Marketing Strategy for 2016: There I go, Pivoting Again

R.D._Hubbard_and_Co._(3093755038)Apropos of one of my 2016 resolutions—to stay nimble when it comes to marketing—I have once again changed my primary marketing strategy for the first part of 2016.

In 2014, my main strategy rested on having my series of Victorian San Francisco mysteries in KDP Select and doing monthly 99 cent promotions of each book through the Kindle Countdown tool provided for books in KDP Select. With no new book out that year, this strategy did a great job at keeping the three books in my series visible and selling. Then, in the summer of 2014, when Amazon introduced the subscription service Kindle Unlimited, I found this strategy no longer served my books as well as it had.

That was when I decided to switch strategies for 2015. See Time for a Pivot: Kindle Unlimited and Marketing in 2015 for my reasons for shifting my books out of KDP Select to offer them in most major ebookstores while making the first book in the series perma-free and Pivot Post Update for details on the success of this change in strategy.

However, towards the end of 2015, I began to see two new trends in terms of my sales on Amazon. The number of downloads of my perma-free book began to slow, even with a second BookBub promotion, and the sell through rate to the other books was weaker.

I agreed with the analysis put forward by other indies that the promotional opportunities for books in Kindle Unlimited had changed the playing field, making it more difficult for independently published books not in KU to compete for visibility—at least in my categories.

The majority consensus among indies currently appears to be that the only way to fight this trend is to keep your books wide (in numerous books stores) in order to compensate for the loss of income on Amazon.

However, those authors who swear by this “going wide” strategy tend to be authors who are putting out five or more books a year—often fairly short books—and are able to use these frequent launches and the pre-order system to keep their books visible in all bookstores.

They also seem to be authors who have been successful in establishing relationships with representatives from other bookstores. I know from my own on-going experience with a representative from KDP how invaluable that kind of personal relationship with—say a rep from Apple, or Kobo, or Nook­­­––can be in getting promotional opportunities.

Yet, I noticed that a number of authors were saying (often quietly since they were usually in the minority on discussion threads) that the introduction of what was being dubbed KU2 (paying for pages read) was helping increase their Kindle income substantially…more than enough to compensate for having their books exclusive with Amazon (a condition for having a book in KDP Select—and therefore KU).

I was intrigued by this information, in part because I am lucky to get a book out every 2 years (so the frequent launches and pre-order strategy wasn’t going to work for me the way it was working for other authors who were keeping their books out of KDP Select. I also wasn’t looking forward to doing the networking I would need to do to get those special promotional opportunities that would expand my books’ visibility in non-Amazon bookstores. So, I began to think about switching strategies again.

This fall I decided that I would experiment by putting two of my books back into KDP Select (books three and four of the series) and shifting back to doing free rather than 99 cent Kindle countdown promotions of those books.

In October, with Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof back in KDP Select, I had a BookBub free promotion for Deadly Proof . The result was I made the single highest monthly income from Kindle that I have made in years. The promotion increased my sales of all the books in the series , with the total income from Kindle sales going up four-fold over the previous month. Not insignificantly, over half of that income came from the “pages read” of Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof in KU.

The very length of my books became an asset when they are borrowed through Kindle Unlimited. If a person reads the entire book, I earn nearly what I earn from an outright sale of the book, and the “borrow” boost’s the book visilibity. I found that my increase in income for these two books in KDP Select more than compensated for the income I lost by not having them in the other bookstores.

I subsequently put books one and two (Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits) back into KDP Select as well and I am having a free BookBub promotion of Uneasy Spirits January 20-22 that I hope will have a similar impact on my sales.

But this is not a permanent shift in strategies. Once Pilfered Promises, the fifth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is completed (spring or summer of 2016), I intend to shift back to having the series be available everywhere, with the first book perma free. This will permit fans of the series who do not use Kindles or the Kindle app to buy the new book (and any of the books that come before it that they haven’t bought yet).

As should be obvious by now (if you aren’t suffering from whiplash following my different pivots), I believe that when it comes to marketing there should be no hard and fast rules. What works in certain seasons, for certain books, at certain stages in the life cycle of a book can vary. And just when I think I have found what works, the publishing landscape can and will change, and my strategies change accordingly.

What stays the same is my commitment to writing the best books I can and doing the best job I can to help them get discovered by the readers I think will enjoy them.

What is the main marketing strategy you plan to purse in 2016? Is it any different than your strategies for 2015? Let me know. In sharing there is strength!

M. Louisa Locke, January 8, 2015

15 thoughts on “Marketing Strategy for 2016: There I go, Pivoting Again

  1. I jumped all in on KU last year at the time it was rolled out and was very happy I did. Like you, I roll a book out about once a year but being civil war historical fiction based on campaigns in the war, they take a long time to craft. I shifted from a perma-free to a .99 first in series and KU and had a good jump in income, doubling my first of the year total to the second half.

    My plans for this year was to double that income but focusing primarily on BookBub promotions, releasing 3 to 4 books this year (civil war murder mystery series and a general fiction series + book 5 in my civil war series) and run 3 BookBub ads. But, BB right now has rejected the first in series for a .99 promotion so far and my plans are a little up in the air at the moment for the first quarter. I’d told myself after seeing what .99 could do that I’d probably not run anything free again but I’m now re-thinking that a bit.

    KU was also a boon to my marketing choices and being all in on Amazon produced more income than I’d seen from iBooks.

    • Phil,

      I found that starting toward the end of last year BookBub started turning down my requests for 99 cent promotions (and since I had found my 99 cent promotions doing less well over the end of 2014 I wasn’t surprised.) I think what KU has done is siphon off the voracious reader who is looking for deals and new authors so they are even less likely to look at a 99 cent book when they can read a book for “free.” Once they have taken a chance on a book for free…they are willing to go on and buy others. (In fact that is my own pattern as a reader, so who am I to complain?) But I suspect that BBub’s data is revealing this, so they are reserving the 99 cent promotion for the traditional publishers (who are increasingly putting up back lists of big name authors at that price.) In short, I think you will have better success if you ask for a free promotion. Interestingly they turned down Maids for free (which had only been off perma free for awhile which might be there reason for that) but immediately accepted the second book in the series for a free promotion. I am going to put Maids up at 99 cents for 3 days before the Uneasy Spirits’ 3 free days, see if I can jump start new sales for Maids this way (this kind of tandem promotion used to work in the good old days–don’t know if it will fly this time. ) Good luck on your sales this year. And congratulations on getting those books out.

      • They had run my first free several times but took my box set for a .99 deal so that set my mind on running nothing but .99 deals but didn’t expect the continued rejections. But, means needing to be nimble in setting the priorities. I’ll have to chew on Free for books in the series now.

      • I have heard that 99 cents for Boxed Sets they will still do because the price of boxed sets are higher and this gives the reader a great discount. I think that higher the regular price, the more likely they are to give you a 99 cent promotion–which is one of the reasons why these often go to traditionally published books that are generally higher priced.

  2. My experience mirrors yours entirely. I first published in 2012 and rode a great wave until KU was introduced in July 2014. Lots of scrambling and recalibrating and enrolling have led me to put thirteen books back into KDP. Page reads is where it’s at now.

  3. Thank you for another awesome marketing post. I’ve stayed with KDP Select this entire time in part because I heard that if you switch out, there’s no guarantee you can get back in. Have you heard that, as well? I write full-length novels, so, like you, KU2 has been an incredible boon to me. My overall income jumped 50% this year because of it. Good luck. I’ll be watching your posts with interest. And I love your books.

    • Dear Mo,

      I have never heard anything about KDP Select blocking an author unless that author does something like ignore the exclusivity agreement during the 3 month contract. I am always good about checking the “do not automatically renew KDP Select” box when I know I am going to go wide, then carefully waiting until the book is no longer showing that is is in KDP Select before publishing it anywhere else. But is sounds like KDP Select is working for you right now, so that is great.

  4. Gosh, you are my role model in marketing. Like others here, historical fiction takes time to get out. Fortunately, I have finished manuscripts to polish up while I write an entirely new work. I took Tree Soldier out of Select and am giving it a try on wider platforms through Draft to Digital. I’d like to try a free with it, but I have no clue how to get the prices lowered on these other platforms. My novel which I’ll put out on Kindle this February will go straight into Select, I kept Timber Rose there and have watched reads go up. Very modest but a curious thing is happening. I was invited to be part of the launch of a Kindle World last January. I wrote two mystery novellas in 2015 and those sales have been crazy. They are affecting the sale of Timber Rose and Tree Soldier. I don’t get page reads with Tree Soldier, of course, but it’s being bought and read. I don’t’ know if that makes sense.

    • I had a perma-free through iBooks but I uploaded it direct so I would suspect that DtoD might have a different way of setting something free on a different platform.

  5. Thanks for the update! I am one of your devoted fans… hooked by getting the first book through kindle unlimited. I really appreciate the behind-the-scenes look at the book-business side of authoring.

    Thank you for well-written books, historical accuracy, and engaging characters in your Victorian San Francisco mysteries. Looking forward to the next one!

    Stevie

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