Welcome to my Front Parlor, a place where I hope to engage you in some stimulating conversations about my continued journey as an indie author and the joys of writing historical fiction. I continue to marvel at how well the first three books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, and the companion short stories, Dandy Detects and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, have been selling. Thanks to all of you for your support. Do come in, look around, comment, and before you go, please leave a visiting card (url, twitter, fb address, etc) so I can return the courtesy and visit you next time.
For the past year there has been a good deal of hand-wringing over the question of KDP Select free promotions. Have they de-valued fiction, do they attract negative reviews, do they even work anymore? As anyone who regularly reads my blog posts knows, I have been a strong proponent of offering ebooks free for promotional purposes, and free promotions have been very good to me in terms of increasing my reviews and keeping my books visible and selling.
However, I also believe one of the distinct advantages we have as indie authors is our ability to use our own sales data to respond innovatively to changes in the marketing environment. As a result, in the past year I followed a number of different strategies to keep the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series visible, including beginning to experiment with the new promotional tool, the Kindle Countdown, that has been introduced as part of KDP Select.
In this post I am going to:
A. Review how successful the strategies I pursued last year were for selling books in 2013.
B. Address whether or not Free is failing as a strategy.
D. Assess whether or not Kindle Countdown promotions can replace free-book promotions as my primary promotional strategy for 2014.
A. Last March, I became concerned by the growing competitiveness within the eBook market as the number of eBooks published soared and traditional publishers began to adopt some of the strategies of indie authors. I listed six strategies I was going to follow in 2013.
1. Have free promotions less frequently. In 2012, I had noticed that promotions too close together were less effective, so I began to space out my promotions. As a result, whereas In 2012 I ran ten free promotions, resulting in 132,552 free downloads, in 2013 I only did four free promotions, resulting in 145,494 free downloads. This meant that fewer promotions in 2013 resulted in higher numbers of downloads with each promotion—and greater effect on the post-promotion rankings and sales from each promotion.
2. Use longer promotions. I had concluded that breaking up the five free days available under the KDP Select rules into 2-3 promotions was counter-productive (more time-consuming, more expensive, less effective). So, I determined to do fewer but longer promotions. However, I soon discovered if you used a BookBub ad with your promotion—most of the downloads came within the first few days, so I scrapped this approach and kept to one short free promotion per 3 month interval.
3. Schedule promotions near the end of the month. I noticed that most of the borrows of my books as part of the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) were at the beginning of a month. It is as if all Prime Members suddenly say, “Hey, I get another free borrow,” when a new month rolls around. So, I scheduled two of my four promotions for the end of the month so that the resulting post-promotional visibility would be at the beginning of the next month. This strategy worked: In each case, the promoted book was borrowed at least 1000 times during the month following the promotion.
4. Do more 99 cent promotions. By 2013, the evidence was mounting that the one way to ensure a successful promotion was to schedule a BookBub ad. However, it costs almost twice as much to promote a 99 cent book as a free one with BookBub. Therefore, when a 99 cent sale of my second series book, Uneasy Spirits, had disappointing results without a BookBub ad, I decided not to pursue this strategy in 2013. I did, however, use a 99 cent promotion of Uneasy Spirits in conjunction with the launch of my third book, and I did begin to schedule 99 cent sales through the KDP Select Kindle Countdown option as soon as it was introduced at the end of 2013.
5. Experiment with promotions that are not tied to free or discounting. My premise here was that, if free promotions were becoming less effective, I would need to find alternative or complementary methods of making my work visible. In 2013, I did a book tour and guest posts on relevant blogs: I participated in book and Kindle Fire giveaways; I paid for banner ads and book sponsorships; and I paid to boost posts on my Facebook page. As far as I can tell, none of these alternative methods of promotion had any appreciable effect compared to the impact of a single free-book promotion on Bookbub.
6. Write more books and short stories. I published the third book in my Victorian San Francisco mystery series, Bloody Lessons, in September of 2013, and I put together the first three books in the series as a boxed set and made it available in November. I am about to publish a third short story.
Conclusions: Looking at the effects of these six strategies, there is evidence that three of them proved effective. Having fewer free promotions increased the effectiveness of the promotions I did, placing the promotions near the end of the month did stimulate borrows, and publishing additional works did compensate for the lower royalties brought in by the first two books in the series. As a result, I was able to maintain my over all sales for 2013 near the level of the year before.
I am excited to announce that my first short story, Dandy Detects, is now available as an audio book on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. I am trying a new narrator, Alexandra Haag, who I love, and I hope she will be able to do the rest of my work. But, ultimately it is the fans of the series who can tell me if Alexandra has captured the world of Annie Fuller, Nate Dawson, and the O’Farrell Street Boarding House.
The price for the audiobook is $3.95 (I don’t set the price and I know this seems steep for a short story—but it is cheap for an audio book—and it has already been discounted on Amazon to $3.45).
To encourage you all to give it a try I am giving out a limited number of free coupons—just send me a message at email@example.com.
M. Louisa Locke, February 22, 2014
In Bloody Lessons, it is the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, 1880, and the teachers of San Francisco are under attack: their salaries slashed and their competency and morals questioned in a series of poison pen letters. Annie Fuller, the reluctant clairvoyant, has been called in to investigate by Nate Dawson, her lawyer beau, and the case becomes personal when they discover that Laura, Nate’s sister, may be one of the teachers targeted for attack.
I have been delighted with the reception to this third book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, but since the book is set in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day 1880, it seemed only appropriate to discount it as a sort of Valentine’s gift of my own. Bloody Lessons will be at 99 cents from February 7 to February 13, through a Kindle Countdown in the UK Store and the US Store. In addition, I have also written a post over at HFeBooks.com about Victorian Valentines that you all might find fun.
M. Louisa Locke, February 7, 2014
As I wrap up the last presents (with 5 grandchildren this is not an easy chore), I can’t help but count my blessings. In December of 2009 I published my first book, Maids of Misfortune, with few expectations beyond the satisfaction of knowing my family and friends who had heard about this book for over twenty years would finally be able to see it in print. Four years later, I continue to be astounded at how greatly I have exceeded those expectations. I now have three books and two short stories in my Victorian San Francisco series, and over 300,000 of these books and stories have been bought or downloaded––a number that seems simply unreal. I have also made uncounted number of friends from among fans of the series and the other authors with whom I have shared this remarkable indie author journey. Without all their support, my success would not have been possible and my journey wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. Thank you all!
M. Louisa Locke, December 21, 2013
Two years ago, I wrote a blog piece about the importance of using categories, keywords, and tags (which no longer exist) to make your books visible in the Kindle Store. A year later I wrote an update that expanded on this and discussed how having your book in the right categories could make free and discount promotions more effective. The basic argument I made hasn’t changed––that an author needs to understand how categories work in order to use them to improve the chance their books will be found by readers who are browsing in the Kindle store.
If you aren’t convinced of the importance of categories in improving discoverability—you might want to go back and skim through those two posts or just google “discoverability and categories” to see the multiple posts on this topic. However, for most of you, it isn’t the importance of categories but how to get your books into the right categories that you are most interested in––and there have been a number of significant changes warranting a new update on this topic.
First, the number and kinds of categories and sub-categories in the Kindle Store have increased dramatically in the last year.
Second, the methods of getting a book into the correct categories and sub-categories have expanded, with keywords becoming particularly important.
Third, these changes have made the process even more confusing to authors.