Why do some books skyrocket while others languish? What does an author have to do to get his/her ebook to sell?
Courtney Milan, a historical romance author who has a background in math and science, presented an excellent overview on how book sales occur. Her presentation was geared to indie books, but it also applies to ebooks released by publishers. (It does not apply to the print market, which she said is completely different). Her presentation was titled “Building a Sticky Digital Readership,” which she described as “Half-Assing Promotion (and Still Making Money).”
Selling an ebook boils down to a Catch 22: to sell books you have to sell books. That sounds like a no-brainer, but it was something I had noticed, but did not fully grasp at the gut level until I attended Courtney’s seminar.
If you can sell enough books to “catch the eye” of the Amazon algorithms, Big Brother Amazon will start recommending your book to potential buyers—and that’s when you sell books. In short, Amazon will market your book for you.
The reason some ebooks sell and others don’t is because Amazon promotes some books and not others. The ones Amazon promotes sell—and the ones Amazon doesn’t promote lag. (This system also applies to other online booksellers, but since Amazon is the 600-pound-gorilla, Amazon is the one we need to care about.) That’s why author A can generate big sales with very little promotion and author B works her ass off for much more modest revenue. It’s not what you’re doing–it’s what Amazon is doing.
Courtney outlined four phases of book selling:
- Phase 1 – Nobody knows your book exists
- Phase 2 – A few people know who you are and vendor algorithms start to work for you (i.e. begin to recommend your book). You begin to sell books that you didn’t have to work to sell.
- Phase 3 – Readers wait for your book. You hit the genre lists when your book comes out. Amazon more actively promotes your books.
- Phase 4 – The vendors (real people at Amazon) know who you are and contact you to offer special promotional opportunities.
So how do you move from phase one to phase three or four? We’re talking about digital publishing here, both indie and e-pubbed, but let’s use the analogy of a print novel and the dying dinosaur of the independent book store (my analogy here, not Courtney’s):
Suppose you’re a new author and your first book has been published. Because you’re an unknown and the book store sells thousands of books, yours is shelved “spine-out” in book stacks. No end cap display for you. Nobody—unless they are specifically looking for you—will see your book. But say you work your ass off promoting it. You speak to a bunch of book clubs, do some book signings, and you get 20, or 30, or 50 people to go into the book store and buy your book. Now the clerks take notice. When customers ask for a book to read, the clerks say, “Well, book X has been very popular.” And more customers buy your book. And they recommend it to their friends. And now it’s selling so well, the book store puts it on an end cap. More people see it and buy it.
That’s what happens with Amazon algorithms. Once you can generate a certain magic number of sales, the algorithms will kick in and begin to recommend your book. “People who viewed this book also viewed…” “Customers who bought book A also bought book B,” and “Recommended for you” is what sells books.
In phase one the relationship between promotion and sales is linear. Your sales are equal to the amount of work you put into promotion. When you promote, sales rise. Stop promoting, sales drop. You have to work for every book sold.
By phase 2, you begin to get a non linear response. You begin to get an effect that is greater than the effort you put into promotion because the algorithms have begun to kick in and your book is recommended to other customers.
My Rod and Cane Society spanking romance series put me in Phase 2. I worked my ass off promoting the books in the series. The sales were steady and modestly good. But with my sci-fi romance series, Breeder (book 1) and Terran (book 2), sales jumped exponentially catapulting me into phase 3, and I experienced the process that Courtney outlined. Here are the ways the Amazon has marketed my book for me:
A best seller label:
Called it a hot new release
Recommended it to readers viewing someone else’s book
Another recommendation on someone else’s book listing
So what do you have to do to move from phase one to phase three and four? Basically, you have to keep pushing (promoting) until you generate enough sales to get the algorithms to notice you. On Friday, I’ll share some promotion tips I gathered from the conference, and well as some of my own that I think launched me from phase two to phase three.
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And now…a word from our sponsor…
Terran – (Breeder Book 2) ♥ Amazon buy link
After fleeing heartache on Terra, Tara Diehl has adjusted to male-dominated Parseon better than most until she is kidnapped by Alpha Marlix, a ruling commander. At first her tall, muscled abductor terrifies her, especially when he doesn’t hesitate to quell her struggle for freedom with some force. When her attempts to escape fail, she decides to seduce her way to freedom.
But out of seduction and subterfuge grow a true intimacy that cause Marlix and Tara to take action that drives Parseon to the brink of civil war, threatening not only their relationship, but also their lives.
Terran, the second book in the Breeder sci-fi series, is a “capture” romance involving a domineering but hunky alien, and a female with a bad dye job and an even worse attitude. Terran can be read as a stand-alone.