KDP Select Free Promotion — Discoverability Experiment: One Month Later and Feeling Fine!

As stated in Part One, my goal in joining the KDP Select program had been simple, to get my two Victorian San Francisco historical mysteries, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits back up to the top of the Kindle historical mystery bestseller category. And, as I wrote in Part Two, not only did I achieve this goal, but I also had fantastic success in selling my books immediately after the free promotion was over. In addition, I was now selling a significant number of books in Kindle, UK, and I had started to have a large number of borrows of Maids of Misfortune, all unexpected but delightful consequences of enrolling a book in the KDP Select program.

While not everyone has had the same kind of success using KDP Select, a number of authors have reported large numbers of downloads, followed by better rankings, and increased sales. These suggest that my experience was not a fluke. See David Kazzie’s post “How Amazon’s KDP Select Saved my Book” as one example.

However, there also seem to have been a significant number of authors who have been disappointed with their results. Caroline McCray, one of the most successful KDP Select authors, has done a very thoughtful post on the pros and cons of the program, with a clear description of how factors like the percentage of your sales that are on Amazon and your rank on the best seller lists, can affect how useful using KDP Select might be for you. I can see that I fit her description of those authors who might benefit, since 96% of my income came from Amazon in 2010, and I was already on one of the best seller lists on Amazon and close enough to the top 100 in other lists to mean that an increase in sales would affect my rankings and make my book more visible.

Now that a month has passed, as promised, I am going to report on my numbers and what my strategy for the future is going to be.

My two-day free promotion of my first historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune was December 30-31, 2011. During those two days the book was downloaded 15, 576 times, and, the first week it went back on sale, the average sales of Maids of Misfortune and my sequel, Uneasy Spirits, combined, was 501 books a day (the price of each book is $2.99.) The second week in January the average number of books sold was 253 a day (and I had stopped thinking that I was going to be in the big leagues with Konrath and company.) The third week the average was 151 a day and the fourth week the average had dropped to 107 books a day. For the whole month, the average number of books sold was 236 a day. (A vast improvement from the 31 books a day for November or 35 books a day average for December that I had been selling.)

And, although my sales steadily dropped after the first week of January, by the end of the month I had, nevertheless, sold a total of 7,323 of books. Seventy-five percent of them were Maids of Misfortune; the rest were sales of Uneasy Spirits. (In December the newer book, Uneasy Spirits, made up 55% of my sales). In addition, 1272 people borrowed one of my books as part of the Amazon Prime Lending option.

I have to take a deep breath here. This month, my income was more than twice what I made in any given month in my entire career as a full professor of history (not being the Newt Gingrich kind of historian — smile.)

Apart from the sales and the money I made this month, which will go a long way to cover the income I lost by retiring to write full time, there is the fact that the free downloads exposed me to so many more readers, which should sustain my sales over the long haul for my subsequent books. I know that people say that those who download books for free may never read the books, but this month I have received 16 more reviews for Maids of Misfortune, 13 of them 5 star reviews, and they were clearly from people who had downloaded the book and read it immediately.

As I hoped, the increased sales in Maids of Misfortune resulted in increased sales for my sequel. Uneasy Spirits sold an average of 20 books a day in both November and December (the book came out in mid October), but the average for January was 48 a day.

So, what are my plans for the future? Since it appears that I am in the midst of a steady, albeit a gentle, slide downwards in sales, I will use at least some of my remaining KDP Select promotion days for Maids of Misfortune in February, if only to see if there will be a similar bump in sales. I confess I am assuming the increase in sales will be less, but it might at least arrest the downward slide.

In addition, I have entered Uneasy Spirits into KDP Select, and I will also do a free promotion of it. As a sequel, (although it can be read as a stand-alone) Uneasy Spirits will probably not do as well as Maids did. But if it only garners me more positive reviews, I will consider the promotion a success. After reading a discussion on the Kindle Boards where readers expressed frustration at downloading a book for free and discovering that they were going to have to buy the first book in the series, I decided that I would put both books up for free for one day and then possibly continue the free promotion for the sequel for a second day.

Who knows if I will have even a tenth of the success of my first promotion? But, whatever happens I will be happy if I gain more readers and more information about how promotions work. For me, half the fun of being an indie is being able to experiment. If something doesn’t work, I change strategies; if it does, I celebrate. And I get back to writing.

M. Louisa Locke

My Second Year as an Indie Author: Even Sweeter Success

In December 2010, a year after I had self-published my first historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, I wrote a piece evaluating my experience in my first year as an indie author. This December it seemed fitting to see how my second year as an indie author compared to the first.

First the Numbers:

Last December, I wrote that …there is every reason for me to think that I will do even better next year than I did this year with Maids of Misfortune…” and I was entirely right.

In my first year as a self-published author (December 2009-November 2010), I sold 2693 books, most of them $2.99 ebooks, and I made slightly more than $5000.  In my second year (December 2010-November 2011) I sold an additional 12,245 copies of Maids of Misfortune and 943 copies of my second book, Uneasy Spirits, which came out mid October. This means I sold a total of 13,188 books (again most as ebooks) and made over $25,000, before taxes.

From everything I have read on other authors’ posts and on the Kindle forums and boards, my success has been duplicated or surpassed by a significant number of indie authors this past year.

What do I expect to happen next year?

Earlier this year I began to wonder if there would be a natural saturation point for Maids of Misfortune, (all the people who would be interested in a cozy mystery set in 1879 San Francisco would have already bought the book), and if the trend of more sales each month that I saw in 2010 would be reversed in 2011.

I think that the answer to this is a qualified yes. My sales of Maids have steadily fallen since the peak I achieved last Dec-Jan-Feb (when I averaged 2000 books sold a month). For example, I sold only 376 Maids this November.  This decline in sales may also reflect both the shift to 99 cent pricing in ebooks in 2011 and the increased number of new and backlist books that traditional publishers and self-publishers put into ebook format. The competition in my niche has increased and many of these books were priced lower than my $2.99 price point. (I experimented for a month with putting the book at 99 cents, but the increase in sales didn’t justify the loss in revenue).

However, I do expect the sale of Maids will go up again, at least temporarily, as millions of new Kindle owners start downloading books Christmas morning. In fact, already this month I have seen a slight uptick in the average number of Maids of Misfortune I am selling per day (people who couldn’t wait for Christmas?).

In addition, I now have 2 books on sale. While I don’t know if all the people who read Maids will go on to read the sequel, Uneasy Spirits, nor do I know how many people will be interested in reading Uneasy Spirits as a stand alone, having the second book has certainly boosted my overall sales.  In September, before Uneasy was out, I sold a total of 589 books. Then, in November, when Uneasy had been out a full month, I sold a total of 957 books (31 books a day).

So, with Amazon reporting Kindle sales of a million a week this month and two books on the market, I have every expectation that next year my sales will equal, if not surpass, this year’s sales.

Total Job Satisfaction:

Being an indie author is not all about sales (or even about the control you have over your own fate). This past year I experienced some significant but indirect by-products of being a self-published author that have given me a good deal of personal satisfaction.

First, I was able to become a full-time writer. In 2010, I was still teaching part-time and learning how to market and I was only able to write a short story, Dandy Detects. In 2011, I determined I was making enough money so I could retire completely from my teaching position. Consequently I had the time write and publish the sequel, Uneasy Spirits. Since it had taken me 20 years from first draft to publication to get out my first book, being able to complete an entire book in less than a year was enormously satisfying.

Second, I began to pass on my knowledge to other aspiring indie authors. In 2010 I was mostly learning from others, reading their how-to books, reading their blogs, and trying out their tips. In 2011 I began to notice my blog posts were getting more comments and were being linked to more often. I was asked to do guest posts. I began to offer advice and guidance to authors who were either just starting out or trying to adapt to the new opportunities of ebook and self-publishing. This January I am presenting at the SDSU Writers Conference, where I will be one of two “professionals” (among nearly 40 agents and editors) talking about self-publishing and selling ebooks. In April I will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Southern California Writers Association. While not every person I have helped this year has achieved as many sales as I have, some have, and others have actually begun to surpass me. As a life long teacher, I have found helping out other authors to be almost as satisfying as writing and selling my own books.

Third, I have become part of community of authors. While my participation in various online groups like MurderMustAdvertise, CrimeThruTime, and All Mystery News introduced me to a number of authors, it has been my membership in the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC) that has been most rewarding. The HFAC, formed at the end of 2010 by a group of historical fiction authors who came together to market their ebooks, invited me to join in the Fall of 2010. During 2011, I have served on the HFAC Board of Directors, and, in this capacity, I have participated in the recruitment of other members, the building of a sophisticated website, and the testing of strategies for marketing both the website and other members’ books. Along the way I have learned new technical skills and developed new marketing ideas, but, more importantly, I have met a wonderful group of writers.

One of the reasons I had been hesitant to retire from my job as a college professor was my fear of losing the sense of community I had with my colleagues: people I served on committees with, talked with casually in the hallways, people who over twenty years had become my friends. But membership in the HFAC has fulfilled my need for community, both through shared endeavors and frequent internet conversations. And, as a result, many of these members have become my friends. Friends I have never seen face-to-face, friends who live in the four corners of the globe, but friends who share my love of history and writing.

In Conclusion:

My second year as an indie author, whether measured in books sold, words written, help and advice given, or friendships made, has been more successful than I would have ever dreamed possible.  And once again, I have every expectation that next year will be even better.

Wishing you all a Happy Holiday!

M. Louisa Locke

Managing Expectations: Patience and Perspective in Indie Publishing

The last few weeks, because I have not been able to maintain the terrific sales numbers I achieved over the Christmas holidays for my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, I have noticed a growing sense of disappointment. In addition, two of my friends who have recently self-published books, encouraged to do so by my solid sales, have sold very few of their books. Naturally I feel partly responsible for their frustration. Finally, the author facebook site I started last month only has 74 “likes,” most of them other authors who “liked” my site in exchange for me “liking” their sites, instead of the fans of the book I hoped to attract. I confess these three things were beginning to undermine my generally enthusiastic state of mind towards self-publishing. A few days ago, however, I experienced an interesting “attitude adjustment.”

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Numbers, Numbers, Numbers: To an Indie Author, what do they mean?

9,093; 2.99; 2,049; 99; 15,570; 440; 7135; 4,882, 10,281; 1517; 94; 54; 18; 89; 229; 28; 18; 5; 10.264; 539; 20,505; 1577

For a writer, supposedly dominated by my right-brain, I seem to have become obsessed with a left-brained fixation on numbers. On reflection, I think this obsession with numbers may be related to the important role marketing (or selling-depending on how you define it) plays for me as an indie author. L. J. Sellers had an interesting blog post on Publetariat the other day, where she argued that one of the reasons that self-published authors seemed more motivated to get out there and sell their books than traditionally published authors is because the “…steady income and the sales data provide a great incentive to spend time everyday blogging, tweeting, posting comments, and writing press releases.” I tend to agree. That daily Amazon count of books sold (and the fact that I saw a dip yesterday in blog hits and sales) probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am writing this blog post today!

So what are the numbers I am obsessed with and what do they mean? First, in the past fifteen months I have sold 9093 copies of my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, at a selling price of $2.99. I have sold 2049 copies of my short story, Dandy Detects, at the price of 99 cents. The combined income from the sales of my book and short story through January (don’t have February figures yet) has been $15,570. This means that I have made as much in the past year selling my writing as I was making as a semi-retired teacher. It meant that I could retire completely in January so that I could become a full-time writer, a life-long dream.

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Thanks for all the nice support

Hi,

I wanted to thank everyone who has commented on my blog in response to the last few posts I have made. I felt sort of odd about mentioning  my sales so frequently, but everyone has taken this information in the spirit in which it was offered, as information for and encouragement to those authors who are taking the indie route to publish. I love to think of all of you as a growing and supportive community,  and I have enjoyed checking out your websites and blogs in return.

I would answer you all separately, but I am really trying to be good about carving out more time to write (something you all are familiar with), so I thought I would just try to give a general shout out. However, if you ever have a specific question, do feel free to email me directly.

M. Louisa Locke