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.

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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.

Data-Driven Pricing

Amazon introduced a new beta tool that uses their sales history to recommend what price nets you the most revenue for a given book. It takes into consideration genre, review history, sales history and more before spitting out its recommendation.

I decided to play with this a bit. I ran my horror novel, The Desolate, through the engine and it suggested I drop my price by a dollar to $2.99. I figured, why the hell not? So I did it.

It’s early, but results so far are good. Last month I sold three copies of The Desolate. This month I’ve already sold four copies, only six days into the month.

Looks like there might be something to this.

I then ran both of my Badlands novels through the engine. The first time I did it, the engine recommended I raise the price from $3.99 to $5.49. Today when I checked again it suggested I raise the price to $6.99!

Well, I’m not sure about that, data or not. But I know that’s my own personal bias showing through.

Today Hugh Howey posted findings by Data Guy that bear out a $4.99 price point as being effectively the best at moving books and earning royalty. The “sweet spot”, so to speak. Amazon uses this price point extensively on their own imprints and I know they’re not pricing based on which way the wind blows that day.

I’ve also read some theorizing that Amazon is now tweaking their algorithms to push higher-priced indie books. Books closer to $4.99 would do better than $.99 books, using this theory.

All this made me decide to get some balls and pull the trigger on $4.99 for both Badlands novels. No guts, no glory…right?

I think I’ll run this experiment through the end of the year, maybe even through Christmas, depending on how things go. As I go along, I’ll be able to compare year over year sales each month and see if the new pricing is working compared to last year.

Worst case, I change it back if it’s a bust. Best case, I increase my earnings and get more visibility for my book.

I’ll post again once some time has passed and I’ve had a chance to crunch the numbers. I need to post some of my numbers anyway. It’s been a while.

[Update 8/10/14: I actually dropped INTO THE BADLANDS back down to $3.99 because it’s the first book in a series. I want to provide less barrier to entry there. Subsequent books in the series are  planned at $4.99. I also plan on pricing my latest book THE CROSSOVER GENE at $4.99, after its initial promotional price run is over. See more in this follow up post.]