Your Ebook Sales in the Tank? There’s hope!

I’m happy for you if your sales have been steady. But if yours are like mine, they tanked in February and stayed low most of this month as well. My thriller Brainstorm was averaging 50+ book sales a day following two Amazon “free” days during the first of January. This was a great improvement over pre-Kindle Select months, and at that point I was absolutely sure I was on my way to the top!

Boom!

By the end of January, I felt as if someone had stepped on my neck. Sales of all my books dropped and became very sporadic. February’s daily sales average was in single digits—and that was counting all of my books (mostly Brainstorm, with Dead Reckoning having a fair showing in comparison, Jezebel making an appearance and the short stories doing some onesy-twosies). Early in March, I had my first shutout since September 2011—and more followed.

Still, I had big hopes with my new men’s action/adventure novel, Knight’s Ransom, when I threw it out into the Kindle Select river of dreams…but its debut didn’t go so well—only sold 20 in its first thirty days (following two free days that only had 150 downloads). I’m fairly confident, however, that after I publish two or three more books in the series and receive a few more really good reviews, it will do much better. Why? Please keep reading.

The Foundation

Did I mention that I’d been trying to build my house of success without a foundation? I didn’t? Well, here’s the thing: my eBook writing career was almost completely dependent on my books selling themselves.

Sure, I had a website—a not too impressive one that I had a hard time keeping updated. I had a blog that I posted on every few months. I tweeted and posted on Facebook every time I put a new book out or ran a promotion. And that’s all. I thought I was doing everything I could. After all, I had a website, a blog and I was social networking. I was doing everything that all the successful indie writers were doing, right?

Wrong. I was just going through the motions. My marketing plan had no heart—it wasn’t a marketing plan at all.

Good Morning! Would You Like a Shopping Cart?

So, before I gave up my writing dream and applied to Wal-Mart for a greeter job, I went back to take a second look at all of those brave eBook-author trailblazers, who had actually cut the ePub trail before us, to determine what I was doing wrong. This time I didn’t just read their books and blog posts about ePublishing, I studied them.

Braveheart

Like William Wallace riding up and down in front of the ranks of Scottish warriors, the successful eBook pioneers had been trying to motivate and educate us late-comer indies. I’m talking about bestselling indie/traditionally published writers like Joe Konrath (you gotta check out his Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog and book) and Barry Eisler, bestselling indie author John Locke, as well as Smashwords.com founder Mark Coker (he’s got a great blog as well!). They’ve been doing about everything they can to rally us in the battle against the Big Six Publishers and those who poo-poo indie writers and the entire indie ePublishing industry. This includes bestselling traditionally published author and Authors Guild (check out their blog) president Scott Turow.

Strategery, Mr. President!

Not all indies agree with me, but even after some disappointment, I’m convinced that Kindle Select is the way to go for a new book—for how long is more of the issue for me. At the same time, you’ll find a good argument against this in Mark Coker’s Smashwords.com’s blog—and I really respect this guy a bunch for all he’s done for us indies (he even came to Kansas to speak at our KWA Scene Conference this last month!).

With technology slamming the publishing world like a tsunami, ePublishing is in its infancy and to me is extremely fluid. My strategy follows the strongest and most productive current, as I see it.  Until I find something that personally makes sense to address my situation and convinces me to do otherwise, I’ll place any new eBook I finish on Kindle Select for the exclusivity period, then shotgun it out to everywhere else on Smashwords.com after the 90 days are up. There may be merit to keeping one of my series books on Kindle Select for two or three tours in consideration of timing, season, holidays, etc. etc., but I’ll have to really scrutinize the idea, first. After all, if it’s the “free” days that I’m after, I can do that as much as I’d like through Smashwords.com for most all of the other Internet booksellers besides Amazon.

From my experience over the past few months, the Amazon “free days” (you get 5 over the 90-day exclusivity period) seemed to be very effective directly following Christmas, but didn’t do so well after that—my sales have fallen markedly as time goes by. Dead Reckoning  enjoyed 1,000 downloads in two free days last week. But that was the best any of my books had done with the free promo since the same book had similar results during the first part of January, about the same time Brainstorm  got 1500 in its first “free” day, alone (plus another 500 on its second day). Perhaps it’s just a seasonal thing, just like retail sales for brick-and-mortar stores are typically poor in February/March—I dunno.

The Big Slump Theory

My theory is—and I hope I’m correct because I’m really banking on this—the market has become saturated with free eBooks, and the Kindle Select program is actually hurting more than it’s helping, right now. The market is overloaded with “indie” books, as well, and the situation is only getting worse.

As I see it (and I haven’t heard or read this anyplace else, to this point); the majority of the eReading public got their fill of free eBooks during the holidays—each one of them downloading enough eBooks to read for years! And why not? EReaders can hold thousands of books.

Reading Turtles Pigging Out Before the End of Days!

One positive is that not all of the ePublic has pigged-out on free eBooks. Even those who did occasionally stick their heads out of their shells to see if there’s anything else out there that will entertain them better than their own stock of free reads (sorry for the inconsistent metaphors). As the weeks pass, I expect the indies’ sales to pick up again and remain somewhat steady until the holidays. At that point, with a little social networking groundwork smartly laid in preparation, a nice website/blog, and lots of positive reviews on our books, some of us more seasoned authors should see some really good sales numbers this winter. Barring that little speed bump on December 21 when all of our electronics crash, the asteroid strikes, the Earth shifts and the seas spill, 2013 might be an excellent year.

Improvise, Marine!

Here’s what I suggest for the indie crowd. See if you think it’s a good plan, and PLEASE comment:

In order to sell a book, the book needs to be promoted—but DON’T promote the actual book anyplace but on your own website and blog. Instead, promote yourself as a citizen of this wonderful eWorld in which we live. As far as Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites are concerned; yes, make announcements of new books, promos, etc., but do at least ten tweets/mentions/replies about other concerns for every book announcement you make.

More importantly, when you visit blogs and boards, mingle with other bloggers and commenters as if you’re the new guy/girl at a block party and you’re wanting to make friends. Interact and comment on their posts without mentioning your books or even that you’re a writer. However, ensure your profile shows exactly that—and that it lists your books, as well! In posts showing your signature, make sure there’s a subheading stating you’re an “Author of…” linking back to your own website/blog. Here’s the thing to understand; when you come across as a real person and not just a cardboard cutout—a two-dimensional book dump/advertisement—you become more interesting to not only other bloggers, but also to other readers.

Wanna Buy Some Pictures of My Ugly Grandkids?

When it comes to the other groups and blogs you get into—especially message boards—from what I’ve experienced, the writer blogs/boards will do little good in the way of selling tons of your books. I’m not saying to steer completely away from these, but author blogs are visited mostly by writers trying to hock their own stories. It’s like a hundred people trying to sell you pictures of their cute grandkids, when you’ve got pictures of your own that you’d like to sell—everyone’s selling, no one is buying.

Barefoot In a Cow Pasture (you’ll find cool green grass but also some warm squishy bullshit, so watch your step)

Be smart when you visit the reader blogs/boards. These folks are your prime market, but they aren’t there to read your shameless self-promotion. Generally, these readers are looking for opinions from other readers like themselves, and they’ve already been inundated by those rascally indie writers trying to sell their books. They’ll quickly become wary of you. Never blatantly promote your books or even your best friend’s books here. It’s probably best if you talk about and recommend some of the big names and bestsellers, so that there’s no perception that you’re some kind of undercover author on a clandestine mission to bag some more readers. If you do any more than honestly recommend other authors’ stories, you’re likely to get found out and lose all credibility.

In my opinion, your most effective approach is to blog and post on message boards about issues of popular concern. If you’re set up correctly and ready for them, I think you’ll discover the readers will come to you. Find blogs and message boards that are popular and updated often—look for the ones that would attract the audience for your book. And I’m not talking about specifically “thriller readers,” “mystery readers” or “romance readers”.

Puppy Dogs and Rolling Stones

Let me explain, for example: for my E Z Knight books, I’m looking for retired people, people who commute, businessmen and women, golden retriever lovers, former Marines, sailboat owners and ax murders (threw that in just to see if you’re reading purple armpit armadillo) and not specific reader groups. Look for blogs and boards discussing things you’re passionate about and that you know something about other than writing. Look for discussions on your old hobbies and past concerns as well as your new ones. Hell, I might even find a blog for kidney stone sufferers and post on some of my experiences and remedies. Why? Because I can talk semi-intelligently about kidney stones due to my experience with them, and the ones who suffer the most from these little thorny bastards are in the target age group for my novels.

On boards and blog sites, I’ll be looking for conversations of interest I feel I can contribute to in a meaningful way, outside of the selling of my own books—and mostly outside of writing and even reading, as well.

I’m sure it will take time and a little effort to build credibility, attract friends and gain a following. Actually, I think you’ll be surprised at what little time and effort this takes once you’re organized.

Hey Ol’ Timer

Yeah, I know; if you’re like me, you hate even the idea of social networking, even though you’re an amiable, friendly person when it comes to face-to-face meetings.

I’m of a more “hands and eyes on” generation. I’m from a time when the first color TV I ever sat down and watched was the one I bought my parents when I was home on leave from the US Marines.

You enjoy meeting new people and speaking with old acquaintances the old fashion way. With physical meetings you can look into people’s eyes, interpret their facial expressions as well as their vocal inflections. You get a good idea about where the new guy is coming from just from observing his mannerisms and how he presents himself. While, when you have an eConversation, in order to know anything about the ePerson you’re communicating with, you have to look up their profile which is designed to in some manner impress you—and that only tells you what they want you to see.

Bob Dylan, Easy Rider and The Long and Winding Road

I’ll remind you that “the times they are a changin’,” and if you want your books in front of readers’ eyes in these changing times, you’ll need to get up to speed.

I had to remind myself of that. So I read the blogs and the books, I observed what worked as well as what didn’t work—and I learned. I did. I tried to skirt what I learned and take the easy route, and I failed. I’m now pursuing a more proven, yet less traveled road, and the numbers are indicating that I’m finding some success. Guess what? I’ve discovered my new tack is easier, more fun and less time consuming than the direction I’d been traveling!

Credible assessment/strategy? This is coming from a writer who has only had around seven thousand downloads (and only 1,600 have been paid, so far—but check back in three months!).

Raise the Roof!

Please give your comments, add to this discussion; let us know what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, where you think I’m off, and any new insights.

Raise a ruckus—maybe we can get Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, John Locke, or Mark Coker to join in with more learned insight. Hey, maybe Scott Turow will drop in and give me a good tongue lashing—wouldn’t that be fun?

The main thing I’d like to see is some important, relevant, insightful content here—something for every indie writer to view, consider and use in their quest to get read. Recommend some good websites, blogs and books for indies, if you know of any. Four excellent eBooks I recommend are: Mark Coker’s free Smashwords Book Marketing Guide and The 10-Minute PR Checklist – Earn the Publicity You Deserve as well as JA Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and John Locke’s book How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.

Give an Old Dog a Bone, Would Ya?

Come on, throw a starving writer a few bread crumbs of wisdom. If you don’t, I’ll keep pummeling you with these very old and tired clichés!

And get out there and make your eConnections—eRub some eElbows while the eWorld is still here!

24 responses to “Your Ebook Sales in the Tank? There’s hope!

  1. Great post, Gordon! Recently I too made a change in how I’m marketing, going with what I love to do most – author interviews on my blog (by the way, thanks for letting Jazzy come over and spend some time). It’s easy to get bogged down into doing what everyone “thinks” is best, but I’ve found when I do what I love, it comes through to those I meet in the cyber universe.

    Now get busy on Knight’s Big Easy!
    http://dabalepublishing.blogspot.com

    • D.A., you know I’m your biggest fan (even though I haven’t posted your review yet)!

      Thanks for dropping in and keep us posted on your progress and findings of what’s working for you.

      Take good care and keep writing really great stuff!

  2. Thanks for the straight talk and useful insights. I’ve one book up on Kindle: Chicago Stories: West of Western, and have signed up for KDP Select mwith more or less the same results you write about. Now I’m trying to decide whether to go for another 90 days or try something else, so your comments some at a good time for me. I’m a newbie on Twitter and Facebook as well, just stumbling along at the moment, and again, your advice is most welcome.

  3. Eileen, thanks for the post and best of luck and good fortune to you. Please keep in touch and let me know if you think I can help you with your ebooks in any way!

  4. patricefitzgerald

    Hi Gordon: Great post. I started self-publishing (I also run a small indie press for other authors) in July of 2011 — I picked the 4th of July to resonate with the founding of my independent publishing company! My big political thriller, RUNNING, didn’t do much until I went free via KDP Select just before Christmas, and then it took off. I made enough in one week of December to equal the kind of advance I might have gotten via traditional publishing. January was great too, and February all right. But then, as you say, it slowed down.

    I’ve put three short stories out (and all of those have been used in anthologies, as well), two books by eFitzgerald Publishing author Anne Kelleher (written from the POV of a young man with Down Syndrome), and two books by the comical Frisky Dimplebuns about her adventures looking for love online. So a good roster, and one that is beginning to make me some real cash.

    I tend to spend TOO much time on Twitter, etc., and have to get back to writing. So many stories to tell! At this point, I’m going to trust in the strength of my product, while gently spreading the word.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and your research. One of the best parts of self-publishing is the supportive community of fellow writers!

  5. Thanks for the comments, Patrice! Yes, being an “indie” does make me feel like I’m a part of a “community”.

    I wish I’d gotten onto the Kindle Select bandwagon back when it first came out in December. I think that was prime time. I wonder if it will be as effective again–maybe next November/December? Maybe before that? I guess we’ll have to see.

    Please drop in again and let us know how you’re doing!

  6. Hi Gordon,

    I saw your blog advertised in the Kindleboards and thought I’d check it out. For almost a whole year I have been doing exactly what you advise, and the sales of my book have been okay. But last month in March I only sold two books on Amazon.com but did well like I usually do on Amazon.co.uk.

    I can’t explain why they were so low on Amazon.com though. I haven’t done anything different and my reviews have been all the same. Maybe it’s like you mentioned. My book isn’t free and maybe the Kindle Select free books have reached a saturation point.

  7. Thanks for the comments and please hang in there Ikwatts! I really think if we indies keep at it, we’ll see sales picking up again, soon. I’ve certainly found that to be true, just in the past week or so.

    I hope you don’t mind me making a personal suggestion that might help if it does apply: Whenever someone makes an interesting comment on my blog or anyone else’s, I like to take a look at that commenter’s profile, as many other bloggers do. In my opinion, that’s how most eConnections are made and developed.

    When I clicked on your commenter’s name, I found a blog site that isn’t being used. If you do have a current blog, you might want to change the link to your user name. If the one it’s linked to now is the only one you have, you might want to place an interesting post on it–or even a repost from someone else’s blog, linking back to the original.

    Your own personal (author) website/blog site (and not your books) should be considered the hub of your entire social networking wheel. Your books are just a spoke on the wheel that readers will go to if they find you’re a real 3D person and not a cardboard character. If that wheel is really turning (lots of interesting content) then the centrifugal force will drive them to those great books of yours!

    If you need help, let me know. Best of luck and fortune to you and your writing endeavors. Please stay in touch, and keep us updated on your success! Go get ’em!

  8. Hi Gordon,

    Thanks for your reply. My blog is with Blogger, not with WordPress. In order to comment on WordPress blogs I had to set up an account, otherwise my comments wouldn’t post. Whenever I comment on a Blogger account, my account with them shows.
    http://lkwattsconfessions.blogspot.com

  9. Thanks, LK!

    You have a really neat blog with some fun and interesting content! Nice job! I’m going to follow you (don’t worry, I’m not a stalker!).

    That brings up an interesting concern. I have a Google Blogger page that I started to develop, then switched over to WordPress. There are a few interesting comments on the old Blogger site, so I’m reluctant to get rid of it. Just a day or two ago, I added a link to the old site and placed a statement there requesting visitors follow it to this, my current blog. I’m unsure if that’s very “kosher” to do, but…

    Again, I appreciate your comments. Anyone reading this, slip on over to LK’s blog and check it out, will ya? Once again, it’s: http://lkwattsconfessions.blogspot.com

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