Time for a Pivot? Kindle Unlimited and Marketing in 2015

North_Korea_-_Sonbong_school_(6146581889)Everywhere I hang out as an author, I see blog posts discussing the effect of the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (KU) on authors’ sales. For those authors just waking up to this discussion, Kindle Unlimited is the subscription service Amazon introduced in July. Subscribers pay a monthly fee and can borrow all the books they want that are in the KU library. For most books by indie authors to be part of that library, the book must be enrolled in KDP Select.

If you have ever read my blog before, you will know that I found that enrolling the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series in KDP Select was very rewarding—even though it meant accepting the terms of enrollment that prohibited me from selling my ebooks in other stores. If you are interested, click here for a list of the posts I have written on that subject.

In fact, last winter I announced that my strategy for 2014 was to keep my books in KDP Select and use the new promotional tool called the Kindle Countdown as my major form of marketing.

Which I did, quite successfully.

However, when Amazon announced the introduction of the Kindle Unlimited program, I, like many authors, was very interested in how this new program would affect my income.

Now, after using the KU program for five months, I have come to a conclusion. The overall impact of the introduction of Kindle Unlimited has been negative for my books.

As a result, I decided to remove my series novels, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and my short story collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, from KDP Select.

However, my experience may not be representative of what is happening for all authors, so I would like to share how I came to that decision. To that end I will:

1) Briefly evaluate why the strategy of keeping my books in KDP Select and using the Kindle Countdown promotional tool worked for most of 2014 (and might still work for your books.)

2) Describe what happened to my books when Kindle Unlimited was introduced.

3) Describe why I think the program had a mostly negative effect on my income.

4) List what strategies I intend on pursuing for 2015.

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Maids of Misfortune in German

German CoverNotice that Victorian woman on the cover? She looks almost exactly as I picture Annie Fuller, the main protagonist in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. Which is lovely, since this is the cover of the new German translation of Maids of Misfortune, the first book in that series. Available now for pre-order, this edition is coming out in print and ebook in exactly a month, on September 2, 2014.

So how did this happen?

As an independent author, I knew that getting my books translated into foreign languages would be more complicated than if I had a traditional publishing contract and/or agent. And, while I knew of other indie authors, like David Gaughran and Joanna Penn, who were working to find translators on their own (often using a royalty splitting agreement), or using a distributor like Babelcube, which matches up authors and translators, this seemed time-consuming and therefore was not something I put high on my “to-do” list. It was more on my “someday maybe I will do this” list.

Then I was contacted by AmazonCrossing.

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The three reasons I have fallen in love with writing short stories

stories_vol1_cover_1600x2400F-2I am the last author you would think would be writing short stories. As a writer who tends to be prolix, the short form wouldn’t seem a good match for me. I don’t write anything short––not emails, not blog posts, not books. Twitter, forget it––the most I can do is retweet those of you who are good at being succinct. I don’t even read many short stories, (except by 19th century writers like Alcott, Wharton, and James).

Yet, this spring I took time off from doing the research for Deadly Proof, the next book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, to write my third and fourth short stories, which are now part of a collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, that I just published on Kindle, and I have every intention of putting out more short stories in the coming year.

So what happened?

Dandy Detects, my first short story happened. Three months after the publication of my first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, I started to write a short story about the Boston terrier I had introduced in the book. I had read that publishing an inexpensive short story was a good way of introducing potential readers to your work, so my reason was completely pragmatic. Maids of Misfortune was selling less than one ebook a day, and I wanted to feel like I was doing something to help gain it some visibility. I was only producing about two blog posts a month (remember my tendency to be long-winded), and writing a short story and putting it up on Kindle seemed like manageable activity.

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Summer Kickoff: Update and Uneasy Spirits Sale

Uneasy_Spirits_800x1200_72dpiIt has been 3 months since I wrote a substantive blog post. So you might be wondering, what have I been doing? The answer is simple, I actually started taking some of my own advice, and I have been concentrating on writing and getting more work out there and available rather than spending so much time marketing or giving everyone else advice. Did you miss me?

Mostly, I have been writing short stories for my Victorian San Francisco series. If you want to see my most recent one, Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong, you can buy it for 99 cents here. The story I have almost completed, Madam Sibyl’s First Client, is going to be available for free in June for a limited time to those who have signed up for my newsletter. Additionally, I am working on bringing my short stories together as a collection with an extended historical essay. This way I can make them available at a reasonable cost in print for those who prefer this method of delivery.

I have also been collaborating with my new narrator, Alexander Haag, on getting my short stories out as audio books. If you sign up for the great new audiobook promotional site AudaVoxx, you will get a chance to win audiobook versions of Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong in the coming months.

Finally, I have been doing the research and prep work for Deadly Proof, the fourth book in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, which features women in the printing industry. I hope it will be out in early 2015.

I haven’t stopped marketing altogether (after all, this whole blog could be called marketing.) But I have accepted that for my books the wild west days of huge sales bumps after a free promotion are over. I still think a well-planned (and advertised) free promotion can be an excellent tool for a relatively unknown author who wishes to get their work visible and to obtain enough reviews to convince readers to give their books a try.

However, my novels already have more reviews than I ever thought possible, I am evidently not so much of an unknown any longer, and free promotions aren’t giving my books enough of a sales bump to justify high promotional costs in time and money. In addition, with only 3 books in my series, the perma-free or discounted approach for the first book in the series doesn’t make sense. Maybe some day, after book 4 or 5?

But as I have written here before, I have found that doing a monthly 99 cent Kindle Countdown on one of my novels generates enough income to supplement the recent anemic sales of those books at full price. In addition, these monthly promotions keep the books visible enough in the main sub-categories so that those sales don’t disappear altogether.

Scheduling the promotions takes about 5 minutes (and the price drop goes down automatically so I don’t have to worry about spacing out and forgetting to do the price change.) Most of the work in getting promotional support takes about two hours a month before the promotion begins (applying for promotional ads) and about 15 minutes each day of the promotion (doing tweets and facebook announcements). In short, none of this takes away too much time from my writing.

For those of you who don’t want to put your books in KDP Select or haven’t found your books sell well on a Kindle Countdown, I would hope that you are pursuing the alternative strategy of getting your books into as many bookstores (physical and internet) and libraries (as print or ebooks.) This way, even if your sales are anemic in one venue, the total sales over all the venues should add up (particularly if you do a promotion.)

Meanwhile, I am kicking off the summer holidays with another Kindle Countdown. This time, Uneasy Spirits, the second book in my Victorian San Francisco series, will be 99 cents between Sunday May 25 and Saturday May 31 in the US Kindle Store and the UK Kindle Store.

Cheers!

M. Louisa Locke, May 25, 2014

Is Kindle Countdown the new Free? Keeping books visible in 2014

Rory_sketch_-_confusedFor 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.

C.  Compare the Kindle Countdown promotions to Free promotions.

D.  Assess whether or not Kindle Countdown promotions can replace free-book promotions as my primary promotional strategy for 2014.

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