Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shelf Placement

In a not-so-surprising twist, I had planned a post on holiday placement at the various venues before Amazon stepped in with their quite surprising site change, which pre-empted this post with yesterday's.

What's amazing to me on Apple's iTunes site as well as Amazon's is how comfortably traditionally pubbed books rub shoulders with the indies. At Barnes and Noble, not so much.

Two of the books that I published out to Apple (through Smashwords) for Steel Magnolia Press got some lovely placement last week just before Apple announced most of their crew would be off for the holidays. While the bestseller lists are automated, the other lists seem to be manually overseen. So at one of the busiest times for ebook buying, these books have prime placement with the potential that they'll keep that placement through the first of the year.

On the US iTunes site, on the Romance splashpage, Out of the Dark is the first book on the Under $5 promo spot. How cool is that?

On the Contemporary Romance page on the US site, A Vision of Sugarplums has a spot on the New and Noteworthy list. And it's even a free title!


Even though Spoil of War has dropped off the bestseller list for Historical Romance in the US store, someone at Apple continues to give it some love as it still has a place on the What's Hot list for Historical Romance. It's still clinging to the What's Hot lists for SFF in the regional stores, too.

Allowing Spoil to go free last month was one of the best decisions I could have made for it. At Apple, it continues to perform well (although I won't know what that means in actual numbers until next month). It's getting great exposure in the iTunes stores.

Spoil is currently #9 in Historical Fantasy in the US and is on the What's Hot lists for both Historical Fantasy and all Fantasy.

In the Canada store, Spoil is #1 in Historical Fantasy, and has been for over a week now. It's #30 there in ALL Science Fiction and Fantasy titles.


I'm not sure what its actual rank is in the UK. It doesn't appear in the Top 10 on the Historical Fantasy splashpage, but when I click the link to see how far down it is, this is what I get:

Nice, and I'll take it certainly, but sort of WTF? :o)

Spoil has also been #1 in Historical Fantasy in Australia for the past 4 days. The screenshot looks very much like Canada's up there, so I'll spare you that image.

At OmniLit, sister site to All Romance eBooks, Spoil got a featured spot right before the holiday weekend. Pretty, huh?


In Amazon, Spoil has been selling steadily -- certainly better than it's sold previously. It's still in the halo effect from being free, I think, so I'm watching closely to see what happens in the next couple of weeks. So far, it's sold 329 copies this month across all venues, with Apple not yet reporting in.

Vet Tech Tales is up to 194 sales after its free push.

Now I'm anxiously waiting to see what my promo over at Kindle Nation Daily on Wednesday might do for SECTOR C, which has sold 176 copies to date this month.

Lessons learned this holiday season: Pushing a lot of unrelated books? Not easy. But in its way, quite fun. I'm beginning to feel like a "real" author ;o).

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:

Nonfiction
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...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Use Change To Your Advantage

Where indie/self-published authors have a disadvantage is in not having ready access to historical data about the selling cycles for books. Where they have an advantage is in having a selling cycle that no longer resembles the old cycle of trad-published books.

The trick now is to aggregate all the sales data across authors so we can apply it to future trends the same way large publishers do. But how can we be sure the data we collect is even applicable when the landscape changes not just yearly but seemingly monthly?

Well, we can't. Nor can the traddies. Publishing as an industry just isn't set up for change, especially at the pace we've seen change occur in the last handful of years. We're all continually playing catchup and watching the numbers and today's trends trying to extrapolate what that means for tomorrow, only to be hit by something new in the market that throws old data into a tailspin.

The best advice to any author entering the biz now, whether self-publishing or through the traditional route: Stay flexible and realize that change will happen, and that some changes can't be planned for.

Of course, not all change is bad. That's most true when you understand that change is meant to benefit at least one segment of the industry. You just gotta hope you're in that segment.

Be adaptable. Be the proto-mammal in the world of dinosaurs when the asteroid comes crashing to earth. Be ready to change yourself to survive the changes around you.

Make 2012 your year of change.

Happy Holidays to All!

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.

Newsletters

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.

Freebooking

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 Amazon.com 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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vet Tech Tales: The Early Years - Launch Day

Something I've been remiss in discussing that's obviously writing-related is how fiction writing compares to that nebulous nonfiction-y writing realm that slides around and melts into something that looks very much like fiction around its edges but that is memoir instead. How have I managed to overlook that topic after spending 4 months writing in that very nebula? Especially when I've run thin on topics to talk about here? This is a "duh" moment if I've ever had one. And trust me, I haven't had just one.

However, I'm not going to talk about memoir writing today, but do look for a discussion on it soon. In a nutshell, the mechanics are quite similar to fiction but the angst level of writing in first person and actually meaning first person in memoir is a lot higher.

In any case, the first volume of my Vet Tech Tales, which I've been serializing over on the Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog, is now available exclusively at Amazon. For 99 cents.

Wait, did I say exclusively? Why yes indeedy. I opted it into the new Amazon Select program. You'll be hearing more about that in the coming weeks as the first bits of data start trickling in and we can begin making hypothetical guesses as to who's benefiting from the program and who's getting screwed. You're welcome for being one of the 30,000 guinea pigs opted into the program who's ready to report back so you can play along right from your easy chair.

Interesting times for us all.

Oh, and did I mention -- the Vet Tech Tales volumes is just 99 cents at Amazon. US? Links to the book on Amazon's other sites are in the sidebar.

I'll also have more new books from friends of the blog to talk about at the end of the week, along with more sales numbers.

Happy mid-month!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Week In Review

Whew. It’s been a big week on the ebook front!

1.
Two of my critique group are gearing up to release their first ebooks this month. Wishing them much success. I’ve seen the cover for the one I beta read and every time I see it I love it even more. I’ll have visuals soon.

2.
I’ll be releasing the first volume of my Vet Tech Tales within the next few days, so I’ve been busy cleaning up and formatting those pages, plus writing a foreword for the series and the volume.

3.
I’ve been working with MailChimp’s email tools to put together Steel Magnolia Press’ first newsletter for release next week or so. For a free service (for up to 2000 subscribers), it seems to offer some nice tools for producing a professional-looking newsletter in a wide variety of pre-formatted templates, plus the option to customize those templates. Since I can also hand-code some sections, I’m finding it versatile enough to work with. I’ve only run into a couple of instances where I wished it could do something without me having to code the complete newsletter from scratch, which I don’t think I’m clever enough to do on my own – at least, not without spending tons of time on research.

So far I’m liking it and would recommend it to any author or blogger setting up a newsletter or email capture service. If you go with their pre-formatted options, you don't have to know a lick of HTML to produce a decent-looking newsletter.

The true test, though, will come next week when we import about 300 more names into the tool. It appears to be straightforward enough ...

4.
Amazon opened up its Kindle Lending Program -- which allows Kindle Prime members to borrow one book from its Lending Catalog free per month -- to everyone who publishes with them. With one little catch: whatever book an indie author elects to put into the catalog must be exclusive to Amazon. That means it can’t be offered for sale through any other distributor at all. As you may suspect, this has put a lot of folk into a terrible tizzy, with torches and pitchforks appearing on schedule.

First of all, the exclusivity and catalog featuring is completely optional. There’s no requirement for anyone to play. Second, each book in the program is only contracted to stay exclusive for 90 days, with optional renewal at the end of every 90-day cycle. Amazon has put up a pot of $500,000 to be split equally across the number of downloads. That means authors with one extremely popular book or with a lot of moderately popular ones will see a bit of income, while most everyone else will likely see nothing to a couple of dollars.

Fair enough. This alone would not entice me to throw my books into an exclusivity deal, especially as I price mine so low I can’t see a whole lot of folk using their one freebie lend to get a 99c or $1.99 book. But Amazon also now allows any author in this new “Select” program to make their book free for 5 days, spaced out however you like, across the store during that 90-day period. Having precise control like that is the bait tempting me to test this new program with my new, virgin Vet Tech Tales book. It’s a great guinea pig, being the first in a series and not up for sale anywhere else. And since the Steel Magnolia Press site sends buyers to Amazon (or BN) to make the actual purchase, I can put it the book up in our storefront, no problem. Plus, Amazon has hinted there may be other tools soon available to folk who opt into the “Select” program.

Do I think this program is right for every book and every author? Absolutely not. But for certain books and authors savvy enough to know which books those are, I think it’s another strong marketing bullet in the arsenal.

5.
Two new Amazon ebook stores are in full swing (Spain and Italy), to go along with France, which opened about a month ago. This month, I’ve made 2 sales in the French store, both Spoil of War, which rocketed it to #1 in Historical Fantasy, #43 in all Fantasy and #464 in all of the English-language store on Friday when the second sale was made. Obviously not many English-reading French are buying from Amazon when you realize 848,000 books from Amazon.com were ported over for the opening of the store. And since Spoil is still hanging on to the #1 Historical Fantasy spot today, that means no other sales of anything labeled HF have happened between now and then. Still, it makes for a great photo op ;o)

6.
Speaking of Spoil, it came off free in the US late in the day last Saturday, leaving the paid free list at #473. I had a stomach-lurching moment when it reentered the paid ranks at around #210,000, which is about where it would have been had it not sold a single copy in a month, and off of every list. OK, technically it hadn’t sold anything, but the Amazon algorithms had been counting free book downloads in a way that allowed free books that had done well to reenter the paid ranks at a decent ranking and to stay on the bestseller lists.

A lot of authors have reported that their books’ rankings sometimes don’t show up for days when the books transition from free to paid. Since my rank back on the paid list was visible within a couple of hours, I was simply privy to how the cycle normally runs behind the scenes. Apparently it takes a while to recalculate rank and filter downward (upward? There really needs to be a standardized way to refer to a book achieving a better rank). Spoil spiraled down and landed in the #3000 range, with visibility on the Historical Fantasy and Historical Romance lists. Yay! But how would that translate into actual paid sales? Getting to a good rank because of a short-term promo or by being free for a bit is one thing; sticking is quite another.

After about 6.5 days, it’s been holding its own, bouncing around in rank from around #4000 to #8000. As of 5:00 am CT Saturday morning, it’s at:

• Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,225 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
o #20 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical
o #30 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

What does that mean in terms of number of copies sold? It looks like 106 copies have sold on Amazon.com at $1.99 since it came off free.

7.
Spoil is also trying hard to stick in the Apple store as well. Right now it’s #4 Historical Fantasy, #66 All Fantasy, and #96 in All SFF. I won’t know sales till next month, but I was really disappointed to discover that if you go through a distributor like Smashwords to get a book into the Apple store, Apple doesn’t disclose numbers of free downloads. Apparently you DO get that info if you upload direct, but you need a Mac to do that and I’m Mac-less. Boo.

8.
As far as Amazon deigning to pick up the two other books I'm trying to make free now, it hasn't. First there was a lag time in getting the search sites (like Google) to pick up the free price on Apple so the Amazon bots could even find the books listed for free in order to price match. Then the new "Select" program kicked in on Amazon and authors made nearly 1000 books free in the last couple of days. How Amazon will treat price matching to free in the future for books not in the "Select" program is anyone's guess.

9.
Whether a promotion works short-term and/or long-term depends a lot on timing and luck and the generosity of readers. On Monday, SECTOR C was featured on the Kindle Books for a Buck blog. That resulted in a nice surge of sales: 46 copies in a little over 24 hours, which left the book at:

• Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,774 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
   o #15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > High Tech
   o #16 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Medical
   o #22 in Book > Science Fiction & Fantasy >Science Fiction > High Tech

Ah, but I’d seen this before with SECTOR C, when another site promoted the book in October. Although the rank never got this high, the book lost rank as quickly as it gained it. This time, though, the promotion was a bit stickier.

Since Monday, SECTOR C has sold 81 copies on Amazon.com. It only started slipping rank on Friday. Before that it was solidly below #7000. At 5 am Saturday, it’s at:

• Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,307 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
   o #34 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Medical
   o #42 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Medical
   o #60 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > High Tech

One helpful bit is that Amazon added that first category, “Medical Thrillers,” on Tuesday (at my repeated prompting), which may have aided with the sticky factor this time around.

Off now to prep Vet Tech Tales: The Early Years for its exclusive debut on Amazon (and only you and I will know what that really means!).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nov Sales Recap and Why I Love Apple

Tired of hearing about freebooking yet? I hope not, because the saga is far from over. We've seen it can be an effective strategy for gaining visibility and exposure among an audience eager to download free books. How, though, does that translate into sales among the readers who don't frequent the free shelves?

Well, I don't have the answer to that yet, based on this current campaign, but Spoil of War has crossed another milestone, so I thought I'd share.

Remember when I was frustrated with Apple for keeping Spoil free long past the time I wanted it to be free? They unfreed it yesterday, about the same time some other free books that I'd been following went unfree too, although those books had been free for a shorter period of time. Guess it was time to clear the old books off the free shelf to make room for new ones.

I've notified Amazon and am waiting for them to reprice Spoil (I see the other books haven't been repriced on Amazon either, so this appears to be a normal cycle).

Meanwhile, I can amuse myself by following the book's progress through the various iTunes stores. Did you catch that plural? As informed as I kid myself that I am, I completely missed the fact that Apple has 123 regional store fronts. Not all of them carry ibooks, much less books in English, but there is a healthy selection in the UK, Canada and Australia stores that I was totally missing before I found out how to access those storefronts last week. In case you have the iTunes app loaded and haven't figured it out, if you scroll ALL the way down to the bottom of any page, there's a little button with your country's flag on it. Despite there being no instruction for doing so, if you click that button, a page opens up that allows you to click through to any regional store of your choice.

And here is why I have grown to love Apple. At least why I love Apple US, UK and Australia. I only like Apple Canada right now, but that could change.

Spoil of War is not special. I don't share these stats because I think it is, but because this is a sales tool given to us by these online stores. Not every free book will enjoy this kind of exposure, but for those in popular genres that resonate with readers, these are results that can be replicated. In fact, because there are a number of blogs and Facebook pages that push free books, and because the majority of these sites elect not to push erotica or books with controversial content -- such as Spoil -- Spoil received even less exposure than many free books. Still, Apple gave the book the same in-store exposure every other free book receives.

Rankings

When Spoil went onto the paid list yesterday, I expected it to drop off the bestseller lists completely. However, it was #5 on the Historical Fantasy list yesterday afternoon in the US and Australian stores, and by Saturday morning it had climbed to #3. Not getting real-time updates means I don't have any kind of a feel for what this means in terms of actual sales. It could mean 2 sales or 20. Amazon and BN, with their real-time updates, have spoiled me (pun not entirely unintended). Not knowing sales numbers for an indie author is something akin to a 10th-circle-of-hell punishment. Having to wait 30-60 days to discover what the numbers mean is an excrutiating eternity.

Ratings

Spoil has 133 ratings from all 4 regions now, for a 4.3+ average.
78 5-star
30 4-star
17 3-star
5 2-star
3 1-star

With 76 ratings for a 4.5 average, the US store has by far the most ratings, including 3 5-star text reviews that I love.

If it does nothing else from a business perspective, putting the book up for free has helped me see that the majority of readers are responding positively to it. This is priceless information for any author, and especially priceless to me.

Visibility and Placement

I could not afford the kind of "front of store" placement the book has earned in the Apple stores. Say what you will about the difficulty of finding a book that isn't in the Top 100 in a genre in iTunes (and there is plenty to say on that subject), if you're in the Top 100, you can be seen. In the Top 12, you're golden.

In just a bit over a month, Spoil went from no visibility as a paid book to a paid book with the following placements.

US

Let's do this one pictorially.

Historical Fantasy

 All Fantasy

Historical Romance

All Romance: The featured category is an "Under $5" list, which comes up with a default sort by "Recent Bestsellers." Spoil is in the middle of the first page.

Australia

Historical Fantasy: #3 paid list; first spot for What's Hot
All Fantasy: top third on the What's Hot list
All SFF: first page (top 36) of New & Notable
Historical Romance: 2nd row of the What's Hot list
All Romance: 1st page (top 36) of New & Notable
 
UK
Historical Fantasy: top row on What's Hot
Fantasy: middle of the What's Hot list
All SFF: 1st page of the Featured list
Historical Romance: top third on the What's Hot list
All Romance: 1st page of the Featured list

Canada
Historical Fantasy: top row on What's Hot
All Fantasy: bottom row of What's Hot
Historical Romance: middle of the What's Hot list
 
Total Downloads and Current Rankings
 
Amazon only, since I don't yet have Apple's numbers.
 
US
Spoil has been free in the US store since Nov 2.
 
19,772 downloads
 
#474 in the Free Store (highest rank was #37)
#4 Historical Fantasy (highest rank was #1)
#21 Historical Romance (highest rank was #5)
 
UK
Spoil has been free in the UK store since Nov 23.

1247 downloads

#169 in the Free Store
#2 Historical Fantasy
#10 Historical Romance

Spoil has also been for sale at the following sites during Nov for 99c, $1.99 and $2.99 (it's $1.99 everywhere now -- or will be once Amazon puts it back in the Paid Store):

Smashwords - 3 at $2.99
BN - 8 sales at 99 cents; 1 at $1.99
Omni - 2 sales at $2.99
Amazon UK - 16 sales at 75p/99c before it went free
Amazon DE - 1 sale at 86e
________

31 Total Sold

SECTOR C, meanwhile, has been the neglected child. I'll have a paid ad for it on a popular site around Christmas, so I hope that will generate interest again.

60 - Amazon US
1 - Amazon UK
1 - BN
_________

62 Total

December Plans

By mid-month, I'll also be releasing the first volume of the Vet Tech Tales. For a sneak peek at the covers for Volumes 1 and 2, click over to the Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog :o)

Jennifer Blake's novella, A Vision of Sugarplums has just made it into the Apple iTunes store for free and Amanda le Bas de Plumetot's "Last Seen" short from the Extinct anthology has just been repriced to free there. So two more ebooks to try to take through the freebook ride on Amazon in December. (When did freebooking become a full-time job?)

Wish us luck!