Tag Archives: selling ebooks

How to develop a strategy for ebook sale promotions (Starting out as an indie author)

Once upon a time, when I first started switching from traditional to indie publishing, all you had to do to sell books was to offer your works free on a regular basis and get a few thousand downloads. After the free runs, the books would be high in the Amazon rankings, which would provide the visibility to sell a decent number of books daily for a while until your book disappeared into obscurity again. My biggest income month as an indie author is still from those early golddigger days.

In that carefree time when I first started out, way back in 2012, even a *short story collection* offered free was enough to boost visibility and garner sales for the more lucrative longer works.

No more.

Now it is hard to even give short story collections away on Amazon (although they do still sell on other venues). And for a free run with a novella or novel to result in any kind of significant bump in sales after it’s over, you have to give away tens of thousands of copies of your book.

So I’ve had to switch gears. In the last year or so, I’ve been testing various sites for advertising my books, as well as new book descriptions, new keywords, and new covers, and I’ve seen a steady rise in book sales, from income of under $50 a month to this:

I realize this is peanuts compared to really successful indie authors, but for me, it’s monetary proof that I’m going in the right direction. For about a year, from late 2013 to late 2014, I pretty much stopped marketing my books completely. I published Chameleon in a Mirror during that time, and it took off like a stone weighed down by a ton of bricks. But that does not seem to have had anything to do with the quality of the book — see my bestseller last month in the image above. 🙂

During my no marketing phase, my books were earning me between $40 – $70 a month. When I was ready to publish Island of Glass, I decided it was time to come out of my marketing slump and start regarding it as a challenge, an experiment, a puzzle I needed to figure out. Here are some of the strategies I’ve come up with during the last year of extensive experimentation.


I had already put a short story from The Pendragon Chronicles up for free, but Gawain and Ragnell, even though it is part of A Shadow of Stone, has its own complete plot arc — and thus provides no compelling reason for anyone to read the other books, other than enthusiasm for my brilliant writing, of course. But it has no hook; it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Readers claim they hate this, but book 2 in a series is more likely to find buyers if book 1 ends leaving lots of questions unaswered.

Since my Pendragon books were meant to be standalone novels, I went a different way to attract more readers: I split up my monster book, Yseult (200,000 words, or 800 manuscript pages), into the four “books” I had already organized it in and published them each separately. Once I managed to make Part I free, I had a cliffhanger book to entice readers to buy either the next book or the complete “boxed set.” And I also now had 2 free “books” in the series that I could alternately promote cheaply or free. (See my blog post on promoting permafrees.)

With some experimenting along these lines, I noticed that as long as I could keep at least one of those two permafree books in the top 20 of the Arthurian Fantasy Free rankings, it helped get me regular sales of Yseult. The Arthurian Fantasy category is small, so it’s not as hard to stay high in the rankings, but by the same token, it doesn’t attract as many readers who will then pick up your higher-priced book or books. I’m pretty sure that if you can keep a permafree high in the rankings of a much bigger category like Epic Fantasy, you would see higher sales of the related book.

Organize promotions around effective advertisers

Don’t set your promo prices and dates and then go looking for advertising. Do it the other way around.

I invested quite a bit last year, in both time and money, testing various advertising sites for ROI (return on investment). You can certainly take my own recommendations as a guideline, but the thing is, your results might be very different. A number of advertising sites recommended on Kboards were a washout for me. Garnering a BookBub ad will pretty much always guarantee a good ROI. But not only are they hard to get, they are very expensive, and not all authors will be able to afford their prices.

Some of the places (besides BookBub) I will build a book promotion around are ENT, BookBarbarian, ManyBooks, and RobinReads. I’ve had less than stellar results with BargainBooksy and any number of sites other authors swear by. That’s why you can’t get around investing in your own experiments, at least a little. I started my experimental marketing investing in sites that authors on Kboards recommended — but of those, there were quite a few that for me had a pretty miserable ROI. You can read some of my results in this post.

The thing is, there is no magic bullet. But while a number of ad sites didn’t pay out for me, in those months I’ve seen a steady increase in sales — with no month that my investment was higher than the money I earned from my books. So as a whole, the increase in visibility is worth it.

After the last few months of experimentation in advertising, I’ve come to the conclusion that most indie authors who are serious about selling on a regular basis won’t be able to get around doing some similar experiments for their own books. Several of the advertisers I had the biggest hopes for turned out to be my biggest disappointments, while some less well known gave me surprising jumps in sales. Genre, cover, subscriber tastes — so much plays a role, it’s hard to say which book will do well with which advertiser.

Some generalizations I can make, regardless of genre and / or experience:

– Before paying money for advertising, try to figure out the reach of the web site or list. If they do not provide any numbers themselves, Alexa rankings might be a good place to start. I have a list of Alexa rankings here.

– Once you have figured out the advertising sites that work for you, apply for an ad with one of your favorites well in advance, usually about a month, and chose the option that your dates are flexible. If your book is accepted, plan your promotion around the effective advertiser, applying for some free or less expensive ads in the days leading up to it.

– Try to do a 99c advertising campaign with at least one of your books a month. (I don’t advocate free anymore, except for permafree.)

– Don’t use the same advertiser and the same book every time. Ads are much more effective if you haven’t advertised a book through the same service in at least six months. Obviously, this strategy works better the more books you have to advertise. If you only have two novels published, concentrate on getting more out before you start experimenting with advertising the way I did. To remain visible as an author with this strategy you would probably need at least four novels or longer novellas, preferably more. (Short stories and collections do not work to boost my visibility.)

Description and Cover

If you can’t get any of the big, more effective advertisers to accept your book, despite the fact that your manuscript isn’t riddled with typos and you have a fair number of positive reviews (don’t believe the myths circulating about the astronomical numbers you need to get a BookBub ad), then it might be time to re-evaluate the presentation of your book.

I am convinced that the single most important thing for selling books is your cover. It’s the first thing your potential reader sees, and if it isn’t interesting or eye-catching enough for him or her to click on it, you’re losing sales right there.

I’ve done several cover makeovers recently, one myself for Chameleon in a Mirror, and two for my Looking Through Lace Series with new covers designed by Lou Harper. All of those books saw dramatic increases in sales / downloads when I did a promo for the book with the new cover compared to the results with the old. Note: you can’t expect a book that’s dead in the water to come back to life with a new cover. If your book is in the lower dregs of Amazon somewhere that no one will ever see it, and you don’t do some kind of promo to increase its visibility, it will remain in the lower dregs of Amazon, despite its stunning new cover.

I have also seen significant increases in sales after changing my descriptions. One of the most effective things I have found for the new product format on Amazon (which only makes the first few lines of the description visible without the customer having to become active and click on “Read more”) is to start with enthusiastic “sound bites” from reader reviews. Here’s an example:

Once I changed the description to make a number of positive reviews plus a teaser prominent in the mini space which is now the Amazon default, I saw a much better conversion rate for the low-level ($1 a day) Facebook ads I’ve been using to try and keep my books from disappearing into obscurity. Now I just have to find formulas for my other books that are as consistent as Chameleon in a Mirror is right now. 🙂

But the operative phrase is “right now.” The thing is, the ebook market is constantly changing, and as an indie author, you have to be willing to change with it: keep abreast of marketing trends, and changes in Amazon, Kobo, Apple, or anywhere else you sell your books. If you really want to make a living selling your books, you’re not going to get around doing your own experimenting, or keeping abreast of changes in the market. You can take this information I’m giving you as a basis to do your own experiments, but my results are based on my books, my covers, my descriptions, and can’t be carried over 1 to 1 to your books, your covers, your descriptions. All I can offer you here are guidelines based on my own experience, some possible ways to develop your own strategy to lift your books out of the doldrums.

In Conclusion

During my Year of Experimentation (following my Year of Marketing Dangerously / i.e. Not at All *g*), I tried plenty of THIS IS THE WAY YOU WILL IMMEDIATELY SELL SH*TLOADS OF EBOOKS strategies. Some of them increased my sales, most of them didn’t. On the other hand, most of those strategies sold as get rich quick schemes have some basis is fact — but they don’t take the individual book or the individual genre into consideration. And many are based on creating cheap non-fiction ebooks written specifically to a niche market.

Those kinds of marketing strategies don’t really work for fiction. In my experience, you just can’t get around testing things yourself for what will work for your own books.

But researching the sites and strategies that have worked for other authors can certainly make the task much easier. And I hope those of you looking for better ways to market your ebooks find this helpful. 🙂

Why “write the next book” isn’t enough; Or: What to do if your books aren’t selling.

Starting out as an Indie Author

In this installment of my series, I am going to take it as a given that you’ve written a good book and either had it professionally edited, or critiqued by several colleagues in a workshop or through critique exchanges, or sent the manuscript out to multiple beta readers — or all of the above.

It the story is lame, the writing bad, or the manuscript riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, changing the cover or blurb won’t help increase sales. If your book hasn’t already been thoroughly torn apart by someone other than friends and family members, before you tweak any of the things I’ll be going into below, you might want to run it by some critique partners or beta readers first.

Intro: My Year of Marketing Dangerously

By which I mean — very nearly not at all. Over a year ago, I got so frustrated with the way Amazon kept changing their algorithms and how difficult it was to keep up — I was selling less and less with more and more effort — that I quit marketing entirely and concentrated on writing and getting more books out. Everybody tells you the best thing for your indie career is to write the next book, after all.

So I published another novel and another collection of short stories, and worked on getting Island of Glass finished.

Well, the novel and the story collection both tanked, and the rest of my books started fading into oblivion right along with them. What was perhaps even worse, my incentive to write was fading right along with my sales.

So when Island of Glass was ready for publication, I got the marketing machine going again. I’m not getting rich, and I can’t quit translating yet, but whereas last summer I was making less than $50 a month from my fiction, it is now back up to a couple hundred dollars.

For that reason, I’m going to start my list with MARKETING.

4 possible reasons your books aren’t selling:

1) You aren’t doing any (effective) marketing.

The thing is, as painful as it might seem, we indie writers have ALL the responsibility for making our books visible, so that readers can find them and buy them. Traditionally published writers have to do a lot of the marketing these days as well (I know, I’ve been there.) But if nothing else, a book that is traditionally published is at the very least listed in the new releases of the publisher in question, which goes out to bookstores and creates a certain initial buzz.

If indie authors want any kind of initial buzz, they have to create it themselves. On the other hand, an indie publication has the advantage that it won’t be remaindered (another thing I know from experience). Since your book isn’t fated to fly or die within six months, you can try new marketing strategies with it, can give it a push with a free run or an ad, can tweak the blurb and the keywords.

But the fact of the matter is, as an indie author, you are responsible for the sales strategies. And you have to learn what will work for you.

To give you a couple of examples from my own experience: from my Year of Marketing Dangerously, I learned that my incentive to write goes down proportionate to the smaller my audience gets. Yes, I am writing the kinds of books I want to read, but neither am I Emily Dickinson. I am not only writing for myself — I want to reach people with my words and my stories.

And that means, I have to figure out ways of reaching my potential audience that don’t make me start cursing fate.

Analyzing the situation, I realized that what I really don’t care much for is Facebook and Twitter (except when I’m tweeting with friends like my Villa Diodati folks). Blogging, otoh, I can do that, like it even. So, I concentrate my Internet presence on blogging, and make sure it’s connected to Facebook and my Twitter feed. It might not be the most effective method, but it’s the one I can concentrate on without dreading the work.

But whether your thing is blogging, Facebook, or Twitter (or maybe even all three), that presence by itself usually isn’t enough. You have to do SOMETHING to get the word about your books out there. Marketing.


Nasty, evil, non-writing stuff. Figuring out where to list your books, writing bloggers who might review your books, deciding what strategies to use to push your books …

Somehow, you’re going to have to figure out a way to make it palatable to you personally. Me, I like a good puzzle. And that’s the thing I finally hit on to make marketing more interesting to me. Starting various experiments is a challenge I can get into.

I have no idea what might make getting the word about your books out there more appealing for you, but as an indie author, you’ll need to find something.

2) Your cover doesn’t inspire people to click on the book in the first place.

You are convinced your cover design skills are great, and you are very proud of the covers you created yourself, sure that they totally reflect the spirit of the story. Who could possibly catch its essence better than you, the writer?

Easy: a professional cover designer.

And when it comes right down to it, capturing the essence of your story isn’t the important thing. It’s getting readers to click on your link. You may have created a wonderful cover that includes hints of all the major elements of your novel — but in thumbnail it looks like a confused mess. Or you’ve created the perfect illustration of an integral scene in Bryce or some other 3D software — and in thumbnail it looks like a 3D rendered image with a title slapped on. Or you found cheap stock art, since you want to keep costs down, and added the title in Gimp, since that’s easy enough — only to discover that there’s book after ebook on Amazon using the same stock photo.

Whether you do it yourself or not, more than anything else you need a cover that’s arresting, that draws the reader’s eye, that makes her look twice and that’s appropriate to the genre. If your ideal reader doesn’t see the thumbnail and think “ooh, that looks kinda cool!” it’s a fail. It has to be more than functional. It has to be eye-catching.

Advice: take a step back and look at your covers in thumbnail with the eye of a reader. Would you click on the image? If not, consider redoing your cover.

Alternatively, if you have an honest friend who can tell you anything without the risk of you never speaking to him or her again, ask for an honest opinion of your covers in thumbnail. It can be ridiculously hard for us to step outside of ourselves.

The fact of the matter is, for any book that isn’t selling (assuming the author is doing some marketing to get it into the public eye and the writing isn’t absolute dreck), the first thing that usually needs to be changed is the cover. It may be true that you can’t *judge* a book by its cover, but it is also true that you cannot entice a reader to try out your book with a sub-par cover.

3) Your blurb isn’t exciting and doesn’t inspire readers to even read the excerpt.

So let’s say you’re doing a free run to get a few more eyes on your book, and you already have a cover that has inspired your target reader to click on the link. The next hurdle to overcome in reader resistance is the blurb. Does it make the reader curious and raise questions in her mind that have to be answered? Or is it more of a summary of events that happen in your book, without context?

Since I eventually want to do an extra article about blurbs, as important as they are, I won’t go into them here in any more detail. Instead, I’ve created a fictional blurb for a book many people are familiar with:

Katniss doesn’t like the rules she has to live under, so she goes hunting in the forest with her friend Gale. It’s illegal and dangerous, but it puts food on the table. Then her sister Prim gets chosen for the Hunger Games, and Katniss volunteers to take her place as tribute. She has to go to the capitol to fight against boys and girls from all the other districts under the control of Panem. The boy chosen to go with her from her district, Peeta, is the baker’s son, and he once threw her a loaf of bread when she had nothing to eat. But now if she wants to survive, she will have to kill him — along with all the other tributes to Panem …

Here is the real blurb for the book:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

In the real blurb, there is very little specific info about what actually happens to the main character, and NO additional names, other than that of Panem. It concentrates on the big picture and the essential conflict.

4) Your excerpt (the first however many pages of your book) doesn’t raise enough questions in the reader’s mind to make him or her feel compelled to buy the book.

Of course, as I mentioned above, I’m assuming here that your prose is not full of errors or awkward constructions that will turn a reader off after a page or two. I personally never buy an ebook without downloading the sample first. Any spelling mistakes or sentences that have me itching for a red pen will make me delete the sample immediately, and good riddance.

But most of the writers who will be reading this are not those who will be uploading the kind of error-ridden manuscripts that give indie writers a bad name. On the other hand, even when the book we wrote is quite good, a lot of us haven’t given much thought to how those first few pages might strike a reader who’s gotten far enough to check out the excerpt. Does it (like the blurb) make the reader curious and want to know more? Does it dazzle her with beautiful prose? Does it paint a picture of a character so interesting, the reader wants to spend many more hours with him or her?

Your excerpt doesn’t have to do all these things, but it should at least do one.

So if you are having problems getting your books into the hands of readers, do some research on marketing, and take a look at your cover, blurb and excerpt with the eye of a reader. Maybe there are some things you can change after all to get more people to click “buy.”

Here’s some further reading elsewhere on the Internet that might help you figure out what you should do if your books aren’t selling:

Why Is My Book Not Selling?

10 Reasons Why Self-Published Books Don’t Sell – and What You Can Do to Ensure Yours DOES

The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People