(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, Examiner.com 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.
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.
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!).
- 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.
- 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.