Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Take my book--please! (a.k.a., the review conundrum)

There's a distinct Catch-22 when it comes to promoting a new book. You need reviews in order to run most promotions, but you can't get reviews if you haven't promoted the book. This leads many desperate authors to harangue their family and friends into reviewing their latest release, and some unscrupulous ones into buying reviews, a practice that Amazon has banned, though it's practically impossible to stamp out.

For those who want to play it straight, the options are limited. It would be great to have a big enough mailing list to shoot an email to your followers and simply offer review copies to anyone willing to write an honest review. At the pace I'm building mine, I might get there by 2050. (This is the part where I include a link so you can join my mailing list. Please.) Failing that, you're left to try some of the sites that offer ARCs (Advance Review Copes) to willing readers. The largest of these is probably NetGalley, though there's another called Hidden Gems that may rival or exceed it.

I only recently learned of Hidden Gems, and while I'd love to try giving away review copies there, they're booked through December, so I'd need a time machine in order to set something up. NetGalley is easier to get into, at least if you use the side entrance. For an independent author like myself, the way in is through a co-op, which buys up ARC slots in bulk and resells them to individual authors. This actually puts indie authors on even footing with big publishing houses, because reviewers who use NetGalley will see your book listed among the big press titles. I had good success with NetGalley when I released Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed back in 2015. It was reviewed by a number of book bloggers, who had at least enough of a following that their reviews reached people I couldn't myself.

Unfortunately, I had less success with The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo when I tried NetGalley last October. I got two reviews on Amazon and a couple more on Goodreads. And that was it. Boo.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Print is undead, long live print!

When I first saw the notices last summer that Amazon's CreateSpace publishing arm for print books was going away and I needed to migrate my titles to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Print, I did what I often do when bombarded with unwelcome information: I ignored it.

The notifications kept coming, however. Every time I logged into CreateSpace to check my nonexistent sales, I was hammered with more messages. Move your books now! Eventually, I did click one of the links and made a half-hearted attempt to migrate one of the three titles I had published through CreateSpace. But the options I saw on the screen didn't match what Amazon said I should be seeing and I literally couldn't submit the changes. So I gave up.

After procrastinating a little longer, I tried again, ran into the same roadblock, and ignored the entire thing again, as if it might somehow go away. No surprise, it didn't. Finally, I contacted the KDP Help with my question, was told how to get past the obstacle I had encountered, and ... well, it wasn't so hard in the end. By Halloween I had moved all three of my books.

I'll chalk up my reluctance to bother with the entire migration ordeal to my pathetic print sales. Over the first 10 months of 2018, I had shifted a grand total of six print copies of my three books. Combined. That came after a whopping eight units were moved in 2017. To say print sales were a sore subject would be an understatement. While my Kindle sales were nothing to brag about, the futility of print was downright laughable. So why bother, right?

Friday, February 22, 2019

Moving the Also Bought needle

I'm not giving away any secrets if I tell you I've become obsessed with my Also Boughts on Amazon, and in particular how my ads can influence them. My last post, earlier this month, was an in-depth breakdown of all 97 books linked from my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, in its Also Boughts. At that point, the books linked to were still almost exclusively--well, there's no polite way to put it--shit.

They were showing the scantest glimpses of life. But for the most part the books that were being linked to had no logical ties to my novel. There were cookbooks, romances, psychological thrillers, and World War II sagas, particularly of the "escape from the Nazis" variety. And I don't mean to cast aspersions on any of these (other than the cookbooks, which appeared to be a little on the sleazy/scammy side), but none of those fall within the sweet spot for my book.

Fast forward two weeks and change and ... things are moving in the right direction. My sales have been consistent in February. Not spectacular, but nothing like the anemic totals I saw the last two years or so. The Amazon keyword ads I'm running definitely work. I've learned and tinkered and learned and tinkered, and I've finally hit upon a formula that is cost effective. My ads no longer run at a loss. And that's huge.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Has Kindle Unlimited cooked my Also Boughts?

I've become obsessed with Amazon's Also Boughts, mostly because the ones appearing for Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed have been so random/nonsensical recently. I posted about this last month, when the first three books appearing were cookbooks. At that time, none of the Also Boughts that I clicked on linked back to my book. Not good, right? I mean, the point of the Also Boughts is, "Hey, you there, shopping for books, if you like this book, you might want to check out this other, somewhat similar, book." But if these relationships are a) broken, and b) only flow in one direction, there goes one of the most valuable discovery tools in book-selling.

I strongly suspect I'm paying the price for not being more active about marketing my books last year. I was seeing less and less return on the pay-per-click ads I had up on Amazon, so I gave up on them early in 2018 and figured I'd wait until I was ready to release The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo in the fall before investing any more. More books = more bang for the buck, at least in theory. If a reader clicks an ad and buys a book and enjoys it, maybe they'll seek out another of an author's titles.

So I waited it out as my sales shriveled, with as much as 50 percent of my Amazon revenue coming through KDP Select, the program where Kindle Unlimited subscribers can download your book for free, and you get paid for the number of pages they read. And even that wasn't anywhere near what it was a couple of years ago. It was so lame, in fact, I decided to drop out of KDP Select in the fall. I removed my first three books by November, and never enlisted First World Problems.

And now that I'm digging into these Also Boughts, I'm even more convinced leaving KDP Select was the right move. Because I suspect most of these shitty Also Boughts that have nothing whatsoever to do with my novel came about because of indiscriminate Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Barnes & Noble's new ad portal too rich for my book

Ever since I opted back out of KDP Select on Amazon last November, I've been searching--fruitlessly--for ways to kick-start my sales on other platforms. I've had sales here and there in the past on other retailers, in between my KDP Select stints (which require exclusivity to Amazon for ebook sales). Barnes & Noble's site is one I've had a trickle of purchases in years past, but since making my books available for the Nook this past fall, the royalties there have added up to a nice, round number.

The roundest.

Yes, zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

So when I saw Barnes & Noble was offering a new advertising option, I was intrigued. I have had some success with Amazon's pay-per-click ads, particularly for my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. If B&N was going to offer something similar, at perhaps a slightly lower price point, considering the relative unit-shifting potential compared to Amazon, well, that might be just what I needed.

Um ... not quite.

Friday, January 18, 2019

My also boughts are cooking

One, potentially, helpful mechanism for selling books on Amazon is the Also Boughts. As in, "Customers who bought this item also bought" all this other stuff. As an author, you're hoping your book gets linked up with some other similar titles so readers might find your book while they're browsing selections in your same genre.

At the moment, my also boughts for Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed are not really what I need. The top three are cookbooks.

This mystifies me a little. I first noticed the cookbooks there a month or so ago. Admittedly, I had somewhat given up on my sales last year while I was working to get The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo ready to release. These days, to generate much in the way of sales on Amazon, you have to play around with Pay Per Click ads. I've had mixed success at best in the past with those, and by early last year they were no longer cost effective. So I stopped advertising for most of 2018 and my sales swirled the toilet bowl.

I found a helpful blog post on Amazon PPC ads a few months back and gave them another go in November. I've had better luck than I did previously, at least with Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. It does much better than my other books, probably because it's reaching into a more vibrant readership band, where fans of Jonathan Tropper, Matthew Norman, Jess Walter, and others hang out. Ideally, those would be the books that show up in my also boughts.

And maybe if my sales keep growing over the next couple of months as they have in December and January, we'll start to see those associations taking root--as opposed to the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and Fruit Pies. Which are probably lovely books. But not really what I need.

Of course, what I really need are enough sales for my books to show up on their also boughts, so their readers see mine. But that's two steps down the road. At the moment, I'll settle for the first step of booting the cookbooks out of my kitchen.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Dylan Thomas, detectives, and a depressing dentist: my 2018 reading list

One of my favorite posts from last year (and let's face it, I probably read this blog as much as anyone else, just shuffling back through to keep track of what I wrote about X months ago) was my year-end racap of what I read in 2017. I was actually surprised when I wrote that up how few books I'd made it through. This year's list will nearly double it, though we did have a few shorties in 2018, so apples/oranges, etc.

This list is in roughly chronological order of when I read each book, but neither you nor I know how precise that is. I can remember the last one I read and the one before that, and maybe the one before that, and then things go fuzzy.

A Man with One of Those Faces, by Caimh McDonnell. This is an Irish detective/adventure/humor that I stumbled across last year and added to my Christmas list. Got it and read it soon after the holidays. Loved it. Then found Caimh McDonnell had several other books, which will appear later in this list, all featuring the same characters. 

Adventures in the Skin Trade; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog; Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas. Three short books, all received for Christmas in 2017. Along with the Welsh music and football, came an interest in the culture generally, and Dylan Thomas has to be a jumping off point for that. The first two books were mostly short stories, some of which were humorous, some quite religious, others just generally freaky, bordering on some kind of mythological horror (or horrifying mythology). I can't say I loved them all. I did enjoy Under Milk Wood, though I had the sense I only ever picked up on about 35-40 percent of the actual meaning of things. It's one I'll have to revisit sometime, though the proper way to absorb it would be to hear the original radio play.