Pivot Post Update

550px-Balloons-aj.svgThis  report on how my plans for marketing in 2015 are working can be summed up in one word: Super. But for those who are interested––here is a little more detail.

Recap of Strategic Goals:

Recognizing that the Kindle Unlimited subscription service on Amazon was undermining the effectiveness of the Kindle Countdown 99 cent promotions for my books, I decided to:

  • take my 3 full-length novels in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series (Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons) and my short story collection (Victorian San Francisco Stories) out of KDP Select
  • upload these 4 books into other bookstores
  • make the first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, perma-free
  • advertise Maids of Misfortune as free through a BookBub promotion.

By the middle of January I accomplished all of these goals.

  • I uploaded my 4 books to Apple, Nook, Kobo, Page Foundry, and Scribd through Draft2Digital (a simple process of uploading a word document), used the epub that D2D nicely gives you to upload to GooglePlay, and stripped my word document down to upload it to Smashwords to distribute to several library affiliates and Oyster.
  • Within 3 days of Maids of Misfortune showing up free in other bookstores, Amazon price matched, and it was now free everywhere.
  • January 11, 2015 I had a BookBub promotion of Maids of Misfortune.

Reported Outcome:

There has been a dramatic improvement in my sales and therefore my income.

November 2014 December 2014 January 1-24 2015
Amazon:
Total Book Sales
(not borrows)
213*         283*            978*
Other Bookstores:
Total Sales
0           24             354
Amazon:
Free Downloads
0        5018         67,643
Other Bookstores:
Free Downloads**
0          390         13,599

* this figure also includes Audible sales and the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Boxed Set (Books 1-3) that are only sold through Amazon.
** These figures just show downloads from Apple, Page Foundry, and Smashwords

As you can see, even before the BookBub promotion in mid-January, making Maids of Misfortune free had begun to give the other books a boost on and off of Amazon, but the BookBub promotion was what really made a difference in my sales.

Two weeks after that promotion, Maids of Misfortune was still listed in the top 100 Free books on Kindle, ranked #5 on the Nook’s Free list, and #27 in Free mysteries on Apple. In addition, there have been a nice increase in positive reviews for this book on Nook, Apple, and Amazon.

During these two post-promotion weeks, the increase in sales of the other books in the series demonstrates that people who downloaded Maids for free are going on to buy the next books.

For example, on Amazon the average number of copies sold of Uneasy Spirits (Book 2) went from 1.5 a day in November, to 2 a day in January before the BookBub promotion, to 13 a day in the two weeks since the promotion. The average number of sales of Bloody Lessons (Book 3) has gone from 2.2 a day in November, to 2.8 a day in January before the promotion, to 11 a day in the post promotion period.

In mid February, the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Deadly Proof, will be out, and I can now anticipate that a good number of the people who have made their way through books 1-3 will be ready to buy it, helping with the launch. For example, I have had 36 new subscribers to my newsletter since the promotion.

I don’t know how long Maids of Misfortune will stay visible or what the conversion rate from free downloads of this book to subsequent sales of the rest of my books will be, but I have always believed that my job as author is to give my work the best possible chances to be discovered, and then let the work itself do the rest. This new strategy for 2015 seems to be working to achieve that goal.

Implications for Other Authors:

Will it work for everyone? Probably not. The whole perma-free strategy works best with series. And one of the reasons I hadn’t tried this approach before is that with only 3 books in the series, the long-term loss of sales of one of those books seemed too risky—particularly when short-term discount promotions were working for me. The eminent publication of a fourth book in the series made the shift less risky.

While I was achieving some success in downloads and sales before the BookBub promotion, the effect was limited. So I know that one of the reasons for my success was getting the Bookbub promotion. I am always good about filling out their post promotion surveys––not just so that they have the data to judge when I next apply––but also because I hope this will make them more likely to accept other authors with similar books following similar marketing strategies.

My series also has wide market appeal. Within the mystery category, the books fit in the cozy, historical, and women sleuth sub-genres, and they also fit in straight historical fiction and historical romance categories. This has helped keep Maids of Misfortune visible longer after the BookBub promotion ended.

This in turn has helped the book achieve visibility on the popularity lists (which is what shows up when you browse in kindle store on your devise). Because of the current algorithms, which seem factor in price, it is very difficult for free books to rise to the top of the popularity lists. For example, currently Maids of Misfortune is #60 on the mystery popularity list—yet there are only 3 other free books on the top 100 of this list. So, even with a successful BookBub promotion—continued long-term visibility for a book is not something that many authors can count on.

Conclusion:

Once again, I have found that by paying attention to the data on my own sales, reading about other authors’ experiences, and being willing to experiment, I have been able to keep my books visible and selling–something I know is a direct outcome of the opportunities available to indie authors during the rapidly changing publishing and marketing environment.

As usual, I love to hear what strategies are working for other authors.

M. Louisa Locke, January 27, 2015

31 thoughts on “Pivot Post Update

  1. Thanks so much for your post. I’ve been toying with the idea of making one of my books perma-free. I’ve heard several authors say they’ve done well using it as a marketing tool.

  2. Reblogged this on Diana Douglas and commented:
    M. Louisa Locke’s Victorian San Francisco Mystery series had me hooked from the beginning, but her success is due to more than just her talent as a writer. She’s graciously shared her 2015 marketing plan with us. We can learn a lot from this dynamic self-publisher.

    • Dear Diane,

      I am glad the information has been useful. I have watched the success of other authors who have used perms-free for years, and I am actually sort of glad that KU’s effect on my sales gave me the kick in the pants I needed to give it a try. So far so good!

      Mary Louisa

  3. Hurray! You are back on Nook. Best of good wishes to you. I expect to find you on the NY Times Best one of these days. I bought Bloody Lessons on paper because I couldn’t get it on e-book. Now I will add Bloody Lessons to my Nook. I look forward to your next book.

    I wrote to you after reading Maids of Misfortune to tell you I appreciated reading about young women who worked as maids. My grandmother left home at an early age and was hired by a wealthy family as a maid. I had no idea what her life was like during those years. Your book made me appreciate my grandmother more and I had always loved her and thought she could do anything.

    Barbara Harvey

  4. I wonder if there is a way to adapt this for an author who doesn’t have a series. I’m talking about me who has one historical fiction novel set in 19th century China, one Thriller set in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and a memoir that focuses on one year of teaching.

    Maybe I should start planing on writing a series after my next book comes out. :o)

    • Dear Lloyd,
      I think that having a book perma free could get you “fans” who would then buy some of your other books–but I suspect that the carry through isn’t nearly as direct. And I think that it isn’t just the lack of a series, but total content. I think of it as a pyramid. The free book is the broad base, but with each step up the ladder (readers finishes one book, had the choice to go on and buy another) you are going to lose people. They didn’t like the second book as much as the first, they felt saturated and think they will read the others later, but forget, etc. But a core group who really like your books and are the ones who want to read right through to find out what happens next (or just want to read all your stuff-if stand alones) will go on. And even if their number is small–if you have lots of books for them to read it will eventually add up.

      This is where writing more books, even several series, can over time make a real difference in total income. My problem has been that my books come out at more like 2 year intervals (this one 18 mos), and I am hoping that by starting a non-historical series–in this case science fiction–that I can be writing during the longer process of researching for the next historical–that I can both increase my productivity, but also have a second series I can eventually do a perma free loss leader. If this strategy still works by that time!🙂

      • I agree and that’s why recently, I set a goal to publish more books, and my next book is on its way back from the copy editor. As soon as I revise from that edit, I’ll publish and then move on to the next book. I think more is better too.

  5. Louisa! You are dead on. I am very new to indie publishing. 18 months with only six titles, all full-length stand alone novels. As soon as KU did a number on my royalties, I re-titled and recovered 3 stand alone novels as a collection. One title I did not put into KDP Select. The other two are coming out of KDP Select at the end of their cycles. Your strategy is keen. I am not tech savvy, but I can hire that. By mid 2015, I hope to have those three titles on all sales venues. I am stepping up my game. I am also paying attention to my paperbacks and have scheduled a series of book signings to expand my reading audience. Many indie authors cannot seem to grab a slot on Bookbub. I have. And I agree with you a Bookbub is critical for exposure. I am so very appreciative of this post. It confirms for me I am not alone in the direction I hope to take my books. Best to you and yours in all of 2015.
    Cordially,
    Jackie Weger
    No Perfect Secret

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  7. A bit late to the party! I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few days😀

    I’ve been a fan of the blog since I discovered your first post on keywords and categories and I’ve always followed your predictions and marketing plans closely😀

    A lot of it must have stuck as I adopted pretty much the same marketing strategy in January (although the whole affair was several months in the making)😀

    I was only ever in Select for a brief period in 2012 and 2013 to try the Select Free Days and Kindle Countdown and have otherwise distributed to all other platforms via Smashwords. Last autumn, I uploaded my novels directly to Apple, Nook, and Kobo. I upload my short stories directly to Apple but distribute to Nook and Kobo via Smashwords as they give a higher royalty for $0.99 stories.

    I did not start to gain traction on those platforms (and Amazon) until I made the first book in my series permafree last November and finally landed a Bookbub ad on 29 January. Like you, I also waited until I had 3 novels out and 1 short story to make the first book permafree. Incidentally, I started the permafree strategy by uploading the book to Wattpad, one chapter per week from last summer. Once it was fully uploaded, I made it permafree everywhere. I probably had a handful of sales from the Wattpad.

    There was also another promo push organized on 30 January with other free sites. This was organized before I got accepted by Bookbub and I would ideally have liked to have spaced the two promo campaigns by 1 week.

    So far, the strategy has delivered beyond my expectations. I’m currently at 35k downloads, have sold 170 books, have 9 new reviews on Amazon, 7 ratings on Kobo, and new ratings on Goodreads. The book remains No. 1 and 2 in its categories on Amazon US and Top 100 in the Free Kindle Store. I had 215 newsletter subscribers prior to the 29 January. I’ve nearly doubled that now.

    Another part of my overall marketing strategy which I had been planning and building up to for the last few months with the help of my part-time author assistant (yes I have one and she’s fab! :D) was increasing my production schedule. I will be releasing one short story at the end of every month from January to May-June this year, as well as a novel in May-June. This will obviously increase the number of products on my “virtual shelf” and will help with future marketing strategies in the next 6 months.

    I’ve also finally uploaded the first 3 novels to ACX. I was waiting until after the Bookbub ad to approach narrators since the book was likely to be more visible on the Kindle Bestseller lists. So audiobooks are definitely part of the strategy this year.

    The next challenge is translations. This is going to be the hardest one to crack I think.

    I may also join Payhip and start selling directly from my platform. They handle all the EU VAT mess and appear a better alternative than Selz at present from that respect. But Selz do have a cuter platform😀

    I’m also on Booktrack and have been very pleased with how well my first two novels are doing on there. Booktracks are currently free but the company will start selling in the next 3-4 months. Booktracks are not going to be to everyone’s taste but I think they will be a hit with the younger generations. They are also yet another way of monetizing your book and I have high hopes for the platform. Word of caution though: they take a lot of time to make. From the chapters I’ve done so far, I will have to dedicate about 3-4 weeks to fully Booktrack a novel. But then again, I am a perfectionist and some people might be able to do a Booktrack faster.

    • Thanks for the long comment–lots of interesting ideas — I love to see the variety of ways we have out there to get our books discovered. But boy have you been busy! I would love to hear more about BookTrack. Not clear about the concept. Do you create background music to go along with the books? I have thought about doing Wattpad–particularly for work I plan to do this year in science fiction genre. Seems like a younger target audience.🙂

      Mary Louisa

      • Lindsay Buroker had an excellent post on her blog with author David Alastair Hayden about Wattpad which got me doing what I did.

        http://www.lindsayburoker.com/guest-posts/how-to-win-followers-and-influence-readers-on-wattpad/

        I have never written new stuff on Wattpad, just uploaded my first novel so far. It very much feels like a young audience and I’ve received a few emails and messages from young writers asking for advice/guidance about publishing or their WIP, which I’ve replied to (made me blush to be approached!). I had nothing to lose trying Wattpad so I did. I haven’t engaged with the platform as much as I had hoped I would.

        I first heard of Booktrack on Hugh Howey’s blog around Feb-March 2014. I looked at it then but decided I wouldn’t explore it until 2015 (also known as my year of direct sales/audiobooks/translations!). I was then approached by Booktrack via email to upload my novels onto their platform. Note: you don’t have to be approached by them to do this, anyone can create an account and upload their work! I was flattered to say the least and looked into it in more detail. Because I love my music and I’m a big movie fan, I fell in love with the platform. They have great video tutorials on how to use it and the rest is just learning by practice. They advise you upload a chapter at a time. If you want to do a whole novel in one go, you will have to wait until you’ve finished it before you can release it.

        What Booktrack gives you is a massive library of music, ambience, and sound effects to choose from. What you do is upload a chapter, then you can select sections of prose to which you can apply specific music (all their music can be used free of copyright and they have an amazing selection), ambience (like rain, thunder, lightning, a restaurant atmosphere, a jungle atmosphere, scary/eerie atmosphere), and then sound effects (footsteps, gunshots, explosions, cars speeding, you name it, they probably have it!). Learning what volume and fade in/fade out to use comes with practice. And you can also upload your own sound effects or music or ambience if you can create that kind of thing.

        http://www.booktrack.com/#!/

        Hugh’s novel remains “Sand” remains the most popular Booktrack on there at the moment, with little ole me at number 2 and 5 (I’m in good company with JF Penn and DC Grant!). You’ll notice most of these novels are incomplete. Most of the completed ones are have been uploaded by Booktrack staff.

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  9. Did you get any reads from Scribd or Oyster? There’s been some speculation those services favor traditionally published works in their search engines. Don’t know if it’s true but I’d be curious if you got any reads/income from them.

    • I have had one sale from Scribd show up, none from Oyster, but I don’t know if the latter is because SW is so slow to show sales from its distributers. So far my larges number of actual sales are from B/N, followed by Apple, then distant third Kobo.

      Mary Louisa

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  12. Dear Mary Louisa,

    Thanks so much for posting your in-depth analyses on your Indie publishing strategies (and results). It’s very generous.

    Quick question: You say that Amazon price-matched MoM (to free) after you went live on the other online retailers. ***Q: Did you have to proactively do something with Amazon for that to happen, or did it happen automatically in some way? Thanks for feedback.

    • Dear Harald,

      I contacted KDP, which is what is recommend if having friends go and register that there is a lower price elsewhere (there is a place to do this on a book’s product page)doesn’t work. Sometimes this happens quickly sometimes it doesn’t.

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