Posts Categorized: Publishing/marketing

The great self-published blog-off

March 11, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

Following some discussion about the difficulties of promotion for self-published authors, Mark Lawrence, author of the Broken Empire series, came up with a great idea: get some established fantasy bloggers lined up, and throw self-published books at them, 25 apiece, with a six month window to work through their ‘slush pile’ and find just one book to promote. The chosen books would then be looked at by all the bloggers and rated, to produce an overall winner.

Mark threw the idea out into the blogosphere, chose 10 bloggers from the many who volunteered, accepted submissions from self-published authors, randomly assigned each to a blogger and sat back to watch the fun.

Now, I’m not big on competitions, and writing competitions, in particular, seem to be more subjective than most. However, the opportunity to have my book at least looked at by a blogger who wouldn’t normally even consider a self-published work is too good to miss. I’ve submitted The Plains of Kallanash, and I’ve been assigned to Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues, which warms the cockles of my fangirl heart. It will be an honour to be rejected by Sarah.

Erm, rejected? Why so negative? Because statistics, that’s why. There’s only a 1 in 25 chance of being chosen for promotion to the next round, the competition is stiff and however brilliant a book is, it also has to capture the interest of the person reading it. I can’t even guess whether Sarah will enjoy Kallanash or not. No idea at all. Plus – brilliant? I wrote the thing, I’m only too aware of its weaknesses. Sarah, like all these bloggers, is used to reading the very best of trad published work, against which I would never, ever presume to compare my own scribblings. So, I’m realistic about the chances of being talent-spotted.

What really excites me about this has nothing to do with my own chances. It’s this: for possibly the first time ever, these ten bloggers will be looking seriously at self-published work. Some of them may never have cracked open such a book before, with the possible exception of a few authors who’ve switched from indie to a trad or hybrid deal, like Hugh Howey, Michael J Sullivan or Anthony Ryan. Now they get to look at 25 indie books, and evaluate them in exactly the same way they review any other book.

One aspect that will be really interesting to me is that most of these books are unknown quantities. There are a few who have sold by the shed-load, but most are like Kallanash: low to medium sales, relatively few reviews and no hype, no history, no buzz to go on. The bloggers can’t say: oh, I liked X’s last book, so this should be good. They can’t say: Y wrote a glowing review of this, so it must be good. They can’t even say: the publisher’s pushing the boat out for this one, so they think it’s good. Each book will be reviewed in a vacuum.

That might not sound difficult, but I’ve been reading and reviewing self-published books for several years now, and I find it really hard to judge a book in isolation. If I love it, that doesn’t mean anyone else will. If I hate it, maybe that’s just me. It’s a different judgement call from evaluating a book that’s already a known quantity. When I read Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, for instance, I already knew it was controversial, and that a lot of people hated the young protagonist. I knew what I was looking for, what questions needed answering.

Knowing something about a book or author creates expectations. Now, those expectations may or may not be met, but there’s something as a base line. But if there’s no starting point, no expectations, it’s like jumping off a cliff blindfolded. There’s just no knowing where you might end up. It’s a peculiar feeling opening a book without having the slightest idea what you will find inside.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this goes. I’ve read and reviewed several of the books on the list, although not always with glowing results. One, at least, I rejected because I found the plotline too trite (but it went on to do extremely well, which shows how much I know). Several on the list are authors who write way better than I do, and some have featured on my list of self-published gems; it would be no disgrace to lose to any one of them.

Whichever author ‘wins’ the competition, the real winner here is the world of self-publishing.

Here’s the complete list of bloggers participating, and books submitted.

 

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‘The Fire Mages’ launch: promotion results

February 10, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 3

My first epic fantasy book, ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, was published in September with no promotion, apart from me wittering excitedly on social media. It performed exactly as you might suspect (around 60 sales in the first month before flatlining, and only 3 reviews). I always intended to delay heavy promotion until I had at least three books out, but the new book, ‘The Fire Mages’, is a much more marketable candidate (coming of age, young girl finding her powers, loads of magic), so I wanted to give it a bit of a head-start without pushing the boat out financially.

The plan was to keep it at $0.99 for the first two weeks after release, combining that with some promotion every day. The first week would be smaller sites, with the big hitters in the second week. The objective was to generate steady sales which would give the book some staying power once the price reverted to $3.99.

Did it work? Hell, yes. Sales and borrows combined exceeded 600, so ten times the results for the first release. There was some sell-through for Kallanash, and even now, two weeks after the promotions ended, sales and borrows are still buoyant.

The details:

I booked a two-week blog tour with Enchanted Book Tours. I had a Goodreads giveaway which ended a couple of days after release. I also booked slots with 13 promo sites who sent out emails or listed the book on their websites:

BKnights ($21), SciFiFantasyFreak (free), AwesomeGang ($10), EbookLister (free), Flurries of Words ($8), Sweet Free Books ($5), Ebooksoda ($10),BargainEbookHunter ($15); PixelScroll ($15); Booktastik ($5), GenrePulse ($30), BargainBooksy ($40), ENT ($15)

Total promotion expenditure: $261 ($87 for blog tour, $174 for ads).

Sales numbers during promotion:

‘The Fire Mages’ sales: 252; borrows: 48

‘The Plains of Kallanash’ sales: 4; borrows: 4

Best promo sites for this book were: ENT, BargainBooksy, GenrePulse, Bknights, but all of them produced some sales and borrows (borrows were higher than I expected).

Best ranking (briefly): around 2,000 in the US Amazon Kindle store, and appearances in 3 different bestseller lists.

Total sales numbers for the one month since release:

‘The Fire Mages’ sales: 467; borrows: 175

‘The Plains of Kallanash’ sales: 25; borrows: 17

There are now 11 reviews on Amazon.com, 3 on Amazon.co.uk and 6 on Goodreads.

Average sales + borrows over the first month:

Pre-promo (3 days): 23 per day (including 18 pre-orders)

Promo week 1 – free and cheap sites: 13 per day

Promo week 2 – big hitters: 30 per day

Post-promo week 1: 23 per day

Post-promo week 2: 16 per day

Conclusions:

During the promotion, ‘The Fire Mages’ was only getting a royalty of $0.35 per sale, but even so, sales and borrows during the promotion covered about two thirds of the cost. The first few days at full royalty ($2.79 per sale) took care of the rest. The books still aren’t in overall profit, but since I paid a lot for cover design, proofreading and so on, I didn’t expect that. Almost three weeks after the last promotion day, I’m still selling and lending a few books a day (10+), ranking is hovering around 15,000 in the US Kindle store, and I am one happy bunny.

Footnote: for anyone who wants the blow-by-blow daily numbers, hop over to the Kboards Writers’ Cafe to the long thread on this (all the numbers are in the first post of the thread).

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‘The Fire Mages’ still at a special low price

January 17, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 2

Just a reminder that ‘The Fire Mages’ is still available at the new-release price of $0.99. To buy, click the link in the box at the right, which takes you to your local Amazon. You have a few more days to buy before it goes to the normal price of $3.99. If you’ve already bought it – thank you! Please tell your friends about it, too. And if you’ve read it, an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog would be very much appreciated, to help other readers decide if they would enjoy it.

The book has had a few reviews already. Here’s a snippet from the first to hit Amazon.com:

“The main characters were more authentic than I think you usually get in fantasy stories, but just like Robin Hobb, Ross is a master at crafting authentic characters. This story had everything I look for in a fantasy novel with action that kept the pages turning and a main character that I was rooting for from page one.”

You can read the rest at Amazon.

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‘The Fire Mages’: now available!

January 10, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 0

My new epic fantasy ‘The Fire Mages’ is now available to buy at all Amazons!  The first review at Amazon.com starts: “I could not put this book down. The pacing was perfect and kept me engaged from beginning to end.”

For the next two weeks it will be priced at just $0.99 (regular price $3.99), so this is a good time to pick up a copy. The paperback is also available, at a regular price of $11.99, but Amazon is offering it at $10.79 at the moment, and if you buy the paperback you get the ebook for free. If you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Prime, you can also borrow the book for free.

‘The Fire Mages’ is an epic fantasy coming of age adventure with (naturally!) a bit of a romance. It’s 150,000 words, or 386 pages. Here’s the blurb:

Kyra has always been drawn to the magic of spellpages. She is determined to leave her small village far behind and become a scribe, wielding the power of magic through her pen. Halfway through her training, she has a mage as patron and her ambitions are within her grasp. But a simple favour for her sister goes disastrously awry, destroying Kyra’s dreams in an instant.

Devastated, she accepts an offer from a stranger to help her find out what went wrong. The young man sees growing power within Kyra, potentially stronger than spellpages or any living mage. The answers to unlocking that power may lie within the glowing walls of the Imperial City, but its magic is strong and the unwary vanish without trace on its streets. Thirsty for knowledge and desperate to avoid another accident, she feels compelled to risk it.

While she focuses on controlling her abilities, a storm of greed and ambition boils up around her. Kyra is a pawn in the struggle for dominance between unscrupulous factions vying for rule of her country. Trusting the wrong side could get her killed–or worse, the potent magic she barely understands could be put to unthinkable evil.

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‘The Fire Mages’: coming soon!

January 4, 2015 Current writings, Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 1

‘The Fire Mages’ will be published this Friday, January 9th! An early Goodreads reviewer said:‘This is one of the best epic fantasy books I’ve read in a long time and I don’t say that lightly.’ To get your copy as soon as it’s released, you can now pre-order at Amazon (the link takes you to your local store). For a limited time, it will be priced at just $0.99. And it’s available right now as a paperback, priced at $8.39 (buy the paperback, and you can get the ebook free!).

ETA: As part of the pre-release build-up, Enchanted Blog Tours arranged a cover reveal party for me – a dozen blogs, all showing the cover and blurb. Karen, at ‘Karen Writes Stuff’ (great name for a blog!), got quite excited about it. Thanks, Karen, I think it’s an amazing cover too (designed by Streetlight Graphics).

‘The Fire Mages’ is an epic fantasy coming of age adventure with (naturally!) a bit of a romance. Here’s the blurb:

Kyra has always been drawn to the magic of spellpages. She is determined to leave her small village far behind and become a scribe, wielding the power of magic through her pen. Halfway through her training, she has a mage as patron and her ambitions are within her grasp. But a simple favour for her sister goes disastrously awry, destroying Kyra’s dreams in an instant.

Devastated, she accepts an offer from a stranger to help her find out what went wrong. The young man sees growing power within Kyra, potentially stronger than spellpages or any living mage. The answers to unlocking that power may lie within the glowing walls of the Imperial City, but its magic is strong and the unwary vanish without trace on its streets. Thirsty for knowledge and desperate to avoid another accident, she feels compelled to risk it.

While she focuses on controlling her abilities, a storm of greed and ambition boils up around her. Kyra is a pawn in the struggle for dominance between unscrupulous factions vying for rule of her country. Trusting the wrong side could get her killed–or worse, the potent magic she barely understands could be put to unthinkable evil.

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‘The Plains of Kallanash’: another promotion

December 16, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 0

With ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ nearing the end of its first 90-day run in Amazon’s KDP Select, I had three more free days to use up. I chose Wed to Fri 3rd/4th/5th December for no good reason, other than I’d picked a weekend last time, and it seemed a good idea to try something different.

The first 2 free days, back in October, were a modest success, with almost 800 downloads with only one paid promotion site (Bknights, $20), although resulting in no additional sales or reviews. This time, I thought I would experiment by paying a little more to promotion sites, and see if the combined effect helps. Each promotion site features the book on a combination of bulk emails to subscribers, websites and Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and so on. My expectations weren’t high; I hoped for 2,000 downloads overall.

Here’s what I booked:

Day 1: BKnights ($20), BookButterfly ($35)

Day 2: Genre Pulse ($30), PixelScroll ($15)

Day 3: PixelScroll (free extra day), Ereader News Today (ENT) ($15)

Total cost: $115

Results:

Day 1: 1,041

Day 2: 731

Day 3: 2,650

Total: 4,422

Wow, that worked well! All the promotions produced noticeable bumps in downloads when the email went out or the website ad went live, but Bknights and ENT were particularly impressive and long-lasting. Day 3 was also helped by the fact that the book was picked up for promotion on FreeBooksy, something I’d have had to pay $100 for otherwise. Lots of sites and email lists will do this: mention a free or discounted book that they think will interest their subscribers, but some of these unsolicited mentions produce more dramatic effects than others.

All those downloads got me to #65 in the free bestseller list on Amazon.com, to #2 in free epic fantasy, #3 in free swords and sorcery and (most amusingly) #5 in the fantasy sub-genre of romance, so for a while ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ mingled self-consciously amongst a swathe of cover images of werewolves and shirtless men.

So what is the value of giving away books for free? The main objective is to get the book into the hands of readers, of course. For new authors, this is vitally important. Hopefully, some of them will read it and perhaps leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or tell their friends about it.

What I didn’t expect was that the day after the free promotion, there would be a whole heap of sales of the full-price book. Presumably, lots of people read their emails a day late and clicked to buy without realising that the book was no longer free. A few returned it later, but not as many as I’d expected. The following day produced a few more sales (and borrows). The book ended up ranked at around 6,000 overall in the paid Kindle store for a while, and in the top 100 of a couple of sub-genres, having been ranked at 660,000 before the promotion.

Other side effects: some new reviews, Goodreads readers and ratings, and my very first ever fan email: “Thank you for the wonderful read”. Awww. And the rush of sales blasted me past my second milestone: 100 sales. The increased rate of sales and borrows, while slower now almost two weeks later, is still above pre-promotion levels.

So the take-home message is: promotion pays, even when you’re giving the book away, but only when you get into the thousands of downloads. And the unexpected rush of paid sales actually covered the cost of the promotion. For anyone with multiple books to sell, a modest promotion, whether free or discounted, should more than pay for itself.

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‘The Fire Mages’: ARCs available

December 13, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 3

‘The Fire Mages’ is all set for publication on January 9th. I now have ARCs available, so if anyone out there would like a copy to read for review, please email me. I have both mobi, epub and pdf formats available (sorry, no print copies yet). Reviews can be posted immediately on Goodreads or your blog, and on Amazon after publication.

‘The Fire Mages’ is an epic fantasy coming of age adventure with (naturally!) a bit of a romance. Here’s the blurb:

Kyra has always been drawn to the magic of spellpages. She is determined to leave her small village far behind and become a scribe, wielding the power of magic through her pen. Halfway through her training, she has a mage as patron and her ambitions are within her grasp. But a simple favour for her sister goes disastrously awry, destroying Kyra’s dreams in an instant.

Devastated, she accepts an offer from a stranger to help her find out what went wrong. The young man sees growing power within Kyra, potentially stronger than spellpages or any living mage. The answers to unlocking that power may lie within the glowing walls of the Imperial City, but its magic is strong and the unwary vanish without trace on its streets. Thirsty for knowledge and desperate to avoid another accident, she feels compelled to risk it.

While she focuses on controlling her abilities, a storm of greed and ambition boils up around her. Kyra is a pawn in the struggle for dominance between unscrupulous factions vying for rule of her country. Trusting the wrong side could get her killed–or worse, the potent magic she barely understands could be put to unthinkable evil.

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‘The Plains of Kallanash’: FREE for 3 days

December 3, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

Yes, folks, epic fantasy adventure ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is now free at all Amazons from Wednesday 3rd December 2014 until Friday 5th December 2014. Pick up a copy from your local Amazon by clicking the link on the right – it takes you to your own Amazon.

If you’ve already bought Kallanash – thanks! Why not tell your friends about it, too? Enjoy!

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I’m back!

November 24, 2014 Current writings, Publishing/marketing 2

Did anyone even notice I was gone? No? Oh well. I’ve just spent three very pleasant weeks in Australia, first in Adelaide, then crossing the Nullarbor desert by train to Perth, then back to Adelaide to catch the plane home. Great weather, great food, great wine, great people – so friendly and just all-round nice people. And an astonishing number of them from my original stamping ground of Merseyside. Very weird to fly half-way round the world and hear so many Scouse accents.

I got plenty of reading done on the long flights to and from the UK, and on the train. Thank goodness for a well-stuffed Kindle. I have eight reviews ready to post, and several other books partly read. Lovely to be able to catch up on my reading, and not to have twenty other things vying for my attention.

I got some writing done, too, although I find travelling less conducive to creative thought. Still, I got a couple more chapters written of the current work in progress (book 4 in the Brightmoon world). I also did a full read-through on book 3, so progress is being made.

Current state of play:

Here’s a quick rundown on where the various books are at:

‘The Plains of Kallanash’: published, sold/lent around 80 paid copies, plus around 800 free copies.

‘The Fire Mages’: currently awaiting final beta reports, then one more edit and proofreading, ready for a January publication date.

‘The Mages of Bennamore’: complete and ready for editing. Cover art booked. Publication (I hope!) around May 2015.

‘The Mines of Asharim’: about 70,000 words written, probably about half-way.

Coming up:

I have another set of free days planned for Kallanash for early December – 3rd/4th/5th – and a little light promotion to help things along. So if you know of anyone who might like a free read, let them know.

I’m also beginning to plan for the release of ‘The Fire Mages’ in January. Beta readers have been very positive about it, and not found too many glaring plot holes so I’m going to give it a modest promotional push – a blog tour and a few not too expensive email lists. It will be quite fun to have two books out! I’m beginning to feel like a proper author. 🙂

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‘The Plains of Kallanash’: first promotion results

October 29, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 4

When ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ was published in September, I took the decision not to do any serious promotion. There were several reasons for that, not least the fact that I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing, so very likely I would be wasting both time and money. But the main reason was the received wisdom that promotion is pointless until you have at least three books out. Why promote a single book, the thinking goes, when you can’t offer an enthusiastic reader anything else? Once you have three, preferably in a series, then promoting book 1 leads to increased sales on books 2 and 3.

But I’d decided to enroll with KDP Select (it seemed easier to stick to Amazon until I had a better grasp on this publishing lark), so I had free days to use. And I’ve been active on Goodreads for years, so a giveaway there seemed a good idea.

Goodreads Giveaway 16th Sep-26th Oct

The purpose of a Goodreads giveaway is not, in fact, to give away oodles of books, hoping for people to read, rate and review. Since the only product that can be given away is the print version of the book, that naturally limits the scope of the prize (LibraryThing is the place for ebook giveaways). Publishers with big marketing budgets can afford to give away ten or twenty books, but self-publishers will probably want to limit themselves to one or two. What you hope, however, is that a lot of people will sign up for a chance to win the book, and along the way will notice it, add it to their shelves and (if you’re lucky) buy it. It attracts attention to the book.

The biggest signups are at the beginning (when the book appears on a list of new giveaways), and at the end (when it shows up on the ending soon list). I had almost 60 signups on day 1, then around 5-10 a day until the last few days, when numbers skyrocketed. Eventually 1,632 people entered the giveaway, with 264 on the final day alone. However, I discovered that the giveaway ended the moment the calendar ticked over to the last day (26th). I’d expected it to run right through 26th, giving Sunday browsers a chance to enter, and I could pop the winning copies in the post first thing Monday. I shall know for next time.

Was it worth while? For getting the book noticed, certainly. Over 800 people added the book to their to-read shelf. However, it’s only produced 8 additional ratings and no extra reviews. It’s hard to know how many people actually bought the book as a result. It was priced at $0.99 for most of the time, and free for the last day, so I’m sure a few picked it up, but there was no obvious spike in sales. Taking postage and packing into account, it’s probably cost me less than $30, which is not a lot for the number of people who now know the book exists.

KDP Select Free Days 25th/26th Oct

I chose the weekend of 25th/26th October for my first 2 free days to coincide with the end of the Goodreads giveaway. I paid $20 for a Bknights promotion on 25th, and the book was also mentioned on various lists, Tweets and websites which trawl Amazon looking for new free books. I advertised the free days on my blog, on Twitter, on Google+ and on Wattpad. I’m not a big Facebooker, so I didn’t post there.

The price drops to free at midnight Pacific time, or 8am UK time, so naturally downloads were slow to start with – just a few copies in Europe. Things started to pick up around 8am Pacific time, and then increased dramatically around 10am Pacific with around 120 downloads in the following 2 hours. This is around the time of the Bknights promo, so although Kallanash was placed well down the list, it was clearly very effective.

After that downloads dropped off slightly (yes, I checked every hour!), but the overall results were better than I expected:

Day 1: 532 downloads

Day 2: 252 downloads

Total: 784 downloads

Most (689 or 88%) were from the US, but there were 45 from Germany, 39 from the UK, 10 from Canada and 1 from Italy (Ciao e grazie, persone d’Italia!).

Most entertaining of all, the pace of downloads on day 1 weaseled me into the free bestseller charts, peaking at #401, and reaching #7 in the free Sword and Sorcery sub-chart, and #8 in the Epic Fantasy sub-chart. Which was all great fun to watch (and take screenshots of), but of course it doesn’t mean anything. Free downloads don’t affect normal sales rank at all, and only drive sales if they number in the thousands. The only thing that’s changed is that 784 extra people now have a copy of the book stuffed into a dusty corner of their Kindle. And maybe one or two of them will read it. Eventually.

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