Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hungry Dogs

I have three dogs.

No, this isn't a blog about my pets. It's a blog about selling ebooks. But bear with me.

When they aren't sleeping, my dogs spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get fed. Even though dogfood is available to them 24/7 in the form of always-stocked dog dishes, they prefer human food.

This is my fault, which goes back to the days when I was poor and hated seeing food go to waste. I still hate wasting food, and giving the dogs table scraps satisfies some base need in me. Plus they're so damn happy to get a french fry every now and then. And why shouldn't they be? It's not like wolf packs in the wild get to eat french fries. 

But my dogs eat more than fries. They eat things that dogs don't normally eat. Lettuce. Pickles. Peppers. Pretty much anything you put in front of them.

Once my dogs are presented with something new, it becomes their main focus, and they devour it. Even when their regular food is available.

It's all about whatever is currently right under their noses. 

You're probably catching on to where this is going.

In the past seven days, on Kindle, I've made about $15k. I currently have two ebooks in the Top 100 Free list--the same ebooks I blogged about two days ago. Dirty Martini and Trapped are #3 and #4, and Timecaster will hit Top 100 later today. I also blogged about four other ebooks by my friends Barry Eisler and Blake Crouch. Both of Barry's ebooks hit the Top 100, peaking at #3. One of Blake's did, and it is still #1 in the UK.

In the past 60 hours, I've sold 2200 ebooks in the US, and had over 400 borrows.


I have a hypothesis.

Back in the time of paper books (I'll call that time the Analogue Years), your exposure to readers was dependent upon your publisher. In order to sell a lot of books, you needed to be in a lot of retail outlets. The more you were in, the more you sold.

So James Patterson, who had 400 copies of his latest hardcover, discounted 40% off, on the New Release table at Borders and Barnes and Noble, sold more books that JA Konrath, whose latest hardcover had three copies, spine-out in the mystery section. In that same mystery section, Patterson had thirty more titles, each with multiple copies, taking up an entire shelf. If the bookstore bothered to stock my backlist, it was only one copy each.

If you walked into a bookstore in 2007, you couldn't avoid Patterson if you tried. Ditto the many other bestselling authors.

I always wondered about supply and demand when it came to bestsellers. Was it that the authors were so popular, they had to be available everywhere in huge numbers because people demanded it? Or was something else going on? Was it possible that the reason bestsellers sold so well was simply that they were available everywhere?

If you're at the airport, looking for a thriller book for the plane ride, and they only have six thriller titles on the shelf, you're going to pick one of those.

You're going to take what is right in front of you, currently under your nose.

I have no doubt that bestselling authors have a lot of fans. But it's one thing waiting for the next Harry Potter book to come out, and its another seeing the latest Patterson on the new Release table and picking it up because it is there.

I'm not knocking Patterson. The guy is a genius, on several levels. But how many fans have read every Patterson book vs. every Potter book? 

Now let's do some Digital Thinking.

I have fans. I know this, because I get lots of email from people who claim to be fans, and my book reviews are largely complimentary. 

It could be that the 2600 sales and borrows I had in the last 60 hours are from fans. People who know my work and love it. Even though these ebooks have been available for years, perhaps these sales are all by fans who recently got Kindles for Valentine's Day and are now stocking up on my titles.

But I don't think that is the case. I didn't see a huge Xmas bump this holiday season. If these were new Kindle owners buying my work, I think I would have had a ton of sales over the holiday season, but my sales now are 100% better.

So what am I doing differently? I have no new releases out. Yes, I self-pubbed my Jack Daniels series for less money than my previous publisher had, but during the first few days those sales were steady, not explosive like they've been.

What's changed has been making titles free using the Kindle Select program.

To wit: there are millions of people with Kindles, and the majority of them haven't heard of me, haven't come across my titles, haven't read me before. So by getting three ebooks on the Top 100 Free list, I am making myself known to them. 

I am a tasty, free morsel directly under the nose of hungry readers. And they snatch it up.

Not all will read the free ebooks they download. But I still benefit, because the more ebooks I give away, the higher the bounceback will be on the paid bestseller lists. And when I'm on the paid lists, I'll be seen be those who have never seen me before.

Also, I have a hunch some people are reading the freebies immediately. This is why my sales are booming. A rising tide lifts all boats, and some people snatching up the freebies are also buying some of my other ebooks.

Whiskey Sour is #529. Bloody Mary is #411. Rusty Nail is #1121. Afraid is #586.  Endurance is #1439.

Last week, most of these were ranked at #10,000 or higher.

I believe it is all about being seen. Once you are under a reader's nose, some will buy. 

Some who buy will become fans, and buy more. 

This results in more sales, more reviews, more visibility.

Visibility is the key. 

Amazon is very good at making ebooks visible. The bestseller lists, direct emails, Customers Also Bought, Hot New Releases, Movers and Shakers, Kindle Daily Deal, various ads and click-throughs--there may be no company in the history of the world that makes finding products easier than Amazon makes it.

So how can you help Amazon make your books visible?

1. Publish books with Amazon Publishing. They do a lot to announce their ebooks to readers.

2. Use KDP Select to make your ebooks free. I suggest using all five days at once. The more ebooks you give away, the higher the bounceback.

3. Have a lot of IPs. The more ebooks you have available, the more virtual shelf space you take up, the likelier it is for a customer to see one of your titles.

4. Cultivate fans. Have a newsletter, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, so people can follow you and get the announcement when you put something new on sale. But remember this will be supplementary, not primary, and no one will follow you if all you're doing is advertising. 

5. Announce via third parties. I found to be effective in helping me give away freebies. So is Pixel of Ink.

6. Keep at it until you get lucky.

I can't stress #6 enough. It is easy to get discouraged with promotion, because it may not get the results you seek. You have to have the right book in the right place at the right time, and cross your fingers.

If you have a lot of ebooks, and consistently sell poorly, it is time to pressure check your work. Is it good enough? Do you know because your writers' group thoroughly vetted it, or because your sister loved it? Did you make the cover yourself? Are you priced too high? Does your product description sing? Do you have typos or formatting errors?

If you are convinced you are doing everything right; keep doing it. Eventually you'll have so many great books that the world can no longer ignore you.

Remember that my best selling ebooks--The List, Origin, Trapped, Endurance, Shot of Tequila--which have sold over 600,000 copies, were rejected by publishers.

Good books will find their audience. Ebooks are forever, and that's a long time to get discovered.

Keep at it.