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.


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.


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 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.


pacatrue said...

Thanks for keeping us in the know with all these sorts of details!

Chrystalla Thoma said...

Thanks for this post, it's so informative. It also tells me that I can never keep up with promotion, it's too much work! But I'm very interested to hear how it all works for you. :)

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Phoenix,
I asked my cousin who is on book number two to go to this site and devour your journey. His is putting together a non fiction book and I'm hoping he'll do the indie routes.

Newsletters: enjoy reading about this. I can't believe the Divine Miss Phoenix didn't get any one signing up. I'd say it has more to do with info flooding than anything else.

I personally don't facebook, too many frightening stories for me.

From following your blog from its inception I am beginning to think I don't have the smarts/ability to deal with the ins and outs of e pubbing.

It looks overwhelming. I can see there is a huge time factor involved and the reviews, well, as you can testify, some aren't fair, others are wonderful.

These posts are so good.

Appreciate your sharing your story. Great insight.

I'm still working away on my animal anthology and my other projects. Maybe someday. Sigh.

When do you get time to write by the way? Between tracking your sales, the farm and all Steel Mags and your animal book/blog you must have time management down to an art form.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Pacatrue: Hey there! Long time no see on blogs. Are you actually writing these days? I don't see any mention in you FB updates.

@Chrys: This from the lady who's out and about doing (giving and getting) blog interviews? You've been doing well promoting "Rex Rising!"

@Mac: Thanks for sending folk this way! Many newbies flock to the blogs of authors who are doing extremely well, and some of them are getting unrealistic expectations of what the majority of authors can actually expect. I do think the main surprise, after only selling a couple of dozen books in that first month out, is how much time promo takes.

Writers, though, will write regardless. Finding time to write, though, as you say, gets more and more difficult. Still working on that time management thing myself! But I actually LIKE learning about the business and working on websites and newsletters, so I don't feel I'm being shortchanged. Yet.