Book sales. Our experience of what makes them happen.

This is a simplified graph showing the number of sales that we made on Amazon.

So, when you sell a book, you want to make sales, right?
How do you approach that? Do you start with the people you can reach out to immediately and ask them to help you spread the word? Do you try and create a buzz in the local area? Do you try to establish yourselves as someone to be taken seriously in the literary world?
We have tried all of the above, and you might be interested to know which of our tactics actually sold books.
Clovenhoof has been on sale since late July, so we have enough data to show you what made a difference and what didn’t.
Here’s what we shared at the Loughborough Literary Salon.

This is a simplified graph showing the number of sales that we made on Amazon.
We drew one line for .com and one for .co.uk.
So what were we doing at each point on the graph?
The very first peak came early on.
We were fortunate that the brilliant F Paul Wilson was generous enough to not only read Clovenhoof but also to recommend it to all of his fans. This was interesting, as he writes in a completely different genre, but his fans have great respect for his opinion and bought the book. The peak is higher on amazon.com, as more of his fans are based in the US.
The period of time after that is when we launched Clovenhoof. We had a launch party that coincided with Birmingham Artsfest. We ran a collaborative writing workshop and did readings. We took books along to Fantasycon. In short we were out and about in a big way. We sent out newsletters, telling people about our frenzied activities. We met lots of people and we sold lots of physical copies, but you will see that during this period we saw a dip in terms of ebook sales on Amazon.
We got lots of good feedback from the people that read the physical book, and some of them wrote us reviews, but this still didn’t impact the sales online.
So what was it that prompted the startling upturn in sales that you can see in the last part of the graph?
We did a promotional giveaway on Amazon. This is the simplest thing imaginable. As part of KDP Select there are 5 days in every 90 when you can run a free promotion. You can choose when to do this, and set it up with a few clicks.
That’s it.
I should say that we put a lot of effort into telling people that the book was free at this time. Because it’s such a well-established mechanism, a whole eco-system has grown up around it. Many sites and twitter feeds will list the books that are free at any one time so that people can easily find and download them. It was interesting that some of these bargain-hunting sleuths found the offer on the pigeonparkpress website that offered the Clovenhoof short stories for free, so we saw a lot of interest in these at the same time.
Some of the promotional websites offer a paid service, to get maximum exposure. We decided on a small budget and paid for the service from two of these, at a total cost of $17.
It’s an interesting fact that Facebook and Twitter friends are more willing to shout about a free promotion than they are to shout about your book. Maybe it’s the difference between offering your friends a cool bargain and annoying them with spammy sales. Whatever it was, we found that a lot of people helped us to spread the word.
We did the promotion at the end of October, and got 3000 downloads. Those are not shown on the graph, as they are not sales, but during the month of November we then sold over 200 ebooks, and we’ve gained a lot of reviews from the extra readers.
For the last few weeks Clovenhoof has been bubbling under the main kindle charts, and I’m hopeful that the next promotion, after Christmas will propel it into the magic top 100.

So to conclude, we put lots of energy and creativity into our promotion. Some of the things that we’ve done have created good-will and raised our personal profiles (and they’ve certainly been lots of fun), but they haven’t sold very many books. In contrast, the no-brainer promotion offered by Amazon has taken us completely by surprise with its effectiveness.
I have seen rumours on the internet that Amazon manipulates the situation with its byzantine algorithms, and somehow bumps up your book’s popularity in an artificial way the first time that you have a free promotion, so that you’re encouraged to use it again. It’s possible that this is true.
The message that I have taken away is that it’s worth putting the maximum effort into the free promotions, so that your book gets as many downloads as possible. Swallow the objection that people should pay to read your work, after all the blood sweat and tears that went into it. It might be painful and difficult to accept, but we all want people to read our books, and the effect that it has on sales cannot be ignored.

Posted in 2012, Book Marketing Tagged with: , , ,
One comment on “Book sales. Our experience of what makes them happen.
  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, incisive piece great reference for if I ever finish a book!