Results of the $0.99 Sale

EntropyWhen last we met, I was running a 4-day promotion of my novel Entropy for Kindle. Instead of the usual $4.99, it was only $0.99. I had a three-prong strategy: talking about it on Twitter, getting my mailing list subscribers to forward a message to their friends, and promoting it for free on newsletters that promote $0.99 sales. Exactly one of these prongs worked.

I’m using Mail Chimp for my mailing list, which is really super cool, by the way. Yeah, they had an outage the day I started telling people about the list, but stuff like that happens to every company. The reporting is fantastic. And one of the things I can tell is that not a single person forwarded my email about the sale. It was a really cute letter, too. This is just more support for my theory that no matter how much people love my book, very few of them are comfortable recommending it to a friend. And I totally get that. Because by recommending it, your friend is going to think you are into kinky sex. And regardless of whether you are or not, you probably don’t want your friend to think that you are. So the mailing list prong: failed.

I also submitted my book to 15 different newsletters. These guys let you guarantee a placement for $20 or so, but they also let you submit promos for free, and they say they might run those if they have space. My conclusion: It’s a scam. They just want your contact info so that they can try to sell you on the $20 placements. When I saw almost no sales resulting from the newsletters by Sunday morning, I went to the trouble to sign up for every last one of those newsletters. And by Tuesday I had not seen my book listed once. One of them did put my book on their web site, but only if you searched for it. My best guess is that one of them ran a promo on Saturday, which resulted in a couple sales I can’t account for any other way. My conclusion is that submitting your book to these sites is a complete waste of time. Newsletter prong: failed.

Thank God for Twitter! I promoted the hell out of the book on Twitter during the four days, and as a result, I sold 26 books. One of these was a Kindle edition to someone outside the USA and hence not eligible for the $0.99 sale. And two of them were to people who learned about the book because of my promoting it, but decided to get the paperback version, which was not on sale. And two more were bought the day after the sale by people who either missed it, or just waited on purpose because they wanted to pay full price. This is a huge surprise to me, because I really believed that I had saturated my Twitter followers as a market. I figured anyone in that population who was going to buy my book, would have bought it already. Clearly, I was mistaken!

The next thing I’m going to do is run a giveaway on Goodreads. My book has a slightly higher rating on that site (4.78/5 stars) than it does on Amazon (4.6/5 stars) which is very unusual. Usually Goodreads readers are more critical. And the few reviews there are outstanding. So I think people will be interested in the book when they see the giveaway. From my research, I’ve concluded that the biggest bang for the buck comes from giving away one signed copy and running the giveaway for one week. And leaving it open to the entire world and hoping really hard that I don’t lose my shirt sending it to some far-flung destination. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll get going on that once the holidays are over.

I’m absolutely not convinced that running giveaways on Goodreads serves any purpose. I know that it will get my book on lots of people’s “to read” shelves, but there’s no evidence that actually converts to sales. However, I’m still at the sales level where I pretty much know where every single book is going, and how that person learned about it. So I should be in a good position to measure the success of the giveaway as a promotional tool. I’ll report back, of course.

If you want to be sure to find out about the giveaway when it happens, you should sign up for my mailing list: bit.ly/entropy-list.

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Entropy for $0.99

EntropyYou may recall that I was going to run a $0.99 sale, with the objective of getting some more readers for the sequel when it comes out. I’m in the Kindle Select program, which means they let me run these “countdown” deals every few months, where I can lower the price to just a buck, but I still get my 70% royalty (70% of the buck). So basically every 5 books I sell in this sale is equivalent to selling one book at regular price. But hopefully some of those sales will turn into repeat customers down the road when the sequel comes out.

There are a couple things I can measure to see how this works. I can see how many I sell, of course. As I’m writing this, that’s 10 books. That’s pretty good considering the sale started on Saturday, and I’m only partway into Sunday. My awareness strategy for this sale has three prongs: Twitter, free newsletter listings, and my mailing list. It’s impossible for me to track which of these are actually converting to sales, so that’s unfortunate. But I know (because they told me) that some of my followers bought because they saw the tweet I did about the sale.

My mailing list is people who have already read the book, so what I suggested to those people is that the sale is a great chance for them to convince a friend to buy the book. So far, only about half the people have opened the email, and one of them clicked the link. So the jury is still out on the effectiveness of that.

The newsletter listings are kind of a mystery. When I submitted my book to these I didn’t get signed up to all of them in the process, but I did get signed up to a bunch. And so far I haven’t seen my book listed on any of them. I have to assume it was listed in some of the ones I don’t subscribe to, though, because that’s the only way I can see getting those 10 sales I have so far. Twitter and the newsletter can’t account for them, because there aren’t enough clicks on the link, according to the analytics.

So the first lesson we can glean is that just because a newsletter “accepts” your free book promo listing, that doesn’t mean they are actually going to run your free book promo listing. That’s not a surprise—they tell you that right up front. If you want to be sure you’re going to get listed, you need to pay. The free spots are used to fill space, and I guess they don’t have much space to fill.

As I said in my first post about this promo, the real test is going to be whether the people who grab my book for $0.99 actually read it. And I can kind of measure that by seeing how many sign up for the mailing list to learn about the sequel. Those sign-ups should happen over the next couple weeks.

I’ll do a follow-up post with the final numbers. For now, if you haven’t bought my book yet, it’s a great time for you to take advantage of the $0.99 sale. Just go to mybook.to/ent before Tuesday is over.

Awareness on the Cheap

EntropyTo catch up my new readers, I wrote a book in 58 days, then I crowdsourced the editing and decided to publish it myself. Since then I’ve been promoting it on Twitter, both on my own account and through a couple character accounts. I have spent a total of $45 out of pocket. $29 for stock photography for the cover, and $16 for the proof copy (including shipping). I made that money back in the first week, so everything since then has been profit. (Since I work for free, obviously. 😉 )

Not that I’m in this for the profit, because I’m absolutely not. However, I am ethically opposed to writers operating at a financial loss, so I’m trying to find ways to build my audience without buying my audience. My sales have hit a plateau. After selling a bunch in the first month, the sales for October and November were about the same. The conventional wisdom (which, I’m finding, is almost universally wrong in the publishing world) is that to get more readers after your first 8 weeks, you need to do a $0.99 sale.

If you want a lot of readers, you can just make the book free for a day or two, but unless you have a sequel ready for those people to buy when they finish, I cannot imagine why you would do that. Devaluing your work is no way to “build a brand.” It does exactly the opposite.

So I’m going to do a $0.99 sale, and I’ve been lining up newsletters to promote it. I started with this wonderful list that Ana Spoke put together. And then I found some other (less comprehensive) lists and together put together a completely free campaign. I have no idea whether any of these are any good, but since they are all free, it kind of doesn’t matter.

The sites I found fall into four buckets, only one of which I can use:

  • Will promote any $0.99 sale for free
  • Will only promote books with no sex in them
  • Will only promote free giveaways for free
  • Will only do paid promotions

The sex thing surprised me. I can understand not wanting to promote porn/erotica, but their conditions are much more prudish. Basically, if you use the word “cock” in your book, you cannot promote on these sites. This is absurd and ridiculous, but I’ve already written that rant, and anyway, it’s their newsletter so they can do whatever the fuck they want.

If this works (Update: It doesn’t), I’ll get a bunch of new readers and although I’ll only be making about $0.70 per sale, that’s found money. I do not believe this is going to cannibalize full-price sales, because I think I’ve already hit all those sales I’m going to get through my Twitter marketing (Update: I was wrong about this). I’m working on the sequel, and I’d really like to convert these readers into sequel buyers. However, unlike my Twitter-based buyers, I’m not going to have any idea who these people are. So when I finish the sequel, how will I reach them?

My solution is as follows: First, I set up a mailing list using MailChimp. That was super easy. Then I went to bit.ly and set up a short link to that mailing list that’s really easy to type (MailChimp generates short links that are impossible to type). And finally, I added a page to the end of the Kindle edition:

If you’ve read my book and you know how it ends, I’m sure you’ll agree that a lot of people are going to click that link. Time will tell.

So, here’s the list of sites I looked at and how they break down into those buckets I identified earlier. I’m not including links because most of the links I found were broken and I had to google the sites by name. That tells me they update their links fairly often. So just google the name of the site and it’ll be the top hit.

Sites that promote $0.99 sales for free:

  • Read Cheaply
  • Choosy Bookworm
  • Discount Book Man
  • One Hundred Free Books
  • Pretty Hot
  • Reading Deals
  • Kindle Book Promos
  • eBook Lister
  • People Reads
  • eBookasaurus
  • Bookzio
  • Awesome Gang
  • Armadillo eBooks
  • Great Books Great Deals
  • Book Deals Daily (I didn’t submit to this one, because they require you to promote them on your own Facebook page, which I cannot do)

Sites that will not promote anything remotely sexual:

  • eBooksHabit
  • Free99Books
  • ReadingDeals
  • Its Write Now
  • Feed Your Reader
  • Indie Book of the Day

Sites that only promote FREE giveaways, not $0.99:

  • Free Stuff Times
  • Frugal Freebies
  • Book Deal Hunter
  • Free Books
  • Book Circle
  • eFreeBooks
  • Freebies 4 Mom

Sites that charge for all $0.99 promotions:

  • eReader Cafe $25 – $35
  • Ignite Your Book $20
  • eReader Girl $20
  • Free Book Dude $30

(Some in that last group will also promote FREE giveaways at no cost.)

That’s all I could find. On the day my promo happens, it should be listed in about 14 different places. It’ll be impossible to know which ones actually translate to sales, but who cares? They are all free! In addition, I’ll tweet about it and do a blog post, and all that. The goals here are to make up for the the low price with volume, and to build a bigger fan base for the sequel. Both easily measurable, so I’ll measure the hell out of them and let you all know how it goes.

When is the sale? I’m not telling! If you want to know, sign up on the mailing list.

Update 1: I ran the sale!

Update 2: Don’t bother with the free listings; they are a scam.

Stop Paying People to Read your Book

In marketing to consumers, there is a well-established “buying cycle.” There are a lot of different variations on this but they generally go:

  • Awareness (finding out your product exists)
  • Research (figuring out whether they want it)
  • Purchase (woo hoo!)
  • Repurchase (they liked it and want another)

I mention this because the business of marketing a book is really no different from the business of marketing anything else to consumers. What I find interesting is that the people marketing books these days are mostly authors, and judging from their behavior, I think many of them are really confused about that whole cycle. So I’m writing this post to help explain it to them, with they hope that they stop throwing their money away solving problems they do not have.

Let’s skip awareness for a second, and dispense with the rest of the cycle.

If you write a great book and get a few people to review it, then you’ve got the “Research” step locked. People will look at the reviews and decide to buy it or not. It’s a meritocracy, and we all love those, right?

“Purchase” is not a problem in the book business. Amazon makes that easy.

“Repurchase” is about getting people to want the sequel. Write a great book, and you get that, too.

The really difficult part in the book business is “Awareness.” The number of new books introduced every year is staggering (one source I found says it’s more than a million). Obviously, you need to get the word out about your book, so people will want to learn more. You need them to be interested enough in your book that they will read the reviews. So how do you build awareness? Advertising. Period. There is no other way to build awareness. And this is the point I think authors are confused about.

I’m advertising my book by tweeting to my followers. I am sure to mention my book whenever I am DM chatting with a new follower. (I never send DMs just about my book. I mean that if I’m already chatting with someone, I make sure I mention it at some point in the conversation.) Every single sale I’ve made has been due to either direct advertising by me, somebody advertising on my behalf by retweeting something I put on my account or one of my character accounts, or somebody I advertised to recommending it to a friend (or outright buying it for that friend). Every. Single. Sale.

I am quite certain that not a single person has bought my book because they “discovered” it on Amazon’s web site.

I’ve been watching the progress of Ana Spoke with great interest. She is marketing her own book that she finished about the same time I finished mine. And she posts all the results of the promotions she is doing. The way book promotion usually works is: You run a $0.99 sale (on the Kindle version) and place ads in newsletters to get people to go buy your book while it’s on sale. Some of the newsletters run these ads for free, and others charge short money—typically $25 to $60 for a placement. If you spend $50 on an ad, and Amazon takes 30% of your $0.99 sales price, you need to sell 72 books to break even. News flash: 72 is a hell of a lot of books. (The average book sells 250 copies a year, and that number is skewed up by a few blockbusters.)

Ana just finished a string of three promotions to measure the effectiveness of this strategy. She didn’t break even in any of them. She did sell a lot of books. She shot up into the top 10 in one of her subcategories for a few hours, and she stayed in the top 20 for a couple days. So even if she didn’t break even, it was money well spent, right?

Wrong.

Let’s go back to the buying cycle. We established that the hard problem is “Awareness”—how do you get people to know about your book. If you can advertise for free (by tweeting or in newsletters that don’t charge to advertise a $0.99 sale), that directly addresses awareness. They see the ad, they like the cover, they go look at reviews. But if you pay for the ad, and you don’t get enough buyers to cover the cost, you are losing money. That might be okay if you already have a sequel, and you are pretty sure they will buy that the moment they finish book one. But if you don’t have a sequel yet, that’s just money you are throwing away. You are paying people to read your book. Stop that!

The delusional thinking that I see over and over from authors is that having a good “bestseller” ranking in their niche is going to increase the visibility of their book. And so people browsing for books will see it, and buy it. There are two problems with this thinking:

  1. Nobody browses for books by best seller ranking. Particularly ranking in some random sub-category three levels deep.
  2. Even if they did, they certainly aren’t going to look past the top 10.

Go look at the Kindle e-books web site. I’ll wait. Did you even see the link to browse by best seller ranking? It was there, but it was pretty well hidden. And even then, it showed you the top 100 books overall. Not the top 100 in some random subcategory. There is no way somebody is going to go digging through subcategories to find out what’s selling well. Why would someone do that? If you scroll down the page, you’ll see the top 10 selling books overall. No amount of promotion is going to get you into that list.

So here’s the bucket of cold water: Your Amazon Ranking Does Not Matter.

It would matter if you got into the top 10 overall, but that will never happen for your book.

Sorry.

So the other thing I keep seeing is authors begging for more reviews. There is a widely held belief that something magical happens when you get 50 reviews for your book. I searched and the only source I could find for this myth is this blog piece. In that, the author says that Amazon considers featuring your book if you have more than 50 reviews. However, she provides no evidence to support the contention, and it is clearly not true. Go to that Kindle e-books link I gave above, but use a “Private Browsing Window” so Amazon has no idea of your purchase history. Now you are seeing the stuff they think the general public will buy. Look at the number of reviews as you scan down the page. I’ll wait.

Here’s what I see: 32 84 0 19 184 24 63 39

And then lots with thousands of reviews. Clearly, 50 is not a magic number.

Don’t get me wrong—getting more reviews of your book is great! It definitely helps with the “Research” step of the buying cycle. But it does not do anything for “Awareness,” which you recall is the only problem you have.

Getting people to write reviews is relatively easy, so that’s what we authors ask them to do. And then we conjure a mythology that if we just get enough reviews, we will solve the awareness problem. But there is no evidence at all that this is true. Just as there is no evidence that having a bestseller ranking in some random subcategories will raise awareness. Of course it won’t. Have you personally ever browsed books based on which one are selling well? No, you haven’t. If you browse at all, you are looking at editor picks, and those are there because of name recognition of the author or inside dealing (Amazon pimps the books they themselves publish) or graft and corruption. You aren’t going to be an editor pick no matter how many reviews you get. It isn’t going to happen.

Another myth I’ve seen repeated frequently is that having a lot of reviews or a good bestseller ranking makes your book appear when the user searches, or in the “similar to” list. This is also demonstrably not true. For example, as I’m writing this, Beth Teliho is running a $0.99 promotion for her absolutely wonderful book Order of Seven. (Go buy it; I’ll wait.) Her promotion is going great. She’s selling a lot of books. Right now I see that she is #2 and #3 in some subcategories. 6,659 overall rank. She has 82 reviews, averaging 4.9 stars. You wish your book was in this position!

So let’s go to that private browsing window and search for “Young Adult Adventure” and see if she comes up. Nope. What does come up? Number of reviews (in order that Amazon listed the books): 54 87 14 37 115 0 0 59. Number of stars (same order): 0 4.2 4.3 0 4.4 4.0 4.1 0 0 4.2. Bestseller rank (overall, same order): 777; 544; 36; 147,573; 1,058; 2,648; 3,571; 122,471; 3,128; 52,020

The only conclusion you can draw is that however the fuck Amazon is picking these books, it’s not based on reviews or ranking.

Just to emphasize how much your bestseller rank does not matter, I refined my search. Her book is #2 in eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Historical Fiction > Ancient Civilizations and #3 in Books > Teens > Historical Fiction > Ancient. I searched “Young Adult Ancient” and “Young Adult Ancient Civilizations” and her book did not appear in the first 100 listed. I searched the exact name of the category “Teens Historical Fiction Ancient” and her book came up #79. Think about that: The #3 book in the category named exactly what I just searched is the 79th one Amazon thought they should list!

So let’s review:

  1. Stop thinking having a lot of reviews helps get you discovered. That’s simply not true.
  2. The only benefit to running an ad campaign is the direct sales you get from that campaign. The boost in your bestseller rank does not help you get discovered.

If you are making $0.70 for every book you sell at $0.99, then you had better be spending less than $0.70 for each buyer. You must get 14 sales for every $10 of advertising spent just to break even. If you get fewer than that, you are paying people to read your book.

For the vast majority of authors, the only cost effective strategy for awareness is free advertising. Twitter, Facebook, and newsletters that promote $0.99 sales for free. The number of reviews doesn’t matter. Bestseller rank doesn’t matter. Anything that costs you money is paying people to buy your book.

If you are an author, and you are paying people to buy your book, cut it out. All you are doing is propping up an advertising machine that is overcharging everyone. Demand that you get more than 14 buyers for every $10 you spend. If we stop paying these ridiculous rates for ineffective ads, the rates will come down. And stop justifying your overspending using myths that are demonstrably untrue. Stop it. Just. Stop it.