Saturday, April 02, 2011

Guest Post by Blake Crouch

Last month, I asked Blake to do a guest post about self-pubbing his latest novel.

Here's his follow-up...

Blake: 32 days ago, I posted on this blog about my new novel RUN and all the reasons why I had decided to release it myself and stop waiting for the Big Book Deal.

To be completely honest, I was nervous about this one. Joe had been yelling at me to put the book out, but what if I took his advice, and it didn’t sell?

I knew it had a great cover, a great pitch, and I thought the book itself delivered on all of that, but still, that nagging fear of a flop was hanging around.

So what happened?

RUN blew up.

In all the best ways, and in those I hadn’t even thought of.

The bloggers and fellow writers I contacted to help me get the word out came through in a big way, and I believe they laid the groundwork for the book to take off.

For the last few weeks, RUN has been consistently ranked between the 200s and 400s on Amazon at $2.99.

The real surprise, however, has been in the Nook store, where, as I write this, RUN is ranked #132 overall. For every copy of RUN I sell on Amazon, I’m selling 2.3 copies on Barnes and Noble.

Which means it’s selling about 400 copies/day right now, and is approaching 4000 sales since I released it a month ago.

I’ve had a bit of difficulty wrapping my head around this, and it’s got me thinking a lot lately about expectations.

When I first released the book, I thought, if I can sell as well as Konrath’s and my SERIAL UNCUT, which has been selling between 30-50 copies/day for many months, I’ll consider this a resounding success. I had a lot of books ranked between 1500 and 2000, but I’d never had anything in the triple digits, and I’d never had anything sell like this on Barnes & Noble.

But my main purpose behind writing this blog entry is to share a few valuable lessons learned (and mistakes made) as I watched RUN begin to take off.

1. Having a book integrate into Amazon’s system makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. For some reason, it took two weeks, but literally the day that RUN hit the “Customers Also Bought” system, it dipped under 1000 and never looked back. I truly believe that those connections Amazon builds between ebooks are the single most important component to a book’s success. Which means you have to have a concept of what books and authors are hot and selling that are like yours. Keywords and tags are crucial in achieving this.

This is what legacy publishers did for years (and still do). They try to position new books in the framework of known quantities and bestsellers to give readers and booksellers the confidence and perspective to buy and sell the book. This is also why my pitch (see below) begins with “For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris...” These are big names, but my work truly does share a lot of common ground. I think readers like familiarity, and the comfort of being told, “This is kind of like that.”

2. The bestseller lists. So important. Once RUN started hitting the lists, my ranking became, for lack of a better word, “sticky.” There were no more drastic daily fluctuations between 1000 and 3000. If you can hit some lists, you have a better chance of maximizing any momentum that you build and holding onto it.

3. In that regard, choose your categories wisely. I made a major mistake when I uploaded RUN. I put it in the Thrillers and Suspense categories. When RUN’s rank began to fall, I noticed it wasn’t hitting any lists. Even when it got down into the 400s. Thrillers and Suspense are two of the most competitive lists on Amazon. I only squeaked onto the Thrillers list briefly at #99 when RUN fell to #280. This means you have to compete with all the heavy hitters to have a chance at making that list.

My mistake was, I hadn’t listed horror as one of RUN’s categories. If I had, when it fell below 500, it would have immediately hit the top 10 on the horror list. So I ran back into my DTP account, changed suspense to horror, and within 48 hours, RUN was highly ranked on the horror lists, which gave it yet another boost. I think of my books first and foremost as thrillers, but that doesn’t mean it’s smart to drop them into that category if my goal is to hit some Amazon bestseller lists and get a sticky ranking. Choose your categories not only wisely, but based upon bestseller lists that you believe you have a shot at hitting.

4. Pricing...this is my biggest question of the moment. I’ve railed before about $.99 and how I believe it’s not a good price for writers. But there is no denying the power of dropping a book to $.99 to make a run at the top 100. What Joe has done with THE LIST and ORIGIN has been very impressive. But when a book’s successful, and you don’t have as many novel-length titles to play around with, dropping that price out of the 70% royalty bracket is a scary proposition. So I’m still very much on the fence, but am at least considering dropping RUN to $.99 when it begins to slip in rankings.

I’m sure Joe will chime in here shortly and tell me how much money I lost not listening to him and releasing this back in October, (Joe sez: Over $25,000) but in the meantime, thanks to everyone who has bought RUN and said nice things about it.

And if you’re sitting on a novel, waiting for The Big Book Deal for your life to begin, please consider my experience here.

If you’ve benefited from any of my posts on Joe’s blog,please check out RUN, available for $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and as an old-school dead-tree relic on Createspace.
Here’s the pitch:

For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris...

Picture this: A landscape of American genocide...

5 d a y s a g o

A rash of bizarre murders swept the country…

Senseless. Brutal. Seemingly unconnected.

A cop walked into a nursing home and unloaded his weapons on elderly and staff alike.

A mass of school shootings.

Prison riots of unprecedented brutality.

Mind-boggling acts of violence in every state.

4 d a y s a g o

The murders increased ten-fold…

3 d a y s a g o

The President addressed the nation and begged for calm and peace…

2 d a y s a g o

The killers began to mobilize…

Y e s t e r d a y

All the power went out…

T o n i g h t

They’re reading the names of those to be killed on the Emergency Broadcast System. You are listening over the battery-powered radio on your kitchen table, and they’ve just read yours.

Your name is Jack Colclough. You have a wife, a daughter, and a young son. You live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. People are coming to your house to kill you and your family. You don’t know why, but you don’t have time to think about that any more.

You only have time to….


Joe sez: I'm thrilled this terrific book is finding an audience, and I'm also wondering what the hell I'm doing wrong on since a lot of authors seem to be smoking my sales and I'm only doing $3k a month there.

I suppose I have to remind myself how much luck is a factor.

Blake mentioned my experiments with THE LIST and ORIGIN and I think that's worth commenting on. They're both currently ranked around #70, and I just raised the price on ORIGIN back to $2.99, which should kick in soon.

While THE LIST has made me a lot of money (over $20k in the time it has been in the Top 100), ORIGIN took its time to get up there, and seemed to peak and drop pretty fast. I'm raising the price now, while it's still in the Top 100, to try and chase the money I lost while it was 99 cents.

My guess is I'll come out ahead on ORIGIN (i.e. earn more through this experiment than if I'd just left it alone at $2.99) but it's still too soon to tell. With the rate they're both dropping, I don't expect either to be in the Top 100 for much longer.

I really can't draw any conclusions from my experiment. It worked well with THE LIST. It didn't work at all with SHOT OF TEQUILA. It partially worked with DISTURB, which never cracked the Top 100, but is holding a much higher rank than it had prior to the price drop.

If I had to advise Blake on what to do with RUN, I'd say drop it to 99 cents on Amazon and give it two weeks. He's got a cushion with his BN sales, so it might be worth the risk to try it. At the very least, he'll lose a few bucks but climb in rank, and then when we goes back to $2.99 he'll be making more money for a while.

As self-published authors, we need to experiment more. Too many writers are afraid of changing prices. The fear of losing money, or rank, or sales, shouldn't keep us from trying different things. Remember that ebooks are forever. Sales will fluctuate over time, no doubt. But there's no set business model yet in place for ebooks. I just cracked the Top 100 with two novels that have been on Kindle for two years. I think that shows the longevity of this medium.

We can afford to take risks, because unlike the print world which has set prices and a limited shelf life, our ebooks will still be for sale five, ten, twenty years from now.

But there's also a reverse aspect to this. If your sales are faltering, maybe you don't need to experiment with new prices or different covers. Maybe instead you should be concentrating on writing more. It's tempting to micromanage backlist titles, trying to improve sales. However, one guaranteed way to raise backlist sales is to self-pub new work.

Ultimately, you should do both: tending the backlist while expanding the frontlist. Blake was selling modestly with his previous titles. He was thrilled to make $6k in January.

In March, he made $24k, largely due to the sales of RUN, which is not only selling well but is helping his backlist sell well.

If that doesn't make you want to get writing, I don't know what will.