Sunday, June 28, 2015

Go Wide or Be Paid Per-Page

Amazon will be making a big change that is now only a couple days away. Authors who have their e-books exclusive on Amazon by enrolling in KDP Select, making those books eligible to be borrowed through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited, will be paid per page instead of per book. This has caused a lot of controversy and consternation as writers try to figure out what they should do. Exacerbating the problem is the lack of hard details, such as exactly how pages will be calculated and how much is a likely per-page payment.

"Going wide" (making books available everywhere possible) instead of being exclusive to the Kindle platform has the obvious benefit of reaching readers who use other e-reading platforms. While the future of the NOOK platform has looked fairly shaky for awhile, there are many NOOK readers still in use, they're still being sold, and it's still a viable channel for now. Some authors have found Google Play Books to be a lucrative platform, and the Apple iBookstore is also a favored channel by many. Kobo is another e-reading platform that is apparently stronger outside the US. All other factors aside, the more platforms your book is available through, the more people you can reach.

Having books exclusive on Amazon also has benefits, because Amazon has long been a powerhouse for e-book sales and they are often where authors will have their best sales. Books that are only available (in e-book form) on the Kindle are given additional exposure by Amazon, so the sales potential of the Amazon powerhouse can directly benefit writers who get that extra exposure. On the other hand, if my own experiences (and experiences I've read about elsewhere) are any indication, the real value of that extra exposure—especially for writers who are not already making regular sales and are trying to build up to that point—has dropped drastically over the past few months. In the past, I was able to give away dozens or hundreds or even thousands of copies of books during a short free-download promotion, but lately I've been lucky to give away even one dozen.

There are many factors to consider, and a lot of uncertainty at this point. For a short while, Amazon will apparently allow people to pull their books out of KDP Select before the normal 90-day enrollment expiration, as a result of this change. That is what I'm leaning toward doing with the few books that I still have in KDP Select. You're welcome to share your plans in the comments.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Project Wonderful? Go Ape!

In my first post here, I mentioned Project Wonderful. If you look on the right side of this page, you'll see one Project Wonderful ad, so you can see I'm still using their service. There's a lot more to say about it than that brief earlier mention, however, so I wanted to share my good and not-so-great experiences.

Positive Results

I think I've sold a book...
I think I've sold at least one book as a result of advertising through Project Wonderful. However, most of my sales are on Amazon and tracking sales there is tricky at best. It would be easier if I could just use Amazon affiliate links through Project Wonderful, since I could then assign a tracking code just for Project Wonderful ads, but this is prohibited by Amazon. Despite the many good things that Amazon has done for indie writers, enabling us to track sources of sales is not one of them (other than via affiliate links on our sites, which—at least in my experience—is not where most sales come from).
I've gained new mailing list subscribers.
This was the inspiration for this blog post and thus its title. I use Mailchimp for my newsletter... chimp, ape, get it? OK, not the greatest. Anyway, Project Wonderful has helped me get new subscribers. My list is still very small, but those that I've picked up by way of a promotion on Project Wonderful are good subscribers—they open my messages! Others on my list are not so interested and often don't open my newsletters–or if they do, they're blocking my awareness of it (which I don't disagree with, even if I like to see the stats).
I've earned a little money by hosting ads.
I've never accumulated enough to withdraw money, but I haven't really intended to do that either. What money I do bring in from other advertisers ends up going back out to promote my books (and other things) on other sites. I suspect this is not uncommon for Project Wonderful users, especially those on the low-earning end. Sites that bring in solid revenue every day already have substantial traffic and presumably don't need to cycle funds back into advertising.
I can use it "for free" if I want to.
I've deposited I think a total of $5 there, but there are many sites in their network where you can advertise for free (depending on current bidding). Most of the ads I run are bid at $0/day. You can also do as I've done, running my own ad blocks for other advertisers and then using revenue from that to pay for my ads to show up elsewhere.

Negative Experiences

The ad network seems heavily oriented around comics.
It seems difficult to find useful places to advertise books, and part of this is an apparently strong bias in the ad network toward Web comics. By "bias" I don't mean that Project Wonderful is doing that intentionally, it just seems to have developed that way. If I search broadly (i.e., all banner sizes, etc.) on the two categories related to comics, I get thousands of results. If I search on two categories related to books, I get a few hundred. I'd love to see more diversity in the network for more variety in relevant ad placement options.
The site itself is buggy.
There are enough flaws in the Project Wonderful site that I have a hard time trusting the accuracy of anything, which keeps me from depositing more funds for ads rather than just re-using ad revenue I earn. Even seemingly-simple things like correctly ordering things numerically, such as sorting current ads by impression count, have been broken for as long as I can remember.
They regularly "delist" my ad blocks.
Supposedly to protect advertisers (who can't manage this themselves?), they periodically disable "underperforming" ad blocks. This means if you run ads on your site and your site doesn't meet their performance criteria (which, admittedly, are fairly generous), they "delist" your ads so that you can't accept any ads or earn anything more. You can re-enable the delisted ad blocks, as I did today for the ad block shown here, but that's a hassle. If your site traffic is steady, this might be added incentive to strive for an overall traffic boost. If your site traffic is spiky, however, you might have your ad block delisted just before a spike and that exposure would go to waste, at least in terms of statistics that other advertisers see when evaluating your site. I think they should drop this and rely on advertisers managing their own performance requirements.

Have you tried using Project Wonderful to promote your books? You're welcome to share your results in the comments.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Tool for Cross-Pollination

You may not be interested to know that my personal site has a new theme and it's now mobile-friendly, but a new addition on the left sidebar might interest you. That section now shows two Kindle book covers from other indie authors, courtesy of BookPromoCoop.com. This is a nifty tool that is built to provide cross pollination among indie authors, and it's free to sign up to participate.

Cross-pollination makes a lot of sense as a way to build awareness of books. That service is only a few days old and I've only been signed up a couple days, but already my book covers have shown up on the sites of other authors dozens of times. As of this writing, there are 46 authors signed up to participate, with over 150 titles that are randomly selected. Adding books is as easy as pasting in the ASIN, and you can narrow down the genres of books that show up on your site if you want.

If you want to increase the exposure of your indie books—and what indie author doesn't?—I recommend taking a look at this new service! And my site too, 'cause, ya know, new theme and all. ;)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Arguable Value of Free

It's a common theme in business, including in the indie writing business: Give something away to get noticed, and then (hopefully) cash in on those who like what they see and come back for the non-free products or services. Even for those who don't take the time to get the free whatever, the appearance of the word "free" can be enough to get attention. Increased visibility leads to increased sales. When was the last time you shopped at that one local business that you can't see from the road but can only see their sign? Or, check out your Web-based map service of choice and see how many businesses are near you that you've never heard of because they have no visible storefront or signage.

A typical—maybe even cliché—approach to free books in indie publishing is to make the first book in a series permanently free ("permafree") with the hope that readers who like the first book will pay to continue reading the series. It's not hard to find indie writers sharing their stories of success with this approach.

Another common approach is to use the free-download days that are offered for books enrolled in KDP Select (limited to 5 days per 90 day enrollment). This was very lucrative at first, but changes made by Amazon substantially reduced the effectiveness of this approach. One such change, which had far-reaching impacts, was to give Amazon affiliates ("Associates") a disincentive for promoting free Kindle books.

There are other approaches, of course. Some writers post their work for free on Wattpad. Others make their books available for free download directly from their own site. As I've mentioned here before, I have experimented with distributing free copies of Wolf Block via BitTorrent. Writers selling books directly on Gumroad can use "pay what you want, or nothing" pricing. Free copies can be given away as an incentive to subscribe to a mailing list. Print and/or electronic copies might be given freely, on an individual basis, to bloggers or others with influence. And so on.

This is all done, of course, with the assumption that there will be some value returned from giving books away. The value might be sales of non-free books, or it might be reviews, or something else. It clearly works for some. However, that definitely does not mean it will work for everyone. What little value I can measure from giving away books has been an increase in reviews, but not all of those reviews have been positive.

Part of my lack of success getting value from giving away books comes from having difficulty giving them away to begin with. Despite trying to give away many more, I've distributed less than 10,000 free copies in almost five years since my first book appeared on Amazon. There are writers who can distribute that many free copies in a day or two. So, maybe my writing is just that bad? And, part of it is strategic. For example, Wolf Block—permafree everywhere other than Amazon—is not the first in a series. It is a stand-alone science fiction short story. I had hopes that readers who liked it might then seek out Journey to Yandol, and other stories but, as far as I can tell, that has not happened.

Do you offer a book for free? If so, I invite you to promote it here by linking to it in the comments. I also welcome your thoughts on whether giving books away has worked for you or if it seems to be a dead end.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Second Rumble: Another Completed Thunderclap

After my first Thunderclap to promote the launch of Extra Credit: Loyalty!, I wrote a post here about the mistakes I made and lessons I learned. Shortly after that, I created my second Thunderclap to promote this blog. When I did, I mentioned on Facebook (in the ThunderClap Campaigns group) that I would post another "post-mortem" here. The following is my analysis of the results of the second campaign and how it compares to the first one. In general, I'd say the lessons learned were valuable indeed!

First, some basic numbers:

  • Supporters: 137
  • Claimed reach: 562,159
  • Clicks (as of this writing): 211

Unfortunately, to really compare, I should have taken note of the click count at 24 hours. I believe it was around 190.

The claimed reach for the second one wasn't much higher than for the first one (a difference of less than 20,000, i.e., only a few percent), but the number of supporters was—percentage-wise—more significant, and the clicks on the Thunderclap link were almost 10 times higher. It's still remarkably low, with a click/claimed-impression ratio less than four-hundredths of a percent, but it's better than the approximately five-thousandths of a percent of the first campaign.

To consider the mistakes/lessons from that earlier post...

Header design. I designed the second header to be useful both for recruiting for the Thunderclap and for the messages sent out in the Thunderclap itself. I won't claim to be a graphic designer, but I believe that just understanding how it would be seen by others helped.

Participant motivation. The different purposes of the campaigns make this a bit of an apples/oranges comparison, but I think I did a better job of tuning the promotion to what would benefit participants. Before it was just getting a free copy of a book from a relatively-unknown author (me). This time it was improving book marketing, in a campaign oriented toward writers.

Audience of supporters. In this, the two campaigns were more alike than I originally intended, because the bulk of the supporters were other Thunderclap users sharing support. Since they may be pumping out a lot of Thunderclap promo posts, their followers are less likely to notice yet another one. So, more noise among the noise. If I ever develop enough of an audience to have 100 Thunderclap supporters among people who never post promotional posts, I think the reach will be much lower but the engagement much higher. This should take the CTR from tiny fractions of a percent to a more reasonable rate (maybe 2-5 percent), and those who click may be more open-minded about what they will see.

I hope this information is of interest and/or use to other writers. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, May 8, 2015

You Must Have a Blog! Or...?

It's pretty standard indie marketing advice: You must maintain a blog and post to it regularly. But is it really necessary? What if you do spend time and effort on that, but get zero results?

That's pretty much the case for my "Writing News" blog, from which I've taken an unintended hiatus since late March. About the only real value it ever had was getting the word out about my book formatting services. That was mainly regarding children's books because I posted some basic do-it-yourself instructions (now outdated) directly on the blog, but I haven't had any new customers from that recently.

Has my "blog for readers" worked to build the audience for my books? As far as I can tell, no. That's not an assumption based on lack of tracking, that's an assumption based on lack of sales. My sales stats are grim enough that if I did get a boost from something, I'd see it.

I haven't decided what to do with that blog. It might end up becoming dormant, like a couple other blogs I have (one about my photography, and one about an esoteric bit of computer hardware). I've pondered some ideas for reinvigorating the blog by shifting the content, but so far… well, I'm still undecided.

So what do you think about the "requirement" to maintain an active blog as part of your marketing mix for promoting your books? If you have a blog, active or otherwise, feel free to leave a link in the Comments.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Build an Audience via "Piracy"

Anybody who has been involved in indie book marketing for more than a month or two is probably well aware of the tactic of using free books to build exposure and, hopefully, a base of loyal readers. There are various ways to do this, and the value of it also varies—but the fact that giving away free copies is considered a benefit of Amazon's KDP Select underscores the value of the tactic.

There are other mechanisms, apart from KDP Select, to give away free copies. These include setting up books to be "permafree" on e-book platforms where that configuration is easy (e.g., Kobo) to coupon systems and "pay what you want, even if that means zero" options. Another option is for writers to simply post free copies on their Web sites, with the files either hosted directly on their Web server or linked to a cloud storage system like Dropbox.

Those are all common and accepted ways to distribute individual copies from the author to the reader, either directly or via a third-party system. However, they don't provide a way for readers to pass along copies to other readers. It could be done, but possibly not easily and possibly not legally. You can expand the reach of your free book, and further build your audience, by using "piracy"—which I put in quotes because it's not real piracy*, but it uses tools that are used by those who violate copyright laws.

Encouraging people to pass along free copies of a creative work is nothing new. The Grateful Dead are well known for their policy of allowing fans to freely record their concerts, as long as they didn't sell the tapes. As indie writers, we can do something similar.

The first step is to grant a license to the work that allows such copying; the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license is one that would emulate the Grateful Dead's "copy, but don't sell" approach, but there are other licenses you could choose. Add a reference to the license on the copyright page, so that readers know they are free to give copies to their friends.

The next step is to make the book easily downloaded. One way is to post the book files on your Web site in a visible location. Another way is to use one of the tools that is unfortunately commonly used for copyright violation: BitTorrent. This might seem daunting to those unfamiliar with BitTorrent, but by enabling this method of distributing free copies of your book, you're expanding your reach far beyond the people who would go directly to your site.

For example, I currently have my science fiction novelette Wolf Block set up for free downloads via BitTorrent, and for this I simply posted the MOBI and EPUB files to Amazon S3 (a cloud storage service that supports, among many other things, BitTorrent "seeding"). If you have a BitTorrent client set up, feel free to give this a try and grab either the MOBI or EPUB of Wolf Block.

Once your book is available via BitTorrent, the next step is to add it to the various torrent sites. This is a step I have not completed yet, because until very recently I wasn't confident in the Amazon S3 seeding. It seems to work flawlessly, though, so finding torrent sites where I can add it is on my to-do list.

Naturally, your book files should not have any DRM enabled. This isn't a step, per se, but avoiding the step of enabling DRM will make sure the other steps aren't pointless!

If you distribute books for free, I invite you to post links to them in the comments!

* Making an illegal copy of something is nothing like the brutal violence of real pirates. I think the term "piracy" for "copyright violation" is ridiculous, and it actually supports the egos of the violators themselves, who want to be associated with the swashbuckling image of the pirates of old. I prefer the term "bootleg" which has no such connotations.