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

Looking forward to 2016

2016 Resolutions:

Spend a greater percentage of my time writing:

dreamstime_m_42093656This seems to be a common theme among fiction writers this year. For me, this means putting the writing first, being more efficient with the time I spend marketing, and continuing to use the strategy I developed last year to increase my productivity. This strategy (which consists of alternating between my historical fiction and my new science fiction series so I am writing on one series during the times when I am researching, plotting, and publishing work in the other series­) enabled me to actually double the number of words I wrote last year.

Write more but shorter blog posts:

I have neglected my blog this year. On one hand, I felt increasingly like I had nothing new to say in the rapidly evolving self-publishing/ebook environment. On the other hand, my tendency to write long posts that took a week to finish seemed a waste of precious fiction writing time. The solution I am going to try this year is to write shorter posts, with more of them addressing readers than other writers.

Read more:

Fildes_Woman_reading

During my long first career as a history professor, I would binge read fiction during my vacations (between semesters and at the start of the summer). However, since my so-called “retirement” (which in fact has turned out to be a second career), I have left little time for reading for recreation. I do read other authors’ manuscripts, and blog posts about the business, and historical monographs for research. But that is work, and I need to get back to reading just for fun. So I am going to try to read more during holidays and reserve one day a week for reading fiction for my own enjoyment.

Remain nimble when it comes to marketing:

Woman_jumping,_running_straight_high_jump_(rbm-QP301M8-1887-156a~7)I did not start my publishing career in the fall of 2009 with an established fan base, a backlist of previously published work, several manuscripts already written, or any marketing or tech experience. Once I started down the self-publishing path, I discovered that I was not a fast writer, in part because the research required for my genre was time consuming and because I was not willing to sacrifice my sleep, my wide circle of friends, or my service commitments to churn out four or five books a year (which seems to be one of the keys for financial success within self-publishing.)

What I had on the plus side was a fairly tech-savvy husband to help me master the skills needed to self-publish and a book I had worked on for three decades in a sub-genre (cozy historical mysteries) that turned out to have a large market. It also turned out that a career as a community college professor meant I knew how to tell engaging stories and had developed the analytical and organizational skills needed to market those stories.

I believe much of my subsequent success as a self-published writer has come from being willing to 1) stay in touch with changing marketing trends 2) experiment with new marketing tools 3) analyze the results of these experiments and 4) change my marketing strategies when needed.

In short, to stay nimble.

And, finally, my last resolution is to continue to be eternally grateful for the wonderful people I have met on-line over the past six years, readers and other authors alike.

I wish all of you the very best for the coming year.

M. Louisa Locke, January 1, 2016

Deadly Proof–anatomy of a book launch

DP_cover_800x1200I am proud to announce that Deadly Proof, the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series, is now available for sale (see links below).

As with the other three novels in this series, Deadly Proof finds Annie Fuller and her beau, Nate Dawson, investigating a crime that will lead them (and the reader) into an exploration of the lives of working women in the late 19th century—in this case women who held jobs in the printing industry.

If you read my last two posts on my marketing strategy for 2015, you will know that I decided to take all my full-length books out of KDP Select and upload them everywhere and make the first book perma-free. My hope was that this strategy would provide a fertile field for this newly published book. So far, my hopes have been realized.

First of all, Maids of Misfortune, the perma-free book, is still being downloaded at a nice pace, making it highly visible in the popularity lists on Amazon and on the free lists in the iBook and Barnes and Noble stores, and I can see sell-through going on. The sales of the second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, and now the third, Bloody Lessons, have been increasing each week. And now, some of these new fans of the series should be just about ready to  try this new book.

Second, while more complicated than back in the day when I only had to upload my books on Amazon, the process of uploading Deadly Proof for publication in multiple online stores was quite easy since I had recently gone through the process for my other novels and my short story collection.

In addition to KDP and CreateSpace, I used the distribution service Draft2Digital to get Deadly Proof into the Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Page Foundry bookstores and into the subscription service Scribd. I also uploaded the epub that Draft2Digital generated iinto GooglePlay, and then used Smashwords to make it available on various library channels and the subscription service Oyster.

This process was also made easier because my books are very simply formatted––no drop down caps, special fonts, or illustrations, and I start with a word document for the ebook editions and a pdf for the print edition—both generated from Scrivener. Besides making sure that I didn’t have Amazon-specific links in any of the books I was uploading elsewhere and making a few changes in the front and back matter, there wasn’t much work to change the word document from the Kindle edition to upload elsewhere.

Deadly Proof went live in less than 12 hours on KDP, Apple, Scribd, Page Foundry, and Smashwords and it took a less than 24 hours to go live on Nook and Kobo. The CreateSpace print edition took four days to go live. In short, within seven days of getting my book back from the editor–it was published everywhere.

When you consider the time between the final edit of a book and publication for traditionally published books–this is essentially going the speed of light!

And this brings me to the puzzling question of why an author would decide to only offer their books in the two or three largest online stores. Yet I read statements by authors on various author forums asking whether or not they should bother putting a book up on GoglePlay or trying to decide whether to use Smashwords or Draft2Digital–instead of using both.

While I understand and have quite frequently discussed the benefits of going exclusively with Amazon through KDP Select, what doesn’t make sense to me is not making a book available in as many on-line stores as possible when you haven’t gone the exclusive route. Even if the number of sales from a particular store are small. A sale is a sale—and each sale is potentially someone who will eventually by some of your other books.

For example, in the ten days in December that the second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, was on sale as an ebook in the Barnes and Nobel online store, I sold nine copies and made $26.73. Not an overwhelming amount of income, yet it took me less than a half an hour total to upload, preview, and publish this book through Draft2Digital so this is decent rate of hourly pay. Even if I never sold another copy of the book in this bookstore. But I did sell more copies; in January I sold 143 copies of Uneasy Spirits for the Nook, making over $400, and those sales didn’t cost me anything more in terms of time or money.

I don’t even regret the fact that my sales of Uneasy Spirits haven’t been nearly as successful on GooglePlay (I sold only eight copies of Uneasy Spirits there in January) because all I risked in putting that book up on GooglePlay was, at most, an hour of my time. And since there have been 3500 downloads of Maids of Misfortune, the perma-free book in my series, on GooglePlay, I assume that some of the people who downloaded this book will go on to buy and read Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons and, in time, Deadly Proof. This is a long game–but isn’t that one of the benefits of ebooks–that we can afford as authors to play that long game.

Finally, as part of this more organic approach to selling, I have done what you might call a slow launch of Deadly Proof. No virtual book tour, no facebook event, no expensive promotional campaign.

I had already decided not to put the book up for pre-order because I wanted to make Deadly Proof available as soon as possible after I got it back from my editor and made the final corrections. It had been a year an a half since I published Bloody Lessons, the book before Deadly Proof, and I felt I shouldn’t keep fans of the series waiting a day longer than necessary. These are the readers I am most interested in reaching at this time. And I quite frankly love getting messages from them as the buy the book and start reading.

Consequently I only announced the availability of Deadly Proof on my facebook pages, on a few mystery facebook sites, and in my newsletter (and now here on my blog). All places where I am likely to encounter people who have already read the earlier books in the series. The hope is that over the next few weeks I will get enough sales from these fans of the series so that the book will achieve some visibility in the popularity category lists on Amazon (which rewards steady sales rather than rapid spikes) and begin to garner positive reviews.

So far so good. In the five days it has been available, I have sold over 200 copies of Deadly Proof on Amazon, and 35 outside of Amazon,  it is showing up in the top 100 best seller lists in most of my main categories on Amazon, and I have 2 5-star reviews.

Once I feel I have gotten enough reviews, I will then start on the next stage of spending some money to promote the book. And meanwhile, I will be thanking my lucky stars that I am an indie author who doesn’t have to worry that if I don’t have enough sales in the first weeks of publication that this means that my book is dead in the water or that my chances of getting another book contract has been ruined.

M. Louisa Locke, February 21, 2015

Deadly Proof: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery (Book 4) is now available in the following stores.

eBook: Kindle   Nook   Apple   Kobo   GooglePlay   Scribd  Page Foundry     Smashwords   

Print: CreateSpace Store    Amazon     Barnes and Noble

Day in a Life of an Indie Author

busy_womanIn the countdown to publication of Bloody Lessons, my days are filled with the work of getting the final draft formatted, proofed, and ready to upload for both print and ebook. At the same time I am also working on lining up various promotional activities, including writing more frequently for my blog. Yesterday, as I thought about the various tasks I had to do, it occurred to me that some of you who aren’t self-published authors might find it interesting to get a glimpse into what a the day in the life of an indie author is like. You will notice that no writing (except for this blog) went on, but I did put in an 8 hour day. (And it is days like this that make it clear to me that I didn’t retire, I just launched a new career.)

5 A.M.: Woke up early and started thinking about my to-do list, which I knew was fairly formidable.

6 A.M.: Edited and published the weekly post I do for the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC) that lists what free promotions, discounts and new publications there are among the members. I am the chair of the HFAC Board of Directors and one of my primary responsibilities is coordinating our weekly post by members and putting together and publishing this weekly promotional post.

6:30 A.M.: Spent the next hour reading and responding to email (most of it from HFAC members).

7:30 A.M.: Breakfast–read some blog posts I subscribe to (I always look forward to the Business Rusch on Thursdays––and the post today was the difference between having a writing career and being a one-book writer, which seemed very timely given the day I have before me. There was also a long thread going on David Gaughran’s blog about comparing Smashwords and Draft2 Digital that I had commented on the day before, so I was getting all the rest of the comments in my email.

8:00 A.M.: Shower

8:30 A.M.: Spent the next hour compiling a PDF copy of Bloody Lessons (I finished editing the book yesterday) using Scrivner. This meant tweaking margins, getting rid of places where a chapter ended with just a few words at the top of a page. It took me 5 different test runs to get it right. Final book is 323 words for a 6 x 9 trade paperback. This is my shortest book, but it still tops 110,000 words.

10:00 A.M.: Wrote to my cover designer the total page number for the print version and attached back cover copy so she can produce the cover for upload on CreateSpace. If she gets it to me tomorrow I will upload and order a proof copy.

10:15 A.M: Consulted by phone with a writer in England over what his next step should be in his marketing (he just finished a 3 day KDP Select free promotion of his thriller Cry of the Needle.)

10:30 A.M.: filled out a questionnaire to submit to Great Escape Virtual Book Tours for a book tour for Bloody Lessons in October

11:30-1:30 Lunch and meeting with friends (only part of the day not working)

1:30 P.M.: Worked on this post and updated my website because Uneasy Spirits has just gone up on Kobo, iBooks, and Barnes and Noble stores (I used Draft2Digital this time, which was why I was interested in the thread about comparing to Smashwords.)

2:00 P.M.: Read email and more blog posts, and read the New York Times

3:00-4:30 P.M.: Saw that Maids of Misfortune had 499 reviews on Amazon and decided to go on my facebook author page and offer an Amazon gift card to the person who wrote review 500. Also assembled a list of potential reviewers for Bloody Lessons and sent out 5 email requests. (Got a winner almost immediately for the FB challenge and already received one yes from the 5 book reviewers I queried.)

4:30 P.M.: Finished up reading blog posts and worked a little more on this post

5:00-6:30 P.M. Dinner and British cop show on TV

6:30-6:45 P.M.: New email to read–HFAC has members from all over the world, so the email traffic goes on all day. I sent the winner of the 500th review a gift card and did some retweets.

9:00 P.M.: Checked my sales numbers and worked a little more on this blog post.

9:30 P.M. headed up to bed.

So, as you can see, this was a busy day. I am not complaining. While I prefer the months when a large proportion of my day is spent actually writing, without the kind of work I did today, the stories wouldn’t get out to the public, and I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of knowing how much people enjoy reading about Victorian San Francisco and Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson and the whole crew of people in the O’Farrell Street boarding house.

COUNTDOWN TO BLOODY LESSONS LAUNCH: 16 days

You can pre-order print and Kindle editions here.

Celebrating Independence Day as an Independent Author

Summerfest_2008_fireworks_7109I just wanted to note that I count the July 4, 2010 holiday as my independence day as an indie author. It was that weekend that the Kindle Nation Daily offered my newly written short story, Dandy Detects, as a featured “Kindle Short.” At this stage of the “ebook revolution” there were very few places an indie author could promote her work, and I was very grateful for the opportunity. I had published my first historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, just over 6 months earlier and I had sold 268 copies in the US Kindle store. I had made enough in sales of both the ebook and print copies to cover my costs (mostly professional covers for my novel and short story), but my sales were not nearly enough to let me quit my day-job (part-time teaching, which supplemented my retirement income.)

Then came that Kindle Short promotion over the July 4th holiday. As hoped, people who read the short story on the Kindle Nation Daily website went on to buy the novel, and over that weekend I sold over 70 copies of Maids of Misfortune (an enormous number in those days) pushing it to the top of the historical mystery bestseller list and making me a mover and a shaker on Amazon for a day. Maids stayed on the top of that list for the next year and a half, and since Amazon.com had just made the option of getting 70% royalties for books selling at $2.99 and above, I made enough money in that time to truly become an independent author, quitting my part-time teaching job to become a full-time author.

As a professional historian I am well aware of how complicated the issues are that surround the divining the “true” meaning of our nation’s independence movement, just as I am aware of the complex issues involved in defining what it means to be an independent author. But in very simplistic terms, in the past two years I have made more each year in sales than I made at the peak of my career as a community college professor (which might also indicate how much our nation values higher education–but that is another whole topic). This has given me the freedom to write what I want and to spend time helping other authors achieve independence from the traditional route to publishing. And for that, I celebrate the day.

M. Louisa Locke, July 4, 2013