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Replay 2012 | Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) Like Fight Club

12 Dec

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. Today’s replay is about the difference between what works and what doesn’t when it comes to promoting your book online (which I wrote after the 20k night-time charity walk sprained ankle incident, so the advice that follows is decidedly codeine-infused…)

The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.

And the first rule of effectively promoting your book online is that you do not promote your book online.

By which I mean, you do not blatantly promote your book online.

(Yes, it’s a tenuous link but let’s just go with it, okay? It’s Monday, and I have a sprained ankle.)

Some self-published authors take offense at being told that they shouldn’t regularly send out tweets like “My book, YOUR EYES ARE GLAZING OVER, is on Amazon now, just $2.99. PLEASE RT! OKAY? THANKS!”, or that they should avoid working the title of at least one of their books into every comment they leave on someone else’s blog, or that they shouldn’t send e-mails to people they don’t know or don’t know really well trying to flog their book because, even if it’s done manually, it’s still spam. (For a lesson in what not to do with e-mail and your book, read this.) They want to do things their way, and that’s fine. But the reason I’m suggesting not to do it that way is because that way doesn’t work.

Did you hear me? IT DOESN’T WORK. So yes, of course, you’re free to do whatever you want. But personally, I’d rather just do stuff that is at least likely to work.

The reason it doesn’t work is because people aren’t using social media because they love being sold stuff. They’re using it, I think, for one or more of the following three reasons:

  1. Because they want to be entertained
  2. Because they’re looking for specific information
  3. Because they want to connect with other people (connect as in virtually meet, but also as in relate to).

From what I’ve seen over the past two years, both in trying to sell my own books and watching what other self-published and traditionally published authors have done to try to sell theirs, is that your promotional efforts have to have a value of their own, and that value has to satisfy one or more of the demands in the list above. Online promotion works best when the book actually comes second to the content’s main objective.

[You: Say what now?]

To put it another—hopefully clearer—way, your goal should be to improve the internet, above all else. Make it a better place than it was five minutes ago by writing a great blog post, posting a funny tweet, using a tweet to direct your followers to a great blog post you just found, uploading a video that helps people perform a task, uploading a video that makes people laugh while they’re procrastinating to keep from doing that task they’re supposed to do… You get the idea. Adding a mention of your book to this content might also sell a few copies of it for you, yes, but that’s secondary. That’s not the most important bit. We need to create stuff to put on the internet that would still be something useful and worthwhile even if we took the selling books bit out of it.

Book trailers—good ones, anyway—and other book-related videos are a really effective way to demonstrate what I mean. The video above, Love in the Time of Amazon, is one of my favorites, and I showed it at Faber Academy and Inkwell Writers earlier this year to demonstrate this very point. Yes, this is a book trailer that’s advertising the authors’ books. But if you took that away—if you just imagined for a second that this was just for fun, and that those are actors and those books don’t really exist, and you took away the information at the end—it would still be a video you have a little giggle at. It would still be a video you post on your blog, share with your Facebook friends and/or tweet a link to. Especially if your friends are published authors, because we can so relate. (And so—added bonus—connect.) It’s been viewed over 8,000 times, I saw countless links to it on Twitter, I’ve posted about it myself several times and it got picked up by high-traffic sites like Media Bistro.

My own video, How Much Editing Backpacked Needed, has been viewed over 1,000 times and passed around numerous editing and writing blogs. It’s about my book Backpacked, and at the very end of it, there’s some info about the book. But if I didn’t name the book that was being edited and took that info at the end out, the video wouldn’t lose any of its value. It would still have the same number of views and have been passed around and shared just as much. Because this isn’t a video about me wanting you to buy my book. This is a video that, first and foremost, contains useful information and/or is interesting.

This blog post and my other “self-printing” themed posts contain information that some people might need. Fun, chatty tweets that bemoan the pain of having to put words on paper are something any writer can relate to, and over time we might make a connection with the person writing them. Anything that makes us laugh, mutter, “Hmm. Interesting…”, holds our attention for longer than a few seconds or could be considered “just for fun” falls into the entertainment category.

And after they’ve entertained, informed or made a connection, they’ve also informed a new person that our book exists, which is the first step is getting someone to buy it. (Making them interested in the book is the step in between.) Obviously the number of people who know our books exist is far greater than those who actually buy it, but as the first number increases, so does the second.

Am I silly enough to think that everyone who reads this blog post is going to run straight over to Amazon and buy up all my books? No. I don’t think that anyone is going to run over there and buy one of them. I’m not trying to open and close the deal in the same shot. My main priority is to make this a good blog. I genuinely love this blog, and I’m prouder of it than I am of some of my books. (Don’t tell them that, though.) So above all else, I want new people to keep discovering this blog, and I want the people already reading it to keep doing so, and I want everyone to find it useful with a side of occasional giggles, even if they don’t like pink.

Below that on my list of priorities is selling my books. Over time, a very small percentage of blog readers become book readers, but because I have a lot of blog readers, that’s enough for me to feel a little thrill every time I check my KDP units-sold-to-date report (which I do at least four times a day).

How do blog readers become book readers? These are some of my theories:

  1. They like the way I write; they want to read more
  2. They want to get my book to see how it’s turned out (after reading about its production)
  3. After hanging around here for ages, they read the About page or My Books, and one of my books catches their eye
  4. They buy a book of mine as a thank you for me helping them with their book (through my posts)
  5. One of the above, combined with me telling them I have a free promotion on, and perhaps reading one for free leads them to buy another one.
  6. Then they might write a review, recommend me to a friend, etc. etc. leading to other, “outside” sales
  7. After reading this blog from the beginning and following me through the release of four books, they just can’t resist my Jedi mind tricks anymore…
Let’s say that instead of writing blog posts, I just stuck up a picture of a book of mine up here with an Amazon link and a price-tag. And I did that every day, without fail and without deviation. Where do you think I’d be then? I’m pretty sure I’d have zero blog readers. But yet people treat Twitter exactly in this way, and expect not only people to stick around and put up with it, but also to go buy their books. Put down the crazy juice and have a cup of coffee instead. May I recommend this which I’ve been trying out this weekend:

(I could write a whole other post about how after Starbucks VIA, every coffee maker in town ran off to produce their own instant-made-from-actual-ground-beans product, and then rushed it onto the shelves in a silver cylindrical container, offered it at half-price as an introductory offer to get people to buy it and then encouraged refilling of the container with slightly less expensive “eco” refill bags, which no one was encouraged to do because it’s so damn expensive that you’re far better off hopping from brand to brand, picking up the half-price containers as they become available. But I won’t.)

Think about it: what does you tweeting “Another 5* review for MY BOOK on Amazon! Here’s the link so you can go read it and marvel at the praise I have received...” achieve out of those three? And no, it doesn’t fall under information, because the information has to be useful. If you’re going on a blog tour and you have five guest posts lined up to send to your kind hosts, ask yourself: are these posts good by themselves? Are they likely to entertain, provide information, have readers relating to them, or is the only point they make something like buy my book and buy it now?

Let’s return to the word rule. You—I—can’t really say “never do this” or “as a rule, don’t do that.” Sometimes you have to tell the internet something, even if that something doesn’t achieve one of our three aims. There’s little point, for instance, in your book being free for Kindle for a few days if you can’t tell people about it. (Although, in my opinion, the opportunity to get a free book falls into the information category. I’m slow to admit this thought because I JUST KNOW that someone will take it a step in the wrong direction and assume tweets on the hour, every hour about how his book is “just $1.99″ falls into the same category. IT DOESN’T.) And what if you get a review from like, someone amazing? What if your writing hero says she likes your book, and says it on the internet? You couldn’t keep news like that in, even if it doesn’t do anything but make the rest of us sick with jealousy. So sometimes, it’s okay to break the rules, or not follow the principles. But only in extreme moderation. Because remember, the hard sell doesn’t work. No one is listening to it, because that’s not why they’re there.

Over time, what’s considered valuable information will also change. For instance, if I pick 1,000 people at random and tell them that I’ve released a new book and go buy it now, please, thanks, I’d probably get into trouble for spamming or at the very least, waste my time. But what if those 1,000 people had already read a book of mine, and signed up to a newsletter so they could find out about my future releases, and they were happy to hear from me because they were fans of my work? Then “my book is out now!” becomes valuable information to them, because finding that out was exactly why they signed up to the mailing list. BUT—before you bring it up—this isn’t the same as me following you on Twitter. I didn’t follow you on Twitter to be constantly told about your new book. I’d like to know if you have a new book, sure, but I want it to come on the side of the real reason I’m on Twitter in the first place: to be entertained, informed or connected.

A few final points:

  1. Before you take a dump on this, don’t bother. It seems like every time I draw attention to something some other author did to promote their book that I thought was fun or funny or clever or some other good word, someone or someones then feel the need to take a dump on it in the comments. This annoys me in the same way people who look down on other people for watching reality TV annoys me, which is A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT, because in saying this, you’re saying that if I don’t like the same things as you, I’m somehow inferior. It doesn’t matter if Love in the Time of Amazon didn’t make you giggle, or if you’d “never buy a book just because you saw a video about it.” This isn’t about you. This is about the book buying public at large, of which you are just one in a sea of millions. Don’t focus on the video I’ve used to demonstrate my point. Focus on the point itself. And you want to take a dump on that in the comments, feel free.
  2. Modeling yourself on exceptions to the rule isn’t helpful. For every bit of advice I dispense on this blog, in Self-Printed or in person at a workshop or something, someone manages to find an example of an author who has done the opposite and been successful. “Hiring a professional cover designer because the cover could make or break your book? What about that guy who’s sold a trillion e-books since Tuesday? His covers are terrible. Looking at them makes me feel like I do when I eat eggs benedict while hungover and on a boat in rocky seas…” etc. etc. You can find an exception to the rule for absolutely everything. But where does it get you? As I said in a post last week, we all know stories about writers who got book deals in strange, serendipitous ways. They sketched an idea for a novel on the inside of an old Cornflakes box, their kid brought it to school for arts & crafts, the teacher happened to read it, mentioned it to her sister who happened to work for William Morris, and by the end of the following week the writer had a book deal, foreign rights sold and a movie option in the works. How nice for her. But don’t you think that querying in the usual way would give you a far greater chance of success than scribbling on cereal boxes and sending them to school with your kid?
  3. After writing this post, I’m no longer sure the title is relevant. But hey, I’ve a sprained ankle and am doped up on codeine and some weird ice-cold gel that apparently seeps into your muscles through your skin (which, I’ve been wondering, is sure to work better on people skinnier than me, right?) so, whatever. Or whatevs, as the kids say.

Click here to see a list of all my self-printing posts in chronological order.

Replay 2012 | The Writer’s Guide to Making Google Your Friend

4 Dec

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. They’re in no particular order, popularity-wise. Today we talk about SEO and why there’s much easier and more effective ways to get the attention of internet search engines… 

If you have a blog, chances are you’ve heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. You might have read one of the 83,321,023 articles or posts about why you have to do it right now or else, or maybe some kindly person from an SEO company sent you an e-mail expressing their concern over the fact that your SEO efforts are a pile of poo but fear not, because they’d lurve to help you improve them.

If you’ve got to this point without finding out what SEO actually means, I’m proud of you. And it’s basically making your blog or website more visible to Google. According to Wikipedia:

“As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.”

Thrilling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It sounds like something important, but I think it’s too much like hard work. I can honestly say that in 2+ years of blogging—and on a blog that got over 50,000 hits last month—I have never spent any significant amount of time worrying about my SEO, and I haven’t spent as much as a nanosecond doing anything about it.

(Sometimes I don’t even bother to tag my posts. My laziness knows no bounds.)

Now if you were, say, selling used cars in Dublin, I completely understand why you’d need to make sure that your website is the first that pops up on Google should someone enter “used cars Dublin” in the search box. If your business was primarily based online, SEO might make or break your business. But for a writer with books, a Twitter feed and a blog, I don’t see the point.

Time Spent in Better Ways

First of all, Google probably isn’t your main path of discovery. People probably find out about you and your blog through reading your books, links or tweets on Twitter and word of mouth recommendations, more than any other methods. Also, people can’t search for something if they don’t know what they’re looking for. If you’re a writer with a few books and a blog and you want to use SEO to help people find you, what kind of keywords are you going to focus on? How are you going to get people to land on you by way of an internet search when they don’t actually know you exist yet? Think about it. And don’t think about writing, because there’s a few million writers in the world people have actually heard of that they’d have to wade through before they got to you.

Maybe you have an angle, like blogging about self-publishing. In that case, wouldn’t it make sense to optimize your blog so that if someone Googles “self-publishing advice”, they land on you? I think it makes more sense to spend what little time you have producing quality content that will bring people to your blog without you having to worry about SEO and which will, over time, ensure the organic growth of your audience. All the blogs I read I started reading because someone recommended them to me or because I followed a link to one of their posts that I saw on Twitter, and when I got there, I liked what I saw. No SEO effort is going to make that happen if the posts on the site it’s optimizing are boring the arse off me—or worse, a waste of my blog-reading time.

I’m not saying that spending time working on your blog or website’s SEO won’t bring new people to your online platform. It probably will. What I’m saying is that your time would be better spent on other things, such as writing the kind of posts that bring people to your blog or website anyway.

What’s in a Name?

Having said all that, I do think writers need to make Google their friend. But this is nothing to do with SEO, indexing activities or inbound linking. It’s something far more simple and straightforward than that. It’s just common sense.

It’s about your name.

How many times have you been listening to the radio or watching something on TV and just about caught either an author name or a book title that you want to find out more about? It’s lots of times, for me. So I open up my computer or go to my phone, and do a Google search.

Keeping in mind that I have never spent any time worrying about the headache that is SEO, when you Google “Catherine Ryan Howard”, the entire first page of results is me. (And then some, but the first page is all we’re worrying about, really.) Even if you Google “Mousetrapped”, I’m not every result on the first page, but I’m there, and I’m first.

Now try Googling “Catherine Howard.” If you’re on Google Ireland I still get a look in, but on Google.com and it’s all about the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England.

The thing is, my name is Catherine Howard. “Ryan” is my mother’s maiden name, and “Catherine Ryan Howard” is completely made up. I made it up because thanks to countless History teachers, I knew about the other, infinitely more famous Catherine Howard, and so I knew that if someone was trying to find me by way of Google, she’d have something to say about it. So I changed my name, and in doing so made Google my friend.

This is why I despair when I see authors—traditionally published authors, I may add, whose publishing houses should know better—recycling titles, using titles already used for movies or even other books. This is a bit silly in the Google Age, but it’s downright stupid when the movie or book they’re borrowing from is infinitely more famous than theirs, and has been around for a long, long time, thus allowing years and years of Google friendliness (links, pathways, etc.) to build up.

Take Some Like it Hot, for instance. [At time of writing] on Amazon.co.uk, the top result is a special edition of the DVD of the movie that’s so well-known and so popular and has been around for so long that it should never have been used as a title for anything else, but there’s also other editions of the movie, a companion book to the movie, another companion book to the movie, a memoir by Tony Curtis about making the movie, (at least) two erotic novels and then there’s Some Like it Hot by Amanda Brobyn*, which was released by Poolberg here in Ireland late last year. Now Some Like it Hot happens to be a great title for the book, but I went through five pages on Google Ireland and got no mention of it. If I’d heard her interviewed on the radio or something but didn’t catch her name and went looking for the book afterwards, I might well give up on page five. Or even before it.

For traditionally published authors, this isn’t that big of a deal. They’re also in bookstores. There’ll be plenty of other chances for us to find out about their books. But for self-published authors, we’re only online. If someone only has the title of our book and Google doesn’t help them find us, there may never encounter a mention of us again.

Just something to think about before you name your book—and yourself.

Have a good weekend! 

*I don’t mean to pick on anybody in particular; it’s just a good example. But there are countless others—feel free to mention any you know about in the comments. 

Click here to see a list of all my self-printing posts.

Replay 2012 | How To Sell Self-Published Books: Read This First

1 Dec

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. There’ll be in no particular order, popularity-wise, but I can tell you that today’s replayed post was the most popular, not only of the last year, but ever, on this blog. (Thanks in no small part to Freshly Pressed.) After lacking in the quality blog posting department I decided to make last May my “How To Sell Self-Published Books Month” but before we got into the nuts and bolts of promoting your book, we needed to have a little tough love session first… 

At my most recent workshop I started off by saying to the participants that my aim for the day was to send them home with everything I wished I’d known before I started self-publishing, or in other words everything I had to learn on the job because when I started self-publishing, I didn’t have a clue. And yet clueless and all that I was, I was operating with a huge advantage: realism. Because I’d spent a good decade of my young life poring over every How To Format a Manuscript for Submission To Within an Inch of Its Life Because, Yeah, That’s What’s Going to Be the Deciding Factor (Not!) and 500 Pages About Submitting to Agents Even Though You Haven’t Written a Word type books, I knew way more than I’d ever need to about the way the traditional publishing world works, and so I knew that as a self-publisher, I wouldn’t be sitting at the top table. I mightn’t even be in the same room. But that was fine by me. I still recognized what an amazing opportunity digital self-publishing provided, and I was excited about getting to avail of it. And because I knew the score, I could manage my expectations. (Truth be told, I didn’t have any.) Ultimately when success came, it was a welcome bonus. So before we get into the practicalities of selling your self-published book, let’s have cold blast of reality, shall we?

1. By Default, No One Cares About Your Book

Just because you wrote a book does not mean people are going to want to read it. Sounds suspiciously like common sense, but as I’ve said before, common sense isn’t as common as you might think.

Think of all the books you hear about on a daily basis. Think of all the books you see when you walk into a bookstore, or through the book isles of supermarkets. Think of all the books that pop into your line of vision while you’re on Amazon. Do you buy them all? Are you even interested in them all? Or are you like me—and, I’d suspect, most book-buyers—buying and ultimately reading just the very cream of the crop, the top 0.5% or less of the books we know about, just the ones that get us interested in them and wanting to read them, i.e. just the ones we care about?

At least once a day I receive an e-mail from an author I don’t know saying “I’ve wrote a book. Will you review it?” If this author knew that every Friday Oprah’s Book Club sends me an e-mail recommending several books—books that, this being Oprah’s Book Club, are hugely publicized, high advance, this-is-gonna-be-big traditionally published books—and that, on average, I make a note of maybe two of them and ultimately buy maybe one of them for every five or six e-mails I get, do you think they’d do anything differently?

It is very hard to get people to care enough about your book that they go and buy it. It’s the hardest part. And before you can even do that, you have to get them interested in it, and before that you have to let them know that it exists. But embracing this will help you achieve this, because you’ll know what lengths to go to in order to make it happen. I blogged a little bit more about this in How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed.

2. Your Book is a Product—and It Had Better Work

We’ve seen time and time again that the self-publishers who enjoy consistent success are those who treat self-publishing like a business they’ve started up. They act like entrepreneurs, and make like their book is their first product—which it is. Your book is a product. While you were writing it you could be all writer-like, hanging out in hipster cafés with your soy milk lattes and your well-creased Moleskine, but now that the book is going to be out in the world, for sale with a price-tag on it, the romance must drop away and the book must meet standards and be a viable product. When it comes to books, we’re talking about a professional polish and it having appeal. I talked about appeal in Why It Doesn’t Matter Whether or Not Your Book is Good, so let’s focus on the professional polish bit here.

Self-publishers against enlisting the services of a professional editor and/or proofreader seem to be against it because it’s expensive and/or because they don’t understand what editing means. The “I can’t afford it” thing drives me completely cuckoo because if you can’t afford to spend some money on your product, you shouldn’t be self-publishing it. If you’re not prepared to invest, why should I be expected to buy? And buy a sub-standard product at that. Which brings me onto my next point: not understanding what editing is.

Generally we can divide editing into three stages: structural (think re-writing), copyediting (think language) and proofreading (think errors). (If there’s any editors hanging around these parts, feel free to correct me on that, or elaborate.) I can understand why self-publishers would skip the structural bit, because it’s the most expensive and going back to the business analogy, you wouldn’t buy Egyptian cotton tablecloths for a fast food joint, because you’d never make the money back off a $1.99 burger. But you would have tables, right? And chairs for sitting around them? Of course you would, because that’s what’s expected. That’s a minimum standard. When we go into restaurants, we expect there to be somewhere to sit. And when we buy a book, we expect it to be error-free. (Or at least almost error-free. I’m still searching for a way to make perfection happen right out of the blocks.) We expect the language to be correct. We expect clarity and consistency. And that’s what a copyedit and a proofread does: it brings your book up to the minimum industry standard.

Every time I mention this, I get comments and e-mails saying things like, “But if a reader likes the story, they’ll overlook misspellings, etc.” I’m just going to say this once, okay? ONLY IF THE READER IS YOUR MUM. Take an hour to read a few Amazon Customer Reviews and then see if you still feel the same way.

3. Social Media is About Connection

I am evidence that social media does sell books, but only if you don’t use it to sell books. This is something I’ll be blogging loads more about this month, but for now I’ll just say this: you can’t use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to blatantly sell your book, because no one will buy it. Being subjected to the hard sell is not why anyone is using those platforms. We’re there for one or more of the following reasons: connection, entertainment and valuable information. Where does you saying “My book is on Amazon now: just $4.99!” or “My book is out now. Buy it!” fit into those? Obviously it doesn’t. (And no, it’s not valuable information!) I have a little giggle to myself every time I meet someone with a business who mutters, “I really have to get on Facebook” or “We really should start tweeting” as if social media is California during the Gold Rush and all you’ve to do is show up and start digging and—hey presto!—you’re a millionaire. News flash: starting a Facebook page does not equal sales.

Worse than the shameless self-promoter is the person who has no interest in blogging, tweeting or using Facebook but reluctantly comes to the table to flog their wares anyway. If you don’t genuinely enjoy connecting and sharing with other people online, what are you doing there?

A presence online takes time to build, and it isn’t suitable for people who don’t really want to be there or who don’t have an instinct for how it all works. So if you’re planning to self-publish a book and your marketing plan is to tweet a link to its Amazon listing once an hour 24/7/365, you’ve failed before you’ve even begun.

4. You Can’t Sell New Concepts with Old Ways

In my experience if your book is only for sale online, you should only be promoting it online. Time and time again I see self-publishers with money to burn hiring publicists who draft press releases for them and then send them round to all the usual suspects—newspapers, radio shows, magazines, etc. This is totally pointless, especially in the beginning, unless your book has a specific local interest or something. If you want to spend money, you’d be far better off doing it on a Goodreads ad or a Kindle Nation sponsorship, i.e. a place where readers gather online. You need to let go of any existing ideas you may have about selling books (especially if you’ve been traditionally published in the past) and haul them—and yourself—into this brave new digital world.

In February 2011 a series of events meant that in the space of a week or so, I was featured in The Sunday Times and appeared on several national radio shows, including the second most listened to show in the country with an average of 400,000 listeners. As far as I could tell, it led to no bump in sales. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that when I read about a book in a newspaper, chances are I’ll later walk into a bookstore, see the book on the shelf and think, Oh, yeah. That’s that book I read about. I must get that. But when you read about a self-published/only for sale online book in the newspaper, there’s no chance encounter later to remind you of it. And since apparently you have to be reminded of something three times before you’ll take action and buy it, it never translates into sales.

John Locke famously spent a fortune on “real world” advertising all to no avail, but became the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle books when he started focusing online instead. Traditional methods for selling books just don’t work when those books aren’t being sold traditionally.

(Note: I’m not saying say no to print and radio interviews. Say yes! They’re great fun and will make you feel like a proper published author. And your relatives might even believe you now when you say you’re selling loads of books online. Just don’t pursue them as a means to advertising a book, because they’re not effective when the book isn’t widely available in stores.)

5. You Are Not The Next Amanda Hocking

In all probability you’re not, anyway. And I’m not talking about becoming the first household name success story of this modern e-book self-publishing era—I’m talking about having to do little other than upload your e-books to achieve stellar sales. As in, chances are you’re going to have to do a lot more than that to shift any copies at all.

Let me explain. As in all walks of life, some people get really lucky at this self-publishing e-books thing. They upload their e-book and sell thousands of copies the first week, without ever having blogged or advertised. They massively outsell self-publishers who have been at it for years, and they do it almost instantly. So we should copy them, right? We should find out what they’re doing and do it ourselves. Wouldn’t that make sense?

No, it wouldn’t. Because they’re the outliers. They’re the extremes. You’d be better off focusing on the people in the middle, the ones who never meet the bleak abyss of failure or the dizzying heights of success, but instead consistently sell and can tell you what they did to achieve it. As I’ve always said, it’s better to hear from me, a moderate seller who can say I did x, y and z to sell my books and you can do it too, then a mega-seller who isn’t quite sure how they managed to sell a hundred thousand books.

Think of it this way: You meet a newly published author who is now sitting atop the bestseller lists with a debut novel that scored her a top agent and a six-figure deal. A movie adaptation is in the works. She’s rich, successful and she has achieved a lifelong dream. How did you do it? you want to know. She says that she was interviewing for a position as her agent’s assistant when they got talking about a recent news story, and she said “I bet the girlfriend did it. Wouldn’t it make a great story if she did?” The agent instantly got dollar signs in his eyes, told her to forget about being a PA and instead go home and write a one-page synopsis, which she did, and seven days later she had her six-figure deal. Now, knowing this, what would you do about your own published writer dreams? Would you continue to polish your novel, write a synopsis, craft a query letter and politely submit to suitable agents and editors, or would you start scanning the jobs listing for admin openings at literary agencies and publishing houses?

(I sincerely hope it would be the former!)

Your model for success shouldn’t be an extreme, because chances are you’re not going to be one. Millions of authors have self-published but only a relative handful had found success comes easily. Instead, get ready to work really hard.

Click here for a list of all my self-printing posts

The Writer’s Guide to Making Google Your Friend

8 Jun

If you have a blog, chances are you’ve heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. You might have read one of the 83,321,023 articles or posts about why you have to do it right now or else, or maybe some kindly person from an SEO company sent you an e-mail expressing their concern over the fact that your SEO efforts are a pile of poo but fear not, because they’d lurve to help you improve them.

If you’ve got to this point without finding out what SEO actually means, I’m proud of you. And it’s basically making your blog or website more visible to Google. According to Wikipedia:

“As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.”

Thrilling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It sounds like something important, but I think it’s too much like hard work. I can honestly say that in 2+ years of blogging—and on a blog that got over 50,000 hits last month—I have never spent any significant amount of time worrying about my SEO, and I haven’t spent as much as a nanosecond doing anything about it.

(Sometimes I don’t even bother to tag my posts. My laziness knows no bounds.)

Now if you were, say, selling used cars in Dublin, I completely understand why you’d need to make sure that your website is the first that pops up on Google should someone enter “used cars Dublin” in the search box. If your business was primarily based online, SEO might make or break your business. But for a writer with books, a Twitter feed and a blog, I don’t see the point.

Time Spent in Better Ways

First of all, Google probably isn’t your main path of discovery. People probably find out about you and your blog through reading your books, links or tweets on Twitter and word of mouth recommendations, more than any other methods. Also, people can’t search for something if they don’t know what they’re looking for. If you’re a writer with a few books and a blog and you want to use SEO to help people find you, what kind of keywords are you going to focus on? How are you going to get people to land on you by way of an internet search when they don’t actually know you exist yet? Think about it. And don’t think about writing, because there’s a few million writers in the world people have actually heard of that they’d have to wade through before they got to you.

Maybe you have an angle, like blogging about self-publishing. In that case, wouldn’t it make sense to optimize your blog so that if someone Googles “self-publishing advice”, they land on you? I think it makes more sense to spend what little time you have producing quality content that will bring people to your blog without you having to worry about SEO and which will, over time, ensure the organic growth of your audience. All the blogs I read I started reading because someone recommended them to me or because I followed a link to one of their posts that I saw on Twitter, and when I got there, I liked what I saw. No SEO effort is going to make that happen if the posts on the site it’s optimizing are boring the arse off me—or worse, a waste of my blog-reading time.

I’m not saying that spending time working on your blog or website’s SEO won’t bring new people to your online platform. It probably will. What I’m saying is that your time would be better spent on other things, such as writing the kind of posts that bring people to your blog or website anyway.

What’s in a Name?

Having said all that, I do think writers need to make Google their friend. But this is nothing to do with SEO, indexing activities or inbound linking. It’s something far more simple and straightforward than that. It’s just common sense.

It’s about your name.

How many times have you been listening to the radio or watching something on TV and just about caught either an author name or a book title that you want to find out more about? It’s lots of times, for me. So I open up my computer or go to my phone, and do a Google search.

Keeping in mind that I have never spent any time worrying about the headache that is SEO, when you Google “Catherine Ryan Howard”, the entire first page of results is me. (And then some, but the first page is all we’re worrying about, really.) Even if you Google “Mousetrapped”, I’m not every result on the first page, but I’m there, and I’m first.

Now try Googling “Catherine Howard.” If you’re on Google Ireland I still get a look in, but on Google.com and it’s all about the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England.

The thing is, my name is Catherine Howard. “Ryan” is my mother’s maiden name, and “Catherine Ryan Howard” is completely made up. I made it up because thanks to countless History teachers, I knew about the other, infinitely more famous Catherine Howard, and so I knew that if someone was trying to find me by way of Google, she’d have something to say about it. So I changed my name, and in doing so made Google my friend.

This is why I despair when I see authors—traditionally published authors, I may add, whose publishing houses should know better—recycling titles, using titles already used for movies or even other books. This is a bit silly in the Google Age, but it’s downright stupid when the movie or book they’re borrowing from is infinitely more famous than theirs, and has been around for a long, long time, thus allowing years and years of Google friendliness (links, pathways, etc.) to build up.

Take Some Like it Hot, for instance. On Amazon.co.uk, the top result is a special edition of the DVD of the movie that’s so well-known and so popular and has been around for so long that it should never have been used as a title for anything else, but there’s also other editions of the movie, a companion book to the movie, another companion book to the movie, a memoir by Tony Curtis about making the movie, (at least) two erotic novels and then there’s Some Like it Hot by Amanda Brobyn*, which was released by Poolberg here in Ireland late last year. Now Some Like it Hot happens to be a great title for the book, but I went through five pages on Google Ireland and got no mention of it. If I’d heard her interviewed on the radio or something but didn’t catch her name and went looking for the book afterwards, I might well give up on page five. Or even before it.

For traditionally published authors, this isn’t that big of a deal. They’re also in bookstores. There’ll be plenty of other chances for us to find out about their books. But for self-published authors, we’re only online. If someone only has the title of our book and Google doesn’t help them find us, there may never encounter a mention of us again.

Just something to think about before you name your book—and yourself.

Have a good weekend! 

*I don’t mean to pick on anybody in particular; it’s just a good example. But there are countless others—feel free to mention any you know about in the comments. 

Twitter DOES Sell Books—Just Not Directly

31 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. This being the last day of May, today’s the last day! (Sniffle. Sniffle.) Fear not, after this I’ll go back to posting about… well, pretty much the same kind of thing, really. Especially since I didn’t have time to fit in my “arguments for higher e-book prices” posts. Anyways. You can catch up here

The arguments for Twitter not selling books usually go something like this:

  • People do not want to be sold things on Twitter and therefore trying to sell them things will only lose you followers
  • Mr X (Arrested Development flashback!) had 10,000 followers but when he released his book, he only sold 500 copies of it. If Twitter sold books, it would’ve been 10,000 sales.

But I think this is applying the wrong set of expectations. In arguing that 10k followers should ideally equal 10k sales, you are treating Twitter like an advertising campaign, and gauging its effectiveness by its conversion rate. But it’s not an advertising campaign—it’s a social media tool. Twitter is about networking, and networking does sell books.

I’ve been using Twitter since October/November 2009. In my Twitter infancy, I was obsessed, and never very far from my tweet stream. Then as I got to know people, I got chatty and even formed some “real-life” friendships. Nowadays I pop in and out, but mainly use Buffer to tweet interesting links, which is what I love about Twitter. And since October/November 2009, here are some things that have happened to me whose root cause can be traced back to Twitter:

  • I sold books. The first month of Mousetrapped‘s release, almost everyone who bought a copy—and we’re talking paperbacks—was a Twitter friend. I presume that since then, a few other people I’ve “met” on Twitter have bought a few copies of my books as well.
  • I connected with people in the industry. I’ve met countless writers, editors and other publishing types through Twitter, and have gone on to meet many of them in real life too. It helps of course that Ireland is a small place, but still, it’s nice to walk into a room of writing types and recognize more than a few faces! One of them was Vanessa O’Loughlin (@inkwellHQ). Through Vanessa, who owns Inkwell Writers and founded Writing.ie…
  • I have been featured in national newspapers and magazines, interviewed on national radio, and…
  • I started doing speaking engagements. She gave me my first one, at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference back in October 2010 (when, totally unprepared, I stood at the top of the room in jeans, holding scribbles on a legal pad!) and most recently, she organized my first solo event, Self-Printing: Everything You Need to Know To Self-Publish Your Book, in Dublin last March. Thanks to another Twitter friendship, I was also asked to do Faber Academy’s first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber & Faber in London last February. Ben Johncock (@benjohncock) was doing a social media course for them when adding on a day of self-publishing came up, and he suggested me. (Coincidentally he was also able to check with another Twitter friend of mine, my editor Sarah, that I could do the job—she’d seen me speak at the One Stop conference. Another another Twitter friend, Averill, suggested me for a speaking engagement in Belfast because she too was at the One Stop. Just as well I brought my A-game that day, eh?!)

Twitter is a glittering industry party you can attend without leaving your house. It’s packed full of writers who can help take away some of the loneliness and solitude that invade a writer’s life. And you never know what opportunities may arise from the people you meet on there. And in all these ways, Twitter can help you sell books.

But Twitter is not a billboard. The people there aren’t an assembled audience in an informercial studio. As I said in Why Promoting Your Books is (a bit) like Fight Club, “MY BOOK, NO GIVES A RAT’S ARSE, $2.99 ON KINDLE PLEASE RT PLEASE RT PLEASE RT” type tweets won’t get you anywhere. Doing that is like wearing a giant sandwich board advertising your book to the glittering industry party and, while you’re there in it, walking up to everyone and shouting in their face about your book.

Rest assured you won’t be invited again.

Twitter is a networking tool. It’s about building relationships, connecting with people. I think it’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career, and it’s a whole lot of fun too. Use it right, and it could become the same for you.

The observant among you may have noticed a shiny new book in my sidebar. If you’re thinking of buying it, DON’T YET! (Even though, if I may say so, it’s superb value and very pink.) It’s going free tomorrow, so just wait until then. 

Selling Your Self-Published Books: The First Steps

30 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Only a few short days left and then I’ll go back to… well, posting about very similar topics, actually.  Anyway. You can catch up here. Today we have a guest post from my blogging friend Alison Wells, who has released her first self-published fiction, Housewife with a Half-Life (LOVE that title!) under the name A.B. Wells. I asked Alison to do this because although she’s an experienced (and highly acclaimed!) writer and blogger, she’s only just joined the self-publishing world, so I thought it’d be interesting to hear about the whole selling books thing from her perspective. 

“I’m an infant on the path of self-publishing, having published my space comedy Housewife with a Half-Life as A.B. Wells on the 8th May. It’s been a steep learning curve and particularly when, having put all the work in writing the book, getting it edited and making it the best it can be, then it comes to actually selling the book, getting people to know about it.

Perhaps there’s a level of naivety or blind optimism about the self-publisher starting out. As writers we’re all about the writing, how to get words on page, finish the thing. We come to a decision to self-publish for whatever reason, we find out how to format, upload, choose a service go with, we press publish and it’s out there, then… For any of you who are parents (and for me as a mother of four) publishing your own book for the first time reminds me of becoming a first time parent. It’s all about the pregnancy, how to get through it, how to nurture yourself. We find out what we can about the actual birth but it’s all abstract till you get there. But then the day comes and the baby arrives and we um, realise we um, forgot to read the bit about how to take care of it, how to bring it on.

I think for many self-publishers this is where we are on the selling bit. Woohoo! We have a book out, it’s born but we forgot that it needs nurturing, we need to put effort in to help it reach its full potential. I’m talking here about the self-publisher who a) wants to put their writing into the world i.e. reach an audience and b) perhaps (if it’s not too mercenary a thing to say about the ART of writing) make some money out of it.

So publishing is just the first step, we need to get our business heads on and try to make our book visible. Would you go into a major bookstore with one copy of your book and stick it on a shelf and hope someone saw it? Yet as new self-publishers this is sometimes what we do.

These are some of the things I’ve learned about selling since I started out:

1)     You need to create anticipation for your product. This might start out years before through your blogging, posting examples of your work so people become familiar with and fall in love with (hopefully) your writing. You can also have a pre-launch build up. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and people have had a chance to read my writing and blog posts. My blog has over 46000 page views and I also blog for Irish writing website www.writing.ie. So at the very least people knew I existed and were positive towards my endeavours.  On the day of the launch one person tweeted to say that they bought the book purely on the basis of enjoying my tweets. In the longer term I prefer the kind of sale made from engagement with readers rather than sales tricks. I want to offer an all round valuable experience to readers.

2)     You need to create awareness that your book exists. Have a launch, particularly an online one if you are focussing on online sales. Do pre-launch posts about your books publication journey. Generate activity around the launch. I did this by having a short writing competition which drew a huge number of people to my blog with Housewife with a Half-Life as the prize. I had a prize for retweets of my launch news on Twitter. I had a Facebook event which people could share for my ebook launch. I’m also going to have a paperback launch with Goodreads giveaways on June 6th with a blog tour and I’ve agreed to have a real paperback launch in a well-known Dublin shopping mecca with newspaper publicity surrounding that. Reviewers are very important. I got an established author to give me a blurb for my back cover and I’m contacting reviewers through sites like the Indie Book Review  to do reviews. This is a longer term strategy, these reviews can come out over time and maintain the momentum of the book.

3)     You need to find out about KDP Select Free days. There’s a lot of debate about this at the moment. If you publish through Amazon, by signing up to Amazon’s KDP select you can choose to make your book free on certain days. For some already established self-publishers it can result in huge downloads, great Amazon rankings (and thus visibililty) and subsequent sales surges but the science is patchy. I was involved in a major British event (National Flash Fiction Day) so I ended up giving my book away for free for a day just a week after its launch. I got to #231 in the overall Kindle sales rankings on UK and #8 in sci-fi (beside Jules Verne) and to number #724 in Amazon.com. For me having this early free day was experimentation and awareness building. Generating sales is a long term thing (or I believe it should be). It’s an interplay between awareness of you as an author, through blogging, your book, through promotions, articles and reviews. There may be activities you do that generate initial awareness but it may take a couple of rounds before people actually go out and buy your book.

4)     Book selling is a business. John Locke has sold millions of e-books but he treats it like a business and invests a large amount of money on advertising. For the typical self-publisher funds may be tight but there is an element of speculating to accumulate. Some advertising is free or low cost. You can list your books with services and sites such as Pixel of Ink, World Literary Café and the Book tweeting service. These are services I will continue to explore and use in conjunction with more long term awareness building.

Housewife with a Half-Life is only just launched and the first phase of sales were mainly to those who knew me. With paperback and real world launches still in the offing, I hope through online and real world articles & events such as readings to widen my audience and reach and raise awareness levels to the point where both my book and me as an author are of interest to readers. It seems to be the case that the initial e-book bubble where competition was low and sales could be made more easily is gone. Authors will have to add value for readers through blogging, posting examples of work, special offers, additional material but more than anything by making your book a quality read in the first place. My strategy in selling Housewife with a Half-Life will be a combination of clever marketing tactics and old fashioned value.”

About Housewife with a Half-Life

Susan Strong is a suburban housewife who is literally disintegrating. When Fairly Dave, a kilt-sporting spaceman arrives through the shower head to warn her, she knows things are serious. When she and her precocious four year old twins, Pluto and Rufus, get sucked through Chilled Foods into another universe it gets even messier. Where household appliances are alive and dangerous, Geezers have Entropy Hoovers and the Spinner’s Cataclysmic convertor could rip reality apart, Susan Strong is all that’s holding the world together.

In this madcap, feel-good adventure, Susan and Fairly Dave travel alternate universes to find Susan’s many selves, dodge the Geezers and defeat evil memory bankers. From dystopian landscapes and chicken dinners, to Las Vegas and bubble universes, can Susan Strong reintegrate her bits and will it be enough to save us all?

The ebook is available on Kindle on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk. A paperback will be available in June!

About the author

What is a housewife to do when she becomes 42? Write a book about life, the universe and everything. A.B.Wells is the mother of four children age 11 and under, three of whom are that particularly alien species called boys. As Alison Wells her more literary writing has been shortlisted in the prestigious Bridport, Fish and Hennessy Awards and she’s been published or is about to be in a wide variety of anthologies and e-zines, including the Higgs Boson Anthology by Year Zero, Metazen, The View from Here, Voices of Angels by Bridgehouse and National Flash Fiction day’s Jawbreakers. She recently won the fiction category of the Big Book of Hope ebook with a flash fiction medley and has a litfic novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities on submission. She blogs for the popular Irish writing website, writing.ie in the guest blog: Random Acts of Optimism. One of the as yet unsolved mysteries of the universe is whether the B in A. B. Wells stands for barmy or brilliant.

I say it’s brilliant. Thanks so much Alison! We’ll have you back any time. If you’re not already reading Alison’s blog, you should be! Especially if you’re a fan of flash fiction. Check it out here. 

Hit and Miss with KDP Select

29 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated, and we can’t talk about selling self-published books without mentioning KDP Select, the Amazon program that encourages you to include your book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and lets you promote your book as a free download for up to 5 days as an incentive. 

Ah, KDP Select. Quite the contentious issue, it seems. I’ve blogged about it before in, ahem, Why I Won’t Be Blogging About KDP Select (ha!) and So… [Innocent Whistling] About That KDP Select.

Personally I like KDP Select. I think it’s a great way to promote your book and a surefire way to find new readers. But it really only benefits you if (i) you have more than one title for sale and (ii) you sell almost all your books through Amazon, so taking them off other channels—Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.—isn’t going to lose you any significant number of sales. And as for Amazon being the Dark Lord of Greedy Capitalism, crushing independent bookshops with their feet while robbing money from authors’ pockets with their hands, I’ll say again: none of this is mandatory. You don’t have to enroll in KDP Select. You don’t have to self-publish with Amazon. You don’t even have to self-publish. So stop throwing your toys out of the playpen and channel your energies into something worthwhile.

And remember: the KDP Select exclusivity period is just three months. Your book has to be exclusive to Amazon, yes, but only for the length of time you’re enrolled in the program, and you can enroll for just three months if you like. After that you can do what you like. I’ve been playing with KDP Select for a while now and I plan to play with it a bit more over the summer, but from September I’m going to change my tactics and go for full distribution. That is, I’m going to sell my books through as many channels as possible, which will of course exclude me from using KDP Select.

The first time I did it, I was just dipping an uncommitted toe into its dark and potentially murky waters. I enrolled a Kindle-only combination title of my two travel memoirs called Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too. This was not a title that ever sold well, mainly because it was only a buy two, save a dollar special offer kind of thing; in three months I’d sold just 26 copies. But I thought that maybe KDP Selecting it would increase sales of my other books, or at least lead to more customer reviews. After promoting it as free for three days, 193 copies were downloaded from Amazon.com and 209 copies were downloaded from Amazon.co.uk. When I used my remaining two free days a few weeks later, a further 217 copies were downloaded from Amazon.com and 117 copies were downloaded from Amazon.co.uk.

In other words, hardly anything to write home about.

But Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too was a bad guinea pig. Results Not Typical, my novel that wasn’t selling anywhere near what I’d hoped, was a much better one. This time I did all five free days together, and between Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, there was about 3,600 downloads. Paid sales picked up and stayed strong for three or four weeks afterwards, but there wasn’t any long-term benefit, it seemed, from KDP Selecting the book.

I was frustrated. Everywhere I turned online, there was a KDP Select success story for me to read. Self-pubbed author on the verge of giving up enrolls their book and sets it to free; author wakes up the next morning to discover there’s been 20,000 downloads over night; between subsequent paid sales and borrows, author can afford to buy a brand new car—with cash. So why wasn’t it working for me?

I’d tried KDP Select with a book that wasn’t really a book in itself but a combination title. Then I’d tried it with a book that wasn’t selling at all, but would only appeal to a certain sector of readers. What would happen if I tried it with a book that was already selling, that had been selling consistently since its release (although without setting the world on fire)? I would never consider trying it with Mousetrapped or Self-Printed, because those two books do sell on other channels like Smashwords. So that left just one book: my second travel memoir (and my personal fave out of my books), Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America.

It seemed that one thing played a huge part in whether or not your free promotion days translated into success: luck. Just like self-publishing as a whole, you’d need at least some luck to succeed. My advice to self-publishers had always been to do everything you can to maximize the factors that are within your control, so that when/if luck arrives, you’re primed to take full advantage of it. In other words, make luck your only variable. But I hadn’t made luck my only variable. I hadn’t done anything at all, in fact. I’d just set the book to free and mentioned it a couple of times on Twitter. What would happen if I did everything I could to make my KDP Select free promotion days a success? What if I got a bit strategic?

I’d already decided that I was going to take the “selling” themed blog posts I’d stacked up and publish them all in May, making it “How To Sell Self-Published Books Month”. I’d got the blogging blahs in April and had been really lackadaisical with my posts; I wanted to make up for it and thought having a series would be good motivation. I suspected that some of the posts would have a high share value, and would get tweeted, reblogged and shared a lot—and that many of the people who would see these posts would never have heard of any of my books before and might quite like the opportunity to download one for free. So instead of randomly picking my free five days, I’d make them coincide with these blog posts. I also tweeted about it and told my newsletter subscribers and Facebook fans about the offers.

Since I last did KDP Select, Amazon has added separate columns to its “month to date unit sales” that show free promotion downloads (from KDP Select) and free price-match downloads (for when Amazon sell your book for free because you’re selling it for free somewhere else), which makes the numbers a whole hell of a lot easier to keep track of. And this time around, I had some nice numbers.

From Amazon.co.uk, anyway. Over the five days, Backpacked was downloaded for free 6,958 times. It reached #4 on the overall free Kindle charts and was #1 overall on the Kindle non-fiction charts. Once it went back to paid, the good news kept coming. In April, I sold a paltry 44 Kindle copies of Backpacked on Amazon.co.uk. But so far in May, I’ve sold 431 of them—and two weeks after I ended the free promotion, sales are still going strong.

Amazon.com wasn’t anywhere near successful, with only 738 free downloads. And here’s a cautionary tale: KDP Selecting Backpacked left me much worse off on Amazon.com than I’d been before. On the Sunday after it went back to paid, it was #67,587 in the Kindle store and #52 in Books -> Latin America. Before it went free, it had consistently been in the #3-5,000s and was occasionally #1 in the same category. Today—just over 3 weeks later—it’s around #36,000 and #6. I’ve still sold more copies of Backpacked than I did the month before though, which is not something I quite understand. (How can I be selling more copies but have a lower ranking…?) But from what I do understand, KDP Selecting Backpacked on Amazon.com, at least, was a bad move.

Last week I set my novel, Results Not Typical, to free. Results is the worst performer of all my books, despite having been the subject of the greatest promotional efforts at time of release. It just seems that people don’t get it, or get it and aren’t interested in it. As I said above, the last time I set it to free, it was download just over three and half thousand times, mostly from Amazon.com. This time it was downloaded 15,972 times from Amazon.com and 4,568 times from Amazon.co.uk—obviously a lot better than the last time it went free. BUT, there’s been no subsequent increase in paid sales on Amazon.com, although there has been a moderate bump on Amazon.co.uk. From what I’ve seen with this book before though, this won’t last.

Here’s an interesting nugget though: sales of my other two books, Mousetrapped and Self-Printed, have increased across both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, more so on Amazon.co.uk. Overall, sales are up across the board. But remember that as well as two different KDP promotions, I also got Freshly Pressed, which brought loads of new people to this little pink blog. In April, there were 17,000 hits on my blog. So far this month, there’s been over 50,000. So maybe that’s what has contributed to a rise in sales, not KDP Select. It’s hard to tell.

So what does all this mean?

My conclusion is: sod all. It means nothing. It doesn’t point to KDP Select being a good thing, but it doesn’t point to it being a bad thing either. It all comes down to luck, and that luck might just as easily swing out of your favor as it may into it. I think the only certainty is uncertainty: KDP Select can’t be relied upon to boost your sales, especially since the whole algorithm change back in March, which Amazon started weighing free downloads at approximately one tenth the value of paid sales. (That’s what I understand of it, anyway.) But based on anecdotal evidence (read: people telling me), reading and enjoying a free book does tend to lead to the purchase of other books, if they’re available.

If you asked me do you recommend KDP Select?, I’d say, yes, but only if you have more than one book, or you do it to launch a book, and only if you do it strategically, i.e. make it coincide with something that will ensure that a lot of people find out your book is free. I don’t think I’d recommend pulling your book off other channels to take advantage of it anymore and I have my doubts about who actually reads these free books. My guess is only a minority of the downloads actually get read. Maybe we should also start to think outside the box to come up with new ways to use it—next week I’m releasing an e-book of blog posts, and I’m going to use KDP Select to give it away so everyone who reads this blog already can get it for free.

Have you used KDP Select? How did you get on? Have you used it since the algorithm change?

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