I talked in part 1 about my writing and publishing career to date, and my writing plans for 2016. This time, I want to talk about the other half of the writing/publishing equation, which is launching and promotion, or telling the world your books exist.
There’s a lot of talk about marketing strategies and building a platform and the value of blog tours or Facebook boosts or whatever. However, the only truly effective measure I’ve found has been paid promotion via mailing list sites. The most effective ones included Ereader News Today, One Hundred Free Books, Book Barbarian, Robin Reads, FreeBooksy/BargainBooksy, Booksends and Free Kindle Books and Tips. Both discounted books (setting the price to 99c) and free worked well.
Having a mailing list is reputed to be a good way to boost a new book launch, by setting the book to a special low price for a day or two, and telling your mailing list about the deal. Some people expand their mailing list by offering a free book as an inducement to sign up, but this results in lower engagement from the list. I’ve allowed my mailing list to grow organically, through links at the end of each book and on the website, so my list is still small, but one day I hope to have enough readers signed up to be able to launch a book with no promotion other than a single email to the mailing list.
Another long-term strategy is the obvious one: write more books! With only one book out, a reader who enjoys it has nowhere else to go, but if there are several, there’s a good chance of readers moving on to devour the whole set, one after the other. I’ve noticed a definite increase in baseline sales and borrows, now that I have four (soon to be five) books out. That increase is something that will likely continue into the future, so long as I can write and publish at a steady and not too infrequent rate.
There are other promotion strategies that might help, but at a much smaller scale. Blogging, social media engagement, soliciting reviews from bloggers – these get an author’s name out there, and may result in a few sales, but I don’t recommend spending a lot of time on any of these unless you happen to enjoy them. And don’t let them eat into the writing time.
For my first published book, I had no clue about marketing or promotion, so I basically didn’t do any! Sales were low in consequence. For the second book, I splurged rather at the time of the launch, and that worked very well. It worked even better for the third book. It began to look as if I’d worked out a successful launch strategy. Nowhere near bestseller status, but enough to bring in steady sales.
But for the fourth book, the same technique was a flop. While the book was cheap and being promoted, it sold pretty well, but as soon as promotion ended and the price went up, sales dropped away. The long post-promotion tail from the previous books just wasn’t there.
Partly, this is the result of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription borrowing service, which changed the landscape fundamentally. If a reader is paying $9.99 a month to read as many books as they like, they’re bound to be less inclined to buy books. And the most voracious readers, those who once would have bought the most books, are now in KU. As soon as the fourth book was launched, pages read surged, and stayed high for the whole of the first month, while the book was featured on Amazon’s Hot New Releases lists. And that was unaffected by promotions.
The other significant factor is Amazon’s new policy of encouraging readers to ‘follow’ an author if they liked her/his books. When there’s a new release, Amazon will send out an email telling those followers about it. That can result in a surge of sales – at full price! – some time after release. My fourth book saw some 80 additional sales as a result, which absolutely astonished me. I would never have suspected I had so many followers. And again, this is unaffected by promotions.
The no-promo launch
So for the fifth release, on 15th January, I’ve decided to change tack experimentally. The book has been on pre-order for three months, and has 200+ pre-orders now, all at 99c. I’ll keep it cheap for a couple of days, so that my mailing list and blog followers have a chance to pick up a bargain if they didn’t pre-order, and after that it goes to full price. However, since this is my first sequel, it will be only $2.99 and the previous book in the sequence will be only 99c for the first month or so.
And there will be NO PROMO. This is the really edgy part, for me. Will it sink like a stone? Will it flap its wings for a couple of days and then crash land? Or will it actually stick a little better, because of the higher price point? Whatever it does, I expect to see two certain outcomes: 1) an increase in pages read as soon as the book is released; and 2) assuming Amazon sends out its oh-so-helpful email again, a bump in sales after a couple of weeks. I’m hoping that this will be enough to keep things afloat for a while. After the first month, I’ll re-evaluate, and perhaps organise some promo if needed.
The no pre-orders launch
For the following book, my sixth, which I hope to release in May, I’ll try a different strategy again – no pre-orders. I hope this will encourage readers who like the books to sign up for my mailing list. It seems to be an either/or thing: readers either pre-order the next book or they sign up to the mailing list. Either works as a way of finding out about the next book, but the mailing list brings in potential customers for every new book, not just one.
Pre-orders have worked very well for me, especially the long-running ones, which have kept the book constantly in the Hot New Releases lists, even with only 2-3 pre-orders per day. It does dilute the impact of the launch, though, since many guaranteed customers have already bought the book. But I’ve found an unexpected bonus to pre-orders: because they keep the book visible for several weeks or months before launch, and the price is low, I get pre-orders from people who haven’t read the other books. When the new book is released, there’s a little spike of follow-on sales of all the earlier books. So, swings and roundabouts.
But this business is all about experimenting, so I’m going to try launching a book without pre-orders for the first time ever, just to see what happens.
The bang-bang-bang launch
For my Regency romances, I intend to try something very different, but a technique that’s well-tested by others, and is known to work well. This will be a series, probably of six books, but I could stop after four or take it further than six if I want to. They’re shorter than my epic fantasy – I’m aiming for 50,000 words apiece, whereas the fantasy is typically 140,000 words or more. Because they’re shorter and, individually at least, less complicated, I should be able to complete each one in 2-3 months. However, rather than publish as I go, I plan to stack them up until I have at least four ready to go, then release them a month apart.
Why? The idea is to take advantage of Amazon’s 30-day grace period wherein new books reside on the Hot New Releases list and get a ton of exposure. So, release one, then 30 days later, release another before the first has quite shot its bolt. That way, the series stays in the limelight for as long as possible. Of course, this also allows me to weave a number of long-running sub-plots into the mix, which will meander through the whole series. It’s not so easy to do that if the early books are already out.
On building a career
There’s a school of thought that says a book has to hit the stratosphere just after launch or else it’s sunk. I don’t entirely agree with that. I’ve seen authors whose careers gradually built over two or three years or more, and I’ve seen individual books revived by a timely promotion, which went on to sell very well. So I’m not overly concerned about a launch that’s less than stellar, or (for the Regencies) a series that doesn’t take off immediately.
To me, the important factor is to produce books that I enjoy writing, and to minimise the stress and pressure of self-publishing. It’s very easy to get swept up into the gotta-get-another-book-out fever. Well, blow that. I’m having fun here, and I’m happy to take things at my own pace, which is faster than some but slower than many.
Expectations for 2016? No expectations. Hopes, maybe. I hope to publish three fantasy books this year, and the first of the Regency romances. I hope sales and borrows continue to rise, month on month, and year on year. I hope readers continue to find the books and that some of them at least, find my style of storytelling to their liking.
And I hope that the writing and publishing continues to be so much fun. I’m having an absolute blast.
Have a good 2016, everyone.