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

The unexpected effect of the “perma free” strategy on my productivity

dreamstime_m_42093656In a post entitled Time for a Pivot? I detailed a shift in my marketing strategy for 2015. In 2014, all my books were in Amazon’s KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) and I used the 99 cent Kindle Countdown KDP Select tool as my primarily form of promotion. In December 2014 I took all my books off of KDP Select in order to sell them in a variety of bookstores (Apple, Nook, Kobo, GooglePlay), and for these first six months of 2015 I have been using the perma free strategy (making Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, permanently free) as my major promotional tool. I also committed to writing more short stories, getting audiobook editions out for the next two novels in my series, and writing a short story for a new science fiction collaborative project called the Paradisi Chronicles.

While the table below demonstrates that this shift in strategy worked—in terms of maintaining my monthly income—the unintended consequence and perhaps the most important positive outcome from my shift in strategies is revealed in the last row of the table. My writing productivity quadrupled.

January to June 2014          January to June 2015
1 4 books on sale all in Select 5 books not in KDP Select 1 perma free
2 Total Sales and Borrows 21,200 13,626
3 Ave per month 3,500 2,200
4 Total royalties $36,000 36,500
5 Ave per month $6000 $6000
6 Free books 10,000 129,000
7 Promotions 5 KC (including 2 BookBub) and 1 Free promotion 1 BookBub of permafree book
8 Words written 2 short stories 18,000 words Draft of novel 85,000 words

How did this happen?

First of all, let’s look at the numbers. In the first six months of 2014, I had three novels for sale as ebooks (Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons) and a boxed set of those books, with print editions for the novels, and an audible edition of Maids of Misfortune.

In the first six months of 2015, I had three novels for sale (Uneasy Sprits, Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof––the 4th book in my series), Victorian San Francisco Stories (a collection of short stories) and my boxed set. I also now had audio book editions of Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and Victorian San Francisco Stories. This meant that even with the loss of the ebook version of Maids of Misfortune as a source of paid income, I had two more ebooks available for sale and several more audio books as a source of income.

Second, while I had lost the income I was getting in 2014 from borrows from KOLL (Kindle Online Lending Library) because none of these books were in KDP Select in 2015, I had picked up sales from Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay that made up for that loss of income. For example, January thru June 2014 (before the Kindle Unlimited subscription service was started by Amazon) I averaged 370 borrows a month from KOLL — about $700 a month in income. For 2015, with none of my books making money from borrows, I made on average $1000 a month (which included sales in the Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay stores as well as the Kindle store).

Third, while I sold more books in the first six months of 2014 than in 2015 (see rows 2 & 3), a lot of those books were discounted to 99 cents as part of Kindle Countdown promotions (my main promotional tool in 2014). This explains why I was getting the same income for selling fewer books (averaging 1,300 fewer a month in 2015; see rows 3, 4 & 5). In 2015, I was giving away a lot more of copies of one title (see row 6), but I was also selling all my other titles at full price.

Which leads to the fourth and main point. Those Kindle Countdowns took time. As you can see from row 7, in 2014 I did a promotion every single month. And while this strategy produced more book sales, promotions took a lot of my time — which I could have used for writing. I had to schedule each promotion a month in advance, often with multiple promotional sites. The week the book was on sale, I engaged in daily activity on social media to further the promotions, and in order to determine the profitability of each sale, I spent additional time in record keeping to track average sales before, during, and after the sale.

While the time I spent in 2014 yielded income, it also meant that I only got two short stories written during that six-month month period (a total of only 18,000 words). In contrast, in 2015 I spent much less time on promotions. I had a one-day Book Bub promotion of my perma free book, Maids of Misfortune in January and I ran several Facebook ads for that book whenever the number of downloads per day fell. That’s all.

And the short story in the Paradisi Chronicles I said I wanted to write? It became Between Mountain and Sea, a full-length novel (85,000 words) that I wrote between February and June of this year. A much higher rate of productivity and an unexpected bonus from my shift to the perma-free strategy for my series.

So, have any of you authors noticed perma-free freeing up your writing time? If so let me know.

And for the rest of you, why don’t you go and check out Between Mountain and Sea, the fruits of my greater productivity, which is now available for pre-order. You will notice this book is in KDP Select because I am anxious to see how the new “payment by pages finished”​ process of Kindle Unlimited works. Stay tuned!

M. Louisa Locke, July 21, 2015

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

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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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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