Category archive: Promotion

Getting the Marketing Right

I’ve got a confession to make: book two of the 1000 Souls series is ready to go, but I’m not going to launch it just yet. I apologize to my fans, some who’ve been on my Facebook page gently urging me to hurry up. I know I’ve missed several deadlines, and I hate to make people who are eager to read my novel wait just a little bit longer. I’m as eager for them to read it as they are.

Why am I holding back? Because I’m not good at marketing, and I’m trying to do better. Usually I get a novel up on Amazon as soon as it’s ready and try to do bits of marketing here and there after it’s available for sale. Besides being a challenge to squeeze these faint efforts in between the day job and the family, this half-hearted approach doesn’t build momentum. Every time I get the ball rolling, I wander off to take care of other things.

A traditional publisher would never ship a book out to stores without preparing the ground for sales. They send out copies for review, they get other authors to blurb, they take out ads, and they have a specific launch day and even a launch party.

Obviously I can’t afford ads in the New York Times, and Stephen King isn’t going to blurb for my book since he’s never heard of me, let alone  my books. But there are other marketing initiatives I can take.

First, I have a couple of websites I have to get in order: my publisher website and the novel site. I also need to write all the promotional material, which ends up being substantial, rather than adding it a bit at a time later.

Second, I need to do a proper launch. That means picking a launch day and letting people know in advance instead of after the fact. The idea here is to get all my friends, family and fans to purchase the novel on the launch day. This could give the novel quite a boost on the Amazon bestseller list. Is this gaming the system? You bet, but in a way that all authors and publishers try to get a bump in sales right off the bat.

I also want to contact each of my fans, especially the ones who have reviewed Apocalypse Revolution, and give them an Amazon gift certificate so that they can buy it on my tab. If they provide another good review it will be money well spent. Even if they just buy it, well, they’re buying it, which means I’m actually only paying 30% of the cost of the novel, and I get the bestseller rank boost. If you want a free copy, use the Contact Mike button above and let me know that you’re interested,  and I’ll see that you get one too. Fans, especially ones who’ve taken the time to write me and tell me how much they love my book, make this whole endeavor worth while.

I met with my business manager today over lunch (fortunately we’re married, so it was easy to arrange) and we discussed what had to be done by launch. After some scheduling debates,  we’ve pick a book-launch day.

So here’s the first big announcement. Drum roll please. Generation Apocalypse, Book Two of the 1000 Souls, launches on Friday, September 21st. It’s the best I’ve ever written. I love it. I hope you will too.

Look out world. Here they come.

Three souls that just click, but only when they're needed

Kindle e-books Rising

Amazon announced yesterday that Kindle e-books are now outselling all formats of paper books (combined) in their UK store. They passed this mark a long time ago in the US, but people in the UK have been slower to buy Kindles and adopt electronic reading.

I’ve got a few haired-brained theories as to why UK readers have been slower on the up take. Perhaps they’re a more conservative country than they think, or perhaps they’ve been enthralled watching the slow-motion train wreck of the Euro. I imagine it’s no fun to witness your trading partners’ economies crash and burn. All those Brits who kept them out of the Euro and on the British pound can now take a bow.

The good news, of course, is that even though the adoption of e-reading in the UK has been slower than in America, it is happening. Perhaps that’s why my last free day saw a surprising number of UK downloads.

So I guess I better fill in my Amazon author page for the UK store and work on promotion across the pond. There are Kindles needing e-books.

Amazon’s Amazing and Scary Algorithm

This is a cautionary tale for indie-authors.

Up until around June 23rd, Amazon used to auto-suggest Apocalypse Revolution to readers. For instance, when looking at a product page for a similar horror novel, readers would see this header below the cover page and description  “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” After that comes the row of about one hundred clickable thumb-nails of novels usually in the same genre. When checking out other horror/scfi adventure novels, I often found that Apocalypse Revolution was auto-suggested.

But it all changed in the third week of June. Now I can only find one novel that auto-suggests AR: The Dragon and the Unicorn, and AR is about the 90th suggestion.

So what happened? Obviously this was not a human decision, except that a bunch of variables were programmed into the auto-suggest algorithm and my novel tripped one of them. Here are my theories:

1) Low downloads on a free day. This is my bad. I waited months for the new cover and then ran three free days close together. That’s a killer for downloads because the hard core readers who are looking for deals will have already downloaded your novel the day or week before and don’t need it. On the last free promotional day I ran there were only forty or so downloads, actually there were more in the UK, only the internet knows why. Here’s my other bad: I didn’t promote the free days at all. I was conducting an experiment to see which cover moved better, but of course I couldn’t run a proper control, so it was a pretty useless experiment.

Maybe the algorithm has a bit of code that says, ‘if free downloads are less than fifty in a day, stop auto-suggesting this novel.’ I’m paraphrasing of course.

2) The six month theory. The third week of June was six months since I published AR. Now I admit I haven’t done a whole lot to promote the novel, and Amazon helps those who help themselves. I’ve been cramming through book two, anxious to get it to market, anxious to get to book three and fill in the gap that takes us to Vampire Road, which is book four. So I wonder if I trip some piece of code that says, ‘if sales aren’t x by six months’ reduce auto-suggest function by an order of magnitude.’ In other words: dump it.

Whatever the cause, the results are startling. AR went from selling one or two copies a day to nada, okay, almost nada, since Amazon turned off the promotional tap.

I’m not too worried. Book Two of the 1000 Souls is the best I’ve ever written, and I think its sales will put me back into Amazon’s favored novel status. But I have learned my lesson. Amazon promotes those who promote themselves. Don’t leave it to luck, because Amazon’s Amazing and Scary Algorithm will cut you off and leave your novel to languish into obscurity. Fair enough. Why should Amazon have to do all the work?

So I’m thinking about book trailers, Shelfari, Good Reads and more. I’ll keep you posted. Any suggestions, send them my way. I’m not a natural promoter, but I’ll learn.

Boom and Bust Free Day

At Number 6 for SF Adventure last week. I like that.

I promised when I started this blog that I would share raw numbers whether they were good or bad. So today I have to share the results of yesterday’s free day experiment.

I didn't stay up till 3:00 am to see where it got to on the 1300 download day, but here's where it was when I crashed at 11:00pm

A marketing expert I know constantly says, “Test and measure. Test and measure.” Unfortunately, in the amazing universe of the internet there are way too many variables for a proper quantitative experiment. The first free day I ran for Apocalypse Revolution, back in mid-February, a respectable 550 downloads flew out the door in a day. When I ran a second free day two weeks later I didn’t expect much, and for most of the day the were only about 30 downloads. Then something very strange happened somewhere in cyberland, and in the next four hours over 1300 copies flew out the door. What weird corner of the internet picked me up that day I simply don’t know, but I sure wish I did. That put me in the top 500 on the Kindle free bestseller list, at least it was at 485 when I went to bed with California still to finish downloading.

Apocalypse Revolution up there with the big names in Science Fiction

But for the most part, unless you really spread them out and promote the heck out of them, free days have diminishing returns. Perhaps its because the dedicated SF readers have already snapped up my novel, or perhaps it’s something to do with how Amazon promotes them, but the numbers usually go down the more free days you offer. That means the paid afterglow that usually comes with the free days also goes down.

The Old Cover Shoot'em Up

Last week I decided to run a free day for the old cover of Apocalypse Revolution, just a little something to say that I gave the $400 I spent on that cover a fair chance. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was never thrilled with it. I didn’t expect too many downloads, but a respectable 347 downloaded throughout the 24 hours. Enough that I ended up 713 on the Kindle free bestseller list. That also put the novel at #6 for Science Fiction Adventure and #19 for horror. Not earth shattering, I know, but I enjoyed the ride. I especially liked the moment when Apocalypse Revolution was beside Wool. That’s fun exposure.

The New Cover. They're clearly trouble.

So yesterday I ran a free day with my spiffy new cover. I thought it would blow the doors off the free day. In the UK it did well relative to last week. But on this side of the pond (which oddly, includes Australia) only 72 people downloaded the novel. I guess I’d saturated the market. I refuse to believe the old cover worked better than the new cover and I point to the UK numbers as proof. Last week only nine downloads, this week 28. Or maybe they just like the new cover better in the UK.

Now I did zero promotion for both these free days, not a single tweet. I have one free day left before my KDP Select runs out, and I’m debating whether to run it. However book two of the 1000 Souls is nearly complete, and I’m still trying to build a following for the whole series.

I still love free days though because I want people to read my writing, people who have as much fun in my world as I do. I know only a fraction of the free downloaders are actually reading the novel, but hey, a fraction is more than zero. It’s a start.

The Day John Grisham and I were on the Same Page

John and Me on the Same Page

My first published shorts stories were in a small Canadian magazine called Storyteller–alas, now extinct. Since Storyteller promised stories that “could only happen in Canada” I know these stories won’t necessarily have world wide appeal, although if you like coming-of-age and you want to know what it’s like on the northern frontier, these might still be the stories for you.

So I wasn’t surprised when my anthology, Summer of Bridges, a collection of all the Sioux Rock Falls stories that were published between 2001 and 2006, didn’t rocket to the top of the bestseller rank on Amazon. After all, anthologies don’t sell well in print, let alone as eBooks, and most people think of Canada and yawn, including Canadians. Don’t get me wrong, that’s why it’s a wonderful country. Afghanistan has a deep and interesting history, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there right now.

But then came my first magical promotional day, when I decided to see if I could just give it away. I love these stories, and while they are all inspired by my own experiences in the Great White North, they are fiction. As I had to say to one friend of ten years after he read the stories, “No, I didn’t participate in the burning of a giant wooden moose. I’d have mentioned that at some point during the last decade.”

To my surprise the anthology flew off the electronic shelves, hundreds downloading in day. But the best part was when John Grisham and I appeared on the same page. It turns out he wrote an anthology called Ford County: Stories. By fluke that day they happened to be ranked 28 in Amazon’s paid short story category. Summer of Bridges, because of all those free downloads, was ranked 27 in Amazon’s free short stories. Okay, I know, Grisham’s anthology is going for $7.99 and mine is free. His has 235 reviews and mine has 4. We’re not exactly in the same class, but hey, my book would never appear alongside his in a bricks-and-mortar book store.

I love the internet.

So today I’m doing another free promo day for Summer of Bridges. Take a chance and see if the Great White Canadian North doesn’t surprise you. It actually is an interesting place. And I did live there. Who knows, maybe one more time I’ll briefly end up beside my buddy John.

Friday Night’s Alright for Downloads

Temporary Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

At first I thought the Amazon sales report was a mistake. How did the number of downloads get so high so fast?

It was last Friday, and I was running a free promo day for Apocalypse Revolution.  Only 35 downloads had gone out the door by 5:30pm, which was a bit disappointing because the last time I’d run a promo day well over 500 downloads went out the door, selling at a steady clip all day. That was Thrusday, February 16th, so why on Friday March 3rd was it difficult to even give the novel away?

Apparently because people weren’t home from work or school, or perhaps because the novel hadn’t been picked up and listed by one of the many free kindle sites. But like a switch turning on, suddenly everything changed.

I sat down at 9:00pm and opened the Amazon sales report. Boom! It stated that over 600 downloads had flown out the door. I thought it was a mistake, so I refreshed the page only to discover it was now up to 610. I called my wife, and by the time she got downstairs we’d passed 625. The number of downloads kept climbing with dizzying speed until the promo ended around midnight at over 1300 units out the door.

Of course the best part was the next day when the paid sales started moving. The pace was nowhere near as frantic as the free day, but by the end of the weekend I’d sold more than the previous two months combined. Now that’s fun!

The party isn’t over either. I’m still selling today, and my best seller rank is hovering above 9000, which is great news. I may not be rich and famous, but people are seeing my name and paying for my work. That’s a step in the right direction.

What Free Did for Me

Temporary Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

Within 24 hours of launching Apocalypse Revolution, I got two sales and one good review. Yeah! I was on my way with this one. I wasn’t predicting millions of sales, but I thought they’d start to trickle in, so I was surprised when there was nothing. Not a single sale for the following two weeks.

By mid-January I knew it was time for drastic action. I engaged a new cover artist, but in the meantime my previous cover artist slapped together a very different cover–less biblical and more action. That resulted in a few sales, but still not much notice.

So the week before last I tried a free day. Wow! Did it fly off the electronic shelves! By dinner time it was ranked #6 in the free Kindle bestseller list for science fiction, adventure, and #16 for free science fiction in general. Only H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and about a dozen Stars Wars novels were ahead of me.  Pretty heavy company.

Apocalypse Revolution at #6 in Scifi Adventure

But the pay-off began after I went off the free day. For over a week those sales, now paid in the Kindle store, have been coming in at one or two a day, sort of what I had expected all along.  But the real pay off landed on Saturday morning. Amazon reviewer RandiTS gave Apocalypse Revolution five stars and bought a copy of Vampire Road. RandiTS has nearly 60 reviews under his/her belt, and has earned the Amazon reviewer rank of 5,546, which is pretty good. I’m also proud to note that RandiTS is no rubber stamp. She/he has given one star reviews where deserved.

I’m honored and delighted to have this review, and I’m looking forward to more fans. But for now, RandiTS is my favorite #1 fan.

Giving It Away for Free

Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? This rather antique view was held by my grandparents’ generation, which apparently equated milk with sex and women with cows. You can see what I mean by antique. This warning for young women implied that all men wanted from marriage was sex, and this was a commodity that must be withheld until he was trapped with a marriage certificate. But people have been more free with love since the sixties, and they still get married and have children. Apparently there are more reasons to get married than just sex. Dare I say love?

Some authors have this milk-cow attitude to their novels. They warn that if you give them away, you’ll lose sales because no one will buy them if they can get them for free. I’ve heard at least one established and successful author state that you should never give your work away. Yet, that same author did just that with his first novel when he was starting out.

When you’re a newbie author you’ve got to build a following, and for that you need fans. They don’t appear magically out of the woodwork, they have to discover you. So I’m going to give it away for free today.

Summer of Bridges is a collection of award-winning short stories that were first published in Storyteller Magazine (alas, now defunct) between 2002 and 2008. They’re a comedic romp through one coming-of-age summer for Kenny, a seventeen year old who is nothing but trouble for his widowed mother. To save him from pot-smoking friends, she sends him to work with his uncle’s bridge painting crew, five hundred miles from home and so far north that there are no roads that don’t head due south. Kenny has to learn to fit in with a construction crew of ex-cons, become comfortable working at high heights, survive forest fires and even gets involved with a murderer.

I’ll be curious to see how this experiment in free works out. What I want more than anything as an author is for people to read my work and enjoy my stories as much as I do. I developed some faithful fans when the stories first came out, and I hope to add more with this promotion.

UPDATE: I wrote this blog last night before the promotion went live. I just checked my sales and BAMM! Holy Downloads, Batman! By 9:00 this morning nearly fifty have flown out the door, including a bunch in the UK and even one in Germany. We’re looking into how people are finding out about this freebie because I’m flabbergasted.

I am a Hardcore Zombie Apocalypse Survivor

I win! I survived! I get to be the one who carries a shotgun and slays zombies, preferably using a Winchester 1200 Defender with the barrel sawed short for close quarter action.

How do I know? I took a test.

Google would you survive a zombie apocalypse, and you’ll find dozen of quizzes, most them simply aimed at getting you to a website so that you might see other advertising.

This quiz wasn’t on the first page of the search results, but it caught my attention because of the video with it. I assume that author, Max Brooks, of World War Z fame, had something to do with this, but the only evidence I have is that it mentions his book, The Zombie Survival Guide, in the last question, and Brooks’ name is the answer. If he wasn’t involved in putting together the quiz, he’s the luckiest author of this year because it’s a great promotional tool.

Any author who wants to succeed already knows that the web is more than just words: it’s video, audio and audience participation–interactive was the buzz word back in the 90s that had everyone breathless. Even TV execs desperately tried to find a way to make news shows interactive, usually by having a provocative question that viewers could vote on by phone–not exactly the internet.

Most authors know they need creative ways to connect to their audiences, so they’re active on twitter and facebook, and they write blogs like this one.  But I think the blow out successful authors will find unique ways to connect, like this quiz.

Better yet, I bet that it’s not too hard to score survivor, which is what we all want–to survive the apocalypse, whatever form it takes.  On another quiz I even scored as a savior, a rather weighty title that commends me for choosing to bring the grandfolks along when we fled the city.

Suddenly I want to buy the book, because it’s about survivors and I’m a survivor.  I know because I took the test.

Title and Cover Woes

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels.  Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating.  But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg.  That’s the original title.  Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.

My friend and fellow writer, Jill Edmondson, had a blog post about several novels that almost ended up with such mediocre titles.  Another example is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which nearly ended up as Something That Happened.

So when I noted that sales of my novel, The Book of Bertrand were nowhere near the sales of Vampire Road, I had to take a deep breath and ask friends and writers what they thought of the title.  You guessed it.  I found two fans but the rest totally panned the title AND the cover, even though they loved the novel.  The most common comment: sounds too much like Sunday school and looks too much like a bible.  Boring.

I had to decide whether I’d stick to the title I’d had in my head for years or try something new.  The original title is actually a bit of an inside joke until you get to the fourth novel in the series, so it means way more to me than it does to a reader browsing through Amazon.

When in doubt, go for a 19 kilometer run.  Okay, I don’t actually do that very often (the 19k) but the marathon is on May 6th and I’m well into training.  During the run I had the inspiration that you can only have when fasting or exhausted beyond all reason and still running.  It’s a shaman/spiritual journey thing I guess.  I realized that my novel is not just about three people trying to survive the apocalypse.  It’s also about three people leading a revolution against a government that is actively perpetuating the apocalypse.  It’s about clashes with riot police and the rippers that support them.

So the new title is Apocalypse Revolution, and my brilliant wife suggested that before I change it I should name the other novels in the series to ensure that all the titles would mesh nicely.  Since I’ve already outlined them all, that turned out to be less challenging than I would have thought.

Next challenge was the cover.  I’ve hired a professional cover artist but he’s buried in other work for at least three weeks, so I decided to do a quick and dirty cover myself.  That didn’t go so well.  After three hours of cursing my way through Photoshop and hating the results–there’s a reason I’m not a graphic artist–I sent my feeble efforts to a pro and in no time at all he turned out the great cover that you see at the top of this article.  He also created the cover for The Book of Bertrand, but it was all my idea, so its failure to generate interest is mine.

I fully admit that if I had a traditional publisher or agent they probably could have warned me that the original title and cover weren’t going to sell, but the great thing about eBooks is that an author can change these things if necessary.  It is important though to have it all locked before doing the CreateSpace P.O.D.

Will all this help my sales?  Who knows, but I’m happier with both, so I’ll keep you posted.  Which would you buy?