I’ve blogged quite a bit about book marketing, and in particular, Amazon’s KDP Select Program. I’m also interested in what other authors are doing to help sell books, and I recently reached out to Jason Halstead to see what he does to sell so many books. Jason has kindly provided a post about this. So without further ado, here’s Jason…
How to Sell a Book
I’ve found a couple of ways to accomplish this often difficult task. The first involves candles, a sharp knife, and a chicken (preferably a virgin chicken). Your results may vary, however. Another way is to write another book. Indeed, for many writers the task of writing a book is the easiest part of the process. The third means to the sell-my-books end is to promote and market the crap out of it. I’m here to tell you what’s worked for me thus far.
I haven’t tried it all, but I have tried a lot of different things. I blog regularly, I tweet incessantly, I post on Facebook, and I write. Of those items I would say ‘I write’ takes top billing. For over a year I’ve been averaging a book a month. Since I put my books through a third-party editor and cover artist they end up taking about 6 – 8 weeks, start to finish, so that means I’m always working on the next one.
For promoting, I rely on social media these days. That includes my blog, which I use ad nauseam to slip in references to books I’ve written, just released, or am working on. Just watch, before this post is over I’ll have slipped in a link or two here as well. And since this is a guest post and most of you probably haven’t heard of me, you might just be curious enough to check it out. All I’ll promise is that you won’t be disappointed if you do.
I’ve tried paying a little bit for promotion, including some ads in magazines and on websites. Complete waste of money. In fact I paid for some Goodreads advertising in late 2011. I bought a pay / per click package and a year and a half later I still haven’t exhausted the $50 I put into it! Talk about major suck.
I’ve also spent a lot of money on a promotion plan. I coughed up $3k on a 3 month marketing campaign that was very impressive. I was wowed by the amount of work that went into it, both on my end (writing up blog posts, recording an audible sample chapter, etc.) and on the end of the advertising agency. I track my sales to a level that is downright anal so I can tell you with absolute certainty that during the three-month period of this campaign the sales on that particular book DECREASED. Yes, they went down. Not significantly, but it wasn’t selling all that great in the first place (hence the attempt to boost it). It’s an awesome book too, but ultimately it’s all about visibility. Yet my attempt to boost my visibility met with astounding failure.
Back in spring / early summer of 2012 I had some runaway sci-fi titles that sold as much as 5500 copies in a month (combined, not each). Not freebies, those were paid copies. Shame they were only $.99 each, but that lofted them into the top 10 lists of the sci-fi section. Then the jealous and angry writers hit me with bogus reviews that dropped them back down into obscurity. These days I’m happy if I can sell 10 copies of one of those titles in a month. To try to revitalize them I loaded them into KDP Select.
Using the 5 free promotion days (meaning I have 5 days out of every 90 I can assign it to be free on Amazon) I’ve arranged each of the 7 titles to go free for a five-day period at a time (different periods, of course). My hope was to give away lots of them and increase interest in the others. I have not, however, done a good job of advertising when these freebies would be available. Shame on me, I know. As a result of that my Vitalis novellas (New Beginnings, The Colony, Parasites, Screamer, Squatter’s Rights, Evolution, and Matriarch) have increased to that 5 – 10 copy / month / title level though. A far cry from what they once did, but that’s why I keep writing.
KDP Select is a potential godsend for cheap books. My $.99 titles bring in a whopping $.35 every time one is bought. But if an Amazon Prime member borrows one I typically get $2 or more, depending on the fund Amazon has set aside for them. Now that’s pretty cool! Unfortunately amongst the 7 KDP Select titles in this series I’m averaging 2 – 5 borrows a month.
I just put another book into KDP Select yesterday, my Vitalis Omnibus. This one contains all seven of the aforementioned novellas and it is a bargain compared to the price of buying each episode for $.99. I recently reduced the price to $2.99 in fact, in hopes of driving up volume. The results have been minimal. It does, however, give me the opportunity to get about as much for a borrow on it as I would for a sale. And yes, I’ve already had one borrow against it. Either that’s a good sign or an outlying data point. Oh, and speaking of this book it’s going on a 5 day freebie promo this Friday, April 19th, through Tuesday April 23rd.
The downside to KDP Select is exclusivity. For that 90 day period when the title is enrolled it cannot be available anywhere else as an ebook, in whole or in part. I learned the latter part when I left my Vitalis Omnibus available on Barnes & Noble, Nook, Smashwords, iTunes, and Sony and Amazon smacked me in the back of the head for it. I had to take it down from those other sites or risk having all 7 bumped out of the program. I realized I might as well put the omnibus in KDP Select too, although it took me a while to reach that conclusion (I started the other books in late February and only yesterday put the latest one into KDP Select).
Considering that exclusivity the question a writer must ask themselves is whether it’s worth the lost income from those venues. For me it’s a no brainer – I make less than 4% of my monthly income from writing from B&N and Kobo. iTunes and Sony do me fairly well, but it’s still less than 5% of the monthly net. And for the titles in question it’s probably less than $200 a quarter (+/- $60 a month). So with negligible numbers like that it’s an easy button to press for me. Based on borrows alone it doesn’t seem to be worth it, but if the free book promo days are boosting sales then maybe it’ll work out – I wish there was some way to know.
Other tactics I use involve Twitter and Facebook. Every two to three hours I send out a tweet about one of my books with a link to Amazon. It’s random as far as which of my preconfigured tweets to send and infrequent enough I hope I’m not pissing off any of my followers. I’m up to almost 18,000, so I think I’m doing okay. I do know that Twitter has helped me sell some books in the past. Not massive amounts by any stretch, but every sale helps. The trick is moderation, I think.
Facebook is a great tool for reaching out to my readers. Or at least the ones interested enough to like my page. Outside of the campaigns to generate likes I’ve got a handful of what I call super-fans. These people are great – they own every one of my titles and eagerly devour the next as soon as it comes out. I often interact with them as well, but that doesn’t stop me from interacting with anyone else. In fact I’m proud to say I’ve responded to every single reader that’s ever reached out to me, and I’ve done so in a timely manner. And yes, I’ve had quite a few of them (more than I can count, to be honest). Dialogue between writer and reader is essential.
Facebook does not generate new readers though. It’s a vehicle to communicate to my fans and that’s it. Sure there’s Facebook advertising but I know I completely ignore ads on Facebook and from all the bad things I’ve read about those who have tried it, I’m not interested in throwing my money away.
That’s about it for promotion. As for marketing, that’s less about trying to be seen and more about making it easy for people to find my books. To that end I keep up-to-date lists in every book I publish of all the other books I’ve written. Not just lists, but links. These are ebooks, people can click on the links and be taken to the new book. Or to my website, email, blog, or twitter feed. The more available I make myself and my books the better my chances of selling a book are.
To make a long post longer, I’ll talk about genre a bit. I am primarily a science fiction and fantasy writer. My first runaway series was called Wanted and it took off when I made the first book in that series (Wanted) free. Sales of the second book skyrocketed and while they’ve fluctuated over time they hold reasonably well over time. I released a third book to finish the trilogy early this year and sales of that book have done reasonably well also. The end result of the study proves that it is possible to make money off of free.
At the same time I released a space fantasy series called Voidhawk. It’s kind of a cross between sci-fi and fantasy, although mostly fantasy. I ended up making Voidhawk, book 1 in that series free as well and over the years it’s been out (since 2009), it has been my bestselling series and I continue to put out new books in it (just released book 6, Voidhawk – The Edge of Forever early this month). I have a few other series, science fiction and urban fantasy, that are clipping along under the radar. They do okay, but definitely mid-list at best. Great books, but they haven’t found their niche yet. Then I have a new fantasy series (Blades of Leander) I started late last year. I finished the first trilogy earlier this year and it’s doing phenomenal. None of the four books (trilogy + omnibus) have hit the top 100 fantasy lists but I’m optimistic that they’ll become serious contenders for my best series by the end of the year. I’m trying to solidify that by writing another book that starts up a new series (probably another trilogy) a year after the first one ends.
So, in my experience, fantasy is the bestselling genre. Having said that, I know it’s not the biggest genre in terms of fans. Romance and smut take that crown. I think mystery and suspense ranks higher as well, but I’m honestly not sure. I’m trying out a new series that is a combination of romance / smut / and espionage in hopes of tapping into those markets. The first book has yet to be edited and hit the virtual shelves yet though, so the jury’s still out.
In case it’s not apparent, I’m a multi-genre writer. I don’t believe in boundaries and I don’t like to paint myself in a corner. Writers aren’t confined into the hidebound roles traditional publishing once confined us to, so why not branch out and explore?
So in summary, I believe that books sell books. Meaning if you write it, they will read, provided you keep writing more of them. Of course they need to know it exists, so that’s where cross-linking and posting about it wherever possible come in handy. And then there’s that poor chicken. No, I don’t advocate any sort of rituals or superstitions, I simply mean blind luck plays a role.
That and never, ever, underestimate the power of free. Whether it’s giving away free books or having your books pirated. What it means is more people are seeing them and that means more people are buying them. Even my books that are on file sharing torrents I’m okay with – more people are seeing them that way. In many cases those people wouldn’t buy them anyhow, but once they read them maybe they’ll like them enough to talk about them to others or buy the next one themselves for the sake of convenience.
Thanks, Jason, for such a thorough post. Stay tuned for more posts about KDP Select. After much deliberation, I am going to put one of my books back in the program to see if I can generate more sales. What I do, and what I learn, I will share with you all :).