End of Year Blitzkrieg

So here we are at the end of September, with three months left to go in 2014 (as hard as that is for me to believe). NaNoWriMo is coming up again in November too.

I’ve been messing around with KDP Select and pricing and whatnot for some time now. That stuff doesn’t produce new words. I’ve also been revising, editing and proofreading The Crossover Gene, which has sucked a lot of my time away from writing new words.

I need to finish Badlands #3 and I also want to write a novel for NaNoWriMo. I was going to do it last year, but since I ran behind on Badlands #2 it got pushed. This year I’m on schedule, so I’d really like to knock out that novel this time around. I also have some short stories I want to finish.

So with the decision to do a 90-day stint in KDP Select already behind me and with The Crossover Gene being uploaded to Amazon tomorrow, I figured I’d just go nose to the grindstone and write the hell out of the rest of the year. Finish Badlands #3 and the new novel and those short stories. No editing or proofing, just new words.

I’ll likely go silent here on the blog for a bit, but I might try to check in once a month or so. I’ll definitely check in again by end of year and tell how things went, what worked and what didn’t, etc. I’ll also update with info on my current KDPS stint.

So until then, take it easy.

More on KDP Select

I’ve been mulling over KDP Select pretty hard the last couple of months. As I mentioned in the last post, I moved all my non-Badlands titles into Select to test it out.

Today I opted in my Badlands books.

Why, after all I said about Kobo sales increasing and non-Amazon markets making up 35% of my sales? Well, for starters I’m curious about a few things.

How might Kindle Unlimited perform for me? Might it hook new readers who want to try me risk free? KOLL borrows used to be pretty good for me, so maybe there’s still potential there.

Also, how might free work for me now in 2014? I had mixed results in 2012 when I did free runs, but I definitely sold more books overall.

Kindle Countdown deals? Do they work?

And the tough question that’s hard to prove…does simply being in Select give my book more visibility? Will I see sales increase across the board? Will I show up in more also-boughts?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. The only way to find out is to opt in and see what happens.

Select requires 90 days of exclusivity. That puts me eligible to opt out around the end of December. Badlands #3 won’t be out until January or February, so if Select turns out to be a crappy decision I have time to opt out before book #3 comes out. Readers who bought into the series on other devices won’t be affected.

In other words, now’s the window I needed to get my questions answered. If I wait, I’ll have to make some tough decisions around my best-selling series.

But what if Select works wonders for me? Will I keep all my books opted in? I don’t know. Will that piss off readers on other platforms? Possibly. But I’ll say this…if you started my Badlands series outside Amazon and want to finish it on your preferred reader and can’t, contact me. We’ll work something out. I wouldn’t be allowed to sell you the books, but that doesn’t rule out review copies.

I have a few promotions scheduled, staggered over the next 90 days. Two free givaways and two Countdown Deals. Not sure what I’ll do with the Badlands books yet. I’m considering a free giveaway on book #1 and a Coundown Deal on book #2, right before the pre-order page for book #3 goes live (which would be at 40% regular price). That could really build momentum around the series.

For now I’m seeing no borrows for any books after being in there for less than a week. Sales are slightly up, but not so much that I can correlate it with opting in to Select. Could just be normal fluctuations. I’m currently running a free giveaway right now on one of my short stories. That did pretty well on the first day, but fell off a cliff by day two. I think I’ve given away maybe 85 copies so far.

While it might seem that that I’m all over the place, there really is a method to the madness. Having the guts to change course is a strength often downplayed by political talking heads as ‘waffling’. I don’t listen to those assholes. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if you keep doing the same thing you’re going to keep getting the same thing. I’d rather be doing something than sitting back and just letting things happen to me.

We’ll see how it goes. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Reconsidering KDP Select

I recently read an article by Hugh Howey wherein he discussed his considerations around going all-in with Amazon. I won’t go into every little detail here (that’s why I provided the link), but it got me thinking (again) about my choice to opt-out exclusively.

I spent nearly all of 2012 in Select and I made a decent amount of money from the borrows. I’m sure I also garnered new readers (some of whom said so in the reviews). I sold incredibly well, but that was back in the good ‘ol days, during the Kindle Gold Rush, so to speak.

I opted out in 2013 and have been out ever since. I’ve also watched my sales plummet, though I think that has more to do with a cooling market than opting out of Select (I hope so at least).

I’ve been reconsidering Select for the past six months or so, especially after they added Kindle Unlimited and Countdown Deals. Part of what KDP Select exclusivity brings is a collection of discovery tools. Kindle Countdown Deals, Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), Kindle Unlimited (if the customer has signed up) and Free Promotions. I also suspect that Select books are given better visibility, but that’s conjecture on my part.

Kobo does allow for free promotions and price-reductions, which is great. B&N doesn’t really do crap for indies, but I suspect that’s because they’re still in bed with all the big publishers. By all appearances their Nook platform is slowly dying and could go away altogether before too long anyway. Apple iBooks doesn’t really do much for indies either and it’s a major pain in the ass to upload directly to them (I use Smashwords).

So I asked myself…if Amazon is providing all these tools, what are the other guys offering? Simply being “not Amazon” isn’t really enough. I feel like these vendors need to do something to convince independent writers to distribute through them.

That said, I’m leery of going all in with Amazon for every title I have. Also, I think I’d piss off more than a few people if I yanked my Badlands series from the other ebook vendors. People who started that series on their Nook or iPad should be able to finish it there, without having to jump to Amazon.

I decided to land somewhere in the middle. As I’ve posted before, non-Amazon channels account for as much as 38% of my sales now. But…of those non-Amazon sales, 99% of them are in my Badlands series. My other stand-alone books sell virtually no copies on the other platforms.

So now that I have a decent little backlist, I opted in four of my six titles: a stand-alone horror novel, a collection of short stories, a novella and a stand-alone short story. These haven’t sold jack outside Amazon, so I figure I have nowhere to go but up. These lagging titles will now be eligible for Kindle Unlimited borrows as well as KOLL borrows.

I scheduled two books with Countdown Deals and the remaining two with free promotions. This gives me an efficient and cheap way to promote them. More importantly, I can test out Select again after being out of it for so long and see if it can still push a title up in the ranks.

By opting in only my lagging titles, I can test out Select without affecting sales of my best-selling series. This mitigates my risk and doesn’t really penalize readers (as much). My two Badlands novels are still available everywhere. Book three should be out later this year and I plan to opt it out of Select as well.

I’ll be watching my Amazon sales closely over the next 90 days. If I see huge spikes in sales, I’ll know the move was worth it. I’ll also be watching my sales of the Badlands series on the non-Amazon platforms to see if those sales drop. Could be that I’m penalized for de-listing titles (hopefully not).

As much as I want to make my books available on all platforms,  I also want to reach as many readers as I can. That could mean Amazon is the place for that, to the exclusion of Kobo, B&N and Apple. I won’t know until the data rolls in.

I’ll post updates as I go. I’m interested in seeing where this experiment takes me and my books.

Pre-order Update

As promised, a quick update on pre-orders of The Crossover Gene.

The pre-order page went live on 8/15, so it’s been up for a little more than two weeks. In that time I’ve received 23 pre-orders.

The first batch came after I emailed my list. Of the 64 people emailed, 40 opened the email and 10 clicked the link. That’s a 62.5% open rate and a 15.6% click rate.

Compare that to my last email campaign that went to 45 people with a 71% open rate and a 46.7% click rate. That email featured the availability of my second Badlands novel.

I’m not surprised by the lower open and click rate on Crossover, because Badlands is my best selling series. I had readers waiting for it. Crossover  doesn’t have as big of a built-in audience. It’s not exactly in the same vein as the Badlands books either. I expected the click-through rate to be lower for this one. This book is going to have to find its audience.

For the next week The Crossover Gene picked up pre-orders here and there, at a very slow rate. However, on August 28th, a writer friend of mine who’d clicked the “Like” button on my Amazon writer page said that he’d received an email notifying him of the new release. (We help each other out like that. :) ) I think that email must have gone to quite a few people because 12 orders came in over the next few days (click to enlarge).

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 6.22.24 AM

That gave me a nice little bump. The book will be on pre-order for five more weeks, so that gives it some time to collect more orders. Should be a nice little opening day on 10/10 when it goes live.

That’s also when I’ll change its price back to the normal $4.99 (it’s on pre-order for $2.99–40% off).

So far I’m pretty happy with the pre-order option. I’m planning on doing it with my next book too, along with the same discount structure.

I’ll update again as we get further into it, but two weeks in this is where it stands.

Life Outside Amazon

Amazon has always been my biggest sales channel, but with the bottom dropping out of sales around the beginning of 2013, sales outside Amazon have stepped in to fill some of the gap.

What does it look like when the bottom drops out? Take a look at this graph, showing all sales (including borrows). These are units, not revenue. (Click the thumbnails to enlarge.)

All_REUs

What I really want to show is the net effect of all sales outside Amazon. Check out this graph:

Non-Amazon_REUs

Some help reading this graph: these are units (sales+borrows) for all non-Amazon channels. Notice 2012 is low; I only had a book or two outside of KDP Select during that year, so I couldn’t sell at B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc.

What’s interesting here is the distribution of non-Amazon sales. Kobo, Apple and B&N are the clear leaders. Also, the rise and fall of sales is fairly consistent with the holidays.

But what’s most interesting here is Kobo. Since March of this year, I’ve had month-over-month increases at Kobo. I just had my best month at Kobo in August.

Kobo_REUs

Conversely, B&N sales are steadily declining.

BN_REUs

Apple is all over the place, but most recently I’ve seen a gradual increase since May.

I’m not sure what’s causing the increase at Kobo. Sony recently shut down and Kobo took over their existing customers, but I never had great Sony sales.

Could be Nook customers are abandoning B&N. Those customers might not be the Amazon type, so the next best thing could be a move to Kobo or Apple. As Nook devices age, iPads might be replacing them, with the Kobo app or iBooks stepping in to serve the need.

What I can say is that 35% or more of my sales are coming from outside Amazon these days. Plus, I’ve had a few borrows now through Oyster. Yet another revenue stream. All in all, too much to go exclusive. I’ve talked in the past about the benefits of diversification across channels. These kinds of increases make me even more certain I should be on all platforms. There is a market outside Amazon.

So if you’re not selling on Kobo or the other platforms yet, maybe you just need to hang in there. I spent a long time at Kobo with nothing to show for it, only to see sales inexplicably pick up. Apple’s picking up too.  Something to consider when you publish your books. To me, KDP Select is a short-term strategy. As writers we’re in this for the long-haul, so being available to as many readers as possible is the best long-term approach we can take.

THE CROSSOVER GENE Available for Pre-order

Amazon opened up pre-orders to indies just as I had a new release coming. I figured it was a perfect time to test it out.

So, if you’d like to save 40% and pick up my new book for $2.99 then you can pre-order it here. The book will be released on October 10th, 2014. After that, it’ll go back to $4.99.

I opted in for KDP Select, so it’ll be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days after the release date. After that, I’ll put it out on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Apple.

I notified my mailing list two days in advance. As of today, out of 64 people emailed, 36 opened the email and 10 clicked the link. So that’s a 56% open rate and a 15% click rate. Seems underwhelming at first, but apparently it’s better than the industry average (17% and 3.6%, respectively). So there’s that.

As of this morning, I had 5 pre-orders. That tells me that I have a 50% conversion rate from the email (10 clicks, 5 purchases). It’s a good rate, but I just need a bigger mailing list!

I just blasted this out on Facebook and Twitter, so I’ll be watching the pre-order count to see if it goes up. I’ll update again as things progress.

Well, I Had a Launch Strategy…

The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? As soon as I had a launch strategy planned for The Crossover Gene, Amazon goes and gives us pre-order buttons!

So what’s changed from my original plan? Initially I planned to launch with a Kindle Countdown deal (one that allowed me to price under $2.99 and still earn 70%). That’s not available on a pre-order (at least I didn’t see it as an option).

Instead, I decide to set the book at $2.99 for the pre-order period. The book will be available for pre-order until October 10th, after which it’ll go live in the Kindle store and everyone who pre-ordered will get the book pushed to their Kindles.

Amazon requires a rough draft to be uploaded for pre-orders, so I pushed up the version I sent to my editor. The final version won’t change much, mostly just typos and such. I have to have the final version uploaded by 9/30 (Amazon forces a 10 day cushion before they release). This gives my editor and proofreader time to get the book finished and me time to go over it one last time before publishing.

Oh, and if I miss my date? Well, I’m no longer allowed to do pre-releases for a year. Amazon really wants me to make that date (and so do I).

Since the book will be available for pre-order over the next six weeks, I’m going to raise the price to $4.99 on October 10th. This gives my list and loyal fans plenty of time to buy in at 40% off. I also noted the discounted price in the product description too. Kind of my own Countdown deal, advising customers to buy now while they can get it for 40% off. We’ll see how that works.

I’m also going to post a link to the pre-order page on the “Coming Soon” section of my website.

As far as my mailing list goes, I’m going to email my mailing list the moment the pre-order page is live. They’re always the first to know of my new releases (though pre-orders does change the game a bit).

I’ll update this blog again once the book goes live (and maybe before, if anything notable happens). Check back for more.

Yay! More Pricing Talk

After posting about data-driven pricing, I’ve since done a bit of back-pedaling. While I haven’t deviated dramatically, I’ve reconsidered a few things.

I dropped the price of Into the Badlands back down to $3.99 (from $4.99)

Why?  Because I wanted to reduce the barrier to entry for that series. Some people give the first book away for free, but I haven’t been able to get on board with that just yet. But a 25% price reduction is fair for everyone, in my opinion.

I raised the price of The Desolate back to $3.99 (from $2.99)

Initial results at $2.99 looked good, but then sales dried after ten days or so. I know, you gotta set it and let it stay there for a while. But I’m trying to get away from the $2.99 novel. $3.99 seems more reasonable to me. Will the market bear that price? Hard to say. But we’ll see.

I left Badlands #2 (Beyond the Badlands) at $4.99

I think my books are worth the five bucks these days. Seems reasonable to me. If I stick with $4.99 as the “new norm” for novels, then Badlands #3 and #4 will also come in at $4.99 as well. I’m also planning on releasing The Crossover Gene at $4.99. Again, the market will bear what it bears, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

So, I raised the price on my horror novel and discounted the first book in my series. But I’m still sticking with $4.99 for all my new stuff, thus far. Once sales data starts rolling in, I should have a better idea of what’s working and what’s not.

Launch Strategy: THE CROSSOVER GENE

While I agree with Dean Wesley Smith’s view on not making a book an event, I do plan to have some sort of strategy in place when I release The Crossover Gene. I don’t plan to sit and dwell on it though because I have another book partially finished and yet another still to write in order for me to finish out the series. In other words, I’m gonna be busy.

That said, I do have some plans in mind. I’ve been toying with pricing on my backlist recently (admittedly backtracking on some of my best-laid plans) and also thinking about how to price The Crossover Gene upon release.

Ed Robertson has some great thoughts on frontlist and backlist pricing, namely pricing your frontlist like your backlist. Instead of charging full price when the book comes out, price it cheap and move the units. This is great because it makes the book attractive for purchase and rewards long-time fans with a lower price.

My plan is to release Crossover for a reduced price, say $1.00. Loyal fans get a price break and the reduced cost will hopefully spur initial sales, pushing my rank up and getting a nice collection of “also boughts”.

But it’ll only last for a limited time. Once the introductory period is over, the book will revert to its full price of $4.99.

KDP Select

This is where Select comes in. I’m not a big fan of exclusivity. I spent all of 2012 in Select, but opted out in 2013. I’ve been out ever since. One of my goals is to be as accessible as possible and being on all ereader platforms is the right way to do that (in my opinion).

But Select can work for writers. With the addition of Kindle Countdown Deals and now Kindle Unlimited, Select is looking viable again, albeit for a limited  time. My plan is to put Crossover into Select for 90 days. During that time I’ll run every promotion I can: free days, Kindle Countdown, whatever. It’ll be available for borrow in KU. Then, when the 90 days are up, I opt out of Select and put the book up on Apple, B&N, Smashwords and Kobo.

I’m calling this approach “Kindle First”.

What do I expect to gain? Well, for starters, this book is slightly different than my other work. It’s a sci-fi thriller, not horror or post-apocalyptic. I’m hoping to get some new eyes on the book via Countdown Deals and Kindle Unlimited borrows.

Some of my existing readers will no doubt follow along with me for the ride. I don’t want my most loyal readers to pay more, so the sale price is meant as a reward for these readers.

One of the perks of being on my mailing list is finding out about new releases before anyone else. Providing a discount to these people makes signing up even more of a no-brainer.

Do I need Countdown deals to discount the book? No, I don’t. But I figure it’s worth testing the tool out to see if those deals drive more buys.  I’m also excited about Kindle Unlimited as readers can very easily and cheaply take a chance on me. Most books peak and drop within 90 days anymore, so I figure I’ll strike while the iron’s hot.

Other Platforms

Unfortunately, this means that any of my readers on non-Amazon devices are going to have to wait for three months before they can buy the book. Sucky, I know. That said, Amazon says that I’m not allowed to sell the book on another digital platform for 90 days while in Select. But…if a reader should happen to contact  me about wanting a “review copy” for free, then I think something could be arranged. :)

Other Titles

Does this mean I’m moving my other titles exclusively to Amazon? Hell no. And I’m doubly sure I’m not doing that with my Badlands series. Imagine how pissed off Kobo or Nook readers would be if they were waiting on a new book in a series, only to find out it’s exclusive to Amazon? My cardinal rule: if the other books in the series are available outside Amazon then any and all new books in that series must be as well. So that means Badlands #3 and #4 will not be exclusive and will be available immediately on all platforms. In the future, if my “Kindle First” approach works, then standalone novels might go Amazon exclusive for 90 days. We’ll see.

Mailing List

I’ve built a decent little mailing list over the last year and a half and I’ll be using it again with this release. I will tell folks about the exclusivity caveat, but assure them that the book will be on other platforms in 90 days. I’ll likely email the list again after the book goes live everywhere, reminding them it’s available for purchase. I might even discount the price again so that these readers can get it for a reduced rate.

So there you have it; my plans for releasing The Crossover Gene. I’m really excited, especially since it’s so close. Outside of editorial changes, my work is finished, so I’m just waiting on the editor and proofreader now. I’ll post again after the book launches and let everyone know how it all went.

THE CROSSOVER GENE Has Gone to the Editor

The Crossover Gene Cover 251x400THE CROSSOVER GENE is now in the hands of my editor. After she’s finished (usually four weeks or less) then it’ll go off to my  proofreader before being published. I feel very confident in an early October release for this book.

Currently, plans are to release this book at a reduced price for a limited time. I’m thinking $1.00, maybe through a Kindle countdown deal. Once the promotional deal expires, the price will go back to $4.99.

To be the first to know about the release (and to ensure you get the book at a reduced price) sign up for my mailing list here.

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Writing

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