Authors will be talking about the Golden Age of self-publishing for a long time. It was the spring of 2011 and I remember it well. A time when you could upload a book and the readers would come, guided to your work because they all shared the same beautiful algorithm in Amazon's eyes.
The right price in the right genre and a gentle algorithmic nudge was all a book needed to sell in its early days when an author was struggling to find an audience.
Flash forward to the fall of 2011 and it's clear those days are done. Amazon is no longer the indulgent parent pushing all of its children equally to succeed no matter their failings. It's adopted a tough love philosophy where it helps only those authors who help themselves. And I'm afraid its rules are only going to get tougher.
To be successfully self-published means getting the word out about your book. To help readers find it in the avalanche. For debut and midlist e-authors that means promoting, advertising and marketing. But more than that, it means marketing your book well.
Most of us are still trying to figure out how to do that.
Here then are a couple of anecdotes about two recent campaigns and their varying degrees of success.
Amazon promotes its freebies in a way BN doesn't. You may remember that in July I split up the Extinct anthology and uploaded the stories as their own separate ebooks priced at 99 cents each. Ken Burstall asked me to make his story, "Connect" free. Well, that's possible to do yourself pretty immediately in all venues except Amazon. To make a work free at Amazon takes some gymnastics.
"Connect" was being downloaded at a copy or two a day across all venues where Smashwords distributes. Now Amazon will often price match "free" but it does so on its own terms and in its own time -- if at all. You can lay the groundwork, which I did for "Connect," but you really don't know when a book might go free there. You wake up one morning, stumble to the computer, check your Amazon sales and do a double-take after your heart starts beating again. You've probably had a couple of hundred downloads by the time you even realize the book is now free.
Of all the science fiction stories in the Extinct antho, "Connect" is, I think, the most "hard SF," meaning it's predicated on scientific concepts that play a large supporting role in the story. Hard SF is in the best of circumstances a tough sell, even in die-hard SF arenas. So we're quite proud of the fact that "Connect" rocketed its way up to:
#1 in the High-Tech SF category on Amazon's free list
#5 in overall free science fiction
#181 in all free categories
Nicely done, Ken!
In all, more than 1000 copies have been downloaded as of today.
Since there are links in the "Connect" ebook to the complete Extinct anthology for all venues where it's available in the Amazon version, I can associate a couple of sales of the anthology this month to "Connect" having been downloaded. There's also been an uptick in the sample on Smashwords being downloaded. At least one other author now wants to try their story for free and (ahem) I'm just waiting for them to supply links and blurbs for their other stories and novels to put into their free book as teasers.
The free book strategy is obviously a long-tail one. Many readers collect free books; some don't read them for quite awhile and others never read them at all. The hope, of course, is that readers will enjoy the story and seek out other associated works, which may happen days, weeks or months after the free book is downloaded.
Because it's often not possible to associate sales with a specific marketing campaign, it's easy to get frustrated with marketing efforts. It's human nature to want instant gratification.
Luckily, there are some activities that can provide that.
Last Thursday I stumbled across a site that caters to Kindle owners called Kindle Lovers (aka KINDLE 3). As a point of reference, there are plenty of sites out there that cater to a Kindle audience.
Some of them, like Kindle Nation Daily, charge a hefty (for most indie authors) fee to advertise. The ad package may include a sponsorship post on their blog, anywhere from 1 to 3 mentions on Facebook, inclusion in a daily newsletter, and/or a tweet or two during the day. I purchased one of their more modest sponsorship packages and am waiting to hear when it will run (likely in late December). I'll report back on my results, but some other authors have gotten good immediate results, others have had barely an uptick in sales and a handful have had amazing results. Kind of like the results of e-publishing in general ;o).
Some of the Kindle promo sites, like the Amazon Kindle page, allow authors to post promos directly to their walls (within certain guidelines, of course). I haven't noticed any sales I can directly associate from promoting there, but on a site with 1+ million likes, it's got to be good exposure.
Some of them, like the Kindle on the Cheap (3300 likes) and Cheap E-reads (for nooks - 6000 likes) sites, allow authors to post on a separate page (900+ likes), then pick and choose which books to feature on their various pages for readers. SECTOR C has been featured twice on the nook page with no direct sales I can attribute. It hasn't been picked up for the Kindle page yet after more than a month of my posting to the author site. It's of course under no obligation to promote anything so I'm quite grateful for what exposure my book has gotten.
All to say I wasn't expecting any direct sales from the Kindle Lovers placement but was looking at it merely as free publicity. I also wasn't expecting to submit SECTOR C to them in the morning and then have it be featured that evening. Sweet! The surprise was when I checked my sales and saw 12 copies had been downloaded in a space of 2 hours. Overall, I estimate there were about two dozen direct sales within 18 hours of the Kindle Lovers posting the promo to their website and Facebook. SECTOR C started with a sales rank around 60,000 and dropped (that's the better direction) to:
A trickle of sales since has kept SECTOR C from leap-frogging back into the 60,000 range, but it definitely needs another push. It's got a paid spot on the Red Adept Reviews blog this week. (It's up now if you want to go look.) I'm expecting that to mainly be awareness-building, but am hoping for a few direct sales as well.
So does advertising work? Let's just say I started a thread Thursday evening in the Kindle Boards forum to share my experience with the Kindle Lovers site. The Kindle Lovers admins had to post two public messages to authors on Friday and Saturday saying they'd gotten a flurry of recent requests (mainly from Kindle Boards members) and asking for patience as it would take time to get around to promoting everyone. So I'd say yeah, in this case advertising worked -- both ways :o).