Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Perils Of Promotion

(This is a long post. If you don’t want to read about my book’s journey, scroll to the “Case Studies” at the end and read those. Then go read the post linked to. It should be required reading for any author with a dream. And not because it's inspirational.)

In terms of sales for an ebook-only offering, anecdotal evidence tells me Spoil of War is sitting on the hump of the bell curve, and maybe just a bit to the right of center. In the next 30-45 days, it should either break out a bit and do well or fade off the screen.

Here’s something interesting, though. I don’t know why it’s doing better than some of the other books released around the same time it was. YOU guys might be tired of my tweets and posts and Facebook promos, but you aren’t a very big group. I have 107 Twitter followers and 49 friends on Facebook. I have 91 followers on this blog, which gets about 110-120 hits a day on average. In terms of web buddies, I count myself rich! In terms of marketing, I don’t have much of a presence. Yet nearly 300 people have found – and bought – the book.

Other than some tweets and FB messages and talking about Spoil’s progress here, I’ve done one guest post where I’ve mentioned my book. A few lovely people have featured the book on their blogs and tweeted (and retweeted, thank you!) about it. A review went up this weekend on the Little Rock, Arkansas, site (whew, it was positive - thank you, Landra!). And just last week I had a “doh” moment when I realized I could be obnoxious and tap into Starz’ Camelot and HBO’s Game of Thrones threads on Twitter. Both series have just had their season finales. My campaign slogan for Spoil: The 99 cent cure for Camelot and Game of Thrones withdrawal. But that’s only a tweet or two a day.

In essence, up until this weekend, the book hasn’t gotten much promotion. I’ve been following the progress of authors who released debut ebooks around the same time I did who haven’t had significantly more sales – and in some cases, far fewer – for a whole lot more effort: blog tours, paid ads on review sites, gathering a couple of thousand Twitter followers, podcast radio shows, friending everyone they can on Facebook, giving away dozens of their books, holding contests for some big prizes, etc. Some authors participate in “you review my book and I’ll review yours” exchanges.

I haven’t done any of that. And I even had a couple of hiccups with Amazon over how they categorized my book where it wasn’t showing up in the general search for several days.

There are also authors who add Customer Tags and/or agree the tags already input for each other. I’ve seen pages where the tags for books selling at best a copy a day have been agreed 60 or 70 times in the hopes it will give their books more visibility in searches. No one has added tags or agreed tags on Spoil’s product pages (although I wouldn’t object if anyone did!), yet it comes up near the top – and in some cases in the #1 spot – in relevancy for many of its tags and for its most probable search terms.

Some books not gaining traction have 20+ positive reviews on their Amazon page. Spoil had 2 up until this past Friday. Now it has 3.

I’m sure the price point helped, but there are other 99 cent books struggling to sell even 100 copies in 90 days.

And Spoil is just about at the 90-day mark. I think that’s a huge milestone. Customers can search just for books released in the last 30 days or in the last 90. Once it crosses that 90-day mark, it’s no longer considered “new.” One advantage Spoil had was that it got listed as one of 60 Hot New Releases when I shifted its General Fiction category tag to Historical Fantasy (where a lot of the Arthurian titles show up). Oh that I had done that a LOT sooner! I switched the tag on June 12. Is it a coincidence that sales picked up and the book started selling consistently that same day? It worked its way up to #6 a couple of times that I saw and I had some fun when it outperformed a new Pirates of the Caribbean title (ooh, author Ann Crispin is sending swag now too - yay!). I thought it would ride that wave at least another week, but it, the Pirates book, and a host of other titles that had been on the list abruptly fell off. Basically, Amazon rearranged its front table to make room for the next new batch of hot books. Spoil went from being consistently on the first browsing page of Hot New Releases in Historical Fantasy to being on the 4th or 5th page of the Bestselling Historical Fantasy list.

I thought I would lose sales. I haven't (although it doesn’t mean I won’t!). For now, somehow, customers are still finding the book. In fact, yesterday was its best day ever, zipping up to #5723 on the charts.

Nice and average, true. But all without much promotion at all before yesterday. I attribute most of yesterday’s sales to Landra’s lovely review. I slipped a thank you to her tweet about the review into the #camelot conversation during the season finale of Camelot in the UK, but since I haven't made a sale on Amazon UK since, I don't think that helped. I do know that earlier I had slipped my own tweet into the #camelot and #gameofthrones threads and had about 15 click-throughs on the link but no buyers :o(

How do I know that? I joined Amazon Associates last week, and now I can use a special link on Twitter or Facebook or my blog that not only lets me track click-throughs, it gives me a 4% referral fee on each purchase. And that fee applies to all digital merchandise purchased during that visit, even if they don’t buy Spoil or Extinct! (So, you know, if you’re planning on buying a bunch of ebooks, if you click one of the Buy Now images over in my sidebar first, I’ll profit from it, hint hint :o) And if you’re planning on buying a Kindle, there’s a link at the bottom of the sidebar for that too.) It doesn’t cost anything to become an Amazon Associate. If you have an ebook out, either traditionally or self- pubbed, I highly recommend getting involved just so you can see the effectiveness of your social networking promotional efforts.

On July 1, I’m raising the price of Spoil to $2.99. Will sales plummet? Or will Spoil find a new audience outside of the bargain hunters? If I can rely on anecdotal evidence, it'll find that new audience of folk who don't even look at books that are 99 cents because they assume books priced that low have to be poor quality. I’ll let you know… Luckily, I’ve got a big interview scheduled for the first week in July. With Landra’s review and Jennifer’s interview, maybe it’ll be enough to ensure Amazon keeps Spoil visible and discoverable. Because when all is said and done here, despite my earlier glitches with them, it's only through Amazon's internal, automated promotional features that my book has made any appreciable sales at all.

Case Studies

Obviously self-publishing is a hard slog. But is taking the traditional route any better? Consider these two case studies of traditionally published books. Keep in mind traditionally published books have a limited shelf-life in physical stores and if they don’t move off the shelves in 3 or 4 months, they’ll wind up as returns. The first 90 days are critical (and for some category romances, you only have 30 days on the shelves to prove yourself!).
  1. In early May, a popular social networker most of you know launched his MG novel from Dial, a division of the Penguin Group. Big push, gave away an e-reader, signed a contract for a sequel. Obviously the sales model for MG novels will emphasize libraries and brick-and-mortar stores. Still, you’d think Amazon would sell a lot of hardcovers. Not so. May sales = 79, June = 27. For Kindle, May = 8, June = 13. That’s 127 total.

    That’s with ARCs and pre-release reviews and buildup. The author’s social network didn’t include the book’s primary audience – kids – but a healthy portion of the secondary audience was included: parents of kids.
  2. In March, Delacorte, a division of Random House, relegated a debut YA release to midlist treatment: no in-store promotions, no ads, nothing but some ARCs and a few reviews prior to the release. B&N elected not to carry it in its physical stores. The author waited 21 months to be published to no fanfare except two months of hard promo work she did herself, which left her exhausted and with no time for writing.

    Again, Amazon (the only place I can get numbers) probably isn’t the target retailer, but YAs do shop online. Sales for frontlist YA authors prove that (easily over 200 or 300 copies sold per month). Hardcover sales in the US and UK combined for this book are Pre-Orders = 17, Mar = 47, Apr = 24, May = 20, June = 13. For Kindle, Mar = 27, Apr = 7, May = 5, June = 6. That’s 166 total for 4 months. The book has some great reviews.

    I was gobsmacked when I read Kirsten Hubbard’s post about it all. It’s honest and tough and emotional. Everyone should read it to gain some perspective about this rollercoaster of a business.
Are traditional publishers and agents really better at predicting what might sell? Are they truly adding value worth the time and effort it takes to deal with them? Those are open questions, though I'm pretty sure the best answer for both is "It depends." I haven’t abandoned the idea of traditional publishing just yet. At least not while I still have that full out with one of those traditional publishers :o) But things are definitely getting interesting.


Landra said...

I think it's all about the book. Good writing is good writing, and that's why I bought it. Everyone who visits your site see what you can to do a query letter, so your book had to be good, right? At least I thought so and I was dead-on IMO.
The fact that you are sharing all this information with us makes the situation even better. I feel like I'm along for the ride with you. I get to see the success, the stuggles, and I know understand that even after the publish it's an emotional rollercoaster.
Honestly, I think Spoil will continue to be a success. Word of mouth will keep it going. I could be proven wrong, but my fingers are crossed and my prayers continue.
One other positive note, at the least you can say that your 3-month book sales via Amazon were hefty than some traditionally published books. That's a milestone worth celebrating!

Matt said...

$0.99 through June...are you planning to raise the price?

How are sales for Extinct?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Landra: Thank you for that! It's new territory out there and if those going first or second or third leave markers for the ones coming behind, it's all for the better. As a teen, I wanted to make my own mistakes. As an adult, I'm happy to learn from those who've gone before. All I can do is report what I've seen on my journey. Eventually, all these individual reports will add up to a good roadmap. One day :o) I appreciate everyone who's coming along on my bit of the trip!

@Matt: Yes, I'll be upping the price on Spoil of War to $2.99 on July 1. Since there are some folk who won't touch a 99 cent book, thinking they're all crap, I'm hoping to tap a new set of readers then.

As for Extinct, we've been laying a little low with it as we have a campaign launching on July 1 where all royalties for at least two weeks -- and maybe all month -- will go to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal. The authors thought this was a great charity tie-in and are hoping to get some individual publicity out of it. We have 2 authors already who've been interviewed by their local papers! We're hoping other papers will join in. More to come on this later in the week ;o)

kayelam said...

What an educational post. As usual, it boggles my brain. Good luck with Spoils--it's a great read and I hope it gets the readership it deserves.