Tag Archives: amazon

IWSG: sales slumps (and a bub update!)

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

“Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!” Alex J Cavanaugh

Hello there! Long time no speak! Can you believe it’s MARCH? Crazy, right? And being the first Wednesday in March, that makes it Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Considering this group exists so: “Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak,” I decided to share my latest sales figures and have a good moan about them.

When I started this post, I thought my sales had slumped big time. You see, I log into KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) every so often and check my sales figures, and for the past couple of months, I’ve been disappointed with what it’s told me. Why? Because I’ve only sold four books via Amazon all year. Four! Way less than I was hoping for, that’s for sure.

I haven’t been bothering to check Smashwords and its affiliates because the lion’s share of my online sales have always been with Amazon, but I thought I should check before I wrote this post. So I did, and what I found surprised me. Apparently, I’ve sold 45 books via Apple in 2013. Pretty cool!

HOWEVER, I’m not convinced those sales are actually from this year. I think they’ve probably only been reported this year, so they’re not 100% proof of continuing sales. Either way, I’m thrilled those sales have occurred at all. That’s 45 more people who’ve read my work and hopefully enjoyed spending time with my characters, and that’s what it’s really about for me. Of course, I’d love for sales to go gangbusters so I could quit my day job and write full time, but writing will continue to be a big part of my life regardless of how much money I make from it.

Considering sales have stagnated on Amazon, I’m toying with the idea of dropping the price to 99c. I figure, it can’t hurt my sales (since I’m not making any via that channel anyway) and it could push the book up in the rankings, giving it more visibility. What have I got to lose? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on this idea.

And in other news…

For those who are interested, baby Mackenzie is growing at lightening speed (out, not up!) and is a very demanding but adorable little girl. Here are some recent photos and a video!

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Filed under Insecure Writers Support Group, Marketing, Publishing, Self publishing, The Big Smoke, Writing

IWSG: Where to from here for marketing The Big Smoke?

Last week, I posted about the top ten lessons I’ve learnt since I independently published my debut novel, The Big Smoke. Tonight’s post will be about what my next steps are for marketing /getting the book out there. Where does the Insecure Writers Support Group fit in? You’ll see!

Advertising at QUT

Over the past few days, I got very excited about the possibility of putting advertising material (bookmarks) into the welcome bags of first year students at Queensland University of Technology, which is the uni where The Big Smoke‘s two main characters study. I was even more excited when the uni said they’d give me a discount due to the book’s connections with the uni and my poor artist status.

However, after some long conversations with my ever-pragmatic business partner (aka husband Marky), I’ve come to the disappointing conclusion that it’s not a smart investment right now. You see, even with the discounted rate, it would cost me about $600 for the advertising fee and production of 5000 bookmarks.

Just to break even, I would need to sell 600 e-books or 110 paperbacks as a result of the advertising, which would require a conversion rate between 2% and 12%. Although the audience is pretty targeted (first year uni students), there are still going to be a lot of people in that audience who wouldn’t be interested in The Big Smoke. I’d say at least 60% (wild stab). So is a 2-12% minimum conversion rate realistic? I’d love to find out, but unfortunately we’re not in a position to risk $600 on it right now.

This doesn’t mean advertising at QUT is completely unachievable though. They do have some cheaper options such as putting up posters on campus, but I’ll need to do similar sums to those above before I know whether they’d be a good investment either.

Local magazines and newspapers 

I’ve got some feelers out at the moment for reviews/interviews in local magazines and newspapers, which I’m hoping may generate some interest. It’s early days in this area though so I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

In saying that, thanks to my awesome dad and his “connections”, a teen magazine called Orbit on the Sunshine Coast has advertised The Big Smoke (for free!) and are giving away two copies of the book to readers. I believe their latest edition is out now but they haven’t uploaded it online yet. Here’s what the ad looks like:

Orbit Ad for The Big Smoke

Hopefully it sparks the interest of some sunny coast teens!

Review competition – idea still bubbling away

Some of you might remember a competition idea I mentioned a few weeks ago, where people who review The Big Smoke go in the draw to win a $50 book voucher. At the time, I said the reviews would need to be on Amazon, but now that I’ve learnt you have to purchase something from Amazon before you can leave a review there, I’m thinking that Goodreads reviews would be a better option.

As I said initially, reviews would NOT have to be positive. Any considered review of 100 words or more would be eligible to win. However, I’m still not sure whether I’ll go ahead with this idea because there’s a risk that people could perceive I’m paying for positive reviews. I’ve actually emailed Goodreads to get their thoughts on the competition idea (I value the connection they provide to readers and wouldn’t want to upset them), so I’ll let you know their response when I get it.

Goodreads giveaway and advertising

I’m currently holding a giveaway of two copies of The Big Smoke on Goodreads, and it does seem to have slightly increased my e-book sales (or it could be a coincidental increase). To support the giveaway (and promote the book more generally), I’m also running an ad on Goodreads, which I set up using their beta self-serve advertising system. At last count, 405 people have entered the giveaway, and there have been 205 “views” of the ad, none of which have resulted in a click through. From what I can tell, a “view” means that the ad has appeared on a page that someone is looking at, but you have to actually scroll down the page a little to see the ads, so I’m not overly worried about the conversion rate at this point. You’re only charged per click through, so if the ad tanks, at least it will be an inexpensive failure!

Here’s the ad and the targeting options I’ve chosen. I’d be interested in any feedback you have.

Goodreads advertisement

Book bloggers

I’ve provided review copies of The Big Smoke to 12 book bloggers / bloggers who occasionally review books, and so far four of them have written a review, all of which I’ve previously quoted. I’m hoping that the other bloggers have been too busy to read the book yet (as opposed to them having read it and hated it) but will get around to it eventually and contribute their opinions to the reviews slowing stacking up. I want to continue to identify book bloggers who might enjoy The Big Smoke because I believe that opinion leaders play a big part in the overall success or failure of books, and the best way to make opinion leaders aware of the book is by telling them about it myself!

And how does all of this relate to the Insecure Writers Support Group?

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

“Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!” Alex J Cavanaugh

It totally relates, trust me. I’ll explain right now. As you can see from the points above, I’ve got a lot of ideas and plans in progress for marketing The Big Smoke. Putting these plans into action takes up a lot of time, which is all well and good at the moment, but there’s also the slight matter of being 34.5 weeks pregnant. In less than six weeks time (or thereabouts), my priorities are going to change dramatically and I’m going to have, let’s face it, absolutely zero time to progress any of these plans. How long that will last is yet to be seen, but I imagine it will be at least three months.

I’m ridiculously excited about becoming a mum, but part of me is worried that all the work I’m doing now will equate to very little if I drop off the planet from a marketing and social media perspective. Will my sales figures dry up? Will I have to start from scratch when I’m finally ready to re-enter the marketing realm?

I’m concerned about all of this, but it’s important that I remember what I set out to achieve when I decided to independently publish The Big Smoke. I never expected to achieve massive sales (dreamt about it, yes; expected it, no), I just wanted to share my story with people who were interested in reading it, and hopefully touch a few readers along the way. And you know what? I’ve done that.

I’ve also learnt an amazing amount already, which I plan to put to good use with my next book. So if everything comes to a halt because I stop actively promoting The Big Smoke for a while, that’s okay. It’s been a great experience regardless. And who knows, maybe little miss Jackson will be an absolutely perfect baby who is more than happy for me to spend a bit of time marketing and writing while she sleeps peacefully… 😉

Your turn

What are your thoughts about my marketing plans? Do you have any feedback on the Goodreads ad? What do you think will happen for The Big Smoke when I drop off the radar for a while?

PS You can find out more about the Insecure Writers Support Group at Ninja Captain Alex’s blog.

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Filed under Insecure Writers Support Group, Marketing, Publishing, Self publishing, The Big Smoke, Writing

The top ten lessons I’ve learnt since indie publishing The Big Smoke

Today marks one month since I independently published my debut novel, The Big Smoke, so I think it’s a good time to give you an update of how it’s going and what I’ve learnt so far.

I’m sad to report that I’m yet to overtake 50 Shades of Grey in terms of self publishing success – but I live in hope ;-). As you would imagine, one month ago, I had some expectations about how my experience of independent publishing might go, based on what I’ve read about others’ journeys (both the stellar and not-so-stellar). Some of those expectations have been met, others haven’t. Here are my top ten learnings so far, in no particular order.

Learning 1: despite what everybody says, your e-book sales will not necessarily outpace paper book sales (at least not initially). 

Pretty much everything I’ve read has said that e-book sales are where it’s at for independently published books and that paper books are a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have’. This hasn’t been the case for me.

So far, I’ve sold a total of 162 books (told you I’d be honest!) and 78% of those have paperbacks. Of my e-book sales, 75% have been through Amazon US. The rest have been through Smashwords (8%), Apple (8%), Barnes and Noble (3%), Amazon UK (3%) and Amazon DE (3%) . I’m yet to sell any books from Kobo, Diesel or other Amazon country sites.

However, this trend may be short-lived, considering almost all of the paper books I’ve sold have been to friends, family, acquaintances and friends of friends and family. If The Big Smoke is going to be commercially successful, it will need to spread beyond this circle, and I still think that’s more likely to happen online than through paper book sales. I’ll keep you posted as things progress…

Learning 2: a big online book launch doesn’t necessarily equate to big online sales.

As my regular readers know, I put a fair amount of effort into my online book launch. I held a blogfest which included a reasonable prize ($20 Amazon gift voucher) and had a 15-stop blog tour which included interviews and guest posts on a variety of topics. I have no idea how many people this tour would have reached, but I imagine it would have been quite a lot.

But as you can see from my figures, it didn’t produce mountains of online sales. Why? There are probably a number of reasons for this. Here are some that spring to mind:

  • Most people who read blogs are other bloggers, and while we all want to be supportive, we hear about so many books, we can’t possibly buy them all.
  •  The blogs I posted on were all over the place in terms of writer genre (for example, I posted on blogs that primarily discuss science fiction and fantasy, while The Big Smoke is contemporary realism). If I was looking at things purely from a marketing perspective, I’d say this wasn’t the smartest move.

I don’t regret doing my blog tour by any means because I love the writing blogosphere and get so much out of it other than sales. I really enjoyed sharing my experiences with the people who have supported me since I started this blog. Next time I launch a book though, I will have different expectations about what a blog tour might achieve.

Learning 3: don’t rely on advertised shipping times

Apologies to those who have read about this already in interviews I’ve done, but it’s too big of a learning not to share here. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced on my self-publishing journey so far involved having to confront the possibility of having a book launch with no books. Createspace’s website says that you can ship books to Australia within three working days, but when I tried to place my order on Tues 16 October for my book launch on Sat 27 October, the estimated arrival date was Wed 31 October. Um, excuse me?! I knew that the three working days didn’t include printing, but I didn’t think that printing could account for the extra seven working days Createspace was saying it would take for my order to reach me.

I sent an e-mail to Createspace explaining the situation, and they essentially said there was nothing they could do because they don’t guarantee timeframes for wholesale orders. What the?! Where exactly does it say THAT on your website?! Panic stations!

And, of course, because Australia and America’s time zones are so different, I received this email at 2 a.m. Naturally, I woke Mark (my husband) up so we could try to figure out what to do. We discussed postponing the launch, trying to find a local printer who could print the books within the timeframe, going ahead with the launch without the books (Mark’s crazy idea), but eventually we discovered that if we placed several orders of smaller quantities, it would bring the delivery date forward to Fri 26 October — the day before the launch. Cutting it very fine, but that was our best option. So, at about 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, we placed four orders and went to sleep. One of those shipments arrived on Fri 19 October and the rest arrived on Mon 22 October (much earlier than Createspace predicted). Crisis averted! Thank goodness!

The lesson? Don’t rely on advertised shipping times. Be on the safe side and order as soon as you possibly can.

Learning 4: book stores finalise their Christmas purchases in late October to early November. 

In mid-November, I approached a number of book stores in my local area to see if they would be interested in stocking The Big Smoke. They all said that they’d finalised their purchases for the Christmas period well in advance, and they asked me to come back in January.

This means that, unfortunately, I’ve missed out on the casual bookshop browser choosing to buy The Big Smoke for a Christmas present. Obviously it’s hard to know whether all stores work to the same timeframe but I thought I’d share it in case you’re interested in publishing independently around the Christmas period in the future.

Learning 5: the waiting time to get into local libraries (in my area) is 6-12 months.

Another time-related learning. When I approached my local council library last week, they told me that they have one reader who assesses every book to see if it’s suitable for their shelves and that the waiting time can be 6 to 12 months. I’m assuming this is only for independently published books (can’t see them holding back best sellers for 12 months!), but had I known about this earlier, I would have approached the libraries as soon as I received my first shipment of books.

Learning 6: Australia Post is ridiculously expensive compared to similar services. 

As some of you know, I’ve set up an order form on my blog for Australians and New Zealanders to order copies of The Big Smoke. One of the reasons I did this was because I thought it would be a lot cheaper for customers if I had books shipped to me in bulk numbers and then I mailed individual orders within Australia/New Zealand. However, would you believe it costs $13.50 to post one book from Brisbane to New South Wales (a neighbouring state), while someone in New South Wales can order my book direct from Amazon US for $9.98 shipping. Where is the logic in that?!

Granted, if someone orders it direct from me, it will get to them faster and I will get more royalties, but it still seems pretty nonsensical to me. So now I only recommend people purchase the book direct from me if they would like it signed or want it in a hurry (or they live in Brisbane and can collect it from me).

I’m interested to know whether this is similar in other countries or whether it’s just an Australian thing (I wouldn’t be surprised because we’re pretty expensive compared to other countries for a range of products and services).

Learning 7: You can get a refund on an e-book seven days after purchasing it from Amazon. 

I don’t understand the logic behind this one either. I think it’s good that Amazon has a return function because it’s easy to accidentally purchase an e-book with their one-click functionality, but I don’t get why you would give people up to seven days. If you were so inclined, you could read an entire book and then ask for a refund. You certainly can’t do this from a physical book store or practically any other store I can think of. Even if you didn’t like the book, is that grounds for a full refund? After all, you can’t go to the cinemas, watch an entire movie, and then ask for a refund because you didn’t like it.

So far, eight purchases of The Big Smoke have been refunded. This concerns me. I’m very happy with the content of the book so the only reason I can think of (other than people buying the book by accident or being cheap and nasty) is that my marketing material (cover, blurb etc) is giving people the wrong impression of the book, so their expectations aren’t being met when they start to read (you’d think the lengthy free sample would alleviate this, but perhaps not everybody looks at that).

If you have any thoughts about my marketing material or other theories on why people might get a book refunded, let me know.

Learning 8: casual readers are much more likely to rate your book on Goodreads than write a review on Amazon.

Initially, when readers told me how much they enjoyed The Big Smoke, I would thank them profusely and ask them if they would be so kind as to write a review on Amazon. While a lot of people said they would, few actually did.  From what I can tell, there are two main reasons for this:

  • To write a review on Amazon, you must have purchased a product from Amazon in the past. This may be common in other parts of the world, but apart from those with Kindles, not that many Australians have bought Amazon products. I didn’t realise this initially because I have a Kindle and even before then, I’ve bought books from Amazon to feed my reading habit.
  • Writing a review on a site like Amazon can be confronting for people who don’t regularly post online. Those of us with blogs don’t really bat an eyelid over it, but if you’re not used to writing stuff that is available for everyone to see, it can be a little intimidating.

Recently, I’ve changed from asking people to write a review on Amazon to simply rating the book on Goodreads. Here’s an example of my reply to a comment on my Facebook author page:

“Woohoo! So glad you enjoyed it! If you have a couple of seconds, it would be awesome if you could rate it out of five on Goodreads. You can sign in instantly with your Facebook account. I’d really appreciate it! 🙂 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16037996-the-big-smoke

That is so much easier and so much less confronting for people, so it’s no wonder they’re more inclined to do it. I’ll definitely continue to take that approach from now on. 

Learning 9: Getting low ratings without reviews is frustrating 

While we’re talking about Goodreads ratings… The Big Smoke has received a few two-star ratings in the past month (four two-star ratings out of a total 27 ratings No one-star ratings so far!). I know that people have different tastes and so I always knew to expect some not-so-favourable reviews, but I hate not knowing why someone didn’t enjoy my work. What was it about the book that didn’t click with them? The characters? The plot? The overriding themes? My curiosity overwhelms me and I have to stop myself from writing them a message to ask. (I’m assuming that wouldn’t be cool…)

Learning 10: I’ll never get sick of hearing people say how much they enjoyed my book.

Okay, so this one isn’t too surprising, since I probably would have guessed before publishing that I’d continue to enjoy hearing from people who like my work. Who doesn’t? But still, it’s nice to know that the warm fuzzy an unprompted reader compliment gives you doesn’t diminish after you’ve received a few of them. I think it’s pretty safe to say that comments like this will always bring a smile to my face:

Thanks for a great read. I have really enjoyed “The Big Smoke”. Loved the Characters (even the not so nice ones!) and I even had a tear in a couple parts of the book. Well done!  [This comment was made on my Facebook page by someone I went to school with twelve years ago and haven’t seen since.]

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So there you have it. My top ten learnings from my first month of having an independently published book on the market. If there’s anything I haven’t covered that you’d like to know about, please don’t hesitate to ask. I know many of you have been curious to hear how it’s all going and I’m more than happy to share. 🙂

Next week, I’ll post what my next steps are for marketing The Big Smoke so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Your turn

Does any of what I’ve learnt surprise you? Did you know that you can get a refund from Amazon up to seven days after you purchase an e-book? Any thoughts on why people might be getting a refund on The Big Smoke? Are you surprised that my paperback sales are currently outpacing my e-book sales?

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Filed under Marketing, Publishing, Self publishing, The Big Smoke, Writing

Indie publishing update – and the seven p’s of marketing

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated you on how I’m progressing with my plans to independently publish The Big Smoke, so I thought I’d remedy that today! Things are slowly moving forward and although I’d like everything to be progressing more swiftly (because I’m impatient), I’m really happy with how it’s all coming together. Here’s a snapshot of where everything’s at right now, based on the seven p’s of marketing I learnt at uni (a number of years ago now!).

Product (the novel itself)
I’m investing in my book AKA the ‘product’  by paying for professional copy editing. I’ve found a fantastic editor (called Ken Spillman) who seems to ‘get’ my voice and characters. So far, he’s provided line-by-line edits for almost half of the book, and I’m expecting another installment later this week. The edits are definitely helping to tighten the prose and make sure everything is as realistic and plausible as possible at the micro level. We’re aiming for the copy editing process to be completed by early September so fingers crossed that’s achievable.

Package (cover)
The front cover is done and looks totally awesome, in my humble opinion. My cover designer, J Matthew McKern, is putting the final touches on the back cover (for the hard copy) and then it’ll be ready to rock and roll!

Placement (publishing)
I’ve been doing a lot of research about the best way to actually publish said book, including who to use to produce it and where to sell it. I’ve looked into a number of ‘self publishing service providers’ but for the amount they charge and the services they offer, I’ve decided I’m better off DIY-ing it. If you’d like to know the companies I researched, email me and I’ll let you know.

For my e-book version, I’m going to publish through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, which will make it available on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, and Sony.

For my paper book (p-book), I’m going to publish through Createspace’s print-on-demand service, which allows me to order small quantities (e.g. 25) for reasonable prices. Although it would be a lot cheaper per unit to print with an offset printer, their minimum quantity is in the thousands and I don’t want to outlay that much initially nor take on that much risk (or garage space). I weighed up the benefits and drawbacks of Createspace versus Lightning Source, who offer a similar print-on-demand service, but I decided the ‘hand holding’ (and free ISBN) that Createspace offers is something that I appreciate at this stage in the game.

I’ve also investigated some local print-on-demand companies, but unfortunately they don’t seem able to match Createspace’s cost and quality offering (yet. Hopefully this will change in the future).

The p-book will be available to buy through Amazon. Due to the high cost of shipping books to Australia (where I live) and New Zealand, I’m also planning to set up a page on this site where Aussies/Kiwis can order a copy of the book directly from me. This will save in shipping because I will buy in bulk (25) from Createspace (which lowers the shipping cost per unit) and then on-sell the book, so readers will only have to fork out for domestic mail charges.

I’m also hoping to make the novel available in a few local stores around Australia, which I will do by contacting them individually, providing them a free copy of the book to read and seeing if they would be willing to stock it. Can’t hurt to try!

Price
The price between my e-book and my paper book will vary quite a bit, mainly due to the differences in production costs, publisher margin thresholds and customer expectations. Obviously, all of this is subject to change depending on further research, but at the moment I’m planning to price the e-book at $2.95 and the p-book at $16.95 + postage. My profit margin will be quite slim at each of these price points, but I’d rather sell more (and have more people reading my work) than make more for each individual sale.

Positioning 

How do I want The Big Smoke to be positioned in the market place? My blurb and cover are probably the biggest tools I have at my disposal in this respect. Other ‘positioning tools’ include the categories I choose to list it in on Amazon etc, and the way I present the book and its characters in interviews, guest posts etc. Perhaps I also need to work on a very short description of the novel too…

Promotion

The fun part! In order to promote The Big Smoke, I’m planning to do the following about six weeks before the launch date:

  • reveal the book cover on this blog and others
  • send out Advanced Review Copies to people interested in reading and reviewing the book
  • set up an author page on Good Reads so eager beavers can add The Big Smoke to their ‘To read’ lists
  • set up a pre-order page for hard copies for Aussies on this-here blog.

And I’m planning to do these activities once the book is released (which will hopefully be end of October):

  • hound random people in the street to buy a copy
  • tweet incessantly that people MUST buy my book
  • tour the blogosphere, guest posting and/or being interviewed on a number of different writing or reading-related blogs
  • host a blogfest where people share memories about the year they turned eighteen
  • continue to send out review copies to interested peeps
  • contact local media in the vain hope that some of them might be interested in interviewing me
  • have a MASSIVE book launch party with all of the family and friends who have supported me during the writing process.

People

In traditional marketing speak, ‘people’ are all of those “inside and outside of your business who are responsible for every element of your sales and marketing strategy and activities.” So, I guess that’s… me! But I’m hoping it might be you too (see how I sneakily worked that in!). Yes, this is the part where I recruit you see who might be interested in helping me spread the word. Feel free to choose as many or as few options below as you like.

Obviously, you’ll have plenty more opportunities to indicate that you’d like to be involved but it would be great to get some early interest!

Your turn

I’m planning to post in more detail about each topic that I’ve covered in this update at some point in time, but is there anything you’d like to hear more about sooner rather than later? Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Anything I’ve said that you think is a bad idea? Let me know!

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Filed under Editing, Marketing, Progress update, Self publishing, The Big Smoke, Writing