A month ago, my first fantasy novel went live on Amazon. This is a status report of what’s happened to it since.
Erm… what marketing strategy? Experienced authors publishing their umpteenth book plan the launch with meticulous attention to detail, organising street teams to post reviews and spread the word, scheduling promotional campaigns with military precision and adjusting on a daily or even hourly basis if sales and rankings underperform. I didn’t do any of that. The received wisdom is that sales can’t be expected to take off until the third book at least, and even then only in popular, high-turnover genres like romance and YA, and when the books are arranged into a neat series. I write stand-alones, loosely linked but not in a series, in epic fantasy with added romance (sort of). So a big promotional push would almost certainly be a waste of money.
My sole plan was to announce the book’s existence to online friends via my blogs, Twitter, Google+ and the writerly forums where I hang out. The price was set nice and cheap ($0.99) initially to allow those who know me to pick up a copy without breaking the bank, and I opted into Amazon’s Select program to take advantage of the free days later. Since Amazon allowed pre-orders for everyone shortly before release day, it seemed good to give that a whirl. I sent out a few ARCs a couple of weeks beforehand.
Once I got some print copies ordered, I started a Goodreads Giveaway (which won’t allow ebooks). I’m only offering two books, so the total cost will be the cost of the books plus postage. I also found a nice little promotions list on Kboards geared to new and undiscovered books (low rankings and/or few reviews). It’s only $15, so it’s worth a shot.
I’m a realist (read: pessimist). Or perhaps it comes from studying statistics in the past. I know the chances of a big take-up are vanishingly small, so my expectations were correspondingly low. I reckoned I could sell 15-20 copies to online friends, and thereafter perhaps 1-2 copies a week to random strangers. So somewhere between 50 and 100 copies in the first six months. With reviews, I thought maybe 3-4 initially from online friends and ARCs, and then odd ones here and there. I couldn’t estimate borrows at all. Some people seem to get loads, some none at all. The Kindle Unlimited program is too new for me to guess how it might affect me.
I had 12 pre-orders, then two good days of 10 and 9 sales apiece. After that things slowed to a trickle, averaging roughly one sale per day for a while and then dwindling. There were 3 returns. Total sales 58, of which 42 were from the US, 12 from the UK, and 4 from the rest of the world. So expectations exceeded.
7 borrows. I noticed quite a few spikes in rankings unrelated to sales, so I’m guessing those were from borrow downloads which may (or may not) turn out to be actual reads later (a reader has to get to the 10% mark to trigger an entry on the report, and therefore a payment).
Here’s where everything fell flat on its face. I got one review on UK Amazon a couple of days after publication, and a deliciously complimentary 5* review on Amazon.com after a couple of weeks (thank you, random stranger!), but otherwise, nothing.
The Goodreads giveaway resulted in more than five hundred signups, about half of whom added the book to their to-read shelf. It also gave me a few ratings on Goodreads: 3 at 4*, 4 at 3*, with one 2*, with an average of 3.25. No reviews attached (apart from a repeat of an Amazon one), but I assume the ratings came from people who have bought and read the book. The objective of raising awareness of the book was achieved, as well as a few sales (and it still has a couple of weeks to run). The Kboards Discovery Day promotion, which cost me $15, resulted in zippo. However, a Twitter account called KU Spotlight (@KUSpotlight) has been tweeting about books in Kindle Unlimited, including mine, and that’s resulted in a couple of mini-spikes of sales/borrows (although nothing since: the law of diminishing returns).
This is pretty much in line with my expectations. Perhaps a little better, although things tailed off quicker than I’d hoped. It was fun to watch the early sales come in and see my Amazon rankings shoot up after a sale and then meander down again.
Why am I telling you all this? Most self-published authors don’t talk about sales figures or rankings (unless they have something special to boast about). I certainly don’t have any results worth boasting about, that’s for sure. But that’s exactly the point: this is a book by a debut author that’s not in a hot genre and hasn’t had any hype or promotional push; low sales are exactly what would be expected. Too many new authors publish their first book and expect the world to fall at their feet. For a very, very small number of people, that does happen. For most people, no.
Books don’t just sell themselves. The first book sells to the author’s friends and family, with only a sprinkling of random sales to strangers. It takes several books (typically three, but it could be many more) to gain some traction and sell in reasonable numbers. Even then, sales drop off without constant promotion. Bestselling author Hugh Howey said recently that his sales were a quarter of what they used to be, because he hasn’t put out a new full-length novel since January.
So, for all aspiring and published authors out there, here are my numbers for your edification or amusement. Sometimes it seems as if all you hear about is the outliers, the hugely successful breakout hits. This is a reminder of what’s normal for self-publishers.
For the future, I have some promotion to take advantage of because of KDP Select. I’ve chosen to go for the five free days. The Countdown option runs for longer, brings in actual money and impacts on sales rankings, whereas the free days only affect ranking in the free charts. However, free days are likely to shift more copies, and at the moment I feel it’s more important to get the book out there and (possibly) read than to make any money from it.
If you want to mark your calendars: Kallanash will be free on 25/26 Oct (to coincide with the end of the Goodreads giveaway), and again on 3/4/5 Dec (for no particular reason). I’ve booked a cheap promotion for the 25 Oct, so I hope to shift a few copies then. If you’ve already got a copy (thank you!), please tell your friends about the free days so that as many people as possible can take advantage.
Looking further ahead, the next book, ‘The Fire Mages’, will be published probably in early January, and the third, ‘The Mages of Bennamore’, around May or so. That will be the point at which I will start thinking seriously about promotion.