Saturday, March 30, 2013

Data From the Month of March's Book Marketing Experiments

As promised, I have collected the sales data for the month of March to share with any reader following my experiments based on pricing. To be honest, I am a bit surprised by some of the results and encouraged by others.

To start with, I will never put five Kindle ebooks on sale for .99 cents at the same time again. Ouch! What was I thinking? I was thinking I was going to boost their sales rank and the lose in net revenue this month would be made up in future months due to increased sales from improved Amazon Sales Rankings and Amazon Search Results.

The results? Mixed and I managed to "lose" several hundred dollars in net revenue. Live and learn. The information has helped me to understand pricing for my Kindle books a bit better, I just need to let go of the money for this month.

First, the bad results. I lowered the price of my all time best selling Kindle book to .99 cents. The result in terms of improved sales ranking, search results and total sales? Nothing. I sold the exact same number of copies of this book as I did last month when the price was $5.99. So I cheated myself out of several hundred dollars.

The sales rankings and search results went up and down just a bit, but at the end of the month, were nearly identical as the previous three months results.

Content, not price, must be the motivating factor for individuals who buy this title. Perhaps more 5-star reviews will propel some more sales. I guess this information is good to know, particularly in deciding what types of books to write in the future. This particular title was particularly labor intensive and time consuming, but has earned a lot of money so perhaps something similar needs to be added to the list of works planned.

Two of the Kindle titles made a huge jump in sales with the resulting desired improvement in both Amazon Sales Ranking and Amazon Search Results. I had raised the price of these two titles from $2.99 to $4.99 and their sales had plummeted. Obviously I had overpriced these two books. The price has been returned to $2.99.

Another of the titles increased in total sales by a grand total of three copies. Amazon Sales Ranking and Amazon Search results stayed consistent. The original price for this title must have been right on the money.

The final copy actually saw a dramatic decrease in sales, making me wonder if the low price discouraged potential buyers. The original price was $2.99. Two dollars is not a big difference but did the difference make potential buyers think the .99 priced edition was a junk book? The Amazon Sales Rankings and Amazon Search Results for this book dropped and it will take effort on my part to rebuild the books results.

The return of my e-newsletter seemed to make a positive impact as sales picked up with a day of the delayed edition reaching the individuals on my list.

The five day Free give away of a book netted 110 free downloads and 1 borrow. I sold two POD copies, the normal average for POD for this title, and nothing else. The Amazon Search Results for this title improved by several pages, but still no actual sales. The content in this book is excellent so it is puzzling as to what I am doing wrong in marketing the book. I am starting to think the title I came up with is the problem.

I learned three very valuable pieces of information this month that I want to share with the readers of this blog.

My newsletter is the most successful marketing tool I have. I must create some "spare" newsletters I can schedule for release if for some reason I cannot write the newsletter for that week.
Pricing does in fact play a role in sales.
While I am annoyed at the money I missed on the one book, I did learn experimenting with pricing is essential. I'll just have to get over it.

I hope this is blog post encourages the authors who read my blog to engage in some experimentation and research of your own.

Get the data.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Experimenting With KDP Select, Amazon .99 Cent Sales and Other Marketing Tools - Get the Data

I teach history in my "real job." I teach two elective classes to high schoolers on military history, the History of WW II and History of the Vietnam Conflict. Both classes are always full, which I guess is a good thing.

In my Vietnam class I show the controversial documentary The Fog of War which features the lessons Robert McNamara learned as Secretary of Defense during the bulk of the LBJ phase of the conflict. You don't have to like McNamara to agree with one of the 11 points he claims to have learned during his time as SecDef: Get the Data.

I have been keeping exact records of my sales for three years. I track sales by title for the month, the year and the platform by which the book is published (POD paperback, ebook) and by which distributor (Amazon, B and N, Kobo, etc.). It takes some time to collect all of that data.

When I am engaged in an "experiment" I also track and record all of that data on a daily and weekly basis.

Initially it was very hard to make heads or tails out of anything. Since I am a one man shop, I need to spend what time I have wisely. I need to spend the bulk of my time writing more books. I also need to spend a lot of time marketing my books effectively.

So far I have learned a few things for certain:
  • Some of my sales have been due to old fashioned luck.
  • Some of my sales, particularly months with large sales, were due to being one of the few authors in that niche when the ereader, particularly the Kindle, became popular.
  • A great deal of time I spent on marketing, particular on Facebook and Twitter, was not time well spent - for me. I am not going to tell any other author who self-publishes to use, or not use social media to sell books.
  • Amazon sales rank has a lot to do with sales. The higher your book comes up in the search results, the more sales you will have.
  • Amazon is making it much harder to "game" the search results.
  • Reviews really matter. Negative reviews that is. If you have four reviews and two are 1 star reviews, that book is dead in its tracks. Since my books are about coaching, and I have made a couple of enemies by consistently beating the crap out of them over the years, a couple of these guys have retaliated with negative reviews. Amazon won't remove the reviews. So, now I have to invest money, time and effort in attempts to overcome the negative reviews by generating positive reviews in sufficient number to negate the negative reviews.

What else have I learned?
  • The more books you have available for sale, the better chances you have of earning money each month. You aren't tied to one book doing well. Sell a few copies of every title and it adds up.
  • I have wasted a lot of valuable time marketing my books in ways that were inefficient, ineffective or both.
  • What used to work, might not always work. You have to be vigilant and adapt.
  • Finally, you have to get the data.

Shoulder surgery and a surprise discovery!

I had to have my right shoulder surgically repaired. Rebuilt might be a better description. I did not know how hard it is to type with just your left hand when you are right handed (my right arm is currently strapped across my chest to immobilize the shoulder).

As a result of the surgery, I have made a very valuable, and painful lesson about marketing.  I publish for free a weekly eNewsletter from mid-September through the end of April. The rest of the year the newsletter is sent out about every three weeks. I have just under 5,000 individuals on the list.

Due to the surgery and everything else going on I suspended publication of the newsletter for two weeks. I told the individuals why and when the newsletter should resume.

During the past two weeks, sales have come to an almost complete stop. Even with my .99 cent sale going on, my Kindle sales have been nada, zilch, zero.

It could be a coincidence, but I doubt it. But tomorrow, the newsletter will resume its regular weekly publication. I hope sales resume as well tomorrow!

I don't recommend shoulder surgery as a way to test your marketing efforts. But I do strongly suggest you "get the data."

In addition to my sales data for my books, I started tracking the open rate of my e-mail list. What subject headings get the best results, what day of the week works the best and I have even collected data on the time of the day the e-mail was sent.

When comparing my sales on a graph on a weekly basis with the open rate of my newsletter, there is a discernible similarity. Proof it would seem the best marketing tool I have is my newsletter!

While I will certainly experiment with KDP Select and various pricing strategies, I plan to devote the bulk of my "marketing effort" in growing my e-mail list and improving my open rate. I will also experiment with promotions in my newsletter to test my theory about the effectiveness of my newsletter as a marketing tool.

While results will vary, I am sure, from author to author, experiment with your marketing and pricing strategies. Just make sure you GET THE DATA!

It is the only way to determine what efforts and factors will drive your book sales!

Oh, and at the end of this month I will give the final results of my experiments this month and if anything more definitive comes about.

For more information about using KDP Select and other promotions, here is a fantastic post on the subject by M. Louisa Locke.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Amazon and Now Apple Looking at Re-selling eBooks

This is an issue that is going to be here to stay. First Amazon and now Apple are moving towards establishing the ability to re-sell ebooks.

Here is a very interesting article about the topic by David Pogue.  This link will take you to the article that Mr. Pogue refers to.

As a self-published author I am not a real fan of ebooks being resold. Paperbacks are established in the resale market. I also make a lot more money on the sale of a paperback copy compared to what I earn on an ebook.

Of course, Amazon and Apple don't care about my tiny self-publishing empire and there is no reason for them to do so.

Logic says having one of my ebooks resold is like a free copy I give away. If the buyer of the used copy likes it, he/she may purchase some of my other books. I just don't feel so sure about this idea.

Perhaps it is just I am growing weary of the constant upheaval due to the blinding pace of the digital world and how quickly the technology changes.

At any rate, this is probably going to happen. Self-publishers will need to be ready when it does as it will impact each of us differently, but it will impact us in some way.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kindle Select Marketing Experiment Update

My 5-day experiment with KDP Select has ended. I gave away for free, for five days, the Kindle edition of Fine Tuning Your Three-Point Attack. 110 readers took advantage of the offer. I "think" these results were good as the title climbed quickly to the Number One position in Amazon's Top 100 Free Kindle results for basketball. I wish more readers had taken advantage of the offer and it was not until after my free give away period started that I learned of and, services that help authors and publishers promote ebooks.

Why did I select this title for my experiment in giving away a Kindle book for free? It has great content and this is not just my opinion either. While the book only has 4 5-star reviews, the coaches who read the advance copies to generate feedback and blurbs loved it. I have gotten e-mails from coaches asking questions based on the content of the book who loved it.

But the book simply has not been selling. As a result, it has declined steadily in Amazon Sales Rankings to the point where I was not selling any copies, either POD or Kindle. As of this afternoon, with the book once again on sale at its normal price, it has risen to 74th out of 1,600+ titles in its category.

Still not on the first page of results, but I take the second page any day over where the book was showing up (somewhere past page 20 in the results).

Hopefully a good number of those 110 readers who take advantage of the free copy will write a few good reviews, say some nice things to other coaches and come back to buy copies of my other books.

Time will tell if the experiment to boost the book's rankings in the search results will result in more sales of the title. I have no way to measure if this free giveaway  results in sales of my other books.

My next experiment has been to drop the price of five Kindle editions to .99 cents for each title. I will be promoting this in my weekly eNewsletter to just over 3,500 coaches. I am interested to see which will get a better response, FREE or .99 cents. I am also interested in finding out which approach will result in higher search results on Amazon.

When that experiment is over, I will try one more each of a KDP Select FREE promotion for five days and a .99 cent sale of specific titles but this time I will promote both on the aforementioned ebook promotional services.

Monday, March 4, 2013

An Early Look at Scrivener for Writers

Things have been really busy lately and despite my best intentions, I have not had the time to really sit and study the Scrivener software for authors. This past weekend I did have about half an hour of time that was not claimed so I worked my way through the Scrivener tutorial.

I started with the online "text version" of the tutorial. Below you will see screen shots of what Scrivener refers to as the Binder. This is the left hand column that will appear on your screen. To view a particular page in the text tutorial, simply scroll up or down on the Binder and stop your cursor on the desired page. The page will appear on the rest of your screen.

For those of you who prefer video tutorials, Scrivener provides that as an option as well. The screen shot below depicts what you will see when you pull up the page for video tutorials. 

It takes me awhile to learn how to use new software, so I will be reading the text tutorial again and watching the video tutorials once or twice as well.

Once I feel more up to speed, my next leap into the learning process will be to draft a small writing project using Scrivener as the word processing tool.

What do I think so far? Just working through the tutorials has been an extremely easy process. Often I find myself so frustrated trying to use the tutorials provided by the software manufacturers I abandon the entire project of trying to decide if I want to purchase the software for my own use.

Just clicking on the toolbar icons has been the most helpful part of my learning process. Each icon will pull up a pop-up screen for that particular tool. The tools are somewhat self-explanatory. Below you will see a pair of screen shots for the Research Folder tool. This is where an author stores documents with information from research to be used in the writing of the draft. The tool is found easily in the Binder and can be opened with ease while writing to refer to the needed information.

I like what I have seen so far. The 30-day Free Trial is an actual 30 days of use! What that means is 720 hours of actual use of the software! Or at least that is the understanding I have from reading the website.

Better still, Scrivener has information on the tutorial landing page that allows you to learn specifically about the type of writing you plan to use the software for. In my case, I plan to use if for non-fiction. Here is what the options are:

If any of the readers of this blog have used Scrivener, please comment on what you liked, or did not like about the software.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Self-Publishing Blog Posts of Interest - Selecting an Editor, Work With PDFs, Word to Kindle Conversion, the Latest from Morris Rosenthal and More

It is about that time again! Here are a few of the blog posts I have found interesting or helpful for self-publishers recently.

From the BookBaby Blog

Booking Your Own Virtual Book Tour - we all need to learn as much as possible about book marketing!

From Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer

How to Find the Just-Right Freelance Editor - something ever self-published author should read.

Also from Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer

Adding Photos and Creating PDFs - for self-publishers who use CreateSpace - a must read.

From Aaron Shepard's From Word to Kindle

Click here to visit the blog. There have been too many updates to pick one. If you are trying to learn the details of how to convert your Word manuscript into a Kindle ready file, you'll wan to visit this site.

From Morris Rosenthal's Self-Publishing 2.0

Publishers Facing Obsolescence On Amazon - the latest musing about Amazon from one of the early leaders in the modern self-publishing industry.

From Michael Marcus' Book Making

Do Authors Need to Work With Literary Agents? - Michael's take on this issue.

From  Dana Lynn Smith's  The Savvy Book Marketer

What's the Best Way for Author's to Use Twitter? - I haven't figured this out and I am not a big fan of social media. Huge time eater! Thus, I read what Dana had to say.

From Forbes - An article on self-publishing

Considering Self-Publishing? - An interesting read about what Guy Kawasaki things about the state of self-publishing and the future of traditional publishing.