Tag Archives: Amazon

My Self-Publishing Journey: Kindle Select Update

I mentioned in an earlier post that Amazon has been changing its algorithms for Kindle Select so that books using the free promotion days no longer get  the significant bump in sales they once did. Since then I’ve read more about this, and realized that none of my books were  in the program during the golden or even the silver age of  Kindle Select. In the early days (less than six months ago) books could expect hundreds or perhaps thousands of sales after a free stint. That had changed by the time I signed up. Which is not to say it can’t still happen. It can, as Edward W. Robertson (no relation) experienced with the aftermath of the free promo of his book BREAKERS. But as Ed recently posted, Amazon’s changes to its algorithms has changed the game for many self-publishers.

After an amazing amount of close observation, number crunching, and analysis, Ed determined that Amazon has been testing not one, not two, but three different algorithms, each with different consequences for self-published authors. It’s unlikely that Amazon will go back to the old way of weighting free downloads equally with a sale. In fact, as Ed mentions at the tail-end of a recent podcast interview, there’s evidence that more expensive books are weighted more heavily in Amazon’s popularity lists than cheap books are. (Time to raise the price on those 99 centers!) This makes some sense. A book that costs $4.99 or $7.99 requires more of a “buy in” on the part of a customer than a free book or a 99 cent book does. The buyer must want it more to spend more, so Amazon gives that purchase more popularity “points.”

These changes are also the topic in Russel Blake’s post. His take on the future of self-publishing is more negative than Ed’s, but his basic premise is sound: Amazon is in business to make a profit, not to support indie authors.  Amazon will make changes to its algorithms with that goal–to maximize profits– in mind. Some of Jeff Bezo’s business decisions will benefit self-publishers, some will hurt us, and some will have a mixed effect. Working with Amazon is like sleeping with an elephant, after all. They may not mean you harm, but you feel it every time they twitch.

Personally, I think Amazon will choose a middle ground between equating a free download with a sale and not recognizing it at all. I think they’ll continue to use an algorithm that counts free downloads as 10% of a sale. If they don’t do at least that much, they’ll be missing a chance to increase sales and profits from indie authors (minimal though they might be to Amazon’s balance sheet), and authors will stop making their books exclusive to Amazon through Kindle Select.  In that case Amazon might as well discontinue the program altogether–which I doubt they want to do.

It has been ten days since LIGHTBRINGER  went back to paid status after its most recent free promo. So far the post-promo sales for LIGHTBRINGER are comparable to what I experienced after my other two free promotions. The book’s sales numbers aren’t as amazing as some other authors experienced in the first months of the year, but they are an improvement over what my books were selling before the the promotion. While I would have loved to have experienced those phenomenal rebound sales, I think the smaller bump in sales may be more sustainable (also due to the change in Amazon’s algorithm). And since I’m in this for the long haul, that’s probably more important.

What’s the take-away from all this?

  1. Amazon will continue to experiment with their algorithms.
  2. It’s harder to make a killing using free promotions through Kindle Select than it used to be.
  3. There are still benefits to using Kindle Select.
  4. Focus on what you can control: writing a good book, with good editing, good formatting, a good cover, and a good product description. Rinse and repeat.

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Kindle Select Revisited and a FREE Book

I just read posts by Phoenix Sullivan and Edward Robertson (no relation) that contain important information for anyone planning to use Kindle Select’s free promotion days as a springboard to success for their indie published book. Basically, in a nutshell, Amazon has changed its algorithm again (possibly in anticipation of a change in the agency pricing model they’ve been working with for the last several years) so the free downloads of Kindle Select books are no longer weighted as favorably as they used to be in the sales reports. That means the books downloaded for free won’t help your book move up the best seller and popularity lists as much as they did in the past.  (They still help, just not as much as a paid sale.) It also means that your book’s rank will remain more stable. When every Tom, Dick, and Mary put their books up for free, the rush of free downloads won’t overwhelm your book’s sales rank.

Does that mean you should abandon Kindle Select as a strategy for getting your book noticed?

Both Phoenix and Ed say KS still has its uses. It’s just not as much of a magic bullet as it used to be.

Going free for a few days will still get your book into the hands of readers who might not otherwise have taken a chance on your book. Not all of those downloads will get read right away, and not all of those will translate into future sales. But some will. In direct mail advertising, this is called the conversion rate. The ratio of sales to advertising “units.” That’s what your free books are:  advertising units.

What will I do? I’ve scheduled a free promotion of  LIGHTBRINGER starting today. I scheduled this before I read these posts, and I don’t see any reason to change my mind.  Sales of LIGHTBRINGER have dropped off to pre-free levels, so I figure I might as well go for it. Even if the “3 day bump” in sales (an increase in sales that used to come come about 40 hours after the free promo ended) is much smaller than it was the first time I did it, it still will help get my book into more readers’ hands. As Ed mentions, word of mouth is still the best advertising a writer can hope for.

What I think this means is that indie authors will have to focus on the basics again: writing a good book, good formatting, good cover, good reviews.  And a willingness to experiment.

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My Self Publishing Journey: Using Kindle Select

Having just launched DANGEROUS TALENTS, I am, of course, very interested in giving my baby the best start in life. There is no shortage of advice out there on how to to that. I’ve written before in this series about how I’m doing that, and I haven’t read anything since then that will change my approach, except for one thing: using price manipulation.

Joe Konrath wrote that the only thing he’s ever noticed make any significant difference in sales was getting more good quality, professionally produced books out, and price manipulation. Recently I heard about the success that Kris Tualla, a fellow writer had experienced using the Kindle Select free promo. Shortly after that, I read a blog by Phoenix Sullivan on the same topic. The handwriting was on the wall (so to speak). My sales for LIGHTBRINGER on sites other than Amazon were negligible. I didn’t have anything to lose by giving Amazon exclusivity. So six weeks ago I decided to give Kindle Select and their free promo a shot.

The theory is this: by making your book free for a few days, it moves up in the Amazon ranking system, and that makes your book more visible to readers, which helps you make more sales after your book goes back to paid. Easy peasy.

Did it work? It’s too soon to say how this strategy will play out over the long term, but in the short term: Yes.  In the 30 days after going back to paid status after the free promo, I sold 10 times as many copies of LIGHTBRINGER as I had sold in any previous month on Kindle. LIGHTBRINGER started appearing in the “Customers who bought this item also bought” line-ups of other books, increasing its visibility.

Not surprisingly, I decided to use this strategy when I released DANGEROUS TALENTS. So far, in the four days since DT went back to paid status, I have sold more books than I think I would have otherwise. Obviously, there’s no way to know that, except to compare with the sales of my other releases. (One warning:  Don’t panic if you don’t see a surge of sales right away. There seems to be a 24-48 hour lag while Amazon’s algorithm’s kick in, before sales pick up.) I haven’t done a social media blitz about DT, but I have mentioned it a few times on Facebook, Twitter, and some loops I’m a member of.

As for LIGHTBRINGER, sales seem to have dropped off again to a level only slightly better than they were before the free promo. I’m contemplating the possibility of running another free promo with my remaining free days in month or so, to see if my initial success can be repeated with a second promo.

This is exciting stuff for a control freak like me. The Kindle Select price manipulation seems to be a low risk, low time investment method of improving visibility and thereby sales.

There are arguments to be made against granting Amazon exclusivity. And it’s not absolutely necessary to do so to make your book free for a time. One advantage going with Kindle Select does give you, is making your book eligible for Amazon’s lending program, in which they pay the author a percentage of a pre-set fund per borrow. That fee fluctuates each month depending on the size of the fund and the number of borrows. I understand the amount has been as low as $0.70, and as high as $2.10 per borrow (but don’t quote me on that).

Some readers out there only have Nooks and won’t find your book if it’s only on Amazon. But from my own experience, I’m not sacrificing very many Nook sales (and I can go back to selling on B&N after 90 days if I want to). I do have a friend who has sold more stories on B&N than on Amazon in some months. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is a good strategy for you.

And finally, some authors have an allergy to granting any one retailer exclusivity, especially Amazon. Again, that’s a personal decision. For me, for the next 90 days, I’m going to follow Mark Twain’s advise: I’m going to put all my eggs in one basket, AND WATCH THAT BASKET!

 

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DANGEROUS TALENTS Is Now Available on Amazon

DANGEROUS TALENTS, a romantic fantasy novel, is now available on Amazon.

I really enjoyed writing this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it. It combines my love of fantasy (with magic, swords, and elves) with my love of a good romance. Like tales told by C.S. Lewis, Diana Gabaldon, and Joy Chant, the heroine is a contemporary woman who has to cope with an unexpected change in circumstances:

Celia Montrose has been trained to deal with any emergency—except being thrust into another world. Crisis management training hasn’t prepared her for meeting the descendants of the lost Vinland colony, or coping with kidnapping, murder, and magic.

Lord Dahleven is trying to avert a war when he rescues a strange and beautiful woman in the drylands. Though he fears Celia may be Fey-marked, Dahleven can’t resist the powerful attraction he feels for her. But is Celia in league with the enemy, or will she provide the key to saving his people?

Alone and off-balance, Celia finds herself falling for Lord Dahleven. But dangerous forces are at work, and one of them is offering Celia a way home—for a price.

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What’s In A Name? (Or A Title?)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I’m a little over a third of the way through the first draft of FIRSTBORN. As I wrote in an earlier post, I’m trying out Rachel Aaron’s suggestions to improve my productivity. Now that the holidays are past, and my tree is finally down, I’ve been working on FIRSTBORN. My output has improved, but it still wouldn’t impress anyone. My progress has been good enough though, that I’ve been thinking about what comes after I finish: publication. And I think I ought to change the title.

I surveyed Amazon, and there are a ton of books already with “Firstborn” in the title. “Scion,” too (the sequel to FIRSTBORN). I want titles that convey suspense and romance. We did some brainstorming, and the favorites of my critique group were: BETRAYED BY TRUST, and BOUND BY TRUST. The only problem: when I checked them out on Amazon, there were several similar titles. An alternate, SEDUCED BY TRUST, has no overlap, but doesn’t have the lovely alliteration.

This is a dilemma faced by every author and publisher with books sold online. It’s important to title a book so that it will be easy to find, and will entice the reader to look a little closer. You don’t want your book to be #18  on page three of twenty identically titled books. Ideally, the title will also have something to do with what the story is about. And, of course, even if you come up with an original title, there’s no guarantee that a book published next week won’t duplicate it. Titles can’t be copyrighted, after all.

Here’s a very rough blurb for the first book:

It’s 1979. To save an Elemental Spirit from slavery, Marianne seduces the scion of the powerful family he’s bound to. But the Trust she works for wants more than her loyalty. They want her son. And they won’t let Marianne, or the man who loves her, get in their way.

And for the second book:

Thirty years ago, Evan was conceived through seduction and betrayal. Now he’s inherited what was meant for another man: an Elemental Guardian. Two powerful organizations are in pursuit, and the woman he loves works for one of them.

So I invite you to make suggestions. If you come up with a title different from those above, that I decide to use, I’ll send you a free copy of the book when it comes out.

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Define Yourself

I have a button (one of those round ones, with a pin on the back, and words on the front) that says, “Among animals it’s eat or be eaten, among humans it’s define, or be defined.” Marketers and politicians have known this to be true for as long as their professions have existed. It’s time for writers to recognize this as well.

By defining the terms you control the discussion.When it comes to your career, you should be the one defining the terms. Dean Wesley Smith wrote a recent post that touched on this. His post was mostly about how indie writers should take the long view, and regard the time they spend building their career as an investment. That, like a biweekly contribution to a retirement fund, the time devoted to writing will only gradually yield growth. This is important for impatient people like me to remember. The message: just keep writing and over time, with the magic of compound interest (in your books) success will grow. He defined writing as an investment.

But Dean also defines other terms. He says:

In the last article in this series, I went on about the difference between an “Author” and a “Writer.”

And in indie publishing, the difference can really, really be seen, with the “Authors” doing nothing but promoting “their book” while the “Writers” just get out to readers what they have written and then move on to writing new stories.

And let me repeat something I said:  It is the “Authors” who are going on and on about what indie “Writers” MUST DO.

And then Dean goes on to say what he thinks writers must do. (Write. A lot.)  My point is not to say “gotcha” to Dean, my point is that he has defined what he believes works, and he is following that path. Part of that path is sharing his definitions with the world, just like the “authors” he defined are doing.

As we must all do for ourselves. We don’t have to share it with the world, but we must figure out our own way amid the clamoring voices that are trying to tell us the “right” way to get our books written and in the hands of readers. We should not accept what an author, or agent, or even a publisher says without critical thought. We must ask ourselves if what they’re asking, or telling us to do, fits with what our vision is for our future. Of course, that means we have to have a vision for our future, even if that vision changes over time.

I sympathize with the desire to find out “the secret” to success. We had that desire in a different form, when we wanted to know how to best phrase our query letters and synopses, so a publisher would buy our latest effort. Now we indies have substituted the desire to know which review blogs to submit to, whether we should use professionally designed covers, and how to manipulate Amazon to get a better ranking and more sales.

The community of writers, and the indie community in particular, is one of the most supportive I’ve ever belonged to. Everyone I’ve talked to is willing to share how they do what they’re doing and give advice. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from authors who generously shared their experience with me.

The problem is, the advice from one source often conflicts with what the next person says. And because the indie environment is so new, there isn’t much available in the way of cold, hard facts. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants, even the ones who sound very sure of themselves. And even if they’re right about something today, next year the market will have changed.

One thing I know “for sure.” It’s that it is possible to stand still waiting to be certain that a particular path is the best. And while you’re waiting, you’re not moving forward. Try something. Don’t wait for “best.” Go with “good for now.” Define your path. It doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s. You can change direction later if you want. Most mistakes aren’t fatal, and all of them can teach. (And keep records so you’ll know if what you’re doing is working.)

How is all this affecting what I’m doing? Well, I have another button. It says, “If you’re going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.”

Honestly, I’m just dancing as fast as I can. I’m getting my finished work out, and writing new stuff. I’m having a blast doing it, too. I don’t have much time for more than that. As I said in my last post, I may turn more of my attention to promotion when I have a number of titles for sale, but not until then. And I use the words “author” and “writer” interchangably.

 

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Planning 2012

I’m a big believer in making lists and having a plan. I don’t always follow the plan exactly, but I’ve got one.

It’s good, essential even, to have dreams, but you have to have a plan for how you’re going to get there, or you’re likely to flounder around without making much progress. I believe in setting goals which are measurable and within my control to achieve. I start with the big goal, then break it down into smaller steps as I get closer. As the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans, so I like to keep my plan loose until I’m almost ready to implement the next step. You might call it “just in time” management. I don’t see the benefit of nailing down every detail far in advance, when circumstances might change.

I’ve had one quarter of being a publisher as well as a writer. If sales continue at the current pace, I’ll break even in 22 months. My dream is that the pace of my sales will increase as I continue to bring out more books, but I have no direct control over that. What I do have control over is how much I charge for my work, and how much I spend on the various components of publishing. I also have control over how much time I spend on free social media promoting my work. I don’t have control over whether time spent on social media converts to sales.

So how am I going allocate my time and money in 2012?

  • The majority of my time will be spent writing, revising, and publishing two books. I’m currently preparing a backlist novel, DANGEROUS TALENTS, for publishing. DT should be out by May. I’m also writing FIRSTBORN, a tie-in novel in the Celestial Affairs universe that LIGHTBRINGER began. I plan to release FIRSTBORN in the fall. Then I’ll either begin work on GUARDIAN, the next Celestial Affairs novel, or prepare FORBIDDEN TALENTS for publishing in 2013. I will not plan another Christmas release as I did in 2011.
  • I’ll continue to use social media to let the world know that I, and my books exist. I’ll blog a little less frequently, and tweet a little more. I’ll look into guest blogging so I can reach a new audience.
  • I’ll send review requests to blogs that discuss the kinds of books I write.
  • I’ll make personal appearances at events I enjoy: The Amore and More talks at the Pima County Library, the Tucson Festival of Books, and TusCon Science Fiction Convention.
  • I’ll send postcards to book events advertising my books. I’m not sure how immediately effective this kind of advertising is, but at least it has the benefit of being targeted to readers. In direct mail campaigns a 1% conversion rate is pretty standard. With a targeted campaign it might be as high as 3%. Hmm. Now that I’m doing the math, that’s not a good return on investment. I may rethink how I implement this.
  • I will research less expensive alternatives to certain production tasks, like cover design.
  • I’ll research inexpensive advertising opportunities to implement once Castle Rock Publishing has three titles for sale.
  • I’ll stay flexible and keep my eyes open so I can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

Mostly this year, my focus is going to be on making my work available for sale. My long range plan is to release a minimum of two books a year. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

 

 

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Q1 Numbers

Happy New Year!

I promised a while ago that I’d share with you how the numbers are adding up for me on the self-publishing journey. I think it’s WAY too early in the journey to draw any conclusions about potential success. As Dean Wesley Smith observed in this post, it takes time to build a self-publishing business. But I also know that before I started, I’d have loved to know what to expect at the beginning. So here’s how things are going for me. Remember, your mileage will vary.

On the small press front, VEILED MIRROR  came out on August 25th in paper, and on September 21st in digital on the Wild Rose Press website and Nook. It didn’t become available for Kindle until mid October. I don’t know how many copies, in which formats, were sold from the Wild Rose Press site, but now that the holidays are past, I’ll be contacting them for that info. Royalties through the end of December: $26.37. Six additional copies were sold by hand, or on commission by Mysterious Galaxy Books at TusCon for additional income of $12.80

LIGHTBRINGER came out in digital format for Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords in mid October, and in paper early November. It was listed on All Romance Ebooks in late November. Digital sales from all sources are 19, for an income of $46.74. I sold 12 paper copies from various venues, including Mysterious Galaxy for an income of $53.32.

WITH HEART TO HEAR, an erotic fairytale short, was released on December 22nd in digital format only. I sold 16 copies on Kindle and Nook in the last ten days of the year. There was a glitch (now fixed) with the listing on All Romance Ebooks which resulted in no sales. I haven’t put it up on Smashwords yet. 2011 income from WHTH: $6.40.

Grand total from all sources for 2011: $145.58

It’s important to understand what effort has been made to encourage these sales, too. During this time I’ve given 16 books to reviewers, family, and friends. I see this as an investment in word of mouth. It’s already paying off in reviews. I have continued blogging twice a week (with my blog linked to facebook, linked in, and twitter) but very little other social media activity. I spoke at my local RWA chapter, TusCon, and at World Fantasy Convention.

These numbers will look pitiful to those accustomed to the traditional publishing pattern of sales in the thousands right after release, which then trail off over the next few months. As I understand it, the sales pattern is exactly opposite with self-publishing, with the number of units sold per month increasing over time, especially as new books are released. That being said, I’ll need to expand my exposure if I want that to be true.

Next time I’ll write about how I plan to grow my self-publishing empire.

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WITH HEART TO HEAR is Available!

Just in time for the holidays, my novelette WITH HEART TO HEAR is available for only $0.99 as Kindle and Nook downloads! It should also be available soon on All Romance Ebooks.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wrote WHTH after a friend of mine told me about a dream she had. I thought it held the seed of a good story, and she gave me permission to use it. The story that grew from that inspiration is nothing like what her subconscious originally came up with.

Elise Craft is a well-bred Victorian lady who would rather study the flora and fauna of England than play the social games of the ton. Then she makes an exotic, and erotic, discovery on the border between everyday England and Faerie.

WITH HEART TO HEAR is an erotic beauty and the beast tale. It was published several years ago in SUM 3:The 2006 Zircon Anthology of Speculative Romance. For this release it has been re-edited and given a gorgeous cover by Rae Monet. I’m hoping this will be the first of a series of sensual fairy-tales. Two that I have in mind are variants of the Princess and the Pea, and the Nutcracker (no pun intended). For now I’ll bring them out individually as digital releases, but if they prove popular I’ll put them in a collection and publish them in paper format.

Do you have a favorite fairy-tale you’d like to see “romanticized?”

********************

I want to wish all my readers a joyful, healthy, and prosperous holiday and new year. Thank you for reading!

I’ll be visiting with out-of-town family, so I won’t be posting on my regular schedule for the next week or so. “See” you next year!

 

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Covers: Know What You Want, and Ask For It

I enjoyed producing LIGHTBRINGER so much that I decided to go ahead and bring out one of my earlier works as a single. I’ll be releasing WITH HEART TO HEAR soon, just in time for the holidays. It’s an erotic beauty and the beast novlette, set in the late Victorian era.

Seeing a cover take shape is exciting for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, a cover is often the first experience a reader has of your story, so it should give them a clear idea of what your book is about. It doesn’t have to reflect every element, but it shouldn’t mislead them. It should appeal to your audience and make them want to click on it to find out more. (You do know who your audience is, don’t you?)

Rae Monet did this cover for me (as well as the one for VEILED MIRROR). Kim Killion did the cover for LIGHTBRINGER. What I learned from working with Rae and Kim is to be clear and specific in my requests. Artists are busy people and sometimes distracted by other demands. Creation of your cover is more likely to be quick and smooth when you take the time to be careful and specific in describing your vision to the artist.

Here’s what I think is important to designing a cover for online sales:

  • The quality: does your cover say “professional”? Does it promise that the story is carefully written and edited?
  • The feel: does the cover reflect the kind of story it is?
  • A clear focal point: does your eye know where to rest?
  • Readable fonts for title and author name when the cover is a small size.

Keep in mind that your artist is a business person. Her time is valuable. At the same time, you have a right to get what you want. Listen to the artist’s advice but make your own decisions. Keep asking for what you want, and express your ideas clearly and courteously. Don’t change your mind half-way through unless you’re willing to pay extra for the artist’s time.

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