I’m happy for you if your sales have been steady. But if yours are like mine, they tanked in February and stayed low most of this month as well. My thriller Brainstorm was averaging 50+ book sales a day following two Amazon “free” days during the first of January. This was a great improvement over pre-Kindle Select months, and at that point I was absolutely sure I was on my way to the top!
By the end of January, I felt as if someone had stepped on my neck. Sales of all my books dropped and became very sporadic. February’s daily sales average was in single digits—and that was counting all of my books (mostly Brainstorm, with Dead Reckoning having a fair showing in comparison, Jezebel making an appearance and the short stories doing some onesy-twosies). Early in March, I had my first shutout since September 2011—and more followed.
Still, I had big hopes with my new men’s action/adventure novel, Knight’s Ransom, when I threw it out into the Kindle Select river of dreams…but its debut didn’t go so well—only sold 20 in its first thirty days (following two free days that only had 150 downloads). I’m fairly confident, however, that after I publish two or three more books in the series and receive a few more really good reviews, it will do much better. Why? Please keep reading.
Did I mention that I’d been trying to build my house of success without a foundation? I didn’t? Well, here’s the thing: my eBook writing career was almost completely dependent on my books selling themselves.
Sure, I had a website—a not too impressive one that I had a hard time keeping updated. I had a blog that I posted on every few months. I tweeted and posted on Facebook every time I put a new book out or ran a promotion. And that’s all. I thought I was doing everything I could. After all, I had a website, a blog and I was social networking. I was doing everything that all the successful indie writers were doing, right?
Wrong. I was just going through the motions. My marketing plan had no heart—it wasn’t a marketing plan at all.
Good Morning! Would You Like a Shopping Cart?
So, before I gave up my writing dream and applied to Wal-Mart for a greeter job, I went back to take a second look at all of those brave eBook-author trailblazers, who had actually cut the ePub trail before us, to determine what I was doing wrong. This time I didn’t just read their books and blog posts about ePublishing, I studied them.
Like William Wallace riding up and down in front of the ranks of Scottish warriors, the successful eBook pioneers had been trying to motivate and educate us late-comer indies. I’m talking about bestselling indie/traditionally published writers like Joe Konrath (you gotta check out his Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog and book) and Barry Eisler, bestselling indie author John Locke, as well as Smashwords.com founder Mark Coker (he’s got a great blog as well!). They’ve been doing about everything they can to rally us in the battle against the Big Six Publishers and those who poo-poo indie writers and the entire indie ePublishing industry. This includes bestselling traditionally published author and Authors Guild (check out their blog) president Scott Turow.
Strategery, Mr. President!
Not all indies agree with me, but even after some disappointment, I’m convinced that Kindle Select is the way to go for a new book—for how long is more of the issue for me. At the same time, you’ll find a good argument against this in Mark Coker’s Smashwords.com’s blog—and I really respect this guy a bunch for all he’s done for us indies (he even came to Kansas to speak at our KWA Scene Conference this last month!).
With technology slamming the publishing world like a tsunami, ePublishing is in its infancy and to me is extremely fluid. My strategy follows the strongest and most productive current, as I see it. Until I find something that personally makes sense to address my situation and convinces me to do otherwise, I’ll place any new eBook I finish on Kindle Select for the exclusivity period, then shotgun it out to everywhere else on Smashwords.com after the 90 days are up. There may be merit to keeping one of my series books on Kindle Select for two or three tours in consideration of timing, season, holidays, etc. etc., but I’ll have to really scrutinize the idea, first. After all, if it’s the “free” days that I’m after, I can do that as much as I’d like through Smashwords.com for most all of the other Internet booksellers besides Amazon.
From my experience over the past few months, the Amazon “free days” (you get 5 over the 90-day exclusivity period) seemed to be very effective directly following Christmas, but didn’t do so well after that—my sales have fallen markedly as time goes by. Dead Reckoning enjoyed 1,000 downloads in two free days last week. But that was the best any of my books had done with the free promo since the same book had similar results during the first part of January, about the same time Brainstorm got 1500 in its first “free” day, alone (plus another 500 on its second day). Perhaps it’s just a seasonal thing, just like retail sales for brick-and-mortar stores are typically poor in February/March—I dunno.
The Big Slump Theory
My theory is—and I hope I’m correct because I’m really banking on this—the market has become saturated with free eBooks, and the Kindle Select program is actually hurting more than it’s helping, right now. The market is overloaded with “indie” books, as well, and the situation is only getting worse.
As I see it (and I haven’t heard or read this anyplace else, to this point); the majority of the eReading public got their fill of free eBooks during the holidays—each one of them downloading enough eBooks to read for years! And why not? EReaders can hold thousands of books.
Reading Turtles Pigging Out Before the End of Days!
One positive is that not all of the ePublic has pigged-out on free eBooks. Even those who did occasionally stick their heads out of their shells to see if there’s anything else out there that will entertain them better than their own stock of free reads (sorry for the inconsistent metaphors). As the weeks pass, I expect the indies’ sales to pick up again and remain somewhat steady until the holidays. At that point, with a little social networking groundwork smartly laid in preparation, a nice website/blog, and lots of positive reviews on our books, some of us more seasoned authors should see some really good sales numbers this winter. Barring that little speed bump on December 21 when all of our electronics crash, the asteroid strikes, the Earth shifts and the seas spill, 2013 might be an excellent year.
Here’s what I suggest for the indie crowd. See if you think it’s a good plan, and PLEASE comment:
In order to sell a book, the book needs to be promoted—but DON’T promote the actual book anyplace but on your own website and blog. Instead, promote yourself as a citizen of this wonderful eWorld in which we live. As far as Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites are concerned; yes, make announcements of new books, promos, etc., but do at least ten tweets/mentions/replies about other concerns for every book announcement you make.
More importantly, when you visit blogs and boards, mingle with other bloggers and commenters as if you’re the new guy/girl at a block party and you’re wanting to make friends. Interact and comment on their posts without mentioning your books or even that you’re a writer. However, ensure your profile shows exactly that—and that it lists your books, as well! In posts showing your signature, make sure there’s a subheading stating you’re an “Author of…” linking back to your own website/blog. Here’s the thing to understand; when you come across as a real person and not just a cardboard cutout—a two-dimensional book dump/advertisement—you become more interesting to not only other bloggers, but also to other readers.
Wanna Buy Some Pictures of My Ugly Grandkids?
When it comes to the other groups and blogs you get into—especially message boards—from what I’ve experienced, the writer blogs/boards will do little good in the way of selling tons of your books. I’m not saying to steer completely away from these, but author blogs are visited mostly by writers trying to hock their own stories. It’s like a hundred people trying to sell you pictures of their cute grandkids, when you’ve got pictures of your own that you’d like to sell—everyone’s selling, no one is buying.
Barefoot In a Cow Pasture (you’ll find cool green grass but also some warm squishy bullshit, so watch your step)
Be smart when you visit the reader blogs/boards. These folks are your prime market, but they aren’t there to read your shameless self-promotion. Generally, these readers are looking for opinions from other readers like themselves, and they’ve already been inundated by those rascally indie writers trying to sell their books. They’ll quickly become wary of you. Never blatantly promote your books or even your best friend’s books here. It’s probably best if you talk about and recommend some of the big names and bestsellers, so that there’s no perception that you’re some kind of undercover author on a clandestine mission to bag some more readers. If you do any more than honestly recommend other authors’ stories, you’re likely to get found out and lose all credibility.
In my opinion, your most effective approach is to blog and post on message boards about issues of popular concern. If you’re set up correctly and ready for them, I think you’ll discover the readers will come to you. Find blogs and message boards that are popular and updated often—look for the ones that would attract the audience for your book. And I’m not talking about specifically “thriller readers,” “mystery readers” or “romance readers”.
Puppy Dogs and Rolling Stones
Let me explain, for example: for my E Z Knight books, I’m looking for retired people, people who commute, businessmen and women, golden retriever lovers, former Marines, sailboat owners and ax murders (threw that in just to see if you’re reading purple armpit armadillo) and not specific reader groups. Look for blogs and boards discussing things you’re passionate about and that you know something about other than writing. Look for discussions on your old hobbies and past concerns as well as your new ones. Hell, I might even find a blog for kidney stone sufferers and post on some of my experiences and remedies. Why? Because I can talk semi-intelligently about kidney stones due to my experience with them, and the ones who suffer the most from these little thorny bastards are in the target age group for my novels.
On boards and blog sites, I’ll be looking for conversations of interest I feel I can contribute to in a meaningful way, outside of the selling of my own books—and mostly outside of writing and even reading, as well.
I’m sure it will take time and a little effort to build credibility, attract friends and gain a following. Actually, I think you’ll be surprised at what little time and effort this takes once you’re organized.
Hey Ol’ Timer
Yeah, I know; if you’re like me, you hate even the idea of social networking, even though you’re an amiable, friendly person when it comes to face-to-face meetings.
I’m of a more “hands and eyes on” generation. I’m from a time when the first color TV I ever sat down and watched was the one I bought my parents when I was home on leave from the US Marines.
You enjoy meeting new people and speaking with old acquaintances the old fashion way. With physical meetings you can look into people’s eyes, interpret their facial expressions as well as their vocal inflections. You get a good idea about where the new guy is coming from just from observing his mannerisms and how he presents himself. While, when you have an eConversation, in order to know anything about the ePerson you’re communicating with, you have to look up their profile which is designed to in some manner impress you—and that only tells you what they want you to see.
Bob Dylan, Easy Rider and The Long and Winding Road
I’ll remind you that “the times they are a changin’,” and if you want your books in front of readers’ eyes in these changing times, you’ll need to get up to speed.
I had to remind myself of that. So I read the blogs and the books, I observed what worked as well as what didn’t work—and I learned. I did. I tried to skirt what I learned and take the easy route, and I failed. I’m now pursuing a more proven, yet less traveled road, and the numbers are indicating that I’m finding some success. Guess what? I’ve discovered my new tack is easier, more fun and less time consuming than the direction I’d been traveling!
Credible assessment/strategy? This is coming from a writer who has only had around seven thousand downloads (and only 1,600 have been paid, so far—but check back in three months!).
Raise the Roof!
Please give your comments, add to this discussion; let us know what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, where you think I’m off, and any new insights.
Raise a ruckus—maybe we can get Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, John Locke, or Mark Coker to join in with more learned insight. Hey, maybe Scott Turow will drop in and give me a good tongue lashing—wouldn’t that be fun?
The main thing I’d like to see is some important, relevant, insightful content here—something for every indie writer to view, consider and use in their quest to get read. Recommend some good websites, blogs and books for indies, if you know of any. Four excellent eBooks I recommend are: Mark Coker’s free Smashwords Book Marketing Guide and The 10-Minute PR Checklist – Earn the Publicity You Deserve as well as JA Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and John Locke’s book How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.
Give an Old Dog a Bone, Would Ya?
Come on, throw a starving writer a few bread crumbs of wisdom. If you don’t, I’ll keep pummeling you with these very old and tired clichés!
And get out there and make your eConnections—eRub some eElbows while the eWorld is still here!