As I mentioned in my previous post, I offered one of my books, “Muscle for Hire” for free on Amazon for five days. It was an interesting experiment. The results were as follows:
A staggering 8,104 people in the US downloaded the free book.
91 people from the UK.
7 people from Germany.
And one solitary hapless reader in France took a chance on the book.
The only marketing I did was to announce on Facebook that the book was being offered for free. The book reached 26th in the Amazon top 100 free books. Actually I think it must have got higher than that because when I checked its ranking downloads had already started to drop off.
An interesting result, though, was that once the free book bonanza was over and the book returned to its usual price, $2.99, sales of the book increased from what they had been before. One thing that accounts for that is that if you manage to reach a decent ranking in the “free” category, it affects your salability in the “paid”category. Presumably the book turned up on more “people who bought this book also bought…” notices, and other Amazon marketing strategies like bundling books together for a lower price. However it happened, people started buying the book. Incidentally, sales of one of my other books went up as well. This I attribute to the fact that I included a free bonus chapter of “The Blood Menagerie” at the end of “Muscle for Hire”.
Another strategy I’m exploring is lowering the price of all my books to 99 cents for a time. The way Amazon’s royalties work is that if a book is priced at $2.99 or above, the author gets 70% of the sale price. Anything lower than that and the author gets only 35%. 99 cents is the lowest sale price that Amazon will allow. A quick calculation show that I would need to sell six times as many books at 99 cents to earn the same royalty as selling one for $2.99. On the other hand, people are more likely to buy a 99-cent book than they are to buy one at $2.99. That’s the theory anyway. Every potential buyer is different and has different things they are looking for when buying a book, so there are no guarantees as to what the best pricing strategy is. However, if I’m more likely to sell more lower-priced books then that will have a beneficial effect on my ranking in the “paid” category, which in turn makes my books more visible to potential buyers. There is an interesting article here on how some authors, Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath included, are succeeding by using these types of strategies.
One of the other things I did was to smarten up my book covers and change some of the book blurbs. I think this helped sell some of the books too. After all no one will download a book that looks bad and sounds awful, even if it is free.
For the moment I will continue to experiment and see whether it has any affect on sales, ranking or visibility.
I finished writing my fifth novel – the Art Forgery Novel (working title) – just before going on vacation to Scotland. The book came to about 72k words, which is about average for one of my books – or at least has been so far. It was a relief to get it written after so many years. The manuscript has been hanging around in the background since 2005. What remains now is my going over it and editing it into shape. This might involve some rewriting but, on the whole, I am very pleased with the way it has turned out.
I also enrolled my other books in Kindle Digital Publishing’s Select scheme which allows me to run promotions on them by making them free for up to five days. At time of writing, about 150 readers from the US and 25 from the UK had downloaded “Muscle for Hire” from Amazon for free. The idea, of course, is to stimulate interest in the novels, so that customers who read the free book will then go on to read my other books. There is also the vain hope that more people will write reviews of the thing. Actually there are two reviews of Muscle for Hire online at Amazon, both of which are great, so there is room for hope of others.
Both of the above activities – the marketing and the writing – are just a couple of the things that make the whole enterprise of being a writer interesting. One of the main advantages of publishing independently is that you have more control over the process, from the writing of the book to its eventual sale. One of the other big advantages is that royalties for independently published works are always higher that you would get publishing through the more traditional route.
According to reliable sources, the chief elements in whether or not a book will sell once its published come down to these four:
The cover – it has to look professional. I’ve been experimenting with different covers to see whether sales are affected.
The description – it’s one of the things that potential buyers will most look at.
The price – too high and nobody will buy it; too low and earnings will be too paltry to make any difference.
The quality – this comes down to not just how well the book is written but how well it is edited and formatted.
Strangely, marketing is not listed by these reliable sources since there are copious examples of writers who became bestsellers with zero effort put into marketing. That said, could a case be made for “luck” being a factor? I don’t know. There are very few if any reliable statistics show decisively what are the main factors in selling books. Similarly, the number of books you have published will obviously be an element in how much cash you can hope to glean from sales.
For now, I’ll continue to experiment with various factors to see if any of them seem to affect sales. I’ll keep you posted… eventually.
I am in the middle of writing a novel I started ten years ago. I started it, then left it to pursue other projects. Then I started it again, and drifted away to other books. Now I’m back. The book is about an art heist that takes place in Milan, Italy and it is fun writing it and I hope it will be fun reading it. A lot of the local color I gleaned from working over there for a bank. I have memories of fancy restaurants, ancient architecture and working my butt off 12-14 hours a day! So I have an almost magisterial amount of authority when it comes to the rigors of surviving Milan!
For the book, I had to do a lot of research into quite a number of different areas: art pricing, art forgery, art history, safecracking, weapons, state-of-the-art security and a whole host of other background detail.
This is not the sort of novel you can just begin and go with the flow, wondering where it will take you and so far it’s taken meticulous planning (just as, I expect, a real heist would!). When I looked at the synopsis, I found that it was around 7,000 words in length – mostly because I included a whole bunch of reminders on background detail for myself as I went along. However, I’ve tried to write it in such a way that it I’m not hide-bound by the planning but instead make it sound at least believable and compelling.
I was talking with my friend Mike Faricy recently. He too is a novelist and he has taken the opposite approach with his novels. He sits down and begins to write and is constantly pleasantly surprised by plot turns and character development, which, of course, makes it fun to write. His novels are also fun to read, so it’s obviously a perfectly valid way of approaching novel writing – in fact I’ve used that approach with other novels I’ve written.
So the question is: when do you do meticulous planning and when do you go with the flow?
So rather than blog for blogging’s sake, I’ll blog for no reason at all.
What have I been working on recently? Well I published a book of poems recently through CreateSpace. It was a collection of poems covering the last eight years or so. Some of them were written when I was working for Barclays Bank headquarters in London, England as a computer auditor. London was an exciting city to work in and one of the things that made it doubly interesting was that I worked in the heart of the city – the part of London that has been there since Roman times. So there was a lot to see throughout the course of a working day. Some of that leaks into the poetry. Some of the desperate “busyness” of the financial district also creeps in and I have a somewhat cynical take on it.
When I was in London I traveled regularly to Milan, Italy on business and a batch of the poems are set there, again in the financial district of the city but totally different in nature from London. Milan is like London in one respect, though: being there is like stepping back in time several centuries. Ancient buildings and ruins, monuments, historic sites are all around, but treated by the workers as just part of the scenery.
Others of the poems were written – by remarkable contrast – in Drummore, a tiny fishing village on the west coast of Scotland. We lived there for four years and the poems tend to be more pastoral in nature. It’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of a cow’s udder for example – writing about, it that is. But part of the joy of living in the back of beyond was the agricultural cycle: the harvest, lambing season in spring, plowing, sowing and so on. All grist to the poet’s mill. The one challenge was to say something new about it that hadn’t been said before – or at least say something old in a new way.
And lastly, there are poems from the last four years, which we have spent in St. Paul, Minnesota. Some of these deal with the inevitable culture shock of living in a strange culture – although, much of it tends to be generic ‘western’ culture now. In particular, a batch of the poems were written during last winter which was unusually cold and snowy. It was the first year that I had to actually get out there and shovel snow myself. So I know what I’m talking about at least when I mention snow. They say that eskimos have scores of words for snow depending on what type it is. After spending the winter in Minnesota, I only had one word for it – but, hey, this is a family show.
The book can be found here.