Help! How do I get people to find my book while on Smashwords?

I put my book, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, up as an ebook on Smashwords and Kindle at approximately the same time, for the same price ($4) in December 2009. In the six months since I published the book I have only sold 2 books on Smashwords, while at the same time, I have sold 120 books on Kindle. What I am trying to figure out is: why the difference and is there anything I can do about this?

A year ago on the Smashwords blog, ( Coker wrote that “Approximately 80 percent of Smashwords web site visitors arrive to Smashwords via deep links, meaning they arrive to an author page or an author’s book page…”   But today, the group I am interested in is the other 20% who are simply browsing for a book to check out, and how I can get them to check out my book.

When I first published Maids on Smashwords, that same day (while my book was one of the first books listed on the home page, I immediately sold a book and got a great review.  However, the person didn’t rate the book, which means that fairly quickly the only way you were going to find Maids of Misfortune was if you browsed by category and then checked every page under that category. This is because the main method of sorting for books that are unrated is from newest to oldest.

For example, today, under the category “mystery and detective,” Maids can be found on page 32 out of 56 pages (with 10 books per page-this means you would look at over 300 books to get to mine). If you take the next step of filtering the books to include only long books (excluding free books and those less 25,000 words), it can be found on page 26 out of 47 pages. My chances if someone looks at the category historical fiction are a little better-but only because the total number of pages for that category is 29 (26 if you just pick long books), and you would only have to page through to page 16 (or about 160 books.) In either case, with each day and each newly published book on Smashwords, the chances of someone paging through and finding my book lessens.

Here the lack of subcategories for Smashwords (for example on Kindle my book is listed under fiction–mystery–women sleuths) might explain my greater success with Kindle-since Smashwords doesn’t have any sub-categories.

Now there is the chance that the difference simply reflects the difference between the total number of people who buy books on Kindle and those who buy on Smashwords. So it might mean that 2 books sold on Smashwords are equivalent to 120 books on Kindle. (The math was too complicated for me-and Amazon too secretive–but I would love it if someone wanted to speculate on this.)

It took me awhile to focus on the problems I was having on Smashwords, but several weeks ago I did try an experiment, hoping that this would change my success rate. April 17th, I published a free short story, called Dandy Detects, that features some of the minor characters from my book, hoping that if people read this short story they would click over and check out Maids of Misfortune. I also lowered the price of the book to $2.99, hoping to make it more attractive as an impulse purchase.

I had no trouble getting people to download Dandy Detects, which I listed under the same categories as Maids of Misfortune. Dandy has been available on Smashwords for 22 days and has been downloaded 164 times. Beyond the fact that it is free (which I am sure is the main reason it has been so successful), the steady downloading of this short story is helped by the fact that when you filter by free ebook category, you only find 4 pages under “mystery-detective” category (about 40 books) and Dandy has remained on the first page all month-so remains very easy to find. And, as time goes on, and other free material is added, its successful number of downloads should keep it fairly high on the list of books under this category. It also was rated, which should help as well.

But unfortunately, this hasn’t resulted in the higher sales of my novel that I had hoped for. Well this isn’t strictly true, I did see a small jump in sample downloads of Maids of Misfortune (15 more this month), and did sell my second book (doubling my sales!) so-maybe I am just too impatient. It may be that my short story just isn’t a good enough representation of my style (or simply isn’t good enough-which since it is my first short story ever-could be quite possible) to seduce people into checking out the book.

At this point I have come to the conclusion that with Smashwords-unless you offer the book for free (or at least at a lower price point than $4) at the very start, when it shows up at the top of lists as one of the newest titles, or get a good number of early sales and high ratings, the current nature of the Smashwords filter system seems to work against your book coming to people’s attention who are just browsing categories. This feels like a catch 22, since at six months down the road, it will be very difficult to get high ratings, or become a best seller, (the other way besides being free which would get you up higher in the list), if no one finds the book while browsing.

Even if I got friends and family to buy the book now, and rate it highly, I am not sure that this would drive it up the list far enough to make a difference.

So, did I simply blow it by pricing it too high, and not working hard enough to generate those first sales and high ratings? Or am I missing something that has worked for others? I would to hear comments on this.

A side note. I was just informed this weekend that Maids of Misfortune was one of 3 finalists in the historical fiction category for the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards that are about to be announced. A nice boost to my ego (and I hope to sales down the road) as I contemplated my puzzling failure on Smashwords.

One Reply to “Help! How do I get people to find my book while on Smashwords?”

  1. Blame this on Smashwords, not necessarily anything you’re doing. The service is great, but not entirely ideal. I have my novel for free on SW and I’ve unloaded 200 or so in 6 months. At Feedbooks, where I placed the book last week, I’ve had 1700 (free) downloads.

    Not that this will help you any, but I’m not really sure why Smashwords isn’t great for casual browsers. The site sometimes runs slow and could have a better way of listing different types of books.

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