This blog focuses a lot on getting the basics right: a good story, cover, blurb, sample, and price. However, all of that means little if no-one is actually visiting your book page to begin with.
Competitions, blog reviews, giveaways, guest blogs, interviews, presence on reader forums etc. can all bring extra traffic to your book pages, but they are very time consuming.
If you want to move beyond what is essentially hand-selling your work, you need to gain visibility on Amazon, and let them do the hard work of selling your book for you (while you spend your time writing instead). Just make sure those basics are in place first, or you won’t get a good return from anything outlined below.
Visibility on Amazon: Best Seller Lists
One of the most straight-forward ways to achieve visibility on Amazon is via one of the many genre and sub-genre Best Seller Lists. Before you pelt me with rotten eggs, I said “straight-forward” not “easy.”
Whether you are currently appearing on a Best Seller List or not is a direct function of your Sales Rank and the categories you choose. There is detailed advice on choosing the right categories here, which I strongly recommend you read.
As I’ve mentioned before, appearing on a Best Seller List doesn’t have the splash it used to, because many readers think they are browsing those lists when they are actually browsing the Popularity List. Before KDP Select, this didn’t matter so much; there was little difference between the two list. All that has changed since December (explained in full here).
That aside, appearing on a Best Seller List is still useful, can drive significant sales, and should be a target of anyone’s marketing efforts – especially considering that most publishers don’t select the right categories (or, sometimes, any at all).
You shouldn’t just aim to scrape in at #100 in the category you are targeting. Ideally, you want to be on the first or second page – readers don’t seem to browse further in any numbers – and it’s often better to have that prime spot in a smaller category, than to be so far down the list on a bigger category that you will rarely get viewed by browsing readers.
Getting into that prime spot will require a wildly varying Sales Rank, depending on the category. For example, at the time of writing, appearing on the first page of Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Genre Fiction > Romance > Contemporary requires #206 or higher but appearing on the first page of Romance > Series only requires #4,908 or higher.
Some sub-categories are even less competitive. Comic Fiction only requires #62,639 to hit the first page, and my short story If You Go Into The Woods is safely ensconced at #6 in World Literature > Eastern European with a modest ranking of #275,882.
That latter category, obviously, won’t attract too many browsers, but some visibility is better than none. There is no point classifying that story as Literary Fiction, when you need to rank below #2,000 to even hit the bottom of that chart.
In short, you should try and pick a category where you will place, and, if possible, where you will appear on the first two pages.
It should go without saying, but remember to restrict yourself to relevant categories. Even though A Storm Hits Valparaiso has a romantic sub-plot it is not a Romance by any stretch of the imagination. Choosing inappropriate categories will not help your sales in any way and could attract nasty reviews from the (very) few that do sample/purchase.
I’ve detailed my thoughts on pricing in Let’s Get Digital (you can read the relevant excerpt here), and those haven’t changed too much. I’m a keen believer in experimentation and pricing at the level which maximizes income – whatever that may be.
I also like pricing at the higher end of the indie spectrum ($4.99 for full-length novels), as that allows a lot of flexibility with things like coupons, limited time sales and so on.
Regular readers will know that I’ve tested various price points for A Storm Hits Valparaiso and seen little difference in sales between $2.99, $3.99, and $4.99 (but an increase in income).
I had never tested higher price points, though, and if there is any genre which can handle that, it’s historical fiction. A Storm Hits Valparaiso hadn’t sold consistently outside of its launch, an ad spot, or a sale – so I really had no idea of the ideal price.
After a strong March – thanks to the St. Patrick’s Weekend Sale – the book just died in April, and only shifted two copies in the first two weeks of April. I decided it was time to take action.
Changing price will do little on its own, especially if you aren’t getting traffic to your book’s page already. Price is not discovery tool, unless allied with something else (e.g. an ad or a mention on a reader site etc.). In other words, there was no point in raising price unless the book was actually visible and by mid-April, it was down the back of the warehouse. For this to work, I needed it on the front table.
The plan was simple: cut the price to 99c, and, once it achieves optimal visibility (i.e. when the book peaks in the rankings), raise the price to $7.99.
As I cut the price, I switched the book’s categories to Historical Fiction and Literary Fiction – two competitive categories with no sub-categories, where you need less than #3,000 and less than #2,000 to chart at all.
The lack of sub-categories makes it really difficult to break in, but it also means there is less churn on those lists – position is stickier.
Nonetheless, it was a high-risk strategy. If I fell short, the experiment would be pointless. On the other hand, my previous categories of Men’s Adventure and War Fiction had brought me little joy – hardly surprising, readers of Bob Mayer and Clive Cussler are unlikely to be interested in my work.
I dropped the price nine days ago, planning to let it run for around four days. The algorithms don’t reward a single-day spike as much as a sustained increase, so I didn’t wheel out the push simultaneously.
On the Saturday, I hit Twitter and Facebook. On Sunday I caught a huge break and was featured by the good people at Pixel of Ink. As such, I postponed the blog post announcing the sale until Monday, so that I could try and spin out at least three days in a good position – hoping the algorithms would then soften its (eventual, inevitable) fall.
By Tuesday the book had really caught fire, eventually peaking in the evening in the Top 500, shifting over 300 copies; it was time to raise price. I had second thoughts about $7.99, but I looked at the books around me in the chart (at this point I was #18 in Historical Fiction) and they were all $9.99 or higher.
I felt my book could hold its own. In fact, it could be argued that the 99c price, once it had gained me entry to the club, was hindering rather than helping as it made the book look like it didn’t “belong.”
Unfortunately, a lagging price at Kobo threw a spanner in the works, and Amazon price-matched to $3.99. Sales were still reasonably strong, but I didn’t get to test my new price point. I started slipping down the charts, and then, when Kobo finally raised the price to $7.99 and Amazon followed suit, disaster struck, and my book was stripped of all its categories.
The whole point of this experiment was to gain visibility. Now I had none. Over the next week, the book slipped from #1,000 to #35,000 (but has recovered a touch since). It made a handful of sales on the way down (and is still selling more than before the sale), but I wasn’t able to capitalize on my position as well as I had hoped.
The jury is still out on $7.99, as I never got to truly test that price at the best time.
Despite that disappointment, the experiment must be viewed as a success. The first part went better than hoped – I sold a lot of copies at 99c and made over $100 in the space of a few days. I also made another $100 the day I raised the price – so that’s all good. Plus my book got into to the hands of hundreds of new readers and picked up a couple of very nice reviews.
The second part was less successful and just goes to show that even the best laid plans are subject to the vagaries of an increasingly glitchy Amazon system. If my price change gone through as planned and, especially, had my book kept its categories (and if my Also Boughts had updated), I could have made a lot more. But I’m not going to grouse, I had a good deal of luck, it was a great run, and sales are up.
And there’s always a next time.
Moving to London
I’m moving to London next week. Internet access will be intermittent for some time, I will be slow to respond to any emails, and blogging will be limited – until I get somewhere permanent to hang my hat.
Book sales and other income are about half of what I need to get by in a place like London. I had been planning to work for a start-up – in a very exciting position – but they failed to get VC funding, and the project has been mothballed for now. As such, I’ll be seeking some kind of role in digital marketing (what I previously did) or digital publishing (what I’m doing now), or, best of all, something straddling both worlds.
I think there will be many such roles in London, but if anyone is aware of any interesting opportunities or projects, please get in touch at:
david dot gaughran at gmail dot com