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.