Monday, August 5, 2013

Bug Splat: Chapter Two of an Indie Writer's Journey

I’m getting very good a giving away books. I gave away 10,350 Kindle books of Goodness and Mercy and 11,387 of Like a Watered Garden, an out-of-print book I re-released. That’s nearly 22,000 books! By all accounts a very successful promotion.

But, alas, I’m terrible at selling Kindle books.

Since you've been with me from the beginning, generously writing lovely reviews when I put out the call, I thought you might be interested in the results of this experiment. I’m not trying to depress or discourage you but give you a personal look into the independent publishing experience.

And please, please, please hear this: I’m sharing as one writer to another. This is NOT an underhanded attempt to make pity sales. No, I’m learning how this indie publishing game is played and bringing you along on the bumpy ride. 

And, hopefully, the story isn't over yet.

For our discussion here, let me focus on Goodness and Mercy. I launched on June 12th with a 3-day giveaway as suggested by several Amazon marketing books I’d read. The theory was to give the book away on Wednesday through Friday to encourage weekend sales, which are supposed to be the best.

I’d paid a fee (a small fee) for the book to be featured on free Kindle book blogs. They promised to
place the book according to genre to capture the highest number of readers. I think there are ways to test their success, but I haven’t done so, not yet. Six blogs featured the giveaway. I also posted made-by-me announcements of the giveaway on my two Facebook pages, plus the Novel Matters FB page. I believe the FB ads were the most effective.

And the reviews rolled in.

Fifty readers have taken the time to write reviews on Amazon. (Thank you!) Nearly 80% of the ratings are 5 stars. And the two 3-star ratings are quite positive. Some have made me cry with joy. This is more reviews than I've ever gotten, even on my traditionally published books. At this point, I was very encouraged.

I made it into the coveted top 100 in free kindle books, which meant lots of people were seeing my book and getting a chance to grab it. They did some great grabbing. Thanks to all who pushed G&M up in the ratings.

Once the giveaway was over, my sales averaged about 50 books per week for two whole weeks. I truly expected that number to rise.

It hasn't.

Sales have steadily decreased since the third week out. I sold 14 books last week.
Honestly? I’m splatted on the windshield of life, a bug life marked by a smear of yellow goo. This

Okay, analytical Patti is back. Breathing. Breathing.

I have to assume that the reviewers aren't lying. Besides three or four, I don’t know them, and none of them are relatives. From what they've said, the story is readable, entertaining, and thought-provoking.

So why are sales, well, in the toilet? (Since I put a bug splat picture up, I'll spare you a toilet picture.)

From some folks I trust, one thing to reconsider is the cover. Evidently, it isn't doing a good job at drawing the right reader. I do worry that the cover turned out too sweet. I’m trying to decide if I have the energy and cash to create another cover.

Another thing to consider is the book description on Amazon. Do people read it and yawn? Say huh? Leave the page? I’ll be taking a look at that this week, too.

Finally, I may not be charging enough. The ceiling on Kindle books is 4.99. I have G&M set at 2.99. I may be sending the message that this is a discount story, hardly worth reading.

Meanwhile, what to write next? I've pretty much decided that IF I do write another novel, it won’t be a CBA type of book. The audience is too narrow (as in small), and they want to read something entirely different. Obviously, there are CBA readers who are hungry for a story that isn't a typical historical romance, just not a big enough group to support my habit of writing. Maybe I should be writing something else, a series that has a clever tie-in for marketing, humorous with a touch of romance.

We've talked a lot here about art for art’s sake. The problem is—minus the nasty recession numbers and the low probability of finding a job—if I do a good job, even simply complete a job with some competency in any other area, I will be paid.

There’s lots we could talk about here. When is enough enough? If you are privy to the magic that sells books, we would love to hear from you! Has anyone out there made a living from indie publishing sales? What has worked for you once the giveaways are over? Have I totally killed your desire to self-publish? I would hate that. I do hear happy stories. And mine might get happier yet. 


Megan Sayer said...

I hear you Patti, and you've made some very good points.
One thing I want to weigh in on is the price thing: yes, I think you are undercharging - although I can't believe Amazon caps indie pubs at $4.99 either. That's crazy! Why is that, when standard Kindle price is $9.99? If I see a cheap book the first question I ask myself is why is it so cheap. I'd rather pay double the price and expect quality.
Here's a funny story about price and perception: a good friend of ours is a professional photographer. He and his wife moved down to sleepy Hobart from the big smoke a few years ago and set up a studio and became known quickly as THE wedding photographers. I talked to him once about his business practice (probably after one of his annual trips to I am not joking), and he said his strategy was simple: he wanted people to think he was the best, so he charged the most. He moved into town, checked out what his competitors were charging, then DOUBLED it. Customers automatically thought he was twice as good, and they paid it. The cool bit? He's completely self-taught. He's good, yes. Best? Who knows. The main thing he possesses is a helluva lot of confidence.
Just goes to show, perception is everything.

Megan Sayer said...

Here's another thought (two hours and a busy evening later): people tend to buy fiction on what the book is about...the subject and themes. I still look at the topics listed in the first few pages of a book, underneath the ISBN number, to decide whether I want to read it.
I wonder whether free-kindle-book readers, and cheap-Christian-book readers are quite often after a quick-read more than a decent meal...if that makes sense. I wonder, then, whether those avenues are not reaching the right audience, the people that want to chew and savour and talk about and share. I'm not sure how to reach those people, but I do think that it's something to do with that ABOUT.

Patti Hill said...

Megan: Thanks for your very thoughtful responses. I didn't mean to mislead. I could charge anything I want for the book. The 4.99 "cap" is what the "experts" say is what readers will spend. I can tell you that my traditionally published ebooks, rights held by the publisher, sell sluggishly at 9.99 sell briskly at 2.99 during promotions. I have nothing to lose. I'll probably increase the price. Those descriptors you're talking about by the ISBN number are VERY important. You choose two categories and give the story seven keywords. I'll take a new look at those, too.

Being able to tweak all these elements is supposed to be a huge plus of self-publishing. Once I recover from having 50 people at the house for Dad's going-away party, I'll agree. Is it nap time yet?

Nicole Amsler said...

Just a few more thoughts. You have to consider your book a success because the average self-pubbed book sells between 40 copies and 250 (depending on which research source you use.)

Obviously your name and past publishing history has helped you and will continue to help, as you push more books into the world.

But most importantly, you have the tremendous privilege of being read. Strangers have connected with your words, were compelled to write publicly of their pleasure, and most likely, spoke verbally to the excellence of your book to their friends.

This privilege shouldn't be put on a sales graph. Hundreds or thousands of people have spent time with your words. The value is in their time, not the dollars.

As you know, almost all authors can not afford to live on their writing salaries. I appreciate people like you and Lisa Samson (who spoke eloquently about her frustrations at a past Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin.) Having real numbers and real heartbreak shared can soften the blow when it happens to us.

Good luck in your tweaking and I hope you will continue to write, regardless of the outcome.

Barb said...

I am one of your faithful readers who downloaded the free Goodness and Mercy. I absolutely loved it! In fact, I expected a sequel and have been watching for hints of one! I'm sure a lot of folks who read Goodness and Mercy would gladly pay the higher price for your next book. I know how much work goes into a book, and it's got to be heartbreaking to see the sales dip. But you've reached thousands with your writing, and I think that will bring more sales on your next book. Hang in there, Patti. I believe you've gained readers who will be back to BUY next time.

Patti Hill said...

Nicole, how lovely to hear from you and especially your words of encouragement. It is a tremendous privilege to "meet" with my readers between the pages. And it's nice to know I'm a best-selling author among the self-pub crowd.

Barb, thanks for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. Many thanks for your encouragement.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Truth, Patti. All of it truth. Thanks for sharing and being open. I can identify with being splatted. I think people expect indie publishers to give away their books. I think close family and friends expect to be given a book (whether the author is indie or traditional). Annnnnnd, I don't think it is always because they are greedy or entitled. Sometimes they don't know any better and think you have a lot of free merchandise lying around. I was happy to read Goodness and Mercy for free at a time when I could not afford to buy a book.
But, I think $4.99 gives your book more dignity - still quite affordable.

Patti Hill said...

Cherry: Thanks for understanding. And I was happy to give away G&M. That's SOP for indie authors. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Carole said...

Patti, have you been able to connect with reviewers who have successful blogs and who post links to their reviews on Facebook, etc? All of the authors on this blog write in the more literary style that I enjoy - character-driven, multi-layered plots, beautiful prose - and I get so frustrated that Christian publishers don't fall over each other trying to grab your manuscripts. I have "Goodness & Mercy" on my Kindle and will write you again when I've read it. -- Carole