Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step Ten: What Happens When The Sales Just Stop?

This is the final part of INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide to getting your stories into (digital) print. 

I will be compiling all these steps into a free e-book for my blog-readers when I am done. It’s called Let’s Get Digital and is penciled in for release at the end of June.

STEP TEN: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE SALES JUST STOP?

All self-publishers experience a dip in sales. Every single one of them. Most will also experience a run where they sell nothing at all. It happened to me three days after my second release. My sales just died. Three days after a new release!

I sold nothing in the UK for a week – of either title – and I sold nothing in the US for four days. Then it picked up again. This happens. Sometimes it’s a reporting delay by Amazon, but sometimes nobody is buying your books.

There is one thing that is guaranteed not to increase your sales: checking your KDP reports every fifteen minutes. That’s one thing you got to nip in the bud right from the off.

Self-publishers have all sorts of information at their fingertips which is both a blessing and a curse. It is great to have up-to-date sales figures so you can, say, track the initial sales burst of a new release and once that begins to fade than roll out some promo like a competition, but some people can find checking reports addictive.

It’s a complete waste of time, but I understand the temptation. What you need to do is give yourself a set time each day that you will check your figures, and then forget about them outside of that. I check mine in the morning, and again before I go to bed, so I can update my records.

The only time I might check it outside of that is if I see unusual amounts of traffic going from my blog to my Amazon listings, to try and ascertain if a certain kind of post is bringing new visitors who then check out my work.

But what do you do when the sales just stop? For starters, don’t panic.

Very few people have consistent sales numbers (at any level). This is especially true when you are starting out. Some days are just better than others. Sometimes you have nothing for a while, and then sometimes you get an inexplicable flurry. Some weeks are better than others.

The first thing you need to do is analyse whether this is just a random dip, or a slump. If you were selling well and you have a bad few days, then ignore it. By all means, get it out of your system: bitch and moan, pour yourself a whiskey, take the dog for a walk, whatever it is you need, do it and move on. Worrying about it won’t help, and wallowing in it won’t help.

However, if you are seeing sales drop week-on-week (or they never happened in the first place), then you might need to take a closer look.

First, isolate all the factors that are outside of your control. My sales are down around a third this month. That could be worrying, but it’s not. I know from talking to lots of other self-publishers that their sales are down too.

It’s summer, the weather is great, and when people are spending more time outdoors, they are less likely to be reading e-books. On top of that, Amazon are running a promotion at the moment which is just killing sales. They have discounted 600 popular books from large publishers. They even have a button on everyone’s listings drawing attention to this.

I could be annoyed about this, as the button is more visible than my buy button, but I have to look at the bigger picture. Cheaper bestsellers will encourage more readers to make the switch. It might hurt me in the short term, but long term the pie will grow quicker. Also, there is nothing I can do about it. I just have to ride it out. The sale ends in a couple of days, maybe things will pick up again.

Tags disappeared for the first two weeks of this month, which also affected sales. Again, there was nothing I could do about it, so there is no point worrying about it. It seems like they are back now anyway.

But what if you have isolated all the factors outside your control and you are still in a slump? What if it’s November and everyone else’s sales are taking off except for yours?

In this case you need to look at your whole package and see where you can make improvements. And you can always make improvements. What you need to do is look at every aspect of what you are presenting and see how you can make it better.

Cover

Be honest with yourself. Do you have a great cover? Maybe you rushed the release, maybe you didn’t want to (or couldn’t afford to) splash out for a professional. Look at the books at the top of the charts. Is your cover that good? Really?

A good cover is the third most important factor in a reader’s decision in selecting a book. The first is having read something by the author before and enjoyed it, and the second is a recommendation from a trusted source (friend, reviewer etc.).

Covers are the only aspect of those three factors that is in your direct, immediate control. For a new writer, they are especially important.

Look at yours and see if you can make it better. And don’t forget, you can have a great cover and still fall down here. Is the cover related to the content of the book? Maybe you have written a romance, but the cover is more literary. Maybe you have an illustrated cover and it screams YA, when it’s really for adults. Consider this.

Blurb

Did you spend enough time writing enticing copy? Read your blurb like a stranger would. Does it draw you in? Can you make it better? Be harsh on yourself.

A good blurb should be exciting. You have to make the reader really want to read the book. Every sentence should build towards this goal. If there is a sentence in there that doesn’t do that, then rewrite it, or cut it.

Have you had nice reviews from book bloggers? Take a quote or two from the review and put it in the blurb. Again, look at the bestsellers. Make a note of the good blurbs. Copy what they do.

Sample

Most readers sample something before purchasing. Download your own sample. Look at every aspect of it. Is the formatting perfect? Does your title page and copyright notice look professional? Does it look exactly like the bestselling books from New York? If not, fix it.

The impression you give the reader at this point is crucial. This is when many purchasing decisions are made. Make sure you have an enticing opening. It doesn’t have to be an explosion, but you have to draw them in. You have limited space here (especially with short stories).

How large is your sample?  If readers are wading through pages of tables of contents, notes from the author, dedications etc., they will get very little of your actual book to read. You might even lose them before they get to the opening.

Can all that stuff be moved to the back? You want the reader to get into the story as soon as possible. If you have a great opening, that will really grab people, don’t bury it under pages of stuff that a reader – who is considering whether to buy your book or not – doesn’t care about.

Those who do purchase can access the table of contents at the touch of a button. Put that at the back, and anything else that is cluttering up your opening. Condense your title page and your copyright notice into one page, and then go straight into your story. Use that valuable sample space to give them as much of the actual book as possible.

Pricing

Have you tried experimenting with an alternative pricing strategy. I covered the basic options in a previous post. Is your pricing strategy aligned with your goals? Have you given it enough time? If you have, and it’s not working for you, then consider changing it. Each book has its own sweet spot. Find yours.

A well-promoted sale can have great results. Advertise the price-drop, mention that it is time-limited. Readers who were on the fence about purchasing can turn into impulse buyers.

Sometimes you need to raise the price. There is a glut of novels at 99c at the moment. Perhaps you could try $2.99. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Promo

If your cover, blurb, and sample are all in great shape, and you are happy with your pricing, then you need to look at what you are doing in terms of promotion. After all, the best package combined with the best writing, will do nothing for you if nobody knows about it.

I have covered the importance of blogging and websites, social networking, reviews, as well as discounts, competitions, giveaways, and blog tours. Have you explored every aspect and found what works for you? Is there something new you could try?

Ask For Help

Don’t be afraid to seek advice. Ask people to give an honest opinion of your whole package. Listen to what they have to say. There are plenty of forums out there where self-publishers hang out. They always take the time to help. Kindle Boards is particularly useful.

Forums are also a great source of marketing ideas. Pretty much everything has been tried once by somebody. Ask around.

Sometimes we can’t see the flaws in our own product or strategy, and it takes a dispassionate stranger to point them out. Then they are obvious, but only if you are open to criticism. Divorce yourself from the work and remove the emotion, it’s the only way you can be objective.

Don’t Panic

Keep your wallet in your pocket. There are a growing amount of paid services available to a writer which come attached with a string of glittering promises. Most aren’t worth the money.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the free promotional things you could do. If you are tempted by paying for an ad or a blog tour, ask yourself one simple question: how much sales will it bring in? A $100 blog ad is 300 sales of a 99c book. Do you really think it will boost your sales that much? Have you ever bought a book because of an ad?

You might hear of people saying that an ad gave them a bump in sales, and there are a couple of sites which can give real results, such as Pixel of Ink or Kindle Nation Daily. However, these tend to be booked months in advance. Most other sites simply don’t have the traffic from readers, or the promo set-up, to give a similar boost.

In any event, best results are often achieved by writers who have already built a substantial audience, and won’t do as much for someone starting out. Keep your money.

Whatever you do, never ever pay for a review. It’s unethical, it’s dumb, and it’s a waste of money.

The Most Powerful Promotional Tool Available To Any Writer

It doesn’t matter if you are John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, or Amanda Hocking, the most powerful promotional tool is new work.

Nothing gives a sales bump like a new release. And not just to the new title, but to all your work. It’s no accident that the vast majority of successful indie writers have a string of titles.

Each book increases your virtual shelf space. Each one is another way for readers to find you. Each release is accompanied with promo that leaves breadcrumbs all around the internet that lead back to you and the rest of your books.

It takes time to build an audience. It takes time for you to find your readers. Sometimes it takes several books. If you really want to give your sales a shot in the arm, stop worrying about it, and get back to writing. It’s your job after all.

All of these posts are being compiled into Let’s Get Digital. Part manifesto for the digital revolution, and part hands-on guide to digital self-publishing, Let’s Get Digital will contain 50,000 words of essays, articles, and how-to guides as well as contributions from 20 top indie writers. It will be available from the end of June as a free PDF on this blog, and for $2.99 on Amazon and Smashwords. This series is now finished (aside from an addendum on practicalities such as tax, copyright, and ISBNs), but I will leave it up on the blog for posterity. I hope you found it useful.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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22 Responses to Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step Ten: What Happens When The Sales Just Stop?

  1. JJ Toner says:

    Hi David, I’ve decided to reduce the price of my book. Sales have been slow and I reckon it’s the price that’s the problem. It was $4.99. Now it’s $2.99. Smashwords have reduced the price straight away. Kindle says it may take 2-3 days. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.
    JJ

    • I think that’s the right move.

      You might have been able to get away with $4.99 if you had released the stories one-by-one (and maybe had two collections of 5 at $2.99) so people felt they were getting a deal. And it might be a price point you can return to in the future once you have built up an audience.

      But there was no harm in trying, you haven’t “lost” anything. Once the price drops on Amazon, roll out some promo mentioning the new low, low price! Get some reviews too – book bloggers, give away free copies etc. I’ve only read the first story (still trying to get this book done in time for the editor), but I really enjoyed it. If the rest are as good, the word will spread.

  2. JJ Toner says:

    By Kindle above I meant Amazon, but you knew that, right?

  3. Thanks for this fantastic series, Dave. I’ve learned a LOT and will definitely be keeping this tips in mind. Looking forward to seeing the finished product all snazzy and stuff.🙂

  4. “There is one thing that is guaranteed not to increase your sales: checking your KDP reports every fifteen minutes.”

    Dammit! That was the backbone of my sales plan.

    On a serious note, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who hit a sudden slump.

    • It’s all across the board.

      It’s hard enough to sell a short story at 99c with all the indie novels at 99c, but when the big publishers start hitting the lower price points, then it’s next-to-impossible. Lots of indies have dropped from $2.99 to 99c to combat this too. The good thing is that it is temporary. Big publishers can only do this for a brief period – their overheads are just too high.

      Plus it’s summer too. Some of the people on Kindle Boards were saying that there was a slump last summer too. That makes sense. Weather is good etc.

      We must use this time wisely!

  5. Michelle Muto says:

    I’ve decided to try the 99 cent run for a short time. Then, I’ll raise it to $2.99 and see what the difference is. By then, I’ll have another title out. It’s all an experiment. In the meantime, I need to get back to editing. I agree – the best promotion is working on the next book. Get ’em out there.

    • There’s no harm in experimenting. Customers expect fluid prices these days for all sorts of goods. There is no reason why e-books couldn’t end up with a seasonal price just like other products.

      I think the key is to keep experimenting. What works for you today, might not work tomorrow, not with the market in such flux.

  6. Another promotional tool I’ve seen that seems to successfully boosts sales is having a movie or a TV series made of your book(s). Game of Thrones is one of the more recent examples of this. Similarly I’m not sure that ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ would be as widely read without Blade Runner. Still I guess that’s not entirely within the control of the Author unless they also happen to be a mega-rich producer!

  7. Also worth remembering in a slump is that, if you’re a beginner with only small sales anyway, a slump may not be statistically significant in the mathematical sense. By which I mean, if Stephen King’s suddenly sales slump by 50%, something is happening, because that’s thousands (or more) of sales. But as a beginner, a slump of 50% is a lot less significant, because it’s likely to be caused by a much smaller number of ‘missing’ sales, which may well just be natural fluctuation…

    • That’s a very good point James.

      I’m reading through all these success stories at the moment – about 30 of them going into my book. None of them steamed out of the gates. Almost all of them involved a slow build. Even the fastest was three or four months. Most were a few months longer than that.

  8. josephinewade says:

    Great information as usual and I look forward to those success stories.
    How is your book coming along? You’ve got to be excited about nearing the finish line.

    Josie

    • I’d be more excited if the finish line didn’t keep moving away from me. Ha!

      It’s all good though, gave me some extra time to get more stories. Have 30 now. They make some great reading.

      Still hoping for end of June release, but it’s going to be tight!

      • josephinewade says:

        You’ll get it done when it is ready, but I’m sure it is nerve wracking to be this close to the end.

        Just promise me when it is all finished you do a proper celebration for yourself. Or at least find some place with great acoustics and do the ‘I’m king of the world’ spoof🙂 .

      • I would love to blow the roof off it when I am done, but I also know that I just got my historical novel back from the editor which needs quite a bit of a rewrite if I am going to release it this summer.

        I think a night or two on the town will definitely be called for though!

  9. Martin Lake says:

    Hi David,

    Another excellent and useful blog. I shall definitely stop checking my reports every hour! I did this for a week when on holiday (only because of poor internet access) and seeing a week’s accumulated sales is far more encouraging than the dribs and drabs of a daily one.

    I have tried a low tech strategy: putting a poster in the back of my car. (So far I have refrained from peering out to take note of who is looking at it but I have noticed a couple of people stop and read it – of course they may be thinking, ‘poor, desperate idiot!’)

    Publicity does appear to work. I have pushed my novel but not my stories and noticed that there is a difference in sales. Athough this may be due to a combination of factors I believe that publicising is a key one.

    I am glad that you are pulling together these blogs – when that’s done you can get on with your novel which I am looking forward to and to the collection of short stories.

    Martin Lake

    • Hi Martin,

      What I am most looking forward to after releasing this book is getting back to some reading. That has just died over the last two months, which is worrying to me because that’s what feeds the well. I still haven’t read your story, and my pile is growing to embarrassing levels!

      You touched on something important that I should have underlined in the post. Checking your sales every hour is one sure way to remove the joy from any sales whatsoever. If you check your sales in the morning and see you have had 2 sales overnight, then that joy only lasts until the next time you check your sales an hour later and you see you have had nothing since. If you checked your sales once a day, and saw you had 5 or 6 sales, you would be happy.

      Publicity certainly helps. I heard someone say that the problem with promotion is that only 10% of it works and we have no idea which 10%! There is a certain amount of truth in that. Especially with such bare-bones data from Amazon, it’s almost impossible to measure the usefulness of various strategies. If they gave us detailed stats derived from our book pages, about how many visitiors we get, where they come from, what they do (or don’t do) on our book page, how many download the sample, how many of those buy the book, we would be able to tweak our marketing efforts accordingly.

      I don’t think it’s ever going to happen though. Not now that they are in the publishing game themselves. That mountain of data is worth millions, and they will use it to their advantage. Such is life.

      Dave

  10. Pingback: You Never Know When Your Promo Seeds Will Blossom | David Gaughran

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