Monday, March 12, 2012

It's Still a Marathon, not a Sprint

What I'm reading: Open Season by C.J. Box

The rest of this month is going to be very busy for me. My daughter, Nicole is running in the LA Marathon. For those of you familiar with the area, the race starts at Dodger Stadium and finishes by the Santa Monica Pier. Feel free to show up anywhere along the route and cheer her on. She'll be wearing bib # 6580. I'll be flying out with her, and visiting my parents. Then, after I get back, I'll have a few days before I leave for Left Coast Crime in Sacramento.

And because I have marathons on my mind, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my e-publishing philosophy: It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I've seen countless people playing with pricing, frantically scheduling books for free, doing everything they can to get their books noticed in the rankings. (And we're talking primarily Amazon here, since they're still the 500 pound gorilla for most indie publishers)

They're tweeting, begging for everyone else to tweet that their books are free, or on sale. They're posting on countless Facebook groups that have turned into nothing more than "buy my book" sites. Since telling me to buy your book doesn't entice me to buy it, I figure others feel the same way.

While I agree that it's important to keep one's name out there, I'm more of the tortoise in this race. I've played the Twitter game and seen my sales go … nowhere. Now, true, who knows how many people have added samples to their e-readers, but I've yet to see a sales spike after a Tweet-a-thon.

What I have seen is a slow and steady increase in my sales. Some mathematically inclined readers might be able to calculate slopes or other fancy stuff, but I was on a steady climb through December, and then the slope increased. I attribute this primarily to more e-readers out there, but also because (I hope) people are now finishing the first books of mine they've read and going back to pick up more.

As for pricing. My 99 cents books are selling much better than my $2.99 ones, but there's also the theory that a lot of readers think free or 99 cent books must be of inferior quality.

Amazon has neat little graphs that show rankings over time. The following is for WHAT'S IN A NAME? over the last 6 months. You can see that after some drastic fluctuations, it's now holding relatively steady.

Book pages will tell you your overall ranking, and then, if you're doing well enough, they'll also calculate where you stand in your specific genre. For example, if I want to see the top 100 books in Romantic Suspense, I can filter the search for just those books. The algorithm for sticking those ranking numbers onto books is based on things like how many other titles in that genre were sold during a particular time period. Thus, if I sell 50 books in an hour, and everyone else has a "slow hour", my ranking will skyrocket as opposed to selling those same 50 books over the course of a day, or selling those 50 books in an hour when other authors are selling 100 books in the same hour.

Would it be nice to see my books in that coveted top 100 list? Sure. But I have to be realistic. You know who else writes romantic suspense? J.D. Robb. You know how many of her books are out there? Lots. And I think almost every one of them is in the top 100, which means there are that many fewer slots for people like little me.

I've watched my books start out at rankings in the million range. Now, my better selling books are steady in the 4000-8000 range. Sure, it would be nice to see a book at #25, or even #99, but how long would that last if the only way I could get it there would be to set it to free for a few days, and then it would fall back to its "normal" rank.

Note: these are MY results, and mileage will vary. After a week of offering a free book at Smashwords for their big "Read an eBook Week" promotion, I "sold" only the free title, and none of the half-price book. Some see an uptick in sales across the board for all their books. Some see the bargain book rise and stay up there. But I've never had that kind of luck—and I do believe there's a LOT of luck in this business. Or, as my computer programmer critique partner prefers to say, "factors you don't know about and therefore can't account for."

Tomorrow my guest is John Sharpe (no relation to last week's guest—as a matter of fact, 3 of my guests are named Sharpe/Sharp this month!). He honed his craft watching Law And Order. Come back tomorrow to see how—and he's giving away books.

Like this post? Please share by clicking one of the links below.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race mentality works really well with epub. We put ourselves out there, we're online, we keep writing and putting out good books...and then we end up doing well in the end. I'm thinking steady sales and then a lot of books *to* sell will work out well for us (I'm still working on getting more up, independently.)

Jemi Fraser said...

It's tough to be in the same category as JD Robb! But I must say I enjoy both of your books very much. Thanks for letting us see how those numbers work :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - we have to remember it's about putting a good product out there.

Jemi - I'm flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as JD Robb. Thanks!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Terry,

I think your approach is the sensible one. With ebooks in particular there's a long shelf-life so word of mouth is more important than instant publicity. The quality product wins the race in the end. Congrats on your starred review for your upcoming novel!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Jacqueline.

Colleen Collins said...

J.A. Konrath wrote a wonderful post months ago in which he mirrored your words -- it's about steadily accruing sales and practicing patience.

A well-known indie author (not Konrath) boasted publicly on Twitter a few months back that he sells 2,000 books a day. That's fantastic for him, but I thought it was a disservice to writers who read a message like that, then think they're unsuccessful unless they're selling hundreds of books of daily. That kind of angst creates the mega-book-promo tweets, I think :)

Good post, thanks.

Kelly McClymer said...

Funny you should mention this. I'm training for a half marathon in VA in June :-)

Part of my training is to walk a few minutes, then jog a few minutes, then walk (I'm going to walk the marathon, not run it...I'm not risking my knees at my age).

I feel like my indie book career is much like that. Pay attention to the promotion, then go back to writing, a little attention to promo, write. Like my half-marathon training, I'm spending more time on the slow and steady (writing) than the promo (running).

My goal (for both) is to have fun, and build a little on the long tail of my health. I'd love to get to 100 someday still able to walk and write :-)

Karen C said...

I like your thought process for book sales – makes sense to me.
I would have loved to have taken advantage of your offer on Smashwords - but I already had both books. I did take advantage of the sale of your books on The Wild Rose Press. I think I'm only missing one book now.
Hope Nicole does well in her marathon! Have a safe trip and enjoy.

Terry Odell said...

Colleen - you're right. We shouldn't measure our success against others.

Kelly - good luck on your 1/2 marathon. I think Nicole walks the aide stations but runs the rest. I haven't asked her about her strategy for this race. As a mom, I just want her to finish in good shape.

Karen - thanks so much for being such a faithful and supportive reader!

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Thank you so much for bringing this up, Terry. It's a good topic.
As far as the Facebook groups/Twitter/whatever else is out there/ social media aspect of trying to sell books, nothing's made a huge spike in my sales, either. Granted, I don't have tons of time to spend lurking around looking for the best places, so I'm just counting trying to get more and more books published, either traditionally or posting them myself. I've seen a lot of online sites that will promote your work for a price, but it only feels to me like they're promoting it to other authors, not actual readers, so I won't spend the money. It's a lot of information to process, so I'm just hunkering down and settling in for the long haul.

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

P.S., unfortunately some people also like to inflate the truth, so I'd be curious to know how a certain individual sells 2,000 books a day... :-)

Susan Oleksiw said...

This is a good reminder of the importance of persistence. Writers just have to keep at it, sometimes selling one book at a time at an event, through a blog, or something else. It takes time to build an audience, but with patience and a good book, we can do it.

Terry Odell said...

Cindy - yes, so many groups end up being 'preaching to the choir'

Susan -- and also to write more good books!

Bev Irwin / Kendra James said...

Hi Terry
I really enjoyed your post today. My first book, WHEN HEARTS COLLIDE, came out as an ebook in Dec. I have done a fair amount of blogging and tweeting, promotion but do those methods work? I have been spending so much time doing that that I am not getting much writing done. Reading your post makes me realize I need to get back to the writing and get more books out there. I have a new book, GHOSTLY JUSTICE, a paranormal YA, that I will have to do some promotion for but I want to temper that will getting some writing accomplished. I heard somewhere that you need to have about five books out there before your name gets noticed and sales increase. So I better get writing and more books finished.
Bev Irwin/Kendra James

Terry Odell said...

Bev, I agree, you have to have more than one book out there to see results. And I think if they're in a series, that's also a good attraction for readers.