Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Amazon Select: One Author's Choice

Five Scribe Readers, I'm always impressed and grateful when authors share their experience and knowledge.  Special thanks to award-winning author Diana Layne for her perspectives.  Please welcome Diana Layne.  ~ Donnell


Seduced by the Dark Side: Amazon Select
by Diana Layne
 

Although I’ve run home businesses in the past (childcare, piano teacher and housecleaning) and I do my own taxes and manage to balance my checkbook every month, I’m not really a numbers-crunching kind of girl.  However, it didn’t take an accountant for me to see two things with regards to my self-publishing venture:

 

1.        My books didn’t sell nearly as well at any other venue as they did at Amazon

2.       Trust No One, which never had been in Select didn’t sell nearly as well as The Good Daughter which had been in Select the first three months of its publication.

 

Now, I can state with some confidence that the only certainty in publishing is that the experience for each author is different. I belong to a couple of fabulous indie groups and there have been authors who sell loads of book on Barnes and Noble or iTunes. Not me.

 

With iTunes I had 3 sales in 6 months and 1 on Sony. None on Smashwords except for about 50 with free coupon downloads I’d generated and given away. I never uploaded to Kobo because by the time authors could upload directly, I’d already begun considering going back to Select.  Granted, it took me a long time to decide. I’m not the world’s fastest decision-maker and giving books away seemed so anti-profit.  However, I eventually came around and here’s why.

 

At Barnes and Noble I often sold less than one a day-for both books. There were two times I had good sales with The Good Daughter on Barnes and Noble. One was when I joined a Beach Book Blast sale with the WG2E group and lowered the price to 99 cents and the second time was when Vanessa Kelly with Love Rocks reviewed The Good Daughter. Numbers respectively for those exceptions were 149 sales at 99 cents and 94 sales for the Love Rocks review.

 

Whereas on Amazon, The Good Daughter had been in Select the first three months and by the third month I was averaging 3 sales a day-I know, not great, but not nothing either. I dropped Select after the first three months because so many authors recommended not upsetting readers by limiting yourself to Amazon and so I needed my book available everywhere, right? Plus, my run in Select was not doing as well as some other books. I think now it’s because I didn’t know much about categories and I had The Good Daughter in the wrong categories. Regardless, it's always been my best seller on Amazon and I’m leaning toward thinking it’s because it did have a brief run in Select.

 

The big puzzle to me, though, was that Trust No One didn’t do well on Barnes and Noble or Amazon either. Why? It’s possible I had it priced too high at $4.99, but dang, it was over 400 pages long and it was my Golden Heart® final book. It’s also possible it never found an audience, at least on Amazon, because it had never been in Select. Granted, when I lowered the price to $2.99 it sold better, maybe one a day as opposed to 2 or 3 a week, but still it was way behind The Good Daughter in spite of significant advertising dollars and time spent promoting, too.

 

I’ve watched friends who stayed in Select who put other books in and learned how to work Select and their books are doing much better than mine in terms of ranking. And the big advantage is they’ve had time to write more books while I've been spending time (and a lot of money) learning promotion and doing everything I could to find a magic formula to sell these books. It was a huge learning curve, and at least I have an idea now of what works and what doesn’t. But I want to spend next year writing new books instead of promotion.

 

 As for promotion, there is also a lot more geared toward Amazon, although that is starting to change. Still, very few promos geared to Barnes and Noble has as good of results as those aimed at Amazon. At least not yet.

 

And one last thing I considered about Select-The Good Daughter received more reviews while it was in Select. It has 26 reviews now, while Trust No One just has 7. It’s harder to even buy promotion with only 7 reviews.

 

Yes, I know there’s no guarantee that Trust No One will do well in Select, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it at least for a run or two. I’m not losing much by pulling either one from the other sites. And hopefully I’m gaining something very important to me-new readers and time to write!

 

I have already had a two day free run with The Good Daughter over Christmas while I was waiting for Trust No One to unpublish from some other sites. It was a hastily put together promo with 12 other authors, no big sites picked it up although a few smaller sites did. It had 3688 downloads in the US and hundreds across the European markets and made #166 overall free in the US store which is better than it’d done before. After 3 days the sales back to paid, its ranking was in the low #4000s. Plus Trust No One got a bump and its sales ranking is in the #9,000s. It had been living in the 100,000s. So already in a few days I’ve sold more of Trust No One on Amazon than I sold in an average month on Barnes and Noble with both books.

 

Below are some numbers I used to compare the books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

THE GOOD DAUGHTER:

First three months published on Amazon (Select):

US Amazon:  240

UK Amazon: 12

Free:  3796 (over 5 days)

Free UK: 297

Borrows: 42

 

TRUST NO ONE:

First three months published on Amazon (No Select):

US Amazon: 118

UK Amazon: 6

 

THE GOOD DAUGHTER:

First three months on Barnes and Noble

BN:  170 (includes one month price at 99 cents and it sold 149; the next month dropped back to 26)

 

TRUST NO ONE:

First three months on Barnes and Noble: 

BN: 32

 

Below are numbers for both books during a time when both were published.

 

THE GOOD DAUGHTER: June – November

US Amazon: 1338 (this includes a 99 cent Ereader News Today paid promo)

UK Amazon: 440 (ditto ENT)

BN: 325 (includes the 99 cent special and Love Rocks column)

 

TRUST NO ONE: June-November

US Amazon: 190

UK Amazon: 35

BN: 49

 

So last thought-my whole viewpoint has shifted. I don’t look at it as giving my books away for free, but rather investing in promotion to reach a worldwide audience.  And for a while I’ll be keeping my pricing at $2.99 instead of $3.99 and $4.99. Granted, they’re big books and size-wise are worth a higher price which is still substantially less than traditionally published ebooks of the same length. However, by keeping the price at $2.99 for a while, I’m hoping to lure more readers into taking a chance on an unknown author.

 

Yes, to many, I know Amazon is the Darth Vader of the book world. And yes, I’m aware there are dire predictions that the ‘Zon has plans to turn us indies over to the evil emperor to be destroyed. I get that, I do. But nothing’s saying I have to stay in Select. If it doesn’t work, I simply won’t renew. While nothing’s guaranteed, I’m hoping this is a solid plan for now.

 

So that’s my new strategy for this year. Questions? Comments?  I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best to answer.

 

Native small town Texan Diana Layne is a homeschooling mom of six kids who grew up riding horses and motorcycles, practicing the piano and reading every chance she could. As an only child she kept herself entertained with imaginary playmates and now writes romantic suspense thrillers and historical romances. Her book The Good Daughter (Vista Security prequel) is a 2012 RT Book Review Reviewer's Choice Award Nominee for indie press/self-published contemporary romance, while Trust No One (Vista Security Book 1) was an RWA® Golden Heart® nominee. You can find Diana at www.dianalayne.com (along with all the social media stuff) and www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com

30 comments:

Theresa said...

Hi Diana,
Welcome to the Five Scribes. Congratulations on your two releases! I have to admit, all those talks of numbers and trying to find the magic promotion gives me a mild case of hives--though I really appreciate your sharing with us!

Though I'm not quite sure it's fair to compare your two books. There are other variables that could be in play too. Like perhaps readers like the first cover better. Perhaps the RT 4.5 star review means something to readers. What time of year did they both come out? Perhaps that affected sales. Maybe readers simply prefer the first book's story line better. Is the second a sequel or different characters and story altogether? They look like same genres . . .
This ambiguity doesn't surprise me any--it's the publishing industry--nothing makes sense. But thanks so much for sharing .

I'm on the path to getting my first book out this spring and, while dreading this game-playing, I appreciate knowing what your experience has been like.
Best of luck!

Sharon Hamilton said...

I completely agree with your post. I've had the same experience. I've gotten the same advice to "branch out" and I'm staying put for now.

The goal for me is being discovered, and I do think Amazon does a way better job pairing and exposing my books to potential readers.

In the end, we have to stick to what we think will work best for our books. I have friends who sell tons elsewhere, but that hasn't been my story. But I'll keep my eyes open.

prophet said...

Thank you for sharing this. You have affirmed my plans for my returning my first release to Select. I have a total of three books out - none are setting the world on fire but the most effective thing I ever did was have a few free days on Amazon. Like you, I don't really want to go permanently free because my books are pretty long - too much work to give away!

Anyway, thank you! I wish us both success in 2013.

Jill Hughey said...

Sorry, the comment above from Prophet was actually me. i was signed into hubbies' google account.

RT Wolfe said...

And you're not a numbers cruncher? lol Great information. Thank you!
-R.T. Wolfe

Diana Layne said...

@Theresa, decisions, decisions, I know it's nerve-wracking. I spent months looking at this, looking at other authors (yes, different genres so can I really compare???) Yes, 4 1/2 top pick from RT is a great thing, and I released TGD in Jan a big sales mo vs. TNO in June and there was a definite slump in the summer. However, after a that quick 2 day free of TGD in Dec w/little promo, my sales for TNO tripled in the last few days of December. Before I pulled TNO out of BN, I'd not had one sale in Dec. So far it's worth it. I also have 2 more reviews on TGD today, so it's up to 28. Reviews are a big thing on Amazon apparently and I know it's hard to buy promo without at least 10 reviews so I would advise you to give copies away in exchange for reviews (they need to note it was an ARC so the review doesn't get yanked). I did beg for reviews on TGD at first, so I was also able to buy more promo for it, and by the time TNO came out I was too tired to beg anymore plus I figured everyone was sick of me, lol. Bottom line it's not easy knowing what to do, but with the indie-books I have the freedom to make a choice and if it doesn't work out, to change things up. Good luck to you!

Diana Layne said...

@Sharon, yes, I know authors who've sold great on BN or iTunes, but that sure wasn't me. I kinda hate that just one venue is my bread and butter but I can't argue with being able to bring in more readers. I've got my eyes open, too. I hope in the future, with practice, I can make faster decisions, but change is hard for me. :)

@Jill I am hopeful the free days will work. I know a few authors have said they got very little benefit from Select, but again I think it might favor some genres vs others. Romance and suspense seem to do well from what I've been reading.

@RT, I have an electric adding machine sitting next to me so I can add with the best of them (almost can use the keypad by touch, too, lol) But once I got all those numbers added it was like...now what? Knowledge is power so hopefully my sharing will help others.

Robena Grant said...

Thanks for this, Diana. It's very helpful. I have three romantic suspense books coming out this year. Just looking at setting goals and plans gives me the creepy crawlies because I have no idea what works, and what doesn't. Like you, I want my priority to be writing not promotion and marketing, although, I do understand I have to do that as well. :) Thanks for sharing your numbers and for keeping it real.

Stephanie Queen said...

Hi Diana,
I have the same strategy, but I struggled about it less since I NEVER sold more than 20 books on BN in a month EVER.

Each new book I publish will start out with the 90 day Select promo to kick it off (hopefully).
I think you're right about the exposure and getting those needed reviews.

After that--who knows--we'll hope the "Zon" doesn't explode the Indie Star Ship any time soon!

Diana Layne said...

@Robena, it is very hard to focus on writing your first year, there is SO much to learn, whether your trad pubbed, small press or indie. One of my good friends is THE most disciplined writer I know and yet even she got caught up in figuring out promotion when her first book released. The ideal situation is if you have several hours a day and you can divide your time. Because I homeschool, which is equivalent to a day job, my time is limited and most every day got sucked up learning new promoting. I did keep records though and know more of what works for me so I think I can obsess less about promoting, especially since I'll be focusing on Select and concentrate more on writing again. This enabled me to create a business plan for 2013 which will hopefully keep me focused-if I can follow it. :) Regardless, anything you do, having books available for sell and gaining one fan at a time is better than having the books sit on your hard drive so it's win-win in my book. Good luck!

Diana Layne said...

I know, I thought those two good months I had selling TGD on BN, the 99 cent heavily promoted sale and the Love Rocks review, that TGD would at least take off if not TNO, but no, it never did. I don't know if BN doesn't have the same sort of algorithms or whatever mysterious method the Zon has but after a few days the sales would drop back down to next to nothing. And yes, fingers crossed the Zon doesn't explode our ship just yet!

Diana Layne said...

er @Stephanie, the previous comment was to you, forgot my little @ sign, sorry.

Kristine Cayne said...

Thank you for sharing, Diana. I've recently put one of my books in Select as an experiment. I haven't done any free days yet, but I'm planning on it. It's good to see how select may have impacted your sales. The difficult thing about all of this is that each book, not just each author is a unique story. Happy New Year!

Elena said...

Hey Diana, I jumped back into Select after giving the other outlets the same 90-day "exclusive." Horrible numbers all around. I recently had two freebies, neither of which were picked up by major outlets. For my novel, I did quite well, and sales followed after. However a couple of weeks later I'm back where I was.

For my short story, lousy download numbers and no sales after, but I did get a great 5-star review, so it's all good.

This last month I've sold more paperbacks of my novel than anything, mostly on the local level. My royalty is higher but the downside is my ranking doesn't reflect the sales as I ordered bulk myself.

At this point I'm tired of promoting. I want to get back to what I enjoy...writing! I don't know yet what I will do once my 90-day Select period is over. Even if I don't go the freebie route any more (how many times can you give away the same book?) I might stay put just for the borrows, if there's enough of them over the next month.

Good luck to you!!!

Sheila Seabrook said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Diana. My novella is in the Select program and I'm just doing my free days now. OTOH, I decided to bypass Select with my second novella and put it straight out to all of the online bookstores. It'll be interesting to see how my results compare to yours, since as you say, everyone's experience is different.

Ellis Vidler said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Diana. I've done much better with Select. I never sold much at all with B&N, and when I tried to put my second book on it, they linked my page to another book. Two weeks of emails didn't get it fixed, and I pulled it. Since then I've been very pleased with Amazon's program and plan to stay with it and keep my books at $2.99, where they've done well.

Diana Layne said...

@Kristine, I'll follow along and see how your book does in Select. You're right, some books do well; others not so much. It's all an experiment to find the best mix. Thanks!

@Elena, I do think there's an advantage on Select to having more books available so you can keep the free thing going pretty regularly because yes, unless a book really takes off the rankings tend to drop back down-already mine are sinking but it encourages me to write faster so I can get more in the program (before it all blows up.:) ) Sometimes I feel like I'm always late to the party though, so we'll see. Thanks!

@Sheila, that will be interesting to see the results. Hope the novella on all venues takes off for you!

@Ellis, I've read many complaints about the customer service at BN. I had an issue with them once, too, that it took many emails to get it resolved. Also re: $2.99 that seems to be a good price point on Select. Thanks!

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Hi Diana, Since your post was totally over my head, I can see just how much I have to learn! Scary!

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Hi Diana,
Welcome to the Scribes. I published on practically all channels in Aug. I've had modest sales and great reviews.

Next book is due out in Feb and I've been chewing on the Select question.

In Aug, I said "no-way, no-how" b/c I wanted everyone to see my book, but have since realized all of this is an experiment, to see how it works, how it shakes out and each book will be different.

So I'm thinking I'll publish on Select for the first 3 months of the new release and see how it goes. I'll report back.

Question that just popped into my head. Can we sell on Create Space for our hard copies while on Select?

~LA of the Scribes

Diana Layne said...

@Jess yes, it can be a big learning curve for sure, I spent a big chunk of this last year learning way more than I ever wanted to know, lol.

@LA, The Wild Rose Press has recently started releasing their titles on Select in a "soft" release with many of their titles. Does it help? Too early to know, I think it helps them on Amazon but will it transfer over to other venues? That's the $100 question. I know TGD always sold better on Amazon-because it was originally cheaper? Because it was in Select? I don't think either title sold especially well on BN, but when I lowered the price of both to $2.99 their sales were about equal other than those 2 months I mentioned. So who knows? Let me know how your experiment goes.

As for Createspace, yes, you can have print available even if you're in Select. Good luck!

Thanks Fivescribes for having me today and Donnell for inviting me!

Liz said...

I've recently put Love By Design into select. My other titles sell well ( they are sports romances ) but this one which is a romantic comedy does not so I thought why not. My free days are Jan 23-25.

Have you tried getting your titles listed on ACX to do audiobooks? I have on title up now and working on the 2nd now. If not and you need info just let me know.

Polly Iyer said...

I put two books on both B&N and Amazon. B&N sold almost nothing. My books on Amazon sold. Now I have 5 books on Amazon Select with another on the way. These are books I've written over the years. I've had well over 150,000 downloads on combined free days and have no intention of going anywhere else. In December, Kindle picked one of my books as a holiday special for .99 instead of my set price of 2.99. It sold very well, and it was fun being on the same page with some big authors for 30 days. I'm with Amazon all the way. Love the program and think it's the best thing to happen for authors. I had a great agent for two years who couldn't sell my work. Now people are reading my books, and I'm making money. It doesn't get better than that.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Diana, so grateful you blogged with us. You can see from the comments that people are indeed curious and anxious to learn from your experiences.

Happy New Year!

lauriekellogg said...

Welcome to the dark side, my Ruby Sister.

Diana Layne said...

@Liz I've been reading all the info about ACX on the Indie loop and have it in my biz plan this year to explore the second half of the year. TWRP recently put my book Pirate's Proposal in audio and it was really cool, although it's not yet available for sale so I don't know how well it'll do. My main concern is getting more books up this year though because I having several up and offering free regularly will boost sales for the others.

@Polly, exactly. And congrats on the 99 cent sale, squee!

Diana Layne said...

@Donnell, thanks again!

@Laurie

Diana Layne said...

@Laurie, dad blast it, my comment to you disappeared, I must've used some code I didn't understand and confused the blogger thingy. Anyway, I said Evil Cackle and had it in brackets. There, now maybe it'll go through. :)

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for this report. I think every author who's tried KDP Select has a different story. The eloop group last week had nothing but people with "never again/waste of time" reports.
My reader base is very strong at B&N (last two months, my sales there have been higher than Amazon), so I wouldn't want to upset my readers in other venues. I also do well at Apple via SW.
I've also looked at my sales and find the Amazon sales are highest for my 99 cent book, while that same book is one of my 'lower' sellers at B&N.
I personally feel that people who buy at Amazon ar looking for freebies and cheap books. It's not that my books are expensive (highest is $3.99) but the Nook folks don't seem to blink an eye at spending that, while my $3.99 titles are slower moving at Amazon.
It takes longer to get a foothold at B&N, but once you do, it seems to 'stick' much longer. I've been making good money at B&N and watching my Amazon sales drop. But to boost sales there via Select would mean "dissing" my other readers, so it's not worth it for me.

Theresa said...

All of you Indie Pubs who posted comments, I wish I knew what genres you wrote in. I'm VERY curious to know if genres make a difference. Common sense tells me it would, but I wonder . . .
Think literary readers aren't as voracious readers as romance and mystery or are used to ponying up more for their books?

Are some genres more tech savvy, hence more apt to have stronger digital sales?

Mark Coker of smashword will be attending the June 21-23, 2013 Crested Butte Writers Conference (www.crestedbuttewriters.org) and will have multi-genre statistics to share about the various genre sales. Should be interesting

Diana Layne said...

@Terry, nope, I would never rock the boat nor diss readers, definitely not! And I know of many authors who do well at BN and iTunes. The Good Daughter was at BN for a year-at first at $3.99 and then at 2.99 but I would go days with no sales at BN. I could go a couple of weeks with no sales with Trust No One (priced at 4.99 then 2.99) but granted, it was only there six months.

And yes, my first run with TGD in Select, I wasn't terribly impressed. Part of that, I'm sure is because I had the wrong categories so even when it was rising in rank, it wasn't in a popular category where those "freebie" readers were looking.

So yes, @Theresa, genre makes a difference. From all I've read romances and mystery/suspense/thriller does well.

But why would I want to give my book to those readers looking for "free" reads? Aside from the post-free sales bump if your free run went well, for some reason, you just get more reviews after a free run and that can be attractive to readers who like the sound of your book but are unsure because you're a new author. A lot of reviews can help the ones hesitant click that buy button.

I just did it yesterday. Bought a book from an author I'd never heard of, she was an indie, but the book sounded good and day-amn she had 100s of reviews and a lot of them hit on things I like in my books. So click. I bought. And I'm charging my Kindle right now because I'm gonna read. (as soon as I pay bills) And that's the way it's supposed to work. :) (cross fingers)