Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Pricing Experiment

As of today I have four books in the Amazon UK Top 20 Kindle bestseller list. My science fiction murder mystery Dreamer’s Cat has just squeezed in at Number 20.

My New York serial killer story The Basement has had the Number 1 slot since after Christmas and my LA vampire story is at Number 4. Hard Landing, the first of my Spider Shepherd thrillers, is at Number 8.

I’m the only writer to have four titles in the Kindle Top 50, never mind the Top 20. And how has that happened? It is, I think, mainly down to price.

I ran an experiment with Dreamer’s Cat over the past three weeks which has demonstrated to me that in the UK Kindle store, it’s price that’s the main selling point for Indie books.

I already had a pretty good idea that was the case after studying the Kindle Top 100 list. There are plenty of established authors with regular publishers to be found in the Top 100 – including John Grisham (£6.78), Lee Child (£4.10), James Patterson (£7.68) and Stephenie Meyer (£4.49). But all the Indie writers are priced at below £1. The majority are the sterling equivalent of 99 cents which works out at about 72p.

Any Indie writer who prices their work at more than £1 is lucky to sell more than a few copies a day and the vast majority don’t even get into the Top 1000.

At the start of the New Year, Dreamer’s Cat was priced at 72p and was hovering at between Number 12 and Number 15 in the top 100. As an experiment I raised the price to £1.99. Within three days it had fallen to the bottom of the Top 100 and a week after I had raised the price it had fallen to Number 180 and was still heading down. At that point I chickened out and cut the price to 86p. Actually I set the price at 75p but Amazon increases the price to 86p. Maybe the difference is VAT. The 75p price is the minimum that Amazon will allow you to set if you price the book differently in the US and the UK. If you allow the Amazon computer to link the UK price to the US price then you can set it at 99 cents which translates to 71p or 72p in the UK depending on the exchange rate.

Anyway, I went for 75p so that I could charge a higher price in the US. Almost immediately Dreamer’s Cat started to move back up the bestseller chart. It got to about Number 30 but then started to go back down and settled at Number 36.
Last week I cut the price again, to 71p, and it slowly moved up. Today it nudged into the Number 20 slot.

I didn’t do any marketing or promotion, and I didn’t mention it on any blogs or forums. The only thing I changed was the price. And price alone moved the book through the rankings.

And if you want proof that price is the key factor, keep an eye on Amanda Hocking’s paranormal novel Switched which is now at Number 42 in the UK Kindle bestseller list. It’s only been in the UK Top 100 for five days and is roaring up the rankings. And the price? 86p. I predict that it won’t be long before Switched is in the Top 10. The book has only two reviews at the moment but that’s going to change. It’ll be interesting to see if the rest of Amanda’s regular-priced novels will follow Switched up the chart. I actually think they won’t, unless she drops the price. But I’d love to be proved wrong.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Importance Of Reviews

One of the keys to selling a lot of books on the Kindle is to have decent reviews. I’m feeling pretty good today because in the last twenty-four hours my book The Basement has just received another three five-star reviews in the UK. Actually I believe that four-star reviews can be more helpful than five stars. Why? Because if a book has only a few reviews and they are all five-stars most readers will assume that they have been posted by friends and relatives. And it has to be said that is often the case! The thing is though that reviews like that can backfire. Readers aren’t stupid and they will often look to see what other books the reviewer has reviewed. And if the reviewer has only ever reviewed the one book they will draw their own conclusions!

Once you get above ten reviews, ‘fake’ reviews become less of an issue. So they key is to get as many reviews as possible early on. One way of doing that is to give away free copies in exchange for reviews, either by sending PDFs or if you have an account you can ‘gift’ Kindle copies. I recently gave away 200 Kindle copies of my vampire story Once Bitten to readers in the US – though I’m still waiting for the reviews! If you want to offer review copies blogs and forums are the places to go to announce what you’re dong.

So far The Basement has received 78 reviews in the UK, 40 five-star and 24 four-star. I should also say that it has been given six one-star reviews but they are clearly a minority (and a couple are downright malicious!). It’s worth knowing that if your book receives a bad review and you can show that review was posted out of malice or spite, Amazon will remove it. Just email Customer Services with details of the review and why you believe it to be malicious. If they agree they will remove the review.

I was really pleased with the three latest reviews because they came right out of the blue! And because it’s clear from the reviews that they really enjoyed the book. Here they are:

5.0 out of 5 stars
Riveting, intriguing, read it in 1 day!, 19 Jan 2011
Tracey Priest (England) - See all my reviews

This review is from: the basement (Kindle Edition)
I don’t have a kindle and was gutted when I realised this book was only available on the kindle as a friend had read it suggesting it was really good! I borrowed her kindle and subsequently read it in one day! It is a riveting intriguing book with a very clever ending. One that I did not expect! It was easy to read and enjoyable. A thoroughly good book that I would recommend to others.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Brilliant read, 18 Jan 2011
Mrs Horn (Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews

This review is from: the basement (Kindle Edition)
Wow, what a story. I was gripped from beginning to end and the ending really was a surprise. Definitely worth a read.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Absolutely Brilliant, 18 Jan 2011
Adam - See all my reviews

This review is from: the basement (Kindle Edition)
I'm a student who has never been a big fan of reading, being bored in classrooms and failing assignments because of the lack of interest in book related assignments, but this book opened my eyes to how hooked you can get with the right author. I have not been able to get the storyline out of my head bringing me straight back to my laptop screen everyday just to see what happens next. Completely worth less than a pound and is totally underpriced.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I Sold 44,334 Kindle Books In December

Last month I sold 44,334 books on Kindle UK. That’s a lot of books. I don’t know of any Indie author who even comes close to that in the UK. I know that I’m not a true Indie author in that I am also published by one of the best publishing houses around – Hodder and Stoughton. But I have published five books on my own and they are true Indie books.

I know of only one Indie author who sells more than me in the US and that’s paranormal romance writer Amanda Hocking – and she sells more than twice as many as me.

I’m putting my December sales figures onto my blog so that people can see for themselves where my sales are coming from.

In December it was my vampire book Once Bitten that sold best, accounting for 22,607 sales. Interestingly it is my New York serial killer story, The Basement, that is currently selling best – and heading the Kindle UK bestseller list. But in December it was lagging behind Once Bitten with 17,321 sales. For most of December Once Bitten and The Basement were Number 1 and Number 2 in the Kindle UK bestseller list respectively. As of today, it’s The Basement that’s Number 1.

Someway behind in December was Dreamer’s Cat which sold 3,899 copies. Dreamer’s Cat is a science fiction murder mystery novel and I never expected it to sell as well as the other two. Science Fiction is always going to be a niche market. Though I am pleased to say that for the most of the time Dreamer’s Cat has been on the Kindle it has topped the UK Science Fiction list, both as a book and as a download. More copies of Dreamer’s Cat were sold in December than of 1984 and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which I think is pretty good going.

I have two other books that I put on Kindle myself – Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon, which sold 302 copies, and Private Dancer, which sold 205 copies. Why are they so far behind the other three? Because I am selling them at full price. I did that because both books are set in Thailand where they are both published as ‘real’ books. They have been professionally produced and therefore I believe that they should command a premium price. But there’s no doubt that I would sell a lot more if I reduced them to 99 cents (74p) like the other three. Why don’t I? It’s partly because I believe they are worth the money, but it’s also by way of an experiment. US Indie writers like the great Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking can sell their work for $2.99 and $3.99 and still command high sales. I wanted to see if it was possible to do that in the UK. And I’m afraid that the answer is no. Not yet, anyway.

There’s another reason that the two Thailand-based books don’t sell as well as my three cheap books. That’s because they haven’t been picked up by Amazon’s automated recommendation system. When someone buys a copy of either The Basement, Once Bitten or Dreamer’s Cat, the buyer is immediately given my other books as a suggested purchase. But they are not given either Private Dancer or Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon as a suggestion. It’s as if they haven’t been linked to the other books so therefore don’t benefit by association. That I think will be the key to getting those two books into the bestseller list, and I think I have come up with a strategy that will achieve that. How? All shall be revealed!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Member Of The Kindle Million Club

A third author has just joined the Kindle one million sales club. It’s romance writer Nora Roberts who has now sold 1,170,539 Kindle books, both under her own name and under her suspense-oriented alter-ego, J.D. Robb.

The first writer to pass the one million mark on Kindle was the late Stieg Larsson, author of the “Millennium” series (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” etc.).

He was followed by American thriller writer James Patterson though personally I wouldn’t include him as he has so many co-writers. JP is a franchise rather than a writer and with 60 plus books in print he has an obvious advantage over those authors like myself who insist on writing their own books!

So who is going to be next into the Kindle Million Club? I’d guess Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris who have both sold more than half a million of their vampire novels. Dan Brown would have been there if the Kindle had been up and running a few years earlier.

So which of the Indies are likely to be the first to break the one million sales mark? It’s almost certainly going to be 26-year-old writer of vampire romance novels, Amanda Hocking, assuming that the genre doesn’t run out of steam. Actually I think it will but there’s probably enough momentum to get her above the million mark. Last month Amanda sold more than 100,000 copies, mainly in the US.

I’ve sold just over 80,000 copies in two months in the UK alone and that’s not including sales of my Hodder and Stoughton novels. If I carry on at this rate (and I’m actually not assuming that I will because things can change very quickly in ePublishing) then I’ll pass the one million mark in about 20 months!

An indie writer by the name of Derek J. Canyon (see his blog HERE) has compiled a list of the top-selling Indie writers in December. I have the number two spot, which is not bad going. The list was compiled by Derek and Robin Sullivan. I’m not sure how inclusive it is because it includes UK indie writer Lexi Revellian at 4000+ but doesn’t include Stephen Davison who’s Kill&Cure outsells Lexi’s Remix.

Blake Crouch - 2500+
Nathan Lowell - 2500+
Beth Orsoff - 2500+
Sandra Edwards - 2500+
Vianka Van Bokkem - 2500+
Maria Hooley - 2500+
C.S. Marks - 2500+
Lee Goldberg - 2500+
Lexi Revellian - 4000+
Zoe Winters - 4000+
Aaron Patterson - 4000+
Bella Andre - 5000+
Imogen Rose - 5000+
Ellen Fisher - 5000+
Tina Folsom - 5000+
Terri Reid - 5000+
David Dalglish - 5000+
Scott Nicholson - 10,000+
J.A. Konrath 10,000+
Victorine Lieske - 10,000+
L.J. Sellers - 10,000+
Michael R. Sullivan - 10,000+
H.P. Mallory - 20,000+
Selena Kitt - 20,000+
Stephen Leather - 40,000+
Amanda Hocking - 100,000+

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kill&Cure - An Amazing Success Story

A book that I’ve been watching for some time entered the Amazon Kindle Top 10 last night – Kill&Cure by Stephen Davison.

I spend quite a lot of time watching how books move up and down the charts and one thing I’ve learned is that in the UK it’s not the quality of the book that is the determining factor in how well it sells. That’s not to say that Kill&Cure isn’t a well-written book – it absolutely is and I’m sure that Stephen has a great future as a writer.

But it isn’t the quality of the writing that is behind Kill&Cure’s success on the Kindle since he put it up eight months ago.

It was one of the Indie books that suffered when three established publishers slashed their prices on the UK Kindle to £1 as part of their Twelve Days Of Christmas promotion. I watched Kill&Cure get pushed out of the Top 50 along with most of the other Indie books. It was only when the promotion ended on January 6 that Kill&Cure started to rise back up the charts.

But the fascinating thing to me was the way that Kill&Cure moved up much faster than the other Indie books. I wondered why so I got in touch with Stephen to see if he had done anything to account for the sudden rise. (I do that a lot. If I see a book doing especially well, or badly, I often contact the writer to find out what’s happening!)

You know what Stephen had done? Nothing. Not a darn thing. Kill&Cure had shot up the charts with absolutely no marketing or PR input, not a single forum posting. The book did it by itself. Other Indie writers have been out pushing themselves on the various UK forums and while most are making some ground now that the Twelve Days Of Christmas promotion is over, none are matching the success of Kill&Cure. And it’s worth noting that Kill&Cure is also doing very well in the US, it’s Number 1 in medical thrillers and Number 305 in the US Kindle store. It’s doing way better than my books in the States!

So why is Kill&Cure doing so well? It’s party the price. It’s a bargain at 72p (99 cents). It’s partly the title and the cover, there’s no doubt about that. The book has one of the best titles I’ve ever seen and the cover is perfect for the Kindle. Covers are vital and I’ll be covering (no pun intended) them down the line. The book has good reviews, but they’re not all glowing, and that is actually an advantage as it shows that the book is being reviewed by real people and not just friends and relatives.

But I think the biggest advantage Kill&Cure has is the way that it has slotted into the Amazon recommendation system. Buy one of my books and Amazon will recommend that you buy Kill&Cure. And vice versa. In fact, if you buy many of the current bestsellers, Kill&Cure will be recommended to you. One of the huge disadvantages of the Twelve Days Of Christmas promotion was the way that Indies weren’t selected in to the automated recommendations. If you bought one of the special £1 books, the only books that were recommended were other books in the promotion. Though if you bought the £1 book of Lee Child-edited stories then you would have been offered other Lee Child books! So when the buying frenzy was going on over the twelve days, Indies weren’t being pushed. That’s one of the reasons they all fell so dramatically. My books The Basement and Once Bitten were the only Indie books to remain in the Top 10. Why? Because I knew what was going to happen and had planned accordingly. And I think that Kill&Cure has gained by being associated with my books. As mine continue to sell, Kill&Cure is pulled along with them.

Kill&Cure is a fascinating case study because its situation is so dissimilar to my own. Stephen has only the one book and he isn’t (yet) a professional writer. He had no fan base before he started on Kindle, and doesn’t do much in the way of self-promotion. But there are things that he has done that almost guaranteed him a place in the bestseller chart. Part of that is the way that book is written – but to uncover that secret you’re going to have to buy it and read it!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Proving That Price Is The Key

My eBook The Basement moved to the top of the Kindle UK bestselling list last night. And close behind it are Once Bitten and Hard Landing.

And here’s the thing – I predicted that would happen more than a week ago. How could I do that? Because in many ways the rankings in the Amazon bestseller list are predictable.

Just before Christmas I had four books in the Kindle Top 20. Once Bitten, my story of vampires in LA, was at the top, and had been for almost a month. The Basement, my New York serial killer story, was at Number 2. And my Dan Shepherd book Hard Landing, published by Hodder and Stoughton, was at Number 4. My sci-fi novel Dreamer’s Cat was at Number 13. I’d hoped to have all four in the Top 10, but that wasn’t to be!

I had worked long and hard to get into that position because I knew that on Christmas Day, the Kindle world was about to change.

The Kindle, Amazon’s amazing eBook reader, was about to become pretty much the most gifted item ever. All over the UK people would be opening their presents and many thousands of them would be discovering their first Kindle. And what’s the first thing that you do when you get a Kindle? Yes, you start to download books. Lots of books.

I wasn’t the only person to realise that there was going to be a huge jump in eBook buying on December 25. A group of publishers – mainly Corvus, Robinson and MIRA – started a Twelve Days Of Christmas promotion on Amazon, offering books on Kindle UK for just £1. There were some serious bargains to be had, including a book of short stories edited by Lee Childs and an Alex Rider book by my good mate Anthony Horowitz.

It was clear to me what would happen, and I was right. I was able to watch my sales figures rise by the hour. And on Christmas Day alone I sold just under 7,000 copies. Why? Because I had three titles in the Top 10 and most new Kindle owners went to the bestseller list to see what was on offer. And when they looked at the bestseller lists they could see that my books, at 74p, were a bargain.

But the publishers in the Twelve Days of Christmas Promotion had a huge advantage – they were heavily promoted on the main Kindle page. So their titles shot up the rankings. I held on to my top rankings on Christmas Day and on Boxing Day I sold another 5,000 copies but after four or five days the £1 specials had risen up the rankings, displacing many of the independently-produced eBooks.

After a week pretty much all the £1 titles were in the Top 100 and they occupied most of the Top 20. The Basement managed to hold on to the Top 5 slot and Once Bitten was at Number 9. Hard Landing managed to hang on in at the bottom of the Top 20. Most of the Indie books were pushed well down the rankings, which proves that they do tend to sell on price rather than quality.

The Twelfth Day ended at midnight on January 5 and sure enough at midnight all the £1 books went back to their pre-promotion prices and almost immediately the books that had been on promotion started to drop down the rankings. The Lee Child book for instance went up to more than £10! What was funny was that the adverts had said that the promotion would end on January 6 and the publishers clearly thought that meant until midnight on the sixth and by eight o’clock in the morning they had all gone back to £1. A lot of Indie publishers were worried that the books would stay at £1 for ever – if that had happened it would have really hurt the Indies. But no, on midnight on January 6 the prices changed back again and by last night all of the former £1 books were on the way down the rankings and my book was back at Number 1.

Some of the publishers have cut the prices to less than they were before the promotion – the Lee Child book for instance is now selling at £4.99. The book that did best in the £1 promotion is a book called The Lost Daughter by Diane Chamberlain. I think the publisher, MIRA, realised that the price was the key to the book’s success in the rankings so they have now cut the price to £2.80 and it is jostling for the top spot with The Basement. I think that eventually it will drop out of the Top 10 though. We’ll see!

But here’s the interesting thing. Early in December I was selling 600 books a day, and just before the £1 promotion I was selling about 1,000, more on Saturday and Sunday. But during the £1 promotion my sales were running at 1,500 a day, so even though there was much more competition, I was selling a lot more. And now that the £1 promotion is over I’m seeing sales of 1,400 a day. So it seems to me that the £1 promotion actually helped boost sales of my books.

Now that the £1 books have been repriced, all the cheap Indie books like Kill&Cure by Stephen Davison and Remix by Lexi Revellian (a bargain at 49p) and the Soft Target series by Conrad Jones are now storming back up the rankings.

So what’s the lesson to be learned from what happened over Christmas and New Year? That on the UK Kindle, price is the main driving factor. A cheap book will sell better than an expensive book. But given the choice between a cheap book from an established publisher and a cheap book from an Indie author, readers will generally go for the established publisher. And that’s not great news for the bulk of Indie authors.

But that doesn’t mean that Indie authors can’t get into the top of the Kindle bestseller rankings and sell thousands of copies. They can. How? All will be revealed…..

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A million dollars?

Let me say right away that making a million dollars from publishing eBooks isn't easy. But it's a lot easier than it was a few years ago. And it's the Kindle that is leading the explosion in eBook publishing. The Kindle is the eBook reader that is sold by Amazon and it has revolutionised the way that people read.

But the Kindle has changed forever the way that writers sell their work. I'm lucky, I've made my living from writing fiction for almost a quarter of a century. I have more than two dozen titles in print and have sold close to three million copies around the world. I have an agent and am with one of the world's biggest, and best, publishing houses. But many thousands of writers aren't so blessed and for years they were unable to get their work out to a wider audience.

The Kindle, and other eBook readers such as Sony's eReader and the Nook, have changed the playing field completely. Now anyone can publish their work. A writer doesn't need an agent or a publisher, they can simply put their own work on line and make money almost immediately. There is now no such thing as an unpublished writer. There are traditional writers with agents and editors and the support of a publishing house, and there are independent, or 'Indie', writers.

That's what I'm going to do here. I'm going to show you how to publish a book, how to get paid, and how to market it.

How do I know? Because I've done it myself. I planned a strategy to get three of my books into the UK Kindle bestseller list and I did. Within days of putting Once Bitten, The Basement and Dreamer's Cat on line I was selling more then 600 copies a day and all three were in the Top 20. Within four weeks I had the bestselling book on the Kindle in the UK. And on Christmas Day I sold close to 7,000 copies. Another 5,000 copies sold on Boxing Day. Three months after I put the books on line I am still selling more than 1,500 copies a day.

I'm going to explain step by step how I did it, and show you how other bestselling Indie authors are making fortunes using the same techniques. So watch this space!