Alive and Writing

With 2015 nearly half over, it seems an update is well overdue. The lack of updates this year isn’t so much about nothing happening, but more about there not really being any real milestones reached (or none that I thought to be worthy of a post).  I think I’m far enough along on things to talk about them now, so here we go…

Badlands Book Three

The good news is that the manuscript for third book in my Badlands trilogy–Out of the Badlands–is halfway to completion. I hit 50k words this week and I expect the manuscript to clock in around 100k words. So far I’m on track to deliver the book by end of year. I’m really, really working hard to make that happen because I don’t want to delay its release again (it’s already going to be published a year later than I originally planned).

Another Badlands Novel

Around the beginning of last year I nearly finished the manuscript for another Badlands novel called Vengeance In the Badlands. The novel follows one of the main characters after the events that took place in book #2, but the story goes on its own tangent and thusly falls outside the trilogy. The good news is that because its already so far along I think I’ll be able to release it later this year, directly on the heels of book #3. Keep your eyes peeled for that or make it easy on yourself and sign up for my newsletter so that I can let you know about all my new releases (you’ll also receive a free ebook for signing up).

Other Works

I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline. These won’t be released until next year, but I’ve done some work on them already. I’m planning a novella crime series about a damaged guy who hunts down serial killers and I’ll be concurrently working on a new novel. I have a few ideas in the works for said novel, but it’s too early to say which one will grab my attention. It’ll be a surprise for both of us, I suppose. 🙂

Sales & Marketing

Sales continue to be mediocre, even on Amazon. I’ve seen sales really climb on Kobo and Barnes & Noble is holding a steady third place. After my experience in Select at the end of last year, I won’t be heading down that path again anytime soon. Right now I only have two short stories in Select; for me it just doesn’t work for my novels.

I did, however, temporarily reduce the price of my first Badlands book to $.99 for a few months on all platforms. It really helped to move some additional copies, anywhere between two to three times more. But like any sale, the price has to go back up again or it’s not really a sale. Still, book one is a dollar cheaper than the rest of the books to make it just a little easier to pull the trigger and give the series a try. When book #3 and the standalone novel are released, I’ll probably run another sale on book #1, dropping it to $.99 again. I might even try to get a Bookbub ad to see if I can move some copies.

That’s about all for now. Remember, if you enjoy my work the best thing you can do to help is tell your friends. And if you really want to be super helpful, leave a review. It really does make a difference.

KDP Select Six-Week Update

I’ve been back in KDP Select for about six weeks now. In other words, around half of my required 90 day term. I mentioned before that I wanted to test the program again after being out of it for nearly two years. Here’s what I’ve found:

Quantity-wise, my sales are down. Not by much (if you include borrows), but they’re still down compared to the last few months.

Revenue-wise, my sales are down. Quite a bit, actually. I’m earning a lot less money with so many of my sales coming in as KU/KOLL borrows. At $1.54 paid out per borrow, I’m earning around $1.00 to $1.25 less per novel than I was earning per sale. That said, I dropped prices across the board last month too, so some of my drop in revenue is due to the price drop. Still, I’m not selling or lending enough to make up for the difference and that also means something.

I kinda got screwed on two of my scheduled promotions. I’d planned on putting my horror novel on a Kindle Countdown sale. I scheduled the promotion, but then dropped the price on the book. That caused the promotion to cancel, which is fine, but now I can’t run another promotion. So apparently if you schedule a promotion but do something that causes that promotion to cancel then that’s all she wrote for that period. No reschedules, no do-overs. So I lost any opportunity I had to promote that title and another title. Sucky.

I had around 30 borrows last month. Thing is, I’m finding that I’m selling more than that at other outlets (B&N, Kobo & Apple). I’m also earning more there because they’re sales. So I’m earning less money and not really finding any more readers by being exclusive to Amazon. One could argue that I’m giving up even more by attracting new “buffet” readers at Amazon (KU subscribers) while giving up a la carte readers (pay-per-title). A la carte readers spend more money.

Given all this, I’ve opted out of Select and I’m just waiting for the second half of my KDP Select period to run out. I have a couple of promotions scheduled still, so we’ll see how those go. Without any outside advertising I doubt they’ll make much of a blip (one of my tests).

Was it a mistake? I don’t know about that. It was an experiment. The results have definitely been underwhelming. I’m looking forward to getting back into the other stores. I just hope I haven’t lost whatever momentum I built up outside Amazon.

My conclusion is that if your B&N, Apple and Kobo sales (combined or not) are 30-40% of your total sales, then going exclusive to KDP Select is likely to hurt your sales. But if you’re selling 90% or more at Amazon, it might not be a bad idea. Hopefully they’ll get the borrow rate up a bit higher than $1.54. If Amazon would remove the exclusivity requirement then it would be a no-brainer to join up. But giving up those outside sales channels might cost you more than it’s worth (that’s been the case for me). As always, your mileage may vary.

Quick Update on KDP Select

I opted in my Badlands books to Select on September 25th. I opted in the rest of my books less than a week before that. I wanted to answer some questions as to how effective Select might be for me again (I spent all of 2012 in it before opting out at the end of that year.)

Here’s the first update.

I ran a free promo on my short story, giving away around 100 copies. Day one it moved around 85 units before dropping off a cliff the second day (it probably got picked up on one of those free book sites the first day). Combined, the remaining four days moved around 15 units.

The results are negligible. No noticeable increase in sales of my other titles and not a single copy of the free short story sold.

Free is still something that’s never really worked for me. Others swear by it. Others do not. I’m not sure I’ll ever run a free promo again. The only reason I did it this time was because it was my $.99 short story. I’m giving up little by making it free.

One of the questions I asked was whether or not simply being opted in to Select sells more books because of increased visibility. So far after two weeks in I’m seeing nothing to indicate this is true. Sales are dismal. In fact, without my Kobo, B&N and Apple sales, I’m not earning shit.

I still have another two and a half months for things to turn around. During that time I’m going to be running Kindle Countdown deals on all my titles. We’ll see if those have any effect on sales.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m not running any Bookbub ads or anything like that. The experiment is to prove whether or not Select alone will help me move more books, using only Amazon promo tools.

Time will tell, but right now my decision to opt in seems like a bad idea. I only hope that I don’t lose the velocity I was gaining on Kobo. That would be a real shame. It was a risk I was willing to take, but it would still be a shame.

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.

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.

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.]