How to sell 11,000 books in less than 4 weeks

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The title might be a little click-baity and just a tad misleading. I can’t tell you how to sell 11,000 books in four weeks, but seeing as that is what I’ve just done, I figured I’d have something to say about it.

My annual sales report for Oct 2015 to Sep 2016 mentions that in those 12 months, I sold 16.6k books. Then in the month of October I sold almost as much in just a single month. The 11k mentioned in the title was just one book. I sold other titles as well. In fact, the very point of selling the 11k books was to sell more different books.

So, what happened?

Well, I finished the Moonfire Trilogy and wanted to do an ad campaign to get more people into the series. I’d made book 1 99c for a while immediately after launch back in June and sold about 700 copies. But then I put the price back up so that I could concentrate on finishing the rest of the series (because refreshing sales dashboards is very distracting).

When that was done, I didn’t want to do another 99c promotion on the same book, but I did have something else. The Moonfire Trilogy is a sequel to the Icefire Trilogy. That series is now about four years old, and while it’s still selling, I felt I could play with it a bit. It also feeds into the Moonfire Trilogy. I spent a bit of time correcting some oopses I’d found, paid for another proofread, because there are always mistakes, always. I tizzed up the covers, and I put one very important line at the very end of the 900-page book: “The Moonfire Trilogy is set in the same world twenty years later. Click here to get the first book”.

Then I did something outrageous: I lowered the price for the entire trilogy to 99c. Then I applied for Bookbub. They said yes.

The ad ran on 8 October.

This happened:

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And this:

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And this:

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I sold 3046 books on that day on Amazon, with another 1500 on other platforms. The Bookbub site gives an estimated number of sales of 2400 copies. I needed to sell 1500 to break even on the cost of the ad.

I was happy. I know from running my own promotions that sets of books always do better than single books, because obviously they’re a better deal.

So I was very happy.

I expected the book to quickly sink into my usual comfort zone: oblivion. This particular book sells a good bit on Kobo, but rarely sells at all on Amazon (people there tend to prefer the individual volumes). I had planned to leave it 99c until this upcoming weekend’s Science Fiction and Fantasy promotion and I hoped to ride a bit on the tail of the promotion. I thought I might sell another few hundred. I sold EIGHT THOUSAND.

The book didn’t sink back down. It stuck to a ranking of around 3000 in the Amazon US store and it’s pretty much still there when I’m writing this. And yesterday, this happened in Amazon UK:

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I have NO idea why any of this happened, except to say a huge THANK YOU to all who bought it. It’s been a tad nuts, to be honest.

The ingredients to this success? Bookbub, no doubt, but to do so much better than their estimate? A good deal, lucky timing, and decent-sized community already familiar with your name. I’ve been featured by Bookbub seven times, so readers of Fantasy and SF will have seen my name a few times, and many more readers will have heard about my books from the SF/F promotions. That’s all I can think of.

The book will be featured in the SF/F promotion this week, and I’ve decided to keep it 99c until 21 November. Next week and the week after, a number of SFF promotion buddies will post to their mailing lists about it. It’s truly amazing to have such a great community.

Ambassador book 1 now out in audio!

Ambassador1AudioSmallExciting news!

The first Ambassador book is now out in audio.

Check it out here and listen to the sample.

I dare you not to swoon at Matt’s voice. He is awesome, and will be doing the next book later this year.

Meanwhile, I’ve completed Moon & Earth (and the entire trilogy!) and have started on Ambassador 6.

Over 100 books free, all retailers

SFFpromoAugust2016

This totally insane promo is on again this weekend. Over 100 authors are giving their books for free.

Why free?

Because it’s a really good and really sneaky way of getting people to buy the other books in the series.

We’ve been featuring all retailers for a few months now, and that’s been great. The reader membership of the promo’s list is growing so much that I’ve had to shop for a cheaper mailing list provider.

Come along and see what all the fuss is about.

Click here or on the image to go to the promo

Why vanity presses will never go away

With apologies to David Gaughran.

A year or two ago, an ex-colleague of my husband’s (he works as contractor in IT, changes jobs a LOT, so there is nothing dramatic about the ex bit) mentioned that he was writing a book. The book was historical fiction and he wanted to know how to publish it.

My husband passed him my email and I wrote him with some pointers about publishing and self-publishing.

Today, my husband met him. He’d published his book–with a vanity press.

Whywhywhywhywhywhy?

I can hear people cry.

Well…

The book he got is nicely designed. He received promotional materials, postcards and bookmarks. He didn’t have to shop for and negotiate with an editor. He didn’t need to figure out how to format an ebook, and buy software to do it.

He didn’t even need to open an Amazon account, or do all the tax stuff that’s related to it.

Likely, he paid thousands.

Could he have done it cheaper? Sure, but it would have cost him time. This is someone who has no interest in the business side of writing. Someone who has a really good job, I might add.

But what about the false hope these companies sell?

Well, he got a “launch package”. Not sure how much it cost, but he thinks it’s cool. He gets to invite his friends and be the centre of attention for a night, while he reads from the book and signs copies.

He’s hoping the book will take off on its own. Well, loads of people who self-publish believe that their books will take off, too. They didn’t pay thousands, but spent a lot of time on producing their books.

One way or the other, they’re unlikely to sell unless the author does the hard work. At the start, the author probably has unrealistic hopes.

My husband’s ex-colleague spoke to me, and I told him what I do. He chose to go with a vanity press, because what I do is a lot of work (like, a metric shit-tonne of work), and he had no time or wish to do it. He just wanted the book. He had no trouble paying (through the nose) for a one-stop shop.

That’s why there is a place for vanity presses. Of course it’s heartbreaking when people spend wads of money they can’t afford to lose, but really, how much do we need to protect people from their own stupidity anyway? Like, if you don’t have the money, don’t gamble with it in any shape or form. Some people really just want the book, want their hands held and don’t care about the money.

Why books don’t sell part II

A while ago, I wrote a post Why Don’t My Books Sell. It was originally written on this blog, but before I did the crash & burn to fix weird problems with this blog, I moved it to the “Self-publishing” section on my author site.

That post is all (well, mostly, at least) about the book. It’s about cover, branding, quality of storytelling.

But it is not uncommon to see books that defy all the advice in that post, which is pretty much conventional wisdom. The books that are full of formatting, spelling and grammar errors that DO sell really well. Or the books that are beautifully done but don’t sell at all.

If anything, the fact that both these things happen means that there is something else going on.

Luck.

Sometimes it is just that. The author came in at a right time, something caught the attention of readers and the book took off.

But let’s unpack “luck” a little.

If luck means you’ve got to be somewhere at the right time, it means that you’ve got to BE somewhere first. In other words, the more you try, the more luck you can catch.

The more you try, the better you get at it.

Audience.

Who are your readers and how much do they care about books that follow strict formulas, and story tropes and how much, indeed, do they care about spelling and grammar? (I can hear a whole library of writers shudder right now)

Marketing types will sometimes tell writers to imagine a typical reader and then to imagine where that reader hangs out.

The fact is that a lot of beginning writers have Absolutely No Freaking Clue about who they are writing for, how to reach those people and how to engage them.

A lot of writers bumble through the beginning of their career trying this or that before eventually figuring out that this sort of stuff is important.

Who are my readers? Well it’s different for each series, but the typical reader for the Ambassador books is male, over 40, has a tertiary education. He is a geek and if he has a partner, he is unlikely to have children. He may be gay. He is quite likely not to live in the US, although he might. He votes left.

Where does he hang out?

He goes to geek cons. He talks about these on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ He buys books mostly through word-of-mouth and promotion sites.*

Do you see a pattern emerging with what I’m doing with my promotions?

If you have no idea who your “average” reader is, then you don’t know where to find them.

So what about those books that are full of mistakes, poor craft and still sell like hotcakes?

I had an epiphany about these, because it always baffled the hell out of me. Invariably, these writers report that they do much better in Kindle Unlimited (Amazon’s subscription service) through page reads than through sales.

I heard someone mention on a podcast that he had bought his 12yo son a subscription (because at that age, the boy can’t buy his own books: no credit card) and he was tearing through books. At that age–sadly but true–many kids are also not going to care much about spelling.

So. Audience.

How much of that audience is yours?

If you just publish a book and have no way of letting people know that it’s out, then it’s going to sink pretty much no matter how good (or bad) it is. A lot of people who get “lucky” out of the gate brought their own audience. For example from a fan fiction site or they’re a podcast host who had been talking about a novel for a long time. Or they are well-known in a non-fiction field and everyone knows that they are writing a novel that encompasses the profession, hobby or discipline.

It takes a community to launch a book successfully.

* How do I know this? Well, it’s quite easy. You make an ad on Facebook for the book. You target broad, like the genre and a major writer in the genre. You see who clicks and run the breakdowns on age, country, gender. And when you correspond with readers, Facebook will often give you a quick rundown of their education, job, marital status and hobbies, if they choose to share it, and it’s amazing how many people do.

What is coming up?

A little news post.

Sand & Storm went live on 24 June and the sequel, Sea & Sky, is set to release on 20 September. I’ve actually just received the final files today, but will probably stick to the schedule because the audiobook of Ambassador 1 should be dropping in August!

I’m writing the final volume of the Moonfire Trilogy, Moon & Earth, and should finish the first draft within a few weeks. I mean–I’ve “only” got 25k to write, and of course All The Freaking Plot Threads to be tied up.

When that is done (or, I should say, when I boot that one off to the editors) I will start on Ambassador 6: The Enemy Within. This will involve an ever-increasing party of varied people travelling to Earth for a trial. They will take two toddlers who get up to all sorts of mischief (no, none of them are Cory’s–yet). There will be spies (Klaus Messner), there will be shooting and there will be some very big ethical questions asked.

Tag line:

In order to save the earth, he has to betray it

There may or may not be New Zealand, and camels (you know I have thing for camels in books), but those things may also be moved to book 7, for which I lack a title. If I’m on a roll, I might write book 7 as well (providing I can come up with a title).

Anyway, I’ll start bugging Tom for a cover soon.

After that (and we’re talking 2017 now), I’m thinking to start the first set in my Ilk Urban Fantasy series. The book will be called The Hunter. There will be a Sydney setting, local councils, developers, corruption, murders and a guy who may or may not resemble Eddie Obeid 😛 There will also be “Ilk”: were-possums, were-ibises, were-frogmouths, were-fruitbats, were-kookaburras (basically, insert all obnoxiously loud local wildlife). And a journalist from Adelaide called Bindi Winslow who is looking for her slippery brother.

I’d like to start one totally new project every year.

Meanwhile, I’m taking part in some cross promotions, so don’t forget to sign up for the Ebookaroo newsletter.

The Definition Of Success

I’m going to be bold and I’m going to call myself a successful writer.

No, I haven’t made a million in three months and I’m not dripping in money. But I’m consistently making more than goes out, I’m consistently increasing my readership and I’ve got the means to invest in future projects (audio, ahoy!) without having to dip into my own funds. Within a few years, I expect to be able to pay all of our household bills from writing.

In the light of people whose names we see emblazoned across news sites, the word success has become poisonous. A lot of people, especially those who just start out, equate success with those crazy stories of the writer who hit on some kind of nerve and sold millions.

And the thing is: they’re often just crazy stories. Those stories often have a couple of things in common:

  • The author has no idea how it happened
  • The author has no means of repeating the success, or structures in place to capture those readers
  • The author probably won’t be around for very long

Hey, if someone offered me millions for a flash success of a single book, I’d take it, but the trouble is: you can’t plan for it, this is not a healthy career, and it’s not a long-term plan for a sustainable income.

Moreover, while these stories attract a lot of news flies, I believe they are damaging to the new writer, because it conditions them to believe that hey, they can do this, too! Even if the writers themselves often say: I’m a fluke, don’t listen to me.

Those stories are also damaging because they raise utterly unrealistic expectations, and skew beginning writers’ perception of what success even looks like.

New writers who publish become disheartened when, hey, this kind of success doesn’t happen to them, while the reality is that the more you believe this will happen, the less likely it will.

You can’t plan a career around that definition of success.

You have to define your own success with much more realistic goalposts. Success need not be about income. It could be about regular publication, or about other metrics.

Define what you mean by success for you. Don’t let other people define your success for you.

Milestone!

Ambassador set FB ad

Today, Ambassador 1: Seeing Red reached the milestone of 150 reviews on Amazon US. I have one book that has more reviews, and one that’s very close, but as you may all know, the Ambassador series is very close to my heart.

I love writing these books, they are easy to write, I know the characters very well and they’re always fun.

But I trunked the book for three years after the anonymous editor from Harper Collins at the Authonomy site so famously said “No one will publish this”.

Over the past two months, this series has done amazingly well.

So, 150 reviews today, another book later this year, a raspberry to Authonomy. Long live Cory, Nicha, Thayu, Veyada, Sheydu and the ever-expanding gang.

Writing or Marketing?

If you poke around the internet, you will find posts by various wise writers exhorting you to spend x amount or proportion of your time marketing and the rest writing. Often it comes down to 80% writing and 20% marketing.

I think these sorts of enforced schedules miss a really important part of being a writer:

Marketing is not some evil thing that should be avoided at all cost, nor is it something that takes you away from writing, or something that needs to be rationed.

Marketing augments your writing. Marketing sells what you have already written, increasing the value obtained from your intellectual capital. Marketing can also help you decide what to write next: see what sells best, and then write more of that.

How much time do I spend doing either? However much is necessary. If I’m in the middle of an early draft of a book, I’ll spend next to no time marketing, but when I need to think about how plot threads fit together, I move to do more marketing, because most of it involves interacting with people and it takes your mind off thorny plotting problems, and that ironically helps you see the solutions that have been staring you in the face all the time.