Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Amazon Select Free Dead?

Yes! No! It depends!

If all you're using Select Free days for is to bump more sales, then your answer will be shouted from whichever side of the sales curve your book happens to be on after a free run.

And, because things with Amazon are always changing, it appears a waking dragon is starting to make some interesting noise.

Let's look at the trends over the last two months. Oh, wait, there are no trends. Results are all over the map, and each book I'm privy to sales figures for seems to have its own idea of how to perform duing and after its free run. Maybe YOU can spot a trend.

I'm going to arbitrarily break the books down into New Releases, Series, and Standalones because maybe it makes a difference where a book is in its lifecycle. Or maybe not. I'll include genre, free history and site mentions. Note that none of the books I've seen sales figures for has had a paid ad for its free run. For the books I have permission to name, I am. Others I don't, so I won't.

At the end, I'll compare how my strategy today for a free run is different from what I posted way back last February.

And what about that waking dragon, you ask? For US-based authors, it's beginning to look like the UK has raised its sleepy head and is starting to roar. But like the rest of the Select Free equation, if you're on the wrong side of the sales curve, you might not be able to hear it yet. More about that in the individual results below.


NIKO'S STOLEN BRIDE by Lindy Corbin - Contemporary Romance - Standalone

Notes: Definitely an out-of-the-ballpark hit that defies all lessons learned about free runs. New author, no reviews, no major site mentions. Only the smaller sites that auto-list all the free books picked it up.

Free Stats
Free for 5 days, July 12-16 (set free within a few days of publishing)
#5 overall in both the US and the UK
US: 30,000 downloads
UK: 5000 downloads

Sales Stats July 17-31
US: 1800 sales (1460 sales in Week 1 at 99c, 340 sales in Week 2 at $2.99) and 104 borrows
UK: 250 sales (220 sales in Week 1 at 99c, 30 sales in Week 2 at $2.99)

PARANORMAL ROMANCE by a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author - Series

Notes: This book is the beginning of a new series set in the same world as one of the author's traditionally published bestselling series. Unlike Niko above, this book had a "name" author, 6 reviews before it went free, and was picked up by every single major site.

Free Stats
Free for 3 days, Aug 9-11 (set free 2 weeks after release)
#14 overall in the US
~#200 overall in the UK
US: 15,500 downloads
UK: 290 downloads

Sales Stats Aug 12-18
US: 280 sales at $2.99 and 39 borrows (compare to 250 sales at $2.99 during its first 2 weeks in release before going free)
UK: 8 sales

ARROW TO THE HEART by Jennifer Blake - Historical Romance - Standalone

Notes: This is a backlist re-release of an older national bestseller, with high-profile reviews for other editions. It got no major site mentions.

Free Stats
Free for 5 days, July 11-15 (set free within a few days of publishing)
#17 overall in the US
#89 overall in the UK
US: 22,000 downloads
UK: 1000 downloads

Sales Stats July 16-31
US: 340 sales at $2.99 and 58 borrows
UK: 28 sales

SPANISH SERENADE by Jennifer Blake - Historical Romance - Standalone

Notes: This is a backlist re-release of an older national bestseller. It got a Free Kindle Books and Tips mention only from the majors. Mixed reviews since, but we simply didn't see a bump even before the reviews started coming in. Sales are even just a little below pace of the 3 other historical romances released at the same time that did not go free.

Free Stats
Free for 3 days, Aug 9-11 (set free within a few days of publishing)
#33 overall in the US
#179 overall in the UK
US: 10,700 downloads
UK: 430 downloads

Sales Stats July 16-31 
US: 42 sales at $2.99, 8 borrows
UK: 14 sales

DEADLY IMAGE by Tamelia Tumlin - Inspirational Romantic Suspense - Standalone

Notes: With no reviews upon release, we didn't expect this book to get picked up by the majors in July, and it didn't. We did hope for a pickup in August after it got a handful of nice 5-star reviews, but again, no major mentions.

Free Stats
Free for 1 day on July 12, and 3 days Aug 10-12
July: 1250 downloads
Aug: 1050 downloads

Sales Stats
July: 71 sales (60 at 99c, 11 at $2.99)
Aug: 14 sales (10 at $1.99, 4 at $2.99)


Anecdotal only, but based on the collateral sales for other books in a series when one title is free, it does appear that series sales remain strong when free books hit in the Top 100. Several successful books that are not Steel Magnolia titles, but whose authors have kindly shared data, have had collateral sales in the couple of hundred copies during the course of the free run and in the immediate aftermath. Having other books in the series discounted during the free promotion also appears to be quite attractive to readers.


In July and August both, we had books free that had all at one time or another been in the Top 100, many several times and many in the Top 50 once or twice.

Books that received one major site mention landed in the Top 200, but none cracked the Top 100. Each run in July and August, about half the books that were not new releases fell into this group. A far different scenario from having 7 out of 10 free books in the Top 100 in May. I did, however, have 3 books I was managing in the Top 35 in August. So, for a while, we owned 10% of the top third of the Top 100 Free list :o).

Downloads averaged 1000-1500 with a major mention, and 200-1000 without a major mention.

Post-free sales ranged from 30-100 in July and August during the first week post-free for books with 1500 downloads and 10-20 sales for books with fewer than 1000 downloads.


Then there's my thriller, SECTOR C. This book has had a free run each month since January. Data for Standalones above would indicate diminishing returns for books that keep pulsing free. Yet, somehow, SECTOR C keeps plugging along (helped, of course, by the kindness of at least one major freesite mention each run - in July, it got a mention from Ereader News Today and in August from Pixel of Ink and Kindle Fire Department).

A brief history of its free run download numbers:
Jan - 17,000
Feb - 2300
Mar - 2400
Apr - 1900
May - 11,500
Jun - 3850
Jul - 3450
Aug - 9400 US, 1770 UK

Concerned that 1) SECTOR C may have played itself out on the free circuit and 2) total sales each month have been on the downslide, I decided I needed to do something to help inject new life into this little book. Fond as I continue to be about the saber-tooth image the cover originally sported, one thing I'm certain helped this time is the cover change I made. It's much more obvious this is a medical thriller now. And by putting a woman on the cover, I hope to appeal more to women readers.

POI readers seemed to respond well to the new cover; the last time it was featured on POI (in June), it got fewer than 4000 downloads.

Also, it's never gotten more than 200 downloads in the UK before. I think it received so many this time for two reasons:

  1. The new cover has a broader appeal
  2. Freebies in the Mystery/Thriller genre seem to be more popular across the board now than in the past. Another thriller free the same time SC was followed SC up the charts, then went on to dominate overall with an additional 2 free days. And a mystery went gangbusters there, as well. Both authors tell me this is the best their books have done in the UK.

Of interest, I had only 3 days for my free run. UK downloads kicked in hard near the end of Day 2 and the rank was still improving in the UK when I canceled the free run at #17 overall. By then, its US rank had gone from #34 to #55. Another day or two free in the UK would have made a huge difference, I think. I'm not sure it could have rivaled the 5000 Niko's Stolen Bride got in July, but it might have come close.

But a great free run without a sales bump would be disappointing, no? As a pleasant surprise, the UK delivered. Why? Because the UK is still running the old algorithm for its pop lists where freebies are weighted close to the same as a real sale. Great visibility in the UK is the reward for a successful free run.

Sales comparison for the first 7 days post-free for the last 4 runs:
May - 173 sales at $4.29 and 38 borrows
Jun - 142 sales (43 at $4.39, 83 at 99c, 17 at $3.89) and 35 borrows
Jul - 75 sales (45 at $4.39 and 30 at $2.99) and 23 borrows
Aug - 146 sales at $4.39 and 69 borrows in the US, 175 sales at $2.99 in the UK

Current Thoughts on Freebook Strategy

These are editorial in nature only. Typical caveat of "your mileage may vary" applies.

  • New releases (along with virgin titles that have never been free) can still do very well.
  • A free run continues to be part of Steel Magnolia Press' release strategy.
  • We have modified that release strategy to have only 1 title free in each Collection of 2-5 backlist titles of Jennifer Blake's that we're releasing each month. Each of the other books in the month's Collection is getting paid advertising.
  • The new release itself does not need to go free if another in the series can be made free instead.
  • Successful series sell well during a successful free run of one of the titles.
  • Go big. Earlier, it seemed to matter where a book was ranked when it came off free. Now, it's all about the raw number of downloads a book can manage.
  • If the first day's number of downloads is less than 1800, cancel.
  • The algorithms have a built-in 30-day cliff. Each free run is evaluated case-by-case as to the benefit of having a reserve of free days left to always keep that cliff 2 weeks out.
  • We'll likely hold all current books in Select until March, then re-evaluate the benefits then, unless...
  • If things change drastically, we're prepared to make what changes are needed to best optimize our promotional opportunities. 

There's nothing stagnant about this business. We all have to keep trying new things, watching the results, and tweaking our plans on the fly.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Just How Do Those $&%*# Amazon Algos Work Anyway?

(Yes, I'm still around -- thank you to those of you who have emailed their concern. I'm just concentrating on other social media areas and posting to a few private and public groups, which is cutting into personal blog time.)

Warning: This (very long) post contains math.

Authors are a funny lot. Since a core group of us introduced the idea that Amazon's algorithms for its popularity lists contain a price bias and that freebies now seem to count about 1/10 as much as paid sales on those lists, the amount of misunderstanding regarding the findings has been, to say the least, staggering. Misinformation and disinformation propagating through the interweebs and the various forums point to a serious non-grasping of the underlying concepts.

And the authors reacting to just plain wrong information are understandably questioning why they aren't seeing results in line with what they're reading.

So let's quickly revisit what those findings are and what they aren't. Then we'll take a look at how the algorithm for determining rank on the popularity lists probably works at its most basic structure. Mind you, the actual algorithm is likely much more complicated than what I'll present, but the simple form you'll see here should help you to understand how it determines the playing field.

Popularity List Findings

First, the popularity list is NOT the bestseller list. They are two different beasts. On the Amazon webpage and on Kindle devices, you have to actually navigate to the bestseller list to find it. The BS list will show the paid bestsellers in one column on the left and the free bestsellers in a column to the right. If you're not seeing BOTH paid and free books on the page, you are not looking at the actual bestsellers. If at the bottom of the page you don't see links to specifically scroll through the Top 100 books and ONLY the Top 100, you're not looking at the actual bestseller list.

What you're looking at is the popularity list. And it's THIS list we'll be discussing.

Differences between the popularity and bestseller lists:

  • The popularity list figures in freebies. The bestseller list does not.
  • The popularity list does not figure in borrows. The bestseller list does.
  • The popularity list has a price bias. The bestseller list does not.
  • The popularity list influences the bestseller list more than the bestseller list influences popularity.
  • The popularity list figures in sales (and sales-equivalents) over the last 30 days. The bestseller list weights sales history, but not to the extent the pop list does.
  • The popularity list recrunches about once per day. The bestseller list recrunches hourly.
  • The popularity list has a lag time of about 2 days. The bestseller list has about an hour lag time.
  • The popularity list rank does not display anywhere except in the list itself. The bestseller rank is the rank you find on a book's product page.

The only way to know where your book ranks on the popularity list in any given category is to tediously scroll through the list to find it. (If you're pretty sure you're several pages in and don't want to scroll through every page, you can change the page numbers via the url in your address bar; but this option is for advanced users only who can find the page number designation in the url code.)

So, to make this as clear as possible:

  • The number of freebies you give away during a free run does not in any way affect your bestseller ranking. 
  • The price of your book does not in any way affect your bestselling ranking.

These variables are used only for determining a book's rank in the popularity lists.

The reason the popularity list rankings are important is that your book's visibility in those lists seems to be a huge sales driver. YOU may not personally find books by browsing that list, but a lot of folk apparently do. Also, some of the recommendation emails Amazon sends out display the top 6 or 7 books in a category, then provide a link to the pop list to discover more books in that category.

Watching your pop list numbers is as important -- and for some, even more important -- than watching your bestseller numbers.

Algorithm for Determining Popularity List Rank

The popularity list algorithm has undergone at least 2 major changes since it came under scrutiny in January. Back then, freebies appeared to be weighted 100% of a sale and borrows appeared to be counted in as well. Because of these weightings, books in Select that went on a successful free run with 2000 or so downloads would wind up at the top of the pop lists after the 2-day lag to get there. That resulted in the famous 3-day bump when browsers would start seeing a book on the first page of a pop list and hit Buy, catapulting a lot of indie books into the stratosphere. That was the Golden Age.

In March, Amazon started doing split marketing, testing different algorithms to create its popularity lists. Between late March and early May, there appeared to be 3 separate lists being tested, and predicting the popularity of a freebie following its free run was difficult because of the multiple lists.

In early May, Amazon apparently settled on a single algorithm to display to the majority of its customers. (Caveat: the list for the Fire seems to be out of synch from the rest -- either Fire readers are being presented a different list entirely or else the servers sending out the data to Fires are delayed.) There are umpteen possibilities as to WHY Amazon settled on the algorithm it did. I've speculated elsewhere about the why as have others, and this post won't rehash those speculations. We're simply accepting that Amazon wanted to elevate certain classes of books and decelerate the meteoric rise of others. It's how they're accomplishing this that we'll look at today.

Remember, we're working on best-guess speculation here, figured out from watching how the books on the list perform against each other. It's reverse-engineering -- and subject to a lot of variables that those of us outside of Amazon are simply not privy too. There will always be outliers, and there will always be minor differences in rank performance due to those other variables. For the most part, though, this simple formula seems to be the base for the current popularity list algorithm.

[(.1 x A) + B] x C / 30 = number of sales equivalents

A = the number of freebies given away in the past 30 days (notice it gets multiplied by 0.1 or 1/10);
B = the number of actual sales in the past 30 days; and
C = the weighting given for pricing.
30 = the number of days in a month (hence, the 30-day cliff that's talked about in conjunction with the pop list)

C is guess work since it's hard to figure exactly how Amazon is weighting price. It's a big enough variable to be noticeable, but not so big that it skews the results in a truly huge way. It also seems that the weighting of price goes by ranges of price, so a 2.99 book might be weighted the same as a 3.99 book. As a guess, the following matrix might be reasonably close:

99c -$2.98 = 1.0
2.99 - 3.99 = 1.1
4.00 - 5.99 = 1.2
6.00 - 7.99 = 1.3
8.00 - 9.99 = 1.4

So let's put some real numbers in there to see how this works. I'll use SECTOR C's past 30 days as an example since it had only a modest free run the last time out and its overall July sales were modest as well.

So for SECTOR C,
A = 3325 (number of freebies given away on the US site)
B = 328 (number of US sales from July 4 - Aug 3)
C = 1.2 ($4.39 is the book's typical list price)

Plugging the numbers into the equation, and showing our work, we get:

[(.1 x 3325) + 328] x 1.2 / 30 =
(332 + 328) x 1.2 / 30 =
660 x 1.2 / 30 =
792 / 30 = 26.4

So, 26.4 is the average daily sales equivalent for the past 30 days. Because of a healthy number of freebies being figured in, that means that SECTOR C is going to enjoy a better popularity rank than another book that has sold 328 copies over the last 30 days -- even if that other book currently has a better bestseller rank.

26.4 books is equivalent to a bestseller sales rank of around #3500. On Aug 3, SECTOR C's actual bestseller rank was between #5565 and #6930.

Now, because we don't know the exact number of books other authors are selling, we have to look at current ranks to make some best guesses to see why SECTOR C is at #29 on the popularity list for Technothrillers. And because books that have been on free runs are more volatile in the ranks, it's best to compare books that are not in Select (who is this Tom Clancy that has books on either side of mine on that list?!).

Here are the ranks and prices of the non-Select books closest to mine at #29:
#25 - 3178 - $3.99
#26 - 6030 - $8.99
#27 - 5380 - $8.99
#28 - 8720 - $4.95
#29 - 3500 (equivalent) - $4.39 (This is SECTOR C)
#30 - 24,365 - $3.99
#34 - 3931 - $3.99

"Aha!" you say. "A flaw in the calculations! Look at the 24,000+ rank on the book at #30!" Well, yes, I did look at that book and I found through Google that it had been free on at least July 25, so it was either price matched during the last 30 days or left Select in the past week. Variables like this are what makes reverse-engineering difficult -- and likely what makes many folk looking at a single snapshot question the accuracy of the findings. It has taken several snapshots over an extended period of time and deep research to come up with the guesstimations that we have.

While we can never draw conclusions from such limited data, we can look at the data above and see a couple of things:

At about the same price, the books at #25, #29 and #34 line up in the rank right where we would expect them to in relation to one another. We've already determined that #30 is skewed by an earlier free run. As I can only see today's rank for #28 (it's not listed on any of the tracker sites), it could well have had a better rank 2 days ago (another reason it's important to look at all this stuff over time as well). The 2 $8.99 books at #26 and #27 are Tom Clancy books that have been selling steadily at those ranks and are a demonstration of the price bias in action.

So, Realistically, What Can You Do With This Information?

Honestly? Not a whole lot. A higher price will give you a slight advantage, but only if you're selling well enough to be near the top of the pop lists anyway. It's not like a $4.99 book is going to rank dozens of ranks better than one that sells the same number of copies at $3.99. And a 99c book that sells 1000 copies will still rank higher than a $2.99 book that sells only 300. Simply pricing your book higher is not going to automatically boost your ranking.

Giving away a LOT of books during a free run can certainly help. Even so, the 3325 copies of SECTOR C given away last month only equaled about 332 sales equivalents. Depending on the category your book is in, that could be a drop in the bucket. In categories where the top books are selling 1000 copies a day, you'd have to give away 300,000 books to compete for first-page visibility. If you only gave away 200,000 books, you'd have to make up the difference with 10,000 paid sales. For most of us, it ain't gonna happen.

So if you're looking to the algorithms to help you sell, understand exactly what the algos are doing for you -- and how they work against you. There's no magic to them. It's all pure math. And Amazon may choose to change the math that feeds them tomorrow. Just maybe, the next changes will be in our favor...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It's Christmas in July!

Get back into that holiday mood with heartwarming romances by bestsellers
Susan Mallery, Christina Skye, Jennifer Blake, Diane Farr and Lisa Mondello.

9 featured titles plus many more sure to fill your quota of holiday cheer! 
Be sure to check each book's product page for more specials, themed titles and new releases by some of your favorite authors.

Find these specials and more on the Christmas in July Amazon page at

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June Bride Celebration

8 Bridal Romances - 99 cents
Save up to 80%
June 20-21

Participating authors include Jennifer Blake, Pat McLinn, Sandra Edwards, Shadonna Richards, and Geralyn Dawson. Check their product pages for steep discounts on more titles!

Find them on this special Amazon sale page:

Plus, 12 Steel Magnolia Press books also on sale for 99 cents each. Ends June 21.
See Steel Magnolia Press' special Amazon sale page at

Sunday, June 17, 2012

May Sales Voyeur

(A little late posting as my wireless connection has been iffy for the past few days. Boo.)

For me and for Steel Magnolia Press, May was a month to truly test the benefits of Select free runs. With no other marketing campaigns going -- not even a new release -- other than our collective free run on May 9 and 10, we were at the whims of free, Amazon's newest algorithms and a twitchy recommendation engine.

How did we fare? Well, it turned out that we got some nice promotional pushes during our free run that helped us tremendously. That meant most of our books saw a little spike mid-month to help buoy sales within their crucial 30-day windows that are a huge part of Amazon's algos. Whew!

It also validated my latest mantra regarding Select free: Go big or don't go at all.

The flaw in that advice, of course, is that it's difficult to know in advance whether you're going to go big or not. The best I know to do with it is to go out for one day to test the free waters and, if nothing spikes then, to pull back and wait till next time. If a book gets some nice mentions from the major sites and the downloads are ticking along, keep going.

How big is big? For us, it looks like 3000 freeloads is the minimum to make a difference on a book's own, when it's not propped up by other campaigns or promotion from the other books in our inventory. Until Amazon changes its algos again, that's the deciding point for me for whether it's worth continuing a free run or not. A Top 100 spot used to be a fairly good indicator a book would do well post-free, but even though we put 7 out of 10 books into the Top 100 Free, not all of them generated enough freeloads to make good on the promise of post-free sales. So Top 100 by itself, for us, isn't big enough. And honestly, that's pretty daunting news.

I documented our free run and its results over the first week post-free in painful detail in earlier posts, so I won't rehash that here. I'll just provide the highlights to help, um, highlight the differences in sales among our books for the month based on how well they did during their free runs.

#17 with 10,600 freeloads
383 sales @ $4.29
65 borrows

The Warlock's Daughter
#24 with 9700 freeloads
187 sales @ 2.99
21 borrows

The Rent-A-Groom
#32 with 9000 freeloads
347 sales @ 2.99
48 borrows

Out of the Dark
#42 with 7400 freeloads
180 sales @ 2.99
11 borrows

A Dragon's Seduction
#89 with 3300 freeloads
326 sales @ 0.99
14 borrows

Catering to the Italian Playboy
#95 with 3400 freeloads
185 sales @ 2.99
15 borrows

Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever
#98 with 2570 freeloads
30 sales @ 2.99
0 borrows

Gypsy Bond
#134 with 1950 freeloads
75 sales @ 0.99
1 borrow

Vet Tech Tales
#145 with 1600 freeloads
249 sales @ 0.99
14  borrows

Spoil of War
Price Matched - 1924 freeloads
67 sales @ 3.27 (+Apple)
$136 (+Apple Royalties)

Cumulative in May across SECTOR C, Vet Tech Tales and Spoil of War (could I be more genre-diverse?), my royalties came to $1326 with a few iTunes sales for Spoil still to be reported.

SECTOR C crossed two exciting-for-me milestones in May:
  • Over 5000 copies sold
  • Over $10,000 earned
Steel Magnolia Press as a whole is coming along nicely right now as well. Jennifer re-released a novella in June, and we're gearing up to start releasing her 36 rights-reverted novels in July, along with new novellas by Lindy Corbin and Tamelia Tumlin. Cumulative over 2012 (Jan-May, excluding the Extinct anthology), SMP has seen the following:
  • Copies Sold - 19,169
  • Borrowed - 1358
  • Downloaded Free - 168,600
  • Royalties - $24,580
I'll have some comparisons between the free run in May and the one in June in my next post.

And don't forget the June Brides Celebration starting Wednesday, June 20, where you'll find some incredible deals on bridal romances by Pat McLinn, Sandra Edwards, Shadonna Richards, Geralyn Dawson and Jennifer Blake. Check back here for links on the day! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kick Back With These 23 Beach Reads - Just 99 Cents Each

June 13 and 14 Only!

Why 23? Because that's how many books are in the two awesome promos my books are a part of.

The first, 10 4-Star and Up Beach E-Reads, features 10 books by 10 different authors at up to 80% off. You'll find Thrillers, Fantasy, Romance and Historical Fiction, with an 11th bonus LitFic short thrown in for good measure. SECTOR C is among them. Many of these authors are offering steep discounts on their other series and standalone titles, so go check them out.

You can find all these books together on a special Amazon sale page at Why yes, that really is an Amazon page with multiple books that have no other association with one another than that they are a part of this promotion. Pretty cool, huh?

There's also a new blog site for announcing the occasional promos I'll be helping put together: The Virtual Shelf. Subscribe by email or put it in your RSS feed to follow the different promotions I'm involved in. I'll be discussing their effectiveness in later posts.

And, of course, there's also a new Facebook page. If you stop by, please Like it :o) (I'll be updating its first post soon.).

Oh, and if you're a fan of Monique Martin's Out of Time series, she's just released Book 3, Fragments!

You may notice that there's another Steel Magnolia Press title in the mix: A Dragon's Seduction. I figured this would be a good time to drop the prices of 12 SMP titles to 99c and use the above sale, which has paid advertising associated with it, to our own advantage. (Don't worry, the other authors are also capitalizing on their pieces of the Beach E-Reads promotion, extending the sale and its reach even further.)

In response, I set up another Amazon sale page for Steel Magnolia Press at added a mention about the sale on the product pages. And voila, an 11-book campaign turned into a 23-book one for anyone clicking on SECTOR C or A Dragon's Seduction :o).

Will that help sales? We'll find out together over the next few days.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June Promotions and an Award

Indie Book of the Day has chosen SECTOR C as today's winner! And they sent along a very lovely badge for me to display. Why not go Like them and check out their past winners?

Ebook Promotion

Promoting books is not terribly hard work. I sit at my desk, feet propped up, snacks and beverages at hand, with the occasional dog or cat nudging me for attention, walking across my keyboard or curling up in my lap. So no, not hard -- but it is time-consuming. And I don't even fuss much with social media.

Where I do put my attention is on learning what others are innovating and then doing the necessary follow-up to see how successful different activities and ideas are. And then, of course, figuring out if other factors influenced that success. And finally, trying to come up with ways to tweak those ideas so they work for the goals I've set.

Sometimes what's worked well for others doesn't work at all for me. Sometimes I can make something work that others seem not able to. Why? Because timing, audience, price and just plain luck are all part of marketing. Why do some books seem to take off on their own and others don't?

In May, a group campaign with 10 Steel Magnolia Press books yielded moderate post-free sales across all titles. We had lots of nice promo push behind that campaign and, when our June freebook campaign came around this past week with 12 books, we didn't expect as much push. We did get a couple of nice mentions, but a couple of major sites also declined to feature our books again (not at all unexpected and probably a smart decision on their part), and one surprise mention was especially welcome.

Even with a more low-key campaign, we still managed to put 5 books into the Top 100 Free. I'll have details about post-free sales in June compared to May a little later this week. The short version is that my observation from last month seems validated. If a book doesn't get at least 3000 freeloads and sit in a Top 100 overall spot, there just isn't going to be a sales bounce any more. The divide between the books that see even a moderate bounce and those that don't is much more clearly defined -- and much, much wider.

So I've been working on promotional opportunities beyond freebooking.

There is an upcoming group sale I'll be a part of June 13-14. We have feature spots booked on two popular sites and 10 top-rated books by as many authors that will be on sale for 99c (up to 80% off). SECTOR C will be in that sales group as will A Dragon's Seduction, another Steel Magnolia Press book. In addition to cross-promoting the 10 books in the campaign, we'll be putting all our SMP titles on sale for 99c as well and see if we can't get a few collateral sales that way too.

I'm also running a June Brides Celebration promotion focusing on bridal romances June 20-21, featuring Jennifer Blake and other authors not affiliated with Steel Magnolia Press. We have three spots booked for that promotion, and will use the same tactics for cross-promoting the bridal books foremost and the SMP titles secondarily.

I'll report here on how well those campaigns go. We're hoping well enough that we'll be incentivized to continue to run a couple of themed campaigns per month.

Look for links to the website and Facebook page that will host these special sale campaigns when we launch on Wednesday.

Thursday I'll have a wrap-up on May sales.

And if you've been in or seen any promos that were especially successful (or spectacularly unsuccessful) for your books, feel free to share the details!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting "The Call" -- Indie-Wise

Michelle Hauck (aka Michelle4Laughs) is doing a wonderfully inspiring series of posts from authors who've gotten "The Call." Wanting a little balance, she asked me if I'd like to do an indie version of "Getting the Call," and of course I said I'd be delighted. Michelle has been an online friend and staunch supporter since, well, forever. What she and I didn't know at the time was that the indie "Call" post would be scooped by Ruth Cardello, whose self-publishing success has been miles ahead of mine. But you know what, my little books and I have worked hard to get where we are today, and I figured a little grounding for readers following the series wouldn't hurt.

My version of "The Call" is now up at Michelle's blog. And she's cross-posted it as well to her team blog, For the Love of Writing. I hope you'll take a look.

ETA: Oooh, looks like Michelle has issued a comments challenge! Please leave a few words over at her place when you visit.

Monday, May 21, 2012

More Window Placement At Amazon

Why yes, that would be Spoil of War hanging out on the front page of the Science Fiction & Fantasy section of Amazon. Nice placement, yes?

Oh, and look at the company it's keeping: A slew of fantasy greats to its left, Charlaine Harris and Sookie to its right, and GRRM, Diana Gabaldon and another slew of greats beneath.

Wow, this makes 2 of my books that have gotten store window placement at Amazon. Now if there was just an easy way to get them both up there at the same time!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Post-Free Results - 1 Week Out

So here we are 1 week after our 10 Steel Magnolia Press titles ended their free runs. Yesterday's chart comparisons around free run results since January validated that, for our titles, the apparent A/B testing in March meant depressed post-free sales numbers in April, and the change in algorithms at the beginning of May meant further depression in general. In fact, the conversion rate of number given away to number sold steepened sharply for every title, with only a rare valley or two between January and May.

 (Click to open chart larger in a new window.)

Of interest is that, despite titles holding within a few rankings on the popularity lists, sales velocity over the last three days has either held steady or slipped, with Vet Tech Tales still being the exception. It appears to be climbing back to its typical per-day sales rate while the others are dropping back to theirs.

Another interesting bit that helps us better guess at the new algorithms can be found looking at the 2 titles for which we can compare bestselling and popularity rankings.

SECTOR C had a short run into the Top 100 last month, and 1240 sales are being carried over from that into its current 30-day history for a total of 1425 sales. Add to that some percentage of its 11,000 US freeloads from last week -- say 10% (our best guess right now) -- and it's competing with other titles in its categories on the popularity side at a sales-equivalent of 2525 sales over the past 30 days. Coupled with a $4.29 price, that's a serious enough lift to boost it above its bestseller (BS) counterpart ranks.

  • 4 Pop vs 29 BS - Technothriller
  • 72 vs >100 - Thriller
  • 7 vs 45 - High Tech SF
  • 29 vs >100 Science Fiction

Vet Tech Tales, on the other hand, has a 30-day history of 226 sales plus a modest 1500 freeloads. Adding 10% of 1500 to 226 equals 376 sales equivalents. Overall, its popularity rank is tracking very closely to its bestselling rank in every one of its categories, even ranking a rank or two lower on a couple of pop lists than it is on the bestseller side.

  • 2 Pop vs 1 BS - Veterinary Medicine
  • 57 vs 60  - Medicine
  • 162 vs >100 - Science
  • 43 vs  39 - Professional & Tech - Medical
  • 149 vs >100 - Professional & Technical
  • 10 vs 10 - Animal Care - Essays
  • 39 vs 39 - Animal Care & Pets
  • 95 vs 97 - Home & Garden

On the money front, SMP titles made about $1860 in the week since being free, or $265 per day. In the week before going free, the books were making about $50 per day. Don't forget we still need to account for the 1.5 - 2 days the titles were on their free run. If we subtract $100 (2 days x $50) from $1840 and divide by 7 days, we get just a bit over $250 per day. So by going free, we increased our weekly sales total 500%.

The good news is that when we compare the pre-free week to the post-free week, each of our books improved in both number of sales made and money earned.

It isn't as many sales or as much money as we were making in the Gold or Silver Age of Select, but for us going free through Select at this time still carried an advantage. Of course, luck and the good folk at the major freebooking sites were also with us.

As always, your results may vary.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sales Comparison Of 4-Day Post-Free Results

I did a quick comparison of Day 4 post-free sales for each Steel Magnolia Press book that has been on at least 2 free runs and charted in the Top 250 Free. The following is the result. (Feb 1 and Feb 2 designate 2 separate runs 3 weeks apart.)

I'm still analyzing, but one thing from these results alone -- meaning we can't really make any firm, across-the-board claims from this data set -- seems clear. For our SMP books, we now need to see at least 3000 free downloads during a given run to have much of a post-free impact on sales.

Tomorrow we'll look at the 1-week post-free numbers and wrap this all up on Sunday. Then we'll wait for the next set of algorithm changes to come along :o).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Freeloading Via Amazon Select On The Wane?

Every now and then I see someone make mention that hand-in-hand with the decline in post-free sales, free books are not being downloaded in the same numbers as they were earlier in the year.

Is it true? Or does it just feel that way? It's a statistical claim, so what data is the observation based on?

Authors who aren't getting as many downloads per book as they once were might be tempted to extrapolate that data point across the entire freebook model. But just because we're tempted to do something, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

I am, however, going to fall into that same temptation. The only differences are that 1) I have a LOT of free runs to compare, 2) many of those free runs resulted in comparable ranks so I'm comparing like to like, and 3) I understand how to look at the captured data in a way that (hopefully) returns meaningful results.

For instance, on its first free run in January, SECTOR C hit #25 and ended up with 13,000 downloads in the US. That's how most authors would report their free run result, right? Did that mean it took 13,000 downloads to hit #25? Not at all. It took about 10,000 to hit that rank. In fact, 8 hours later it went off free at a rank of #35 with those 13,000 downloads -- and it took about 7000 downloads to hit #35 the first time. But the way indies often report results complicates and skews those results -- which makes it difficult to work with other people's data.

So, working with the pool of data I do have -- 10 books in Select through Steel Magnolia Press, which is admittedly quite a small pool but is perhaps better than what many indies are armed with -- I charted how many downloads it took to reach a given range of Top 200 ranks during each month in 2012.

Here are the caveats:

  • Within a given month, the free runs logged may have taken place on different dates.
  • There is always server lag in reporting downloads vs rank. I've used actual rank figures and backed up an hour to two hours to get the download numbers associated.
  • In the Top 50, it's very competitive. While I've segmented the ranks by 10s, the difference between a rank in the low end of the segment and one at the high end can easily be 1000 downloads.
  • Each month we had more books in Select, so data for January and February is not as robust as that available for March, April and May.

Still, there are some trends we can plausibly infer from the charted results below.

  • January appears to be the high point for freeloads across the store, followed by February. 
  • April saw a bit of a depression of about 20% across the board.
  • May freeloads appear to be at about the same level as February.
  • Readers still appear to be enthusiastic about freeloads.

And here's the kicker to what this data appears to indicate (and please note the frequency of the word "appears" throughout this post!):

There are now 153,000 books that are Prime Eligible compared to about 65,000 in January. Not all of those are in the KDP Select program, but for simplicity sake let's say the number of books eligible for a Select free run has doubled since the first of the year and posit that there are now twice as many books being offered free as there were then. If all the books being made free on a given day were being downloaded equally, then it should take roughly half the number of downloads now than it did in January to reach a given rank. But that's not what we're seeing. We're seeing it take the same number of downloads to hit a given rank even though there are almost twice as many books available.

That means either the overall number of free books being downloaded has increased exponentially because there are more customers downloading them or the same number are downloading more books, or else the overall percentage of books rising to the top has gotten considerably smaller, meaning there are a LOT more books not getting many downloads at all.

It is, of course, likely to be some complicated version of all three scenarios.

What this means is that using free as a tool for discoverability is still a great option assuming your book gets into the Top 200 or so, but it rapidly loses its effectiveness otherwise. Note I said "for discoverability" and not "for gaining post-free sales." With the new algorithms and their accompanying new price bias, books likely need to get into the Top 150 Free to have any noticeable post-free sales bounce, and into the Top 80 to see an appreciable bounce.

More and more, you have to be in this game to win it.

The bar keeps being raised. Are YOU up for the challenge?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 4 Post-Free Results

The question we're all trying to answer with the recent changes in Amazon's algorithms is whether or not playing the freebook game with Select is still "worth it." What "worth it" means to each author will likely be different. Picking up new readers, simple satisfaction in seeing your book out there in the hands of those new readers -- these are things that can't be measured except by your own internal evaluator. And just like the way Amazon's algorithms work, these are factors that you'll give either more or less weight to depending on your individual goals.

What we can do here is chart the tangible results and make some educated guesses as to what it all means for the expectations we set for future free runs.

Below are the 4-day post-free sales results for the 10 Steel Magnolia Press books we set free last week. You'll recall 4 of the books made it to the Top 50, 7 books got into the Top 100, and 9 into the Top 150.

(Click on the chart to open it larger in a new window.)

In addition to updating the numbers from the 2-day totals, I added some guestimated dollars at the end. In the week leading up to the free run, the Steel Magnolia authors sold 212 books and had 20 borrows total. That works out to about 33 copies sold/borrowed per day. In dollars, that's about $350 total or $50 per day.

That gives us the baseline to work from. To be doing any good from a purely financial standpoint, sales would have to improve over that $50-per-day mark post-free.

From the chart, you can see that in 4 days we've sold 800 books, had 116 books borrowed and had 100 returned. Subtracting the returns, we wind up with an average of 229 books sold/borrowed per day. That equals about $1200 total since the post-free run, or an average of $300 per day in royalties.

Remember, though, we lost 1.5 days in there by going free, so to see what actual gains there have been, we need to subtract the $50 per day we would have normally gotten on the days the books were free from the overall total. We ended our runs early on the second day, but to keep things simple, we'll call it 2 full days or $100.

So, $1200 - $100 = $1100.

Now we divide that $1100 by our 4 post-free days and get a total of $275 per day. And we can see that $275 is 5.5 times the $50 we had been making per day -- or a 550% increase.

A slam-dunk success, right?

Ah, but here's where we have to filter the results through two sets of eyes: publisher eyes and author eyes.

For Steel Magnolia Press, it's clear that using free as a revenue-generating tool can still work. Maybe not to the extent it was working in the past, but given the right promoting and a lot of luck, the post-free sales bounce is lucrative enough to repeat. At least based on these charted results.

But what about for the individual books? Using the same formula as above, let's look at how daily averages post-free compare to those pre-free.

SECTOR C - 372% increase
Warlock's Daughter - 4700%
The Rent-A-Groom - 800% 
Out of the Dark - 3900%
A Dragon's Seduction - 400%
Catering to the Italian Playboy - 1200%
Extinct Anthology - 350% 
Gypsy Bond - 300%
Vet Tech Tales - (90%)

Pretty wide ranges there, varying from 0.9 times as many sales to 47 times.

Of particular interest is Vet Tech Tales. It's on 4 Bestseller lists and in the Top 100 of 6 Pop lists. It had a healthy average of about 9 sales per day going into free. 1500 copies were given away and it ended its free run at #145. All signs that should point to a moderate post-free sales bounce. Instead, in the past 2 days its sales have come to a halt and its rank is poorer than it's been in weeks. Already it has a lower sales-per-day ratio than when it started -- all-in-all, a discouraging performance despite a nice increase in visibility.

I've heard anecdotal evidence from others who've noted this same phenomenon. This book has been on 5 free runs, and even on the couple of runs where it didn't get mentions on the major sites and had only 400 or 500 downloads, it was back to selling a pretty consistent 7-10 copies per day. This is the first experience this book -- or I -- have had with sales falling so completely off a cliff so quickly. I don't have an immediate answer as to why. I'm open to any thoughts you may have and, of course, I'll be looking for an answer too.

If that were the only book I had in Select, I would very disappointed in the result of the promotion, despite the overall success for the publisher. Something to keep in mind when you're listening to stories about various authors' successes or failures with Select free runs. Folk who do really well or really poorly are likely to be most vocal about their results.

So is there any data to help us determine just how different the results are now than they were in the Gold and Silver Ages of Select? If you ran a Select free promo back in February, what can you reasonably hope your May campaign will look like in comparison?

I happen to have data from comparable runs that will help answer just that question that I'll share with you on Friday.

Tomorrow, we'll look at whether readers really are getting tired of free books -- or is it the authors who are tired of giving them out instead?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Price Bias – A New Wrinkle In Amazon’s Ever-Changing Algorithms

OK, we’ve been keeping something from you. We suspected this early on, but it was such a major change to what we were used to seeing we wanted to be sure what we were seeing was actually there – and repeatable.

Price bias in Amazon’s algorithms.

Until recently, Amazon’s popularity lists have been price-agnostic. That changed on May 1. Ed Robertson has a nice rundown on the evidence. Huge thanks to Ed for the hours (and quantities of alcohol consumed) spent chasing down the figures.

I won’t repeat all the gory details here. Go read Ed’s piece for that.

What I want to discuss today is editorial in nature: Why Amazon might be changing the playing field yet again. The following is opinion and speculation only.

Let me be clear up front. In no way do I believe Amazon is changing its virtual display shelves in a way that is meant foremost to have any impact on indies. I’ve used the expression that we’re simply collateral damage numerous times, and I stand by that belief. Of course, whether you die by virtue of intended murder or unintended manslaughter, the result is the same.

So what’s up then? Weren’t Select titles that were going free and selling hundreds and thousands of copies post-free making Amazon money? Of course. But Amazon will sell books regardless.

Is Amazon reacting to a public outcry over the quality of the books being routinely put on the front shelves? Hmmm. I haven’t heard or seen such an outcry, and to make an impact, I would think it would have to be a tsunami of outrage to turn Amazon's ear.

What’s prompted the change, I believe, has all to do with the demise of agency pricing. When Amazon is again free to offer loss-leaders of bestsellers from the Big 6, they will need to make up the thin margins they’ll no doubt be earning per copy through quantity. It will behoove Amazon to ensure those books are kept in front of the readers, and keeping them high in the popularity lists will help accomplish that. Remember, Amazon routinely sends email blasts to customers that feature the top 5 or 6 titles in the pop list directly in the email and then links to the rest of the list itself, so the popularity lists feed Amazon's recommendation engines in large part.

One pricing bit we’re also looking at is the List Price of the ebook vs the actual Purchase Price. Our testing of List vs Purchase price is still ongoing. Of interest so far is to note that the Amazon imprints now seem to be offering a List Price of $9.99 while actually selling their titles for $4.99 and lower. That’s good marketing to make the customer think they’re getting a deal, but I believe it goes well beyond simple Marketing 101 strategy. If the price bias uses the List Price as its factor, then Amazon is giving its imprint books the same advantage in the algorithms as the Big 6 publishers will have, and the Amazon imprint books will keep getting pushed to the front shelves along with the Big 6 titles – and ahead of the indies.

Ahead, because “List Price” is not a tool the indies have to work with, and we’re clearly disadvantaged because of it should the theory about List Price prove out. We can change the price on a book and have the old List Price reflected with a slash through it, but only temporarily. Within a few hours or, at most, a few days, the new Purchase Price becomes the List Price.

What that means, of course, is that indie books that are lower priced have to sell a lot more copies to be promoted up the pages of the popularity lists than do books with higher Purchase Prices and/or List Prices. So the answer is to price everything higher, right? Not necessarily. First, a book has to have the perceived value of the price you want to sell it at for it to actually sell at all. Plus, if the algorithms are working off the List Price, that gives Amazon the luxury of pricing a book at any price and still enjoying better shelf placement. Say you price your new thriller at $4.99 to avoid the bias, and Thomas & Mercer is selling their newest thriller at $3.99 but with a List Price of $9.99. That T&M book will still be placed higher than yours unless you sell a substantial number more than the T&M title.

If this algorithm change persists – and who knows, it could be replaced in a month or two! – what I foresee when the agency-priced titles are wholesaled once again to Amazon is this: Customers will be able to purchase those pricier bestsellers (as ebooks) for less than what they’re being offered at now. Score 1 for the customer. In an effort to compete, indies will begin raising the prices of their books, and the 99c to $2.99 titles will be harder to come by. So customers will be paying less for one class of books and more for another class as prices begin to normalize within the $2.99 – 9.99 range that Amazon has been pushing all along.

Of course, there will always be outliers. Of course 99c books that can move 100,000 copies will still rank well and sell well. Of course indies who price their books above the value customers are willing to pay will not sell.

Of course there are factors other than price that will affect how well your book performs. If you concentrate on just one variable, such as price, to the exclusion of all others, you’ll likely be disappointed in the results. Price is still just another consideration in the overall equation.

On another note regarding the agency pricing scandal, check out David's Gaughran's Open Letter to the DOJ.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Day 2.5-ish Post-Free Results

So, has the free ride in KDP Select run its course in terms of post-free sales? Well, let's just say it's walking and no longer sprinting toward the finish line.

First, a chart of the results of the 10 Steel Magnolia Press books that went free last Thursday and half of Friday. Then we'll look at how this run, which we'll call Bronze (post-May 1), is comparing to runs made in the Golden (pre-Mid-March) and Silver (Mid-Mar - Apr 30) Ages of Select.

(Click on the chart to open it up in a larger size.)

The popularity lists for the Kindle categories have all updated at least once, and so far it's quite clear that our books are not reaping as much visibility reward now as they have for past free runs that resulted in similar successes. Either the Books categories have not yet updated or else they are weighting Kindle book sales much less than print book sales. For example, while SECTOR C is #9 on the Medical Thriller bestseller list, it's not even in the Top 300 of the Books category (note there isn't an equivalent Medical Thriller Kindle category at all).

Two of my books are lucky enough to have high visibility in some categories that are less-competitive than Romance. Since they can rank high on the bestseller lists across multiple categories, they have the opportunity to rank high across those same categories on the popularity lists as well. Just look at how many opportunities Vet Tech Tales has to get eyes-on!

Luckily, we have similar points of reference for many of these books, so we can compare very like circumstances across all three Ages of Select. 

Today I'll simply chart the data here, then tomorrow we'll take a break from looking at new numbers and see what, if anything, we can deduce from the data so far. Some of the trending is, of course, pretty clear :o). What trends can you spot? In addition, we'll look across the data and try to determine not only how post-free sales are being affected but what we can tell about the numbers of freebies being given away as well. For instance, are the numbers of copies being downloaded dropping?

On Wednesday, we'll include the sales totals through the first 4 days post-free, and finish up with data tracking on Saturday. Finally, on Sunday, we'll look back over all the data and make some educated guesses about where Select has been, where it is now, and where it will take us in the near future before any additional changes are made to the algorithms.

The following charts contain data for free runs across 7 of the Steel Magnolia Press titles. While Warlock's Daughter and Out of the Dark both made it into the Top 50 Free last week, they were only put into Select right before this promotion so they have no other data to compare to.

The sales totals are cumulative from Day 1 through 1 Week. We'll need to wait to fill in data for Day 4 and Week 1 on all the Bronze columns.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Query Revision # 100-and-something

A dear friend of the blog is getting ready to begin submitting her latest manuscript (yay!). And she needs a solid query to accompany it. I've offered thoughts on her draft below. Feel free to leave any helpful comments you may have as well!

Dear Dreamy Agent:

The supernova of a nearby star wiped the ozone from Earth’s atmosphere. Now the sun’s radiation batters the planet unfiltered, bringing slow death to those who survived the initial destruction.

Seventeen-year-old Little Bit is bursting at the seams. She’s sick of being detained inside the walls of her Indiana compound by a magical anklet locked on her by the young mage, Garrett. She may be safe under the shield created by Garrett, but a slender age difference and saving her life doesn’t give him the right to conceal her past or keep her captive. Even a girl who has never been anywhere can see a world composed of four people lacks a future.

Little Bit outwits the anklet to stumble through collapsing ghost towns inhabited by magically mutated beetles and over-sized possums. Creatures that have had their evolution ‘sped up’ are about as helpful as Garrett and a whole lot hungrier. Plus, they aren’t the only things willing to eat anything. Friendly humans are in short supply as Little Bit follows rumors of a colony in New Chicago. Troubling memory blackouts soon prove that her anklet had a larger purpose than simply holding her prisoner. Little Bit must get her answers and create a future while dodging the sun’s deadly rays.

LITTLE BIT is a YA dystopian novel with crossover fantasy elements complete at xx,xxx words. My pathetic list of credits here.

Thanks for your consideration.

My Thoughts 

The supernova of a nearby star wiped the ozone from Earth’s atmosphere. Now the sun’s radiation batters the planet unfiltered, bringing slow death to those who survived the initial destruction.

This is a nice opening. It's setting me up for a dark, SF dystopian tale. 

Seventeen-year-old Little Bit is bursting at the seams.

"Little Bit" and the trivial-sounding "bursting at the seams" language now have me thinking this isn't going to be a dark story after all.

She’s sick of being detained inside the walls of her Indiana compound by a magical anklet locked on her by the young mage, Garrett.

And there's a mage? In this case, maybe it's best to bring up the genre at the beginning of the query. I feel like I'm being flip-flopped a bit and am having to work a bit too hard to keep up as my expectations about the story keep changing. 

She may be safe under the shield created by Garrett, but a slender age difference and saving her life doesn’t give him the right to conceal her past or keep her captive.

Does she know he's concealing her past? Can the reader know too? And isn't it like death to leave? 

Even a girl who has never been anywhere can see a world composed of four people lacks a future.

The 'four people' mention now has me asking questions: who are the other two? are they captives too? do they matter to the query? 

Little Bit outwits the anklet to stumble through collapsing ghost towns inhabited by magically mutated beetles and over-sized possums.

I'm going to be honest and say the language used here is giving me a middle grade rather than YA vibe. I'm also a little unclear about these creatures. Are they the only creatures inhabiting the towns? Are they inhabiting them in the sense that they're sentient and using the towns the same way humans would? If they're being magically manipulated, is the manipulation part of some overall plan or just young, bored mages playing with their magic? 

Creatures that have had their evolution ‘sped up’ are about as helpful as Garrett and a whole lot hungrier. 

Well, if Garrett was keeping her alive under his shield, seems he was being helpful. 

Plus, they aren’t the only things willing to eat anything. Friendly humans are in short supply as Little Bit follows rumors of a colony in New Chicago.

So then she must be meeting up with unfriendly humans, right? I'm thinking you may want to show LB's obstacles a little more concretely -- with the added benefit you can use the opportunity to do a little more world-building along the way. 

Troubling memory blackouts soon prove that her anklet had a larger purpose than simply holding her prisoner.

Earlier, we're told Garrett is concealing her past from her, which made me think he was blocking her memories. Now it seems even more memories are being blocked because she takes the anklet off? Again, I've been set up for an expectation that doesn't jive with the follow-through. 

Little Bit must get her answers and create a future while dodging the sun’s deadly rays.

I'm trying hard here to understand her goals. Are the answers she needs buried in the memories that are disappearing, buried in her past, or do they lie with Garrett? What kind of future are we talking here? Something that will save what's left of humankind? Or just to meet up with other friendly humans to pass a pleasant few years before everyone dies of radiation poisoning? I'm not getting a strong enough sense of the world or the perils therein to fully appreciate the goals mentioned. 

LITTLE BIT is a YA dystopian novel with crossover fantasy elements complete at xx,xxx words. My pathetic list of credits here.

LITTLE BIT doesn't sing out YA Dystopian to me (then again, I suck at titles...)

If you have credits to list, they aren't pathetic! :o) 

Thanks for your consideration.

My Version

Dear Dreamy Agent:

The supernova of a nearby star has stripped the ozone from Earth’s atmosphere and the onslaught of radiation is slowly killing everyone who survived the initial destruction in LITTLE BIT, my YA dystopian novel with crossover fantasy appeal.

Held captive in an Indiana compound, seventeen-year-old Little Bit wants only two things. First, to escape the young mage, Garrett, who's using magic to shield her from the fatal radiation -- but at the cost of her own past. And second, to see and hear and touch other humans while there's still time.

When Little Bit outwits the spelled anklet thralling her to Garrett, she escapes into a world being corrupted more by magic than any devastation the sun is beaming down. She stumbles through ghost towns populated by magicked creatures -- hungry, mutated beetles and mega-sized opossums -- whose evolution is being sped up by Garrett and other mages of his ilk for purposes only they can fathom. 

Dodging nests of radiation-scarred survivalists who skulk in the shadows, Little Bit follows rumors to a human colony occupying New Chicago. What future she has lies with them -- she can feel it in her bones. But first, she'll have to confront Garrett about why he kept her imprisoned, uncover the secret of her past, and find a way for them all to survive the sun's deadly rays.

Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to sending you LITTLE BIT, complete at XX,XXX words.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Day 1 Post-Free Results

Well, the first 24 hours coming off free teaches us one thing: It's going to take more time to draw any real conclusions. (See yesterday's post, if you missed it, to get caught up on today's sales discussion.)

Let's get right to the data. Below the chart, we'll discuss what you're seeing. (Click on the chart to see it larger.)

One of the interesting things I noted after coming off free was that the majority of these sales came within the first 8 hours. Sales have tapered off since.

The titles are in the same order as they are in the chart we saw yesterday, which showed best free rankings and number of downloads. If the book showed up in a category's Top 100 bestsellers list, I've noted its rank in that list in a column on the left.

On the right side of the chart are sales by region: US, UK and all the others lumped together as sales are minimal outside of the US and UK. There's a column for total sales across all the regions, a column for total number of borrows, and a column showing total returns/refunds across all regions. It's pretty clear that coming off free in the middle of the day confused a number of customers who thought the books were still free. A few obviously went on to borrow the book after returning a purchased copy. And some of those returns could well be freebies that were returned. How Amazon is counting them I won't know until tomorrow's weekly summary report.

The far right column shows sales in the US for the week prior to the free run. Most of our books were in a bit of a sales lull and sales immediately post-free in most cases surpassed each book's prior week's total. Vet Tech Tales is the only outlier here; historically it seems to sell consistently whether it's been on a free run recently or not.

The column with the popularity rank is one we will want to pay particular attention to. The recent algorithm changes mainly affected these lists, and books coming off successful free runs are not rising as high on the lists as they did before May 1 (when 3 different display lists became 1) or March 19 (when the single popularity list that was Select-friendly was split into 3 different display lists that were randomly tested on customers).

It's clear that the Science Fiction and Thriller categories have updated since yesterday. SECTOR C was further down the ranks in both the SF and Thriller related categories on Friday. Its ranks on the new popularity lists track well with its ranks on the bestseller lists. The only discrepancy is with the Medical Thriller list. That list, however, is a Books list and not a Kindle list, and I'm pretty sure that one simply hasn't updated yet.

In the past, given the rank and number of downloads SECTOR C achieved, it would have hit the popularity list at  #1 in both Technothriller and High Tech SF and possibly hit at #1 or #2 in overall Science Fiction and wound up for a third time on the Kindle store homepage as the representative title for the SF category. The overall Thriller category is much more competitive, and SECTOR C would likely have landed somewhere between #22 and #30 on the Thriller popularity list and been in the Top 100 for the broader Mystery & Thriller category as well.

I'll be particularly interested to see whether the other books track as closely to their bestseller ranks. SECTOR C has the advantage of bringing last month's sales during its Top 100 run to the algorithm table today since it appears the algos weight sales heaviest over the last 30 days.

Likewise, where our books have Top 100 bestseller ranks in categories where they're not showing up in the first 250 items on the popularity lists, I'm guessing it's because the daily updates haven't taken place yet. In the past, we've seen it take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours for these lists to update, contributing to what was affectionately known as the 3-day sales bump.

In addition, considering the discrepancy (though not so wide) between Vet Tech Tales' performance in the two lists, it looks like its popularity lists haven't updated yet either. It was indeed selling well enough before going free that it hadn't dropped completely off the radar on those lists.

So is there anything yet that we can tell from the data here? Not so much. There have been several folk who've run a title free since May 1 when the algorithms changed and who've reported only a handful of sales over the 3 or 4 days following the free run. Here, we see good sales for 5 of our Steel Magnolia Press books post-free, moderate sales for 3 of them, and meh sales for 2, so sales immediately after a free run seem variable across the board. What we need to do now is wait to see where the books land on the popularity lists once those lists recrunch and then see if their new ranks help drive additional sales.

The problem? Will sales that are tailing off now because the books aren't currently appearing high on a list affect where they ultimately wind up on that list? We'll take a look at that together first thing on Monday morning. Tomorrow, we have a query to critique!