Mary W. Walters published an interesting post on her website (The Militant Writer) entitled: Promoting your Book on Facebook and Twitter is a Total Waste of Time. In a nutshell she states that Twitter and Facebook are not effective insofar as selling books is concerned, and that writers are better off employing their time writing or engaging in other promotional activities. In the comment section to the post and in the comments on other blogs that made a reference to this post, several people agreed with the premise, stating they had found exactly the same thing. However, some stated that they were selling books through Twitter and Facebook just fine, and if a writer is not selling books successfully using social media then they are doing something wrong. To this others replied that every time social media doesn’t work the apologists blame the user instead of accepting the truth that social media is a bust. I am no stranger to feeling that social media doesn’t work. The sales of my book The Sun Zebra are lousy despite the fact that it is a highly rated book and that my social media reach and performance has been growing. Should I accept this reality and quit Twitter, Facebook and other sites that take substantial time away from my writing, or am I doing something wrong? As it turns out I think the latter is true. I believe that most writers like me are indeed doing something wrong. What are the majority of my blog posts about? Writing! Who are the majority of my subscribers in Facebook and Twitter? Writers! And the thing is that this is normal. Writers are fascinated by the process of writing and publishing and we are interested in helping our fellow authors and exchanging information and ideas. But here is the issue: the vast majority of readers don’t care for that. Readers are interested in reading and they use social media not to look for new books to read but to be social. Some argue that writers are also readers, but the flaw in this argument is that you cannot achieve high sales figures based on other writers buying your books. For one, most writers expect you to reciprocate the favor. To sell 10,000 copies of your book you cannot buy and read 10,000 books. Also most writers, beside a day job and family responsibilities, are very busy, well, writing. Joe Konrath has remarked that it is readers not writers, who buy his books. To this some may raise the counterargument of synergism. If you have 30 writer friends who write blogs, having your book featured in their blog is an asset. But this depends. If those 30 blogs are also about writing and thus only read by other writers, then the impact is minimal. So I think in the future I will make an effort to diversify away from writing about writing and to befriend more readers in my social media accounts. Also when push comes to shove the best promotional tool a writer can have is many books, so maybe we should all heed the Joe Konrath’s advice “stop reading blogs and get back to work,” which of course includes this one. But just in case you wish to linger a little, just for today, I am going to ask for your opinion. What do you think? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Even when a writer has determined the likely target audience for their book, they sometimes have problems figuring out where that target audience hangs out. Let me share a promotion tip with you that may help you figure this out. Alexa is a search engine that can help writers locate those websites most frequently visited by their target audience. For example, let’s suppose you have written a book with a subject matter that will be mostly of interest to women 50 years or older. Then you hear about this very popular site called Wattpad that connects readers with writers all over the world. Should you spend your time promoting your book on Wattpad? If you copy the URL for Wattpad and paste it into the search box at the top of the Alexa page and click “search,” Alexa will give you an analysis of this site. On the page you will find these options: Traffic Stats, Search Analytics, Audience, Contact Info, Reviews, Related Links, and Clickstream. Click on the tab that says “Audience.” Alexa will display a page that will break down the audience that visits Wattpad using several parameters. You can see that Wattpad is mostly frequented by women. However, among the visitors the 18-24 years old range is overrepresented with respect to the general population. So Wattpad may not be the ideal place to promote this book. But let’s repeat the above process for another site called LibraryThing. Here we see that among the group of people that visit this website, women in the 45 to 65 year old group is overrepresented compared to the general population. Therefore this may be a more logical site to promote the book.
Alexa also gives you additional information such as the popularity of the website (global traffic rank), the rank in the U.S. and the site’s reputation (the number of sites linking to the website). If you are willing to install the free Alexa tool bar in your computer you can get access to even more information like the ethnicity and income of the population visiting a site.
Please note that the above is a rather simplistic analysis and there are several other things to take into account before you decide to devote your valuable time to promoting your book on a website, but Alexa may be a good starting point that will help you optimize your efforts. Go to the Alexa site and play around with it a little analyzing several websites that you are using or plan to use for promotion of your book, and leave a comment here and let us know of your results or any questions you may have.
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This past Sunday November 18 my book The Sun Zebra turned one year old! I had a lot of fun writing about the magical adventures of Nell and her family, but other aspects of putting this book together, publishing it, and promoting it have been a different ball of wax. I have learned a lot about the process during this time, and I keep learning because the whole self-publishing universe continues to change. Some things that were valid a while ago don’t work anymore, and new and exciting things are appearing all the time. Like most authors I am still trying to find “the formula” if such a thing even exists. One year ago I self-published my book while trying to curtail any unrealistic expectations by telling myself over and over that my sales would at best be modest. I was not to be disappointed. My book started slow and then went slower and finally dipped into the primordial ooze (the long tail also known as low-sales limbo) with hundreds of thousands of other books. But along came the KDP Select Program that gives authors the ability to give their books away for free. So I enrolled and did my first free promotion with a smile. I gave away a paltry 147 copies of my book in January, which did not gather me a single sale: utter and complete disaster.I fought my depression over my pathetic numbers (which totaled 25 sales over 5 months) and fixed problems with my book, my author image, and my marketing approach. My second KDP promotion in April was a success as I gave away more than 19,000 free copies of my book. Even though The Sun Zebra reached #9 in the Free Kindle Store and garnered me 240 sales and 54 borrows, but it still did not gain a lot of staying power. A third promotion in July was a bust that awakened me to the realities of the effect of seasonality on free book giveaways plus Amazon also changed the algorithms they use in weighing the sales equivalent of a free book download. My fourth promotion just finished last Sunday November 18 and soon I will know whether that went well or not. Either way I will likely learn some more! All in all for the past year I have ended up with 303 sales and 58 borrows. If you take into account the dollar amount of each borrow compared to the percentage of royalties I earn from the sale of each copy of my book, the number of sales plus “sale equivalents” comes to about about 514. Clearly the Amazon Prime program has been a great asset for me. As I expected my numbers have been modest, but the important thing is that The Sun Zebra didn't cost me anything to publish and the money that I have left over from paying for promotions will be enough to pay for my next book, which will hopefully be out in the first few months of next year. I want to thank all the extraordinary people who helped me in this self-publishing project with their constructive criticism, editing, and opinions, or by writing reviews or helping me with promotion. You are all wonderful, take care, and keep on reading and writing! Rolando ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I recently ran into an article on the web about the top 65 sites where you can list your book for free. The article states the following: For your book to sell, you need to create the demand. You need an audience, a platform – which you will get when your book is showing up on many websites and forums, visible to readers. Make it a habit to submit your book to at least 2-3 websites a day. Don’t forget to post links to them on Google+, Twitter, FB, Tumblr, StumpleUpon, LinkedIn, Chime.in, Pinterest … whatever social media you are signed up. In one month you will have your book on all of these listed sites and you will see a difference in sales. I think this advice is wrong for two reasons. The first reason is that in most of these sites it is not enough to merely upload a notice about your book or a chapter or two. Your post will be one among thousands; for all practical purposes it will be invisible. To guarantee visibility in these sites you have to create an account and then develop a following. This means interacting with other people, reading what they upload, and then commenting, liking, sharing, pinning, readcasting, retweeting etc. This is a lot of work and it is impossible to do it for many sites unless you are glued to your computer 24/7. Developing a large following in many of these sites can take years. If you follow the above advice and post in 2-3 websites a day you are in effect wasting your time. You are better served by choosing some carefully selected websites and then concentrating your efforts on them. But which websites should you select? This leads to the second reason why I think this advice is wrong. You have to ask yourself who will read your book. For example if you wrote a book that will be of interest primarily to people 60 years old and over, then maybe you should not even bother with social media (yes you read that right) as this group of people does not use it that much. If you wrote a book that will be read by younger but still mature audiences (say 30 to 50 years old), then you should probably not devote your time to websites whose readers belong predominantly to a 18-24 year old crowd. Depending on the subject matter of your book, other pertinent questions that you may have to ask yourself when selecting a website are things like what will be the gender of your readers, what will be their level of education, and whether they have children. But even if you have selected a website that seems to be visited by people that would be interested in your book there are further questions. How big/important is the website? Does it have a lot of traffic? Are people that visit the website primarily interested in books or does the website offer other products and/or services that would distract them from looking at books? Is there a better website? These are all important questions to ask to make sure you make the best out of your promotional efforts. So don’t spread yourself thin trying to list your book everywhere. Try to focus and tailor your promotional efforts to your target readership. I know this is easier said than done. I myself am still learning and experimenting with promotional approaches and different ways to do things and sites on which to post. But when it comes to promotion we should all heed the old seemingly paradoxical advertiser’s maxim: less is more. What do you think? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
The folks at Freebooksy conducted a survey among 72 authors regarding their KDP Select free book promotions. You can click on the link to read the results, but one thing regarding book reviews caught my attention because I have never known of anyone mentioning this before. The total number of free downloads was most positively correlated with the number of reviews a book had (i.e. more reviews equal more downloads) and the book’s ranking was not as well correlated with more downloads. Freebooksy suggests that the reason for this is that readers eager to download free books choose those that have more reviews because a higher number of reviews “validates” the book and indicates it is worthy of a download. They also suggest that in the readers’ eyes, this metric is more important than the ranking (number of stars) the book has because the readers understand that some people may not like a good book and leave bad reviews. My only qualm with this finding is that books compete with each other for advertising space on the different book blogs. Books with a greater number of reviews have a higher probability of being featured in these blogs. Thus there is a chance that the effect found by the folks at Freebooksy just reflects the fact that books with more reviews get advertised to a greater extent gaining more visibility, as opposed to readers being more likely to choose books with more reviews over those that have fewer. But if this effect is found to be true, it would give authors yet another reason to be actively engaged in gathering book reviews. The recent finding that some authors paid for positive reviews has given book reviews a bad rap. Some people now claim that the sheer number of dishonest reviews out there makes them all but totally useless in evaluating book quality. Whether this is true or not is debatable. However, from a practical standpoint book reviews still remain an important metric in every author’s promotional equation. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I want to address an issue that I have been thinking about. On Amazon the ranking of books takes place according to the following system:5 stars: I love it.4 stars: I like it.3 stars: It's OK.2 stars: I don't like it.1 star: I hate it.
However, consider the ranking that is used at the website Goodreads: 5 stars: it was amazing4 stars: really liked it.3 stars: liked it.2 stars: it was OK.1 stars: didn’t like it. So here is the issue. The “average” rank in Goodreads is 2 stars (“it was OK” is in between “liked it” and “didn’t like it”). This is because the Goodread’s scale is skewed. The “good” side is covered by 3-5 stars, while the “bad” side is compressed into 1 star. I have seen that some reviewers that post their reviews on Goodreads often post the same reviews on Amazon. The problem is, for example, that an “OK” 2 star ranking on Goodreads is not the same as a 2 star ranking on Amazon. A 2 star ranking on Amazon means the reviewer didn't like the book. Similarly, sometimes I have been left scratching my head when I read a positive review on Amazon and then see the reviewer gave the book 3 stars (it's OK). Often after checking I have found that the reviewer has posted many reviews on Goodreads where 3 stars mean they like the book. I know that the meaning of the stars in both websites "pops up" when you move the cursor over them, but I think many reviewers that are accustomed to the Goodreads system often don't take this into account. I am not saying that one system is better than another, but there is a reality. If you go to the major book blogs you often find that they require a minimum rank of 4 stars on Amazon (not Goodreads) to consider featuring your book when you do a free promotion. Each day 3,000 books go free on Amazon and the competition for advertising space is fierce (unless you pay for it). So if we go by this “rule” you can see how ranking books on Amazon using the Goodreads scoring system can lower the ranking of books and create problems for authors. This is especially true in the first few months after publication when a book is vulnerable to swings in the rankings. Just consider that to neutralize the effect of one 3 star review (bring it up to 4 stars) you need one 5 star review. To neutralize the effect of a 2 star review you need two 5 star reviews. And as we know, unless a book is an overnight sensation, getting reviews is slow, hard work. Of course I realize the above is an oversimplification and it is unfair to single out Goodreads reviewers. Many reviewers have their own system as to what the stars mean, and you can just as easily make the opposite argument (i.e. that Amazon reviewers flocking to Goodreads undeservedly inflate the ranking of books). Also the general ranking of books at Goodreads does not seem to be lower than on Amazon. I researched several books on both websites and found the ranking could go either way. However, it would be nice if major sites like Amazon and Goodreads would harmonize their systems to avoid this ambiguity that can have potential adverse effects on the work of authors. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I want to address an interesting phenomenon I’ve encountered in my experience with Amazon’s KDP Select Program. As many of you know, if an author enrolls their book in this program, in exchange for exclusivity they get to give away their book for free for 5 days. And this has been a great promotional tool. Additionally, any book enrolled in the program is included in the Amazon Prime library where it can be borrowed by readers participating in the program. Amazon has allocated a pool of money to the program ($600,000 to $700,000), and this money is divided by the total number of borrows that take place within a given amount of time. Based on this ratio, Amazon then pays their KDP Select authors a certain amount of money per borrow. A reader who joins the Amazon Prime program pays $79 a year and is limited to borrowing one book from the Prime library per month. I remember that when this program got started many people argued that the program would not benefit authors who sold their books at low prices. The reason being that for that $79 investment to make sense, a reader would have to borrow 12 books a year each costing (79/12) $6.58 just to break even. Therefore, it was argued, Amazon Prime members would only borrow the more expensive books. This has proven to be false. Many authors selling books at prices lower than $6.58 have reported a substantial number of borrows for their books. So far Amazon has been paying $2.30 to $2.50 for each borrowed book. If you are an author selling your book for $2.99, Amazon gives you a 70% royalty, which means you earn about $2.00 per sale. But if your book is borrowed, you actually end up earning more ($2.30 to $2.50, instead of just $2.00). What is not clear is the situation with books that are priced even lower. Here is where I want to share my experience. My book The Sun Zebra is priced at $1.99. Out of every sale I make Amazon gives me a 35% royalty, which means I earn $0.70 per book sold. If my book were to be borrowed that would be a great thing. For me to earn $2.5-$2.3 per borrow is equivalent to selling 3.6 to 3.3 copies! But who would use their allocated monthly borrow on my book that costs $1.99 when they are paying $6.58 a month to belong to the Amazon Prime Program? The answer is: many people. I did my last free promotion from April 11 to April 13 of this year. So far about 45% of the income I’ve earned from this promotion alone comes from borrowed books! So why is this? I think that participants in the Prime program feel they are getting the return on their $79 investment from other things. If you belong to this program, among other perks you also get free two day shipping of Amazon Prime items you buy plus unlimited instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows that are available on Amazon (this is cheaper than Netflix which charges $8 per month). This is why I believe Amazon Prime participants have no qualms in using their monthly borrow on lower-priced books. But what about books that are priced even lower? I have anecdotal evidence from other authors reporting that their books priced at $0.99 are being borrowed. This is huge as in terms of royalties each borrow yields an income equivalent to the sale of 6.6 to 7.2 books. Unfortunately I haven’t found any hard numbers regarding this matter. Ideally I would like to know what percentage of royalties do borrows account for at different price points. Do Amazon Prime participants indeed borrow more of the higher priced books, or does price not affect their borrowing rate? Please leave a comment if you have any information about this or if you want to share your experience regarding borrows.
I published my book The Sun Zebra in November of 2011. From that date to the time I did my first successful free promotion on April 11 (about 20 weeks) I promoted, e-mailed, tweeted, blogged, and whatnot but only managed to sell 27 copies of my book. That is 1.35 copies per week. This is an experience that many first authors go through. In fact, the rule of thumb used to be that self-published authors would sell on the average only 100 copies of their books. The best ranking my book ever achieved was 17,580 and from there it started sinking reaching a ranking of 500,000 on a couple of occasions. Every now and then a buy would send it “soaring” close to 100,000 after which it would start sinking again. Then along came Amazon’s KDP Select program, which allows authors to give away their book for free. Here let me state that I did an early promotion that did not go well but then I introduced some changes to my book and marketing strategy, and I tried the promotion again. I gave my book away for free during 3 days. People downloaded 19,000 plus copies sending it as high as #9 in the free Kindle store. When the promotion ended it ranked #1,999 and in the 3 weeks since the promotion I have sold 170 copies with 46 units being borrowed, which (at a book price of $1.99) may count for 80 units or more. Even though I expected better results because my book and its cover are really good, it is a collection of short stories, and short stories are not a very popular category. This is why I think it did not gain further traction in the Kindle store. Other authors have had better experiences. However, with the promotion I achieved in 3 weeks results that I had not achieved in the 4 plus previous months. Although even with these improved sales figures I will obviously not be quitting my day job anytime soon, the point is that with the KDP Select program Amazon has given no name self-published writers like me a powerful promotional tool; if we use it well. My question is: for how long? There are 140,000 books in the KDP Select program and more are being added all the time. Multiplying that by 5 gives you the number of free days these books represent. There is now an endless supply of free books on Amazon. Unless a reader cares about reading a series or about an author’s other works, it is possible for said reader to upload hundreds of books into his/her Kindle without spending a single cent. So far “free” seems to still work. People are downloading free books but they are still buying. In fact the sales of some well-known authors have actually been increased by the program. But can we expect this to go on forever? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
As many of you know, Amazon has a program called the KDP Select which allows books to be checked out as a loan by readers participating in the program. Amazon has created a fund of money that is distributed among the total number of loans. Therefore, authors get paid every time a reader checks out their book. Additionally the program gives authors the ability to offer their books for free for 5 days. The catch is exclusivity. If you enroll your book to participate in the program it cannot be sold in any other outlet but Amazon. So, how has this program fared? Amazon claims that so far the program has been a success. In December of last year 295,000 books were borrowed paying each author $1.70 per borrow and the KDP Select lending library has swelled to 75,000 books. As a result of this, authors and publishers participating in the program increased their income by 26%. The company now has increased this fund from $500,000 in December to $700,000 in January. In addition to the money earned from books being lent, Amazon also noted that sales of KDP Select tittles also increased compared to those that were not in the program. An evaluation of Kindle owners participating the in the program compared to those that did not revealed that the ones participating bought 30% more books than the ones that didn't. The combined effect of royalties coming from borrowed books and from sales of more books has resulted in the top ten KDP select authors growing their book income 449% from November to December.By permitting authors to give away their book for free for a few days, Amazon has given them a powerful promotional tool that allows new readers to discover them. Overall the KDP Select program has had the effect of allowing self-published authors access to the top 10 slots of the different genres, displacing books by more traditional publishers.So it's that easy eh? Enroll your book in the KDP Select program, give it away for free for a few days and sit back and watch your sales increase. Not so fast.Giving your book away for free only seems to drive its sales after the free period if your book makes it to the top 100 in the charts of its respective category. Therefore making your book free is not enough. You have to promote your book to make sure it gets enough downloads to reach that magic 100 bracket. Thus authors have to alert their e-mail contacts and work their social media to let readers know their book is free on a particular day. In fact, some authors have placed paid advertisements in major book blogs. Yes, you read that right. Pay money to let readers know that you are giving your book away for free! The program seems to work best for authors with several published books because free promotion of one of the books will drive sales of the others. This is especially true if the book being promoted is part of a series. Also, having more books in the program gives you more free promotional days. Finally, the genre in which the book is in also seems to matter. If your book is in the more popular genres, it will tend to get more downloads when promoted. So the answer is yes, the KDP Select program seems to have worked for self-published authors as a whole but in general it favors those who have been around longer, have more books, and/or are able to marshal the promotional forces that can make their books reach the top ranks. For the no-name author who has put out his/her first book it is an additional promotional tool but the climb to the top is still steep. There are two final considerations to be made. One is that, as the KDP Select program becomes more popular, the market will be swamped with free books and its effectiveness may decrease. The other consideration is that the avalanche of free books may provide a windfall for book plagiarists who can now obtain many books for free and quickly republish them with new covers and author names. This is a big problem at Amazon and it's getting worse every day.
I have been thinking about the advice I have read that writers should define their target audience and its size. It is important to define the target audience so you know to whom you should promote your book. This will allow you to focus your marketing efforts. And defining its size is also important for considerations such as sales expectations and book pricing. Defining your audience depends on who you are writing for. Examples are families, young adults, older adults, women, men, African Americans, etc. But once you figure that out, how do you determine the size of your market?
I think we can approach this several ways. One is to use statistics that are available on the internet such as the percentage of people who own the devices that allow them to read e-books.
For example, I have previously posted here that 12% of adults now own e-readers, but who are these people and what are their numbers? According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, e-reader ownership displayed the following characteristics from November 2010 to May 2011 (see table).
If you take these figures and go to the webpage of the US census using their latest population projections you can do some calculations.
Suppose you are writing something that may be of interest to African Americans. With a population of 40 million and 8% e-reader ownership, that is 3.2 million people.
Or suppose you are writing something that may be of interest to people 50-64 years old, of which there are about 58 million in the US. From the table 13% of them own e-readers, so that is 7.5 million people.
There are other ways of going about this. Consider data from the study released by Bowker's Pub Track Consumer Service that I have quoted before regarding the percentage of e-books units sold per category (see graph).
Let's assume that about 1 million e-books are sold per month in the US. If you are writing fiction that is a market of 600,000 e-books a month, but if you are writing about religion it is only 40,000 e-books per month.
I don't claim that these approaches are accurate as there are many other variables to take into account. I am just trying to figure out a way to gain insight into the size of the market for the books we write and obtain a ballpark figure.
If you have a method or observation you would like to share or you know of some website or other resource that may be of help, you are welcome to leave a comment.