Self-Publishing

One of the things that I’ve learned in this publishing business is that sales beget sales.

You just have to look at 50 Shades of Grey to see what I mean. Readers who wouldn’t have picked up an erotic romance novel, let alone one with a BDSM theme can’t get their hands on this book fast enough! Yet, the fact that this is the best-selling book across all venues (Amazon, iTunes, B&N) says that readers are buying it because everyone else is and they want to find out what all the fuss is about.

This is true of any book on the best-sellers list. A book reaching the top catches the attention of potential readers who buy the book and keep it on the best-selling list. Do the lists drive each and every person in the book-buying population? Of course not. But enough readers look to the top sellers either by category or in general to make decisions about their purchases.

Which means, as an author … WE WANT OUR BOOKS ON THOSE LISTS!

Until I was published for awhile I never quite understood the ranking numbers on Amazon. (And now B&N is showing rankings on books as well, but no categories like Amazon) Here’s a good break down for Amazon sales that I think is pretty accurate:

Bestsellers Overall Rank 8,500 to 40,000 – selling 1 to 10 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 3,000 to 8,500 – selling 10 to 30 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 1,000 to 3,000 – selling 30 to 100 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 450 to 1,000 – selling 100 to 150 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 200 to 450 – selling 150 to 300 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 80 to 200 – selling 300 to 600 books a day
Bestsellers Rank 50 to 80 – selling 600 to 3,000 books a day

But the fact is, no one has been able to crack how Amazon calculates its sales algorithms. Which makes sense. They don’t want publishers to somehow manipulate sales and therefore rankings, which of course would then push more sales.

al·go·rithm
[al-guh-rith-uhm]
noun
a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor

With the number of books being self-published growing exponentially it seems Amazon is now revising their algorithms to change how FREE! and $.99 books show up on the lists. Did they mention this? Well, no. And as much as I love math, being a science geek and all … I certainly didn’t put the numbers together. But some authors who have had their books in the KDP Select Program–where you can put your book up for free for up to 5 days in a 90 day period–are finding sales after going free have significantly reduced from when the program began. The theory is that the change in algorithms is making it so you have to sell more at a lower price to make it onto the best-selling lists.

Check out THIS post that discusses in depth the changes at Amazon. The original posts by Edward Robertson can be found HERE. Whether you’re an author or a reader you should take a look. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

Interesting what Amazon appears to be doing isn’t it? Are they trying to move authors (and therefore readers) away from the FREE! and $.99 bargains where they make little or no money from sales? Hard to say. But many authors are finding better success with higher prices. Question is whether that’s getting them up on lists where readers are finding them and purchasing the books or are readers perceiving higher priced books are better quality? Wish I knew the answer.

What I do know … and what I’m advising authors just starting out in the self-publishing business … what worked two years ago for John Locke and Amanda Hocking, heck what worked for your author friend just six months ago probably isn’t going to work as a marketing strategy for a book being published today. $.99 rolled into hundreds of thousands of sales a year or two ago. I don’t believe that will work anymore, especially with Amazon (possibly) working to change the rules of the game. Check out THIS POST to see how I’ve used the FREE! marketing technique for my series. Am I saying NEVER put a book out for FREE! or $.99? Not at all. I’m simply saying, carefully look at your particular circumstances and find a marketing strategy that works for you.

So blog readers … Is your book buying driven by lists? Are there other factors that influence your choices? Of course I’m asking … you know me, I’m curious like that.

 

This self-publishing gig is tough. From hiring an editor and cover artist to deciding whether or not to format books yourself or hire a formatter. (I wouldn’t have thought that necessary until I saw the really pretty formats of some ebooks I’ve purchased. All lovely scroll work at chapter headings and figuring out how to put title and author name on each page of an ereader … but I digress.) You get the idea, there are a lot of decisions to make.

And one of the hardest decisions an author has to make is pricing.

That’s right. Pricing. There are a lot of articles being written on the $.99 phenomenon. This POST offers an hypothesis as to why returns go up when the price goes down. Many authors are also discouraged because they feel pushed into scandalously low prices for their books. It’s not so much about feeling bullied by readers’ expectations that cause me to experiment with pricing … it’s sales.

I’m in this business for readers to find and (hopefully) enjoy my books. I’m not interested in putting in all kinds of time creating characters and weaving stories only to have my books sit in the dark, lonely nether regions of the internet, never to be downloaded to an e-reading device. Nope. I want them out in the world running wild and playing with all kinds of new readers.

This is one pricing list I’ve seen and it makes so much sense:
$0.99 – Books less 10,000 words
$1.99 – Books 10,001 to 20,000 words
$2.99 – Books 20,001 to 50,000 words
$3.99 – Books 50,001 to 75,000 words
$4.99 – Books 75,001 to 100,000 words
$5.99 – Books 100,001 words to ???

Now this might not make sense for everyone or for every book, but it’s a nice starting point. So then the question comes in … Where does FREE fit into this equation? According to some … it shouldn’t. Offering free books gives readers expectations that if they wait long enough a book will eventually be offered free and they will never have to buy another book. I don’t completely agree with that theory. The fact is, any reader has always been able to feed their literary addiction with free (libraries and convention giveaways) and drastically discounted books (garage sales and library book overstocks). Why wouldn’t the savvy digital reader expect the same thing?

For me personally, offering BLIND HER WITH BLISS, the first book in my sexy romantic suspense series for free was the best thing I could have done for sales. In February I reported my self-publishing numbers BEFORE my book went free. In March, I updated my sales figures. Sales continued strong through April … UNTIL I took the first book off the FREE promotion.

As in, I went from selling 20 books a day across all venues to selling 2. (I do realize that early spring is a slow time in general for digital book sales, but I’m sure this isn’t just that flux.) I suspect it has more to do with offering BLIND HER WITH BLISS as a loss leader which is bringing readers to my books. By the end of this month I will be offering it free again. Probably permanently. Yes, I’ve had 11,500 free downloads, but I know authors who have had four times that many downloads in a 2 day FREE promotion. So there are still plenty of readers who haven’t gotten my books.

I won’t do this with all my self-published books. But when a reader emails to tell me that she loved the free book so much she bought the whole series AND three of my traditionally published books … well, that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Some argue that free may be good for the individual, but not good for the publishing industry as a whole. I’m not sure. I only know it’s working to build my readership and therefore it’s growing my business.

And in the spirit of full disclosure my APRIL sales:

Amazon
Free Downloads: 1666
Blind Her With Bliss: 40 books = $39.88
Deceive Her With Desire: 56 books = $110.31
Cheat Her With Charm: 38 books = $76.26
(Avg 35% drop in sales)

Barnes & Noble
Blind Her With Bliss: 177 books = $106.20 (through Smashwords)
Deceive Her With Desire: 51 books = $98.94
Cheat Her With Charm: 36 = $69.84
(Avg 40% drop in sales)

The month of May is dismal. I’ve sold a total of 30 books at Barnes & Noble, 36 at Smashwords and 35 at Amazon. The numbers speak for themselves.

I’ve been writing erotic romance for about six years. I have lots of wonderful readers who enjoy my books. And though my family is very proud of all that I’ve accomplished, very few of them want to read my books. That’s fine. They aren’t for everyone. And up until the last year, most of my extended family didn’t even know the words kindle or nook. Now, many of them own one.

It’s only recently that authors have been able to take complete control of their publishing careers and self-publish their books. Many of the books on the NYT Bestseller list are now self-published e-books. But I’m not sure any of them are getting the buzz that 50 Shades of Grey is receiving. It seems every time I turn on the television someone is talking about this book. This erotic romance book with BDSM themes. Kelly Ripa was discussing it on her show. Ellen DeGeneres was sorta reading excerpts on her program.

The book world is on fire with chatter about this trilogy. And I keep wondering … why this book? Did the author, EL James, a television executive know some trick to marketing that the rest of us haven’t tried? I can’t say I’ve seen an interview of her, though I do understand she’s been on a couple of morning shows.

In the long run all this attention is helpful for all erotic romance authors … like me!

The media is terming her story “Mommy Porn” because so many mainstream romance readers are falling in love with Mr. Grey, Anastasia and their less-than-mainstream relationship. I’m not sure readers are happy with this catch phrase, but hey, why not? I’ll be the first to tell people I write smut. Of course I say it lovingly, knowing that my stories (like all good erotic romance books) aren’t just one sex scene loosely connected to another sex scene. There are flawed characters with real emotional problems all set within a plot that twists and turns and hopefully surprises my readers.

But I know, most of you stopping here already know that.

I don’t know about this particular book. Since reader reviews are all over the place on this one, I’m not sure if I want to plunk down part of my monthly book budget (don’t laugh, I can pretend I have one) just to see what all the buzz is about. But whether people like this book or not, there’s no arguing with the number of books flying off the virtual shelves. Which means these readers, many who are new to the erotic romance genre, may be looking for other sexy reads. That’s wonderful news for the rest of us working to market our books. Because the truth is, some of us are just trying to figure out what Ms. James did right to bring so much attention to her trilogy. I’d like to repeat her success.

What about you? Have you read this? Are you planning on checking it out? And if you have insight as to why this particular book has hit the big time, do share. You know me, I’m always curious about stuff like that.

So it’s been a month since I shared sales figures for my self-published romantic suspense series. In the spirit of full disclosure I thought I’d share what’s happened since I put the first book in my series up for free! I have to tell you, there are still LOTS of people who cringe that authors are doing this for fear it may set up 1) unrealistic sales expectations for readers or 2) that it is devaluing the time and talent required to write a full novel. But as you’ll see, this is working for me.

I didn’t enroll these short novels in the Kindle Select program where Amazon asks for exclusivity to any books in that program. They also offer authors the opportunity to take advantage of 5 free days during the 90 day period it is in the select program. This just didn’t seem to fit for my books and I chose to upload my book through Smashwords and have it distriubted for free to all venues save for Amazon. Once the lower price was reported to Amazon, my book was price matched at the $0.00.

And I want to repeat what I said last month. There are many authors making goooood money through self-publishing. Some of these authors are even being courted by Amazon to pull their book from the virtual self-publishing shelves and sign a contract with their Montlake publishing arm. There are many success stories, including Debra Holland, who has also been forthcoming about her sales success with her self-published series. But remember it ain’t all roses and royalty checks for everyone.

And there isn’t one right path to success in the self-publishing business. What works for me and my books, may not work for you. The only consistency is writing the best book you can and making sure it not only is well-edited, but also presented in the correct format for the platform whether it be kindle, nook, sony or iTunes. So don’t hesitate to try different price points or different methods of promotion. Find out what works for you.

Listing the first book in my sexy romantic suspense series, BLIND HER WITH BLISS has been a real boost for promoting my books. Following are the sales I posted last month for books released 4/11, 6/11 and 11/11. (Sales figures are just for Amazon, because there weren’t enough others at B&N, Smashwords or ARe to make an impact on my royalties.)

December: 136 books = $142.80
January: 74 books = $84.22
February (until the 20th): 4695 free books 20 books = $40.00 (approx.)

And here are the sales for the full month of Feb and March (to Date). And just a note, I took my books down from All Romance Ebooks because they really weren’t selling over there:

Amazon

Free Downloads: 6280
Deceive Her With Desire: 73 books = $76.65
Cheat Her With Charm: 62 books = $65.10

Barnes & Noble
Free Downloads: 2319 (through Smashwords)
Deceive Her With Desire: 87 = $168.78
Cheat Her With Charm: 56 = $108.64

Apple (through Smashwords)
Total Books:   264 = $448.85
(That’s if I’m reading my Smashwords report correctly. It’s the first time I’ve had sales there, so I’m trying to figure this one out)

So there you have it. It may not be the blockbuster sales other authors are experiencing, but seeing as March is turning out to be my most successful month ever, I’m extremely pleased. I whole-heartedly believe that offering my book for FREE! is working for me. BLIND HER WITH BLISS floats between 15 and 30 on the free romantic suspense list right next to the PAID list. And 25 to 40 on the contemporary list. (It was lower on both lists at the beginning of the month when downloads were at their peak.) Being listed next to the paid books means that readers who search particular categories may peruse books listed for free as well.

B&N doesn’t have a ranking system, but I have no doubt it is the free book that allowed readers to try out a new-to-them author and brought about the sales of the second and third books in the series. Since I haven’t seen any sales at that venue prior to this, it is the only thing I can attribute my sales success this month.

Again, this method might not work for you. But with my sales the highest they’ve ever been, I know offering the first book in my series is working for me. Writers, have you tried something different that worked to get your books noticed? As a reader, what makes you willing to try a new author you’ve never read before?

There are days when I feel I never get away from the Internet to get other stuff done. Between Twitter and Facebook and blogs I visit, I roam the virtual cybersphere and yet … I seem to miss all the fun controversy. I guess last week people were all up in arms about self-publising and Amazon’s moves to slowly take over the book selling market.

I don’t know about that. I do know they’ve made it easy for a person to self-publish print books. And they’ve made it even easier for authors to publish digitally. Really, there is no super-sekret formula … just upload a manuscript and a cover and voila! within 24 hours your book will be for sale! Yes, you can do this through other venues, but I have to say, I really like Amazon’s ranking system. There’s no greater satisfaction than seeing your book climb the ranks. Now they’re trying a new program, Prime Membership for readers and on the author side it’s called Kindle Select. Readers and authors are tentative about this program. Some are loving it and others … not so much.

But Amazon is trying. They are seeing the face of publication changing and they’re trying to be on the cutting edge of that change. Good for them. They’re not stupid. With big name authors like Joe Konrath supporting their efforts, it seems to me they’re going to be the front runners when everyone else is floundering. Does this make them bad or greedy? I don’t think so. It makes them smart. As in Apple smart. Always leading the pack, not the one running and out-of-breath trying to catch up.

And though I like what Amazon is doing for readers and authors alike, I just want to say, it ain’t all roses and royalty checks for everyone.

There are many authors making LOTS of money (as in quitting their day jobs and writing fulltime) going the self-pubbed route through Amazon. But there are a whole heck of a lot more of us taking our monthly royalty check from Amazon and buying a cute necklace from Kohl’s that just went on sale … on the clearance rack. So you get the picture. Now, please don’t hear this as complaining. It’s not … well, not totally. Wait, no really, I’m not complaining. I just want people to understand that it is possible their book(s) will take off, but it’s just as likely it won’t. Even if you do the same marketing strategies successful writers do. *shrug* It’s just how it is.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me give you some sales figures for the last three months for all three of my books (released 4/11, 6/11 and 11/11). (And this is just for Amazon, because it’s not worth my time to share with you my sales from B&N, Smashwords and ARe)

December: 136 books = $142.80
January: 74 books = $84.22
February (to date): 4695 free books (YAY!) 20 books = $40.00 (approx.)

Why am I sharing this sales information with you? I think authors play it too close to the vest. When authors are looking to make an informed decision it means … they need the information. I think it’s easy to find GREAT sales information. You know, those authors that sell 136 of each of their books every day. It makes many authors who are sitting there with 4 books sold in a month–because that’s the typical sales on Amazon–feel inadequate. Like “what am I doing wrong?” The answer is probably nothing. Even the big 6 publishers can’t tell you why one of their books is doing better than another. Now we’re the publisher … we just have to do the best we can.

I do like Amazon. I like that they have world-wide distribution. I wish I could boast sales on the other venues that were as good as my Amazon sales. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, even when I try to market my books at those venues.

Is Amazon going to take over all publication and distribution of books in the near future? No, it’s not going to happen. But other publishers and booksellers will need to stop doing things the way they’ve always done them and think ahead or they’re never going to catch up.

What do you think as a reader/writer? Does it make you a little noodgie the way things are going with Amazon? Are you worried about what is happening? Because you know me, I’m curious about that kind of stuff.

With so many authors jumping into the self-publishing pond, I thought I’d share my experience. First of all, let me just say, if you weren’t already aware … I found the trek from writer to publisher to be a very steep climb. We’re talking ice crampons, ropes and pick axes (can you tell I’m doing research for a new story?) But one that’s going to be worth the view from the top.

I released my three book series in April, June and October (oops … a couple of months late) of this year. I originally released the first two as erotic suspense, but found, much like my experience at my original publisher, they weren’t romantic enough for the usual romantic suspense reader and not erotic enough for the erotic romance reader. Sales by July were non-existent. So I dropped back, reassessed, redid the covers and cut back on all the sex in the stories and put them back up as sexy romantic suspense. They are very slowly hitting their stride.

I’ve tried different price points, $.99, $1.49 and $2.99 (the last one to get the 70% royalty on Amazon). Price didn’t seem to be a factor. And no one complained about the short novel length even at the $2.99. I’m going to continue to mess with the prices until I find a nice balance between price and sales.

I’ve done a blog tour and advertising for the first two, but since I didn’t see any uptick in sales with all the hard work, I didn’t bother to push the publicity for the most recent release. My sales for all three book have remained about $15/month for Amazon and $5/month at Barnes and Noble since the spring. It may be hardly worth the gas to the bank to cash the check, but I remain undaunted!

I now have the books up at All Romance Ebooks and though sales aren’t brisk at the moment over there, it is another venue for people to find my books.

I am happy to report that being part of the BOOK LOVER’S BUFFET (where every book on the website is $.99) has been a shot in the arm this month. I’ve sold just over 100 books at the posting of this blog with another TWO weeks to the end of the month. Obviously the collective marketing of nearly 100 authors is helping to get the word out.

I’m also looking to do some specialized marketing in January with Pixel of Ink (if my book is approved for an advertising spot), a site where thousands of Kindle readers search for their next read. I’m hoping this will boost sales especially to new-to-me-readers.

So there you have it. Total disclosure. Not the millions some authors are selling. Nor the rocket success of author Catherine Bybee, who recently made the USA Bestseller list with one of her self-published books. But I keep plodding along. I’ve made a resolution to myself for the new year though. I WILL step off this crazy marketing merry-go-round and begin writing again. Funny, how people can’t read a book sitting unfinished on my computer!

I’m always happy to answer questions about self-publishing. Feel free to email me at Nina AT NinaPierce.com I’ll happily share with you what I’ve learned and hopefully steer you clear of some of those hidden pitfalls.

Connect

Signup for Nina's Newsletter

* indicates required
Email Format