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:

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...

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