree as soon as possible is important is that it will enter the paid list at a better rank and with more visibility. The more days that pass, the farther in rank the book will slip, and if the time that passes is too long, the whole marketing effort will be for naught.

Still, as a marketing effort, I'm quite happy with how successful the campaign has been so far. I wanted it free in the first place for two reasons:
  • To capitalize on visibility and hopefully pick up a few extra sales when it went back to its unfree status
  • To garner a few more reviews to offset the rash of negative ones.
Due to content alone, I certainly expect a percentage of folk to slap on a low rating. And I'm good with a few people simply not liking the story for whatever reason. I certainly don't like every book out there, no matter how well-rated. Plus, I'm sure because Spoil is cross-genre, there will be folk expecting it to be one thing and unhappy to find it's not.

What's interesting is how diverse the review communities are between Apple and Amazon.

At Amazon, anyone registered at the site can rate any product whether they've purchased and used/read it or not. Same for Apple. But you have to download the iTunes app first and launch the app if you want to rate something that you're not currently reading. That helps cut down on the "drive by's."

Like BN and Goodreads, Apple allows customers to simply rate a book without obligating them to write something. This encourages more ratings overall but doesn't make it as community-friendly.

Amazon cultivates a more open review community, which also opens it up to abuse of the system: sock puppets, paid reviews, review exchanges, boycott reviews, revenge reviews, etc. The only way to neutralize any of these abuses is to have a large pool of reviews for a given book.

Because I know Spoil is a well-written, well-proofed and well-formatted book, I was not afraid to open it up for wider consumption in hopes of more reviews.

What's happened is that, at Amazon, where reviewers are exposed to other reviews, the ratings continue to be mixed. A dozen new reviews have been posted since the book went free, with 25 total reviews now.
3 5-star - 8 total
3 4-star - 5 total
2 3-star - 3 total
4 1-star - 9 total

Even if the balance remains 50/50, from a psychological standpoint the number of positive reviews will now feel more legitimate to readers.

At Apple, where there is less peer-pressure, it's a completely different story. Spoil had no ratings before it went free 3 weeks ago. The rash of 1-star reviews that showed up on Amazon in August/September in response to a blog's reviews of the book didn't affect the iBooks store. As of now Nov 16, the book has 42 ratings (and 1 5-star text review):
22 5-star
12 4-star
7 3-star
1 2-star
0 1-star
The only experience most of the Apple customers have is seeing the book on the Hot and Top charts. I'm not discounting that as an influence in itself. In fact, I think that's likely a high influencer. I'm also sure some of those readers were disturbed by the content, but none of them enough to 1-star it.

Any conclusions we draw from this are only anecdotal, of course. We don't have enough to go on for any across-the-board observations. What it appears, though, is that books are little different from any other marketing targets. How the product is presented is as big an influence on the consumer as how the product actually performs. People like to be part of the "in" crowd. If 4-out-of-5 dentists agree that Brand X is the best, are you really going to disagree with the experts? Really?

How influenced are you by reviews? Do you generally like a bestseller more because it is a bestseller and everybody likes it? Have you ever decided not to read a book that sounded interesting and had a good sample but the reviews were poor?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

May I Introduce ... Steel Magnolia Press

Steel Magnolia Press is a site where imagination blooms, offering romance and mainstream fiction from a talented circle of Southern writers. Our anchor author -- with 65 novels and 15 other works under her belt -- is Jennifer Blake, a New York Times bestselling author and winner of multiple awards and recognitions in romance and women's fiction.

Did I say "our?" Why yes I did! That's because I'm involved in this new venture.

Why "Steel Magnolia?" It's the nickname given to Jennifer a decade ago by Public Relations genius, Nancy Berland. And, seeing as how all the affiliated authors are from the South, it has a feel that fits.

Right now, the venture is limited to 6 authors: Jennifer, me, Tamelia Tumlin, Trudy Edgeworth, Delinda Corbin and Katharine Faucheux. The latter 3 will have books up the beginning of 2012.

Steel Magnolia Press is a way to bring Jennifer's backlist out as rights are reverted, to offer never-before-in-print-or-ebook works, to showcase her backlist titles from other publishers, and to highlight her new books as they are released through some big-name traditional publishers.

As a corollary to the main reason for being, it's a new venue to showcase works by the other affiliated authors. I have a page on the site with my two novels and the Extinct anthology. Plus there's a sub-page with all of the Extinct singles.

What happened to Dare To Dream Press, you ask? Since that's the name my novels, the Extinct anthology and the Extinct singles are all published under, and since there's an e-store already set up under that name, it'll remain viable, just not so visible. I've jumped whole-heartedly over to Steel Magnolia.

Right now at Steel Magnolia we're running a contest to draw business to our newsletter. Each week, we'll be giving away a virtual basketful of 4 ebooks in the format of the winner's choice. Plus, everyone who signs up for the newsletter gets Jennifer's free e-booklet (in PDF): 20 Tips for Writing Romance Novels.

So what do I bring to the table besides a free book that was supposed to be unfree in time for the launch? I provide the techie stuff. I've dusted off some old skills to create the website (wow, when did iframes become so popular? And how easy is that to pull in a blog and an e-store now?) and am applying new skills to produce the new ebooks themselves.

In fact, there are new ebook editions of two Jennifer Blake classic novellas from the 90s that we're releasing in tandem with the site launch -- and may I just say I think the matched pair look quite pretty inside and out! You can see them on the Steel Magnolia homepage or take a peek at them on Amazon directly at:
For now we've decided to leverage the internal promotions Amazon and BN offer rather than sell direct from the SMP site. But we're setting up to be agile enough to change that model if and when needed.

Is print publishing dead? Absolutely not. Authors just need to be open to new venues and new possibilities. And they need to remember the smart portfolio is the diversified one. Jennifer has a stake now in each of the three selling models:
  • Traditional Publishing, with 3 new titles released successively in July, August and September of this year, and in contract negotiations right now for a new trilogy.
  • Agent/Publisher, with the majority of her backlist reverted, converted and offered up through eReads, the pioneer of the agent/publisher model.
  • Author/Publisher Coalition, with the launch of Steel Magnolia Press through which she'll publish out the remainder of her backlist herself as rights are reverted, plus publish brand-new works never before in print or digital versions.
 I'm quite honored to be a part of this venture and will, of course, offer periodic updates and insight on it.

Meanwhile, Spoil of War has been downloaded 11,190 times at Amazon (I was hoping for 5000) and has 27 brand-new-since-it-went-free ratings on Apple iTunes (I don't have the data on how many times it's been downloaded there). The average rating on iTunes is 4.5 stars. So far there's only one text review, and it's 5 stars.

Look for a post soon about the influence of reviews on other reviewers ... ;o)

I've neglected my Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog while getting the final bits finished for the Steel Magnolia Press website, but I'll be back to regular posts there tomorrow on Friday

Please check out the Steel Magnolia Press website -- and sign up for the newsletter while you're there!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

October Sales and Freebooking

Today I've got some observations on the free book strategy as well as some solid and anecdotal sales figures from October.

FREEBOOKING

We need a term for the marketing strategy of offering an ebook free for a short time. I propose adding "freebooking" to the publishing lexicon.

After about 72 hours of being free on Amazon, Spoil of War has done better than I anticipated. For the last 60 hours, it's bounced between #37 and #42 in the overall free store and has continued to be #1 in Fantasy. In Historical Romance, it's moved back and forth between #7 and #8. And in overall Romance, its been between #17 and #19. Right now its rankings in the categories are the same as they were when I posted on Thursday. Only the overall rank is different.

#1 Historical Fantasy
#1 All Fantasy
#7 Historical Romance
#17 All Romance
#40 Overall in the Amazon Free Store

Times Downloaded: 7102

I really expected it to start taking a nose dive yesterday and am very surprised it held its rank this long. It'll probably start falling today. Needless to say I'm quite delighted so many readers have taken a chance on the book despite the handful of low ratings on Amazon.

It's also free in the Apple iTunes/iBooks store. I distribute there through Smashwords, but won't get the results from its time being free there for awhile yet. Silly me didn't download the iTunes app so I could watch sales in that venue until late Friday night, after Spoil had been free there for a week.

Right now, after a week, Spoil is, in the Apple free store:

#3 Fantasy
#8 SF/F

It also has 18 ratings on Apple -- all given since it went free -- with a solid 4-star average. There are no text reviews there yet, but this gives me a better idea of how average readers who likely haven't seen the 1-star reviews on Amazon are actually reacting to the book on its own terms and not on what other people think of it.

I'm afraid folk who grabbed a copy because of the kerfluffle on Amazon are going to be disappointed that the book isn't nearly as controversial as those low raters make it out to be ;o).

I am a bit disappointed to see it's still free on Apple. I changed the price from free on Smashwords on Wednesday as soon as Amazon made it free since Amazon will keep it free for as long as it remains free on another site. Smashwords should have fed them the unfree price on Thursday or Friday. I'd hoped that Amazon would have have it back to 99c by tonight (Saturday night). Not sure when it will lose free status now.

Theoretically, the timing could not have been better for the book to go free, climb the ranks then be made unfree while it still has visibility. It's frustrating to do everything right and on time on my part yet not be able to influence the vendors to follow through in a timely fashion. All the feeds and bots to do this should be automated.

The real test of the marketing strategy of free, of course, is to:

1) Help sell other books in the same series as the free book (Spoil is a stand-alone).

2) Help sell other books the author has in the same genre (My other book is a near-future thriller and my next book will be Part 1 of the Vet Tech Tales, so no help there -- although I have seen a small spike in sales in the UK where Spoil is not free)

3) Drive enough residual interest in the book so when it goes from free to paid, readers will be willing to splurge real money on it and keep it selling (which is where I hope the free strategy helps Spoil -- so having it go back to paid status while it's still high on the lists is the most important bit of the strategy, apart from the visibility it gains)

More updates to come on the freebooking experiment (go ahead, use "freebooking" in your own sentence -- you know you want to).

OCTOBER SALES

Like in August and September, sales continued to be pretty divisive between those doing OK and those doing GREAT.

Both Spoil and SECTOR C fell into the OK category. They both had more sales, but I also lowered the price on them mid-month, so the net gain was less.

Spoil of War:
39 Amzon US
10 Amazon UK
1 Amazon DE (Germany)
5 BN
1 Smashwords
______

56 Total

SECTOR C:
61 Amazon US
5 Amazon UK
6 BN
______

72 Total

I also gave away 35 copies of SECTOR C through a LibraryThing contest, and 28 folk claimed the book (the totals above are all paid copies). I've gotten a couple of short reviews from a couple of the LT winners so far, so that's nice.

As for more broad-spectrum sales, anecdotal sampling over in the Kindleboards forums yields some good info as always. Special thanks to Jason Letts for doing some of the compiling this time around so I didn't have to :o)

Again, some people reported by the book and some people aggregated their totals. My aggregated total, for instance, is 56 + 72 = 128 sales across 2 titles. All figures exclude free downloads.

SINGLE TITLES

1-9 = 10 (Note 3 reports of zero sales)
10-99 = 19
100-499 = 14
500-1000 = 4
1000-2800 = 2
2800-4399 = 1
4321 = 1
5800 = 1

29 single titles sold fewer than 100 copies vs 23 that sold more. That's 56% of this sample of 52 titles.

MULTIPLE TITLES

1-99 = 8 across 2-11 titles
100-199 = 4 across 2-3 titles with one other across 14
200-499 = 15 across 2-6 titles with one other across 9 and another across 17
500-999 = 8 across w-7 titles with one across 11
1000-1499 = 6 across 2-25 titles
1500-2499 - 3 across 2, 10 and 23 titles
2500-5000 = 7 across 2-33 titles
5001-10,000 = 7 across 2-14 titles
10,001-15,450 = 3 across 3,4 and 8 titles
29,500 = 1 across 43 titles

Again, this is very anecdotal and a random sampling of folk who chose to respond. Don't read more into than just some fun with numbers and a tiny glimpse into what people are selling via self-publishing venues.

Freebooking (just had to say it one more time).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Free Can Do

The Kindle Board members are reporting in on October sales. I'll do a sales roundup of their data on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Spoil of War is free for a very short time at Amazon and Apple iTunes. As I write this, it's been free for about 21 hours at Amazon. 3213 readers have downloaded it there, and its rankings on the Free bestseller list are:

  #1 Historical Fantasy
  #1 All Fantasy
  #7 Historical Romance
#17 All Romance
#37 Overall in the Amazon Free Store
Wow.  

I mean - wow. I had no idea. I keep having to take new screen captures as the rankings change. I don't expect this surge to continue, but I must admit it's pretty powerful while it lasts and the visibility it offers is amazing.

There's no money changing hands, but there is marketing method to the free strategy, which I'll of course share more of as we move through the cycle.

As mentioned in the case study post where I talk about "Connect," Ken Burstall's short story from the Extinct anthology, going free, Amazon price matches the free price at its discretion. Some books it never makes free. I'm fortunate. I started the process last Wednesday, setting the price to free at Smashwords. I opted for Smashwords to distribute the free price into the Apple iTunes store, which happened on Thursday. The price change was made at Apple on Friday and I notified Amazon of the new free price on Saturday.

I know a number of authors have been waiting months for Amazon to price match their books to free, so was quite happy it took only a few days to happen for Spoil.

Smashwords should be sending the new price update to Apple either today or tomorrow. I have no idea how long it will be before Amazon realizes it's no longer free on Apple and updates the price, so go grab it while you can. 

See you Saturday for updates and a complete Sales Voyeur analysis...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why The Value Of Content Won't Win A Price Debate

Discussions about ebook pricing are rampant across the Internet. Seems everyone's weighing in about the perceived race to the bottom or talking about the devaluation of content.

I've put off talking about the great price debate here because I don't like to simply rehash the same discussions that can be found elsewhere. Frankly, I believe several factors contribute to a successful price point: genre, author recognition, time of year, marketing buzz and Amazon's algorithms of the moment. Some novels see great success at 99 cents, others at $2.99 and others still at $4.99 or more. A lot of novels never see any kind of success at all.

Where I see a gap in the pricing debate is in one aspect I've yet to see exploited in any of the blog or forum discussions. That this aspect isn't mentioned more often puzzles me as it's objective, historical and empirical. You'll tell me if I'm missing something in the equation, won't you?

The outcry against the 99 cent price point is that it devalues the author's work. That the author should be paid more for a book they've created -- that content should be worth far more than the few cents royalty the author makes and that the book might as well be given away for free as to be sold for a buck.

On the surface, this seems a valid argument; 99c is pretty darn cheap and I'm not going to deny authors shouldn't be making less than what they historically ever have. But does the reasoning really hold up? Let's examine.

Deb the Debut Author has just landed a nice paperback deal. Her mass market book will sell for $6.99 and for the first 10,000 copies her royalty rate will be 6% of cover price. Deb is delighted because she's about to be a published author with a well-known house. Pop the champagne!

Deb will be earning just a scosh under 42 cents per copy. But wait. Her agent will be taking 15% of that 42c, leaving her with an income of 35.65c per book.

Meanwhile, Sue the Self-publisher puts her book on the market for 99 cents. At Amazon, she earns 35c per ebook, at BN 40c and at Smashwords 60c.

What's being devalued isn't the content, is it? The author of the content is earning the same amount, yet for some reason there was never a huge outcry about the author's share in the past.

So Deb sells through her first edition and her royalty rate escalates to 8% for the next 25,000 books. That's 56c per book before agent cut and 47.5c after.

Sue doesn't get an escalated royalty, but she can raise the price of her book. And once it's sold 10,000 copies, readers are likely to pay a little more for it. If she ups the price to $1.49, she still makes a 35% royalty at Amazon, but now her cut is 52c.

At 99c, Sue is making the same amount of money per copy the Debs of the publishing world have been making for the last 20 years. Has content not been worth more than that before now? In addition, the reader is getting content from Sue for 75-83% less than what they're paying for Deb's content.

Based on the content creator's cut, it seems 99c pricing strategies aren't a race to the bottom at all but an historical status quo.

I have the luxury of not having to rely on my book sales to provide a living so I can adjust my pricing to see what works best for my genres at a particular time of year. I recently re-priced my two novels to 99 cents -- not that I have any great market insight, but simply to see if a few more people will pick them up because they're more affordable.

I'm happy making a mass-market paperback author's wages for awhile.

Do I think authors should earn more? Sure. The thing is, I still have the luxury to adjust my price at any time to whatever point the market will bear -- or beyond.

And that's the best thing about the great price debate. You can argue either side, or even argue with yourself, and experiment to your heart's content to prove whatever point you want -- even when that point keeps changing.