Sunday, January 28, 2018

Amazon Ranking and Bestseller Lists - What's the Deal?

It's really hard to draw conclusions in the self-pub marketing game. After almost ten years of self-publishing on Amazon, I still don't know why some ebooks sell more than others.

I've always believed the secret to success is luck. You can improve your luck by writing great books, having great cover art and great book descriptions, writing more great books, and...

Advertising? Social media? Newsletters? Amazon visibility?

I know for certain that social media works. When I have a new title, or I put something on sale, I Tweet it and put it on Facebook, and sales go up. Cause and effect.

When I have a new title, preorder, or special sale, and I send out a newsletter, sales go up. Cause and effect.

When I get a BookBub ad, sales go WAY up. Cause and effect.

But how about other kinds of ads, like AMS? Is the key to being successful on Amazon, being visible on Amazon?

It's a seductive idea. After all, Amazon has been designed to entice the reader to click, and to buy. Every pixel on the Amazon page has a purpose.

Surely the bestseller lists, and product ranks, have a purpose as well. They must help sell more books, or else why would they exist?

Does getting on a Top 100 Bestseller List on Amazon give your book enough added visibility to fuel a lot of sales?

Or is book rank more about satisfying authors and their egos, and giving prospective buyers more secondary information to corroborate a prospective sale, rather than being the thing that introduces buyers to a book?

I've been asking myself that question a lot.

My first experiment was observational and highly subjective. I looked at how I bought things on Amazon.

We rarely examine our own buying habits, and volumes have been written about why we buy things, but I buy a lot on Amazon, and here's some of the things I've noticed.

Buying Situation #1 - A Need

This is the main reason I buy things. I have a need for something, so I search for it by typing it into the search box. Say it's a hammer. I type in 'hammer', and maybe narrow it down by category. Then I see what comes up, and compare a few products based on prices, appearance, and customer reviews.

I don't read customer reviews, unless a product has too few, or a lot are bad, or a lot are overwhelmingly good and it seems like they might be fake. (We can all spot fake reviews that were written by shills).

Maybe one product pages will take me to more pages by showing me what customers also bought, or sponsored products, or what else customers looked at.

Then I buy something.

Buying Situation #2 - I Know What I Want

If I know the exact product, I go directly to it. Maybe price is a consideration, but if I'm brand loyal (a specific author, a kind of shampoo) I don't worry about price, reviews, or competing products. I click on it.

Buying Situation #3 - I'm Shopping

I have a vague idea that I want something, like a book, but I'm unsure of what I want, so I'm just going to poke around Amazon until I find something.

Of the three kinds of shopping I do, this third one is the least common for me. And here's why:

I know the authors and types of books I like, and usually buying one of them leads me to instant recommendations about others I'll like based on customers like me. Hell, Amazon sends me emails based on things I've bought and my browsing history. Not a lot of poking around needed by me; it's all on one page.

Do I ever browse the Bestseller lists?

As an author I do, to see who is selling.

As a reader, never. Neither does my wife, an uber-reader who burns through seven books a week. She's always got a full Kindle because Amazon recommends books, she signs up for the newsletters of authors she likes, and she gets BookBub emails daily.

So we have two readers in our house who spend a lot on Amazon, and neither of us buys books because we discovered something new on a bestseller list.

My buying habits may not be yours, however. I know many readers who learn of new books on Goodreads, and I've never gotten much use out of that platform, as a reader or an author. I think Goodreads is terrific, but I just don't use it. I'm certainly not obsessed with my Goodreads Author Standing as I am with my Amazon Rank.

But should I be worried about Amazon Rank at all?

What's the relationship between causation and correlation in regards to Amazon rank? Does a high rank help a book maintain sales through visibility? Or is it only an indicator of book sales and the added visibility does little for sales?

My own efforts inform me that it is promotion that leads to sales, and an incidental side-effect of sales is the rank position and any subsequent appearance on a bestseller list, which doesn’t help the book much.

Some authors seem to believe that appearing on a bestseller list leads to extra visibility and additional sales.

Am I right? Are they right? Maybe a little of both?

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to conclusively prove either of these approaches, because there is no way to conduct a perfect experiment with a control. Other books influence the ranks and positions of our books, and there are always “boosts” that we can’t account for; someone reads a promotional Tweet or Ad a day or two after it runs, a promo site finds the book and promotes it, giving it a boost, word of mouth spreads, Amazon has a delay or lag with their site update...

So I can’t think of any way to definitively state that appearing on a bestseller list is an effective sales tool.

But I do have plenty of evidence to show that a bestseller list appearance doesn’t do much when it comes to additional sales/downloads. I’ve become convinced that rank makes authors feel special, but doesn't boost sales by any significant degree.

I say “significant” because I’m sure being on a list is helpful. Just not very helpful, and not worth pursuing.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ve probably seen examples with your own books.

I recently made my book ENDURANCE free for five days. I didn’t do any ads, but did link to it on social media. First day, 1375 downloads, and it peaked at #70 on the Top 100 freebie list.

Now, this book had nothing pushing it up the charts, just my Tweets and Facebook, and anyone who retweeted, and those websites that promote free books on their own initiative to make Associates dollars.

After that initial social media burst, there was no other promo for ENDURANCE. This was intentional on my part to prove a point.

Being on the biggest bestseller list made ENDURANCE visible to readers who are presumably searching bestseller lists for ebooks, so once I hit #70 I should have had hundreds or thousands of new eyes on it, and corresponding downloads because, hey, it was free.

But you can guess what happened once my promotion stopped. Once I stopped promoting, it stopped climbing. By Day #2, it was #95, and on day four it was #214. Whent he promo ended it bounced to the paid list at #42,844.

According to William Ockham who figured this out with Data Guy, “A sale has a half-life of one day. A sale 24 hours ago is worth 1/2 of a sale made right now. A sale an hour ago is worth 23/24ths of a sale made now. Sum the value of sales for each eligible title and rank order the results.”

So the moment you peak, that value begins to immediately start fading unless you continue to sell at that speed, a higher speed, or a slightly lower speed. But that slightly lower speed needs to pick up as time passes, for a rank to maintain its spot. It has to run faster to stay in the same place.

The added visibility of being on a list, without any promo to back it up, doesn't do much to sustain position.

Promos will help a book sustain its rank, because they are driving more downloads. So as long as the promotion/marketing/ads/retweets/facebook boosts continue, a book can retain its spot, or even climb up.

Without any promos, the only thing to drive a book’s downloads is its own visibility on a bestseller list.

When I hit #70, if appearing on the list and being visible to all of those people browsing the list had a big impact, you’d expect a lot of downloads, and for it to continue to climb.

But being on the list wasn’t enough. By day #2, ENDURANCE only had 729 downloads. Day three, 331, day four 160, day five, 113.

While it isn’t on the Top 100 Bestseller list, it was still on many other lists (Horror, Occult, Whispersync) in high spots.

But those high spots aren’t generating enough new downloads for it to sustain its position. It kept dropping without any outside promo push. And this is a freebie list. Being #1 in Horror—a big category—as a freebie only yielded 300 downloads.

That's 300 downloads if you believe that people only downloaded it because they say it on that bestseller list (or another list). But I know that the reason it peaked on the list was my sale and social media push. That got it on the list.

And being on the list didn't keep it on the list.

ENDURANCE isn’t an anomaly. I did a BookBub with BLOODY MARY recently, hit #1 on the overall free list with 45,000 downloads. But once the promo stopped, the book dropped like a rock.

My experience has been that being on a bestseller list doesn’t have much of a positive effect on a book’s downloads.

I did 1375 downloads on Day #1, while promoting ENDURANCE. Day #2, I had 729. One might attribute those 729 to list visibility, but there is no way to be sure. I could have had people clicking on my Twitter and Facebook push the next day, which meant my promo was still working. Those websites that promote free books could have picked it up the next day, giving it a little push. And there are probably reasons I don’t even know that factor into who downloaded that book on Day #2, and why. During a book launch, for example, it may take some fans a while to discover that a new book is out, or word-of-mouth can build, or social media can build, so a book can continue to climb. But that’s still a push doing it, not a by-product of hitting a list.

This happens every time I do a KU freebie or countdown without a sustained outside promotional push.

I have many other examples. My books are always on the WOMEN SLEUTH bestseller lists, but they are often below #100. Since you can’t browse below #100, they get zero visibility from being #202, but they still consistently sell somehow. My belief is readers find them from actively searching for the next book in my series, or through Amazon's "Customers Also Bought" feature.

I’ve been #1 on both Free and Paid Bestseller List, several times. It feels good, but it doesn’t stick unless massive promotion backs it up.

Rank may indeed be a measure of success and sales, but rank isn’t the reason for success and sales.

A simpler example of what I’m saying is watching box office results for movies. STAR WARS hitting the #1 box office spot probably didn’t lead to many more ticket sales, people who said “Hey, look at Star Wars at #1—I’d never heard of it before but now that it’s visible I’ll go see it”.

When STAR WARS hit #1, do you know what #10 was? No. And neither does anyone else. Because people aren’t looking at box office lists to determine what to see.

What draws attention to movies? Ads. Marquees. Reviews. Theater websites. But the movie theater websites aren’t ranking movies. AMCtheaters.com doesn't have a list of which movie is the most popular so you can decide what to see by rank.

Where is the evidence that hordes of readers—or even handfuls of readers—are discovering new books by browsing the bestseller lists?

It may be helpful—to what degree, I don’t know. But I do know, with 100% certainty, that hitting a list will not keep you on that list unless there are other factors involved.

The above examples were for free books. Here is a current promo I'm running with a paid book.

I currently have four box sets all on sale:


I set all four at 99 cents on the 26th, and Tweeted three of them, listing the book titles, and one where I didn’t list the titles (Origin)

One the 26th, just via Twitter, I sold:

Whiskey Box - 270
Dirty Box - 185
Afraid Box -147
Origin Box - 32

That was the order I tweeted in, one after the other, and pretty much worked as I expected. I’ve never had these box sets at 99 cents, so a lot of thrifty shoppers were waiting for this deal.

My Jack Daniels books are more popular than my horror, which is expected again. But the sales directly aligned with the order I tweeted.

I tweeted four times in a row. The first Tweet, with Whiskey, got the most downloads.

Then some of my followers began to go Tweetblind. Or they didn’t read closely and thought I was repeating. Or they were overwhelmed. Dirty was next, then Afraid, and finally Origin, and with Origin I didn’t list the titles, just tweeted I had another box set.

Lessons learned: When promoting more than one thing, don’t do it one after another. And when doing a box set, list the titles.

The next day, I did two promotions. For Origin, I did a BookBub ad in the horror genre. For Afraid, I did a newsletter swap with four other well-known horror authors.


The above is a jpg. Here's the link to the page:


The five of us all sent out a newsletter yesterday, promoting all five box sets. So yesterday I had a BookBub for one box set, this promo for the other horror box set, and did no promos at all for my two Jack Daniels sets.

On the 27th I sold:

Whiskey Box - 64
Dirty Box - 63
Afraid Box w/ Group Newsletter - 431
Origin Box w/ Bookbub - 1519

Afraid squeaked into the #300s with rank. Origin climbed to #80.

All of us became Top 50 Horror Authors. We all climbed up on various bestseller lists. I made enough in sales to make up what it cost to send out my newsletter, and of course BookBub always pays for itself.

But our ranks aren’t sticking. They’re dropping.

In my case, neither of my horror box sets have even been on a bestseller list, because I've kept them at $9.99.

So my anecdotal evidence, that I don't shop using the bestseller lists, seems to be supported by my experiments. Not many others seem to shop using the lists, or else we'd all be sticking or climbing, rather than dropping.

Stop worrying about your Amazon ranking. It is an indicator of sales, not a driver of sales.

What does cause me worry, however, is how to maintain sales. While the vast majority of titles appear on a bestseller list, then drop off pretty fast, some of them do tend to stick around for a while.

Why? Could the added visibility of high ranking be helping some books and not others? Or is something else at work here?

I have an idea, but I don't think anyone is going to like it.

Every book, and every backlist, has a ceiling. The ceiling is based on:

1. How many people would like your books if they encountered them.

2. How many people you can help to encounter them.

3. How many people will encounter them because of reasons that have nothing to do with your efforts.

You can write great books in a popular genre, so there is an established base of fans out there. And you can (and must) continue to promote those books. Here's some of the promotions I'm constantly using:
  • I always have a book on sale and a book that's free.
  • I send out newsletters.
  • I do ads (Bookbub, AMS, Twitter, Facebook).
  • I use social media (Twitter and Facebook).
  • I update my website.
  • I update my book backmatter to include new titles.
  • I update my book descriptions and Amazon author page to include new titles.
  • I experiment a lot.
After that, it's out of my hands. Remember your Serenity Prayer.

Here are some things beyond your control that could happen, and this is (probably) why some books seem to stick on the bestseller lists.
  • You could have a publisher promote you.
  • You could have IP tie-ins (TV, movies, comics).
  • You could get media exposure.
  • Word of mouth could explode/go viral.
Basically, I believe we're limited by our own ceilings, unless extraordinary luck steps in. 

You can gradually raise your ceiling by writing more books, and doing all the things I mention above. And the more you do, the easier it will be for luck to find you. 

But you need to stop worrying about your Amazon rank, and stop judging your success by appearances on the bestseller lists. 

Your time is best spent tending your garden. Keep writing, keep promoting, keep growing that readership. 

There's no secret here. There's only hard work and luck.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Konrath's New Year's Resolutions for Writers 2018

Every December I do a post about resolutions for writers, and every year I add more of them. 

You can read the compilation or original posts HERE.

This year, rather than repost them all, I'm going to reflect on all the resolutions I've written since 2006.

This blog began with suggestions of how writers could improve their commercial appeal, find an agent and a publisher, and self-promote.


This blog has prospered through the birth of social media and MySpace (remember MySpace?), the rise of Amazon and self-publishing, and chronicled my own personal journey of legacy deals, into KDP, and back to having print books on the shelf with my Kensington deal and upcoming release of THE LIST.

This blog has lasted so long that I no longer feel the need to blog. I've stated my case, done what I came her to do, and don't have to say much more.


I've taken a lot of my own advice. And disregarded much of it. Here's the breakdown of every New Year's Resoultion I've offered, with my modern take on the adivice:


I will start/finish the damn book

This is still essential. Without this, you aren't a writer.

I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth 

Self-publishing has made this irrelevant. If you're writing shorts, self-pub them one at a time, then compile them and self-publish the collection.

I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers 

I haven't gone to any conferences in years.

That said, I will be attending KILLER NASHVILLE at the end of August. If you ever wanted to meet me, that's your chance.


I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to

If you're still submitting to mags, subscribe.

I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library

Can't hurt. Feedback during the writing progress can be immeasurably helpful. I always discuss books-in-progress with family and friends to litmus test the direction I'm heading, or if I get stuck.

I will finish every story I start

If it gets hard, good. It makes you stronger.

I will listen to criticism

During the creation process, it's key. But reviews are not criticism. Don't read reviews.

I will create/update my website 

Still essential. I make a few hundred bucks a month on Amazon Associates, all from people who check out my website and click on an affiliate link.

I will master the query process and search for an agent

When you're big enough to need an agent, they'll find you. Or they'll take a phone call. Query letters are so 1995.

I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something

Hell yes. Google and Wikipedia and the Internet Wayback Machine are great for research, but they become black holes from which you cannot escape. You can't let the Internet suck you in when you need to put words on the page.

I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy

You will be discouraged, but the only surefire solution is to keep writing, or quit entirely. I spent ten years without making a dime. And now I'm close to selling my 3 millionth book.

I will keep my website updated

I hate going to a favorite author's website and seeing no new news for the last six months. Your fans hate that too.

I will keep up with my blog and social networks 


Absolutely. But I strongly recommend keeping your personal social media (family stuff, political views, liking Caturday) separate from your professional pages. Your friends and family can follow you because they care about who you voted for, and how much you like the Cubs. Fans probably only care about your new releases, and when your stuff is on sale. 

I also strongly recommend Freedom and Anti-Social to block your social media during writing time.


I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner

Sitting and waiting for life to happen isn't a recipe for success. If you're there to get known, make yourself known. If you're at an event and there is no line of fans waiting for a signature and selfie, then get up and mingle.

I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year

Six times a year at most. More than that, and you'll risk losing followers. YMMV.

I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how

It's a good skill to master, and one day you'll need it.

I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's

I was wrong on this one. You should do whatever you can to help, but this is their part of the contract to fulfill. 

I will stay in touch with my fans

If someone reaches out, reach back. Keep it brief and impersonal and gracious.

I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements

Libraries will always be relevant.

I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford

A few is fine, but they just aren't needed like they used to be needed. It's great to meet readers and author authors, but a BookBub ad, which will likely cost less, is a lot better for your sales.

I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion

I was wrong. Use your advance to live on while you write more.

I will help out other writers

To a point. I've become very protective of my time, and I've hit my lifetime quota of helping others. Be wary you don't spread yourself too thin.

I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy

Your race is with yourself, not with anyone else. 

I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic

Good advice for writing, and for life. 

I will do one thing every day to self-promote

You can tweet, blog, Facebook, answer email, update your site, put something on sale, make something free, book an ad... do something. 

Your backlist is like a garden. It needs to be tended, or it will die.

I will always remember where I came from

If you look forward without looking back, you're doomed to retrace your steps rather than get somewhere new.


Keep an Open Mind

It's easier to defend your position than seriously consider new ways of thinking. But there is no innovation, no evolution, no "next big thing" unless someone thinks differently. Be that someone.  

Look Inward

We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don't market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that's the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you're doing what you're doing, and what results are acceptable to you.  

Find Your Own Way

Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it.  

Set Attainable Goals


Saying you'll find an agent, or sell 30,000 books, isn't attainable, because it involves things out of your control. Saying you'll write 20,000 words next month, or update your website, is within your power and fully attainable.

Enjoy the Ride

John Lennon said that life is what happens while you're busy planning other things. Writing isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. If you aren't enjoying the process, why are you doing it? 
 

H
elp Each Other
But remember that there will always be people who need help, and you can't help them all. Give what you can, but don't expect anything in return.


I Will Use Anger As Fuel

Life is unfair. That won't change. If you want to succeed, don't dwell on that. Focus on improving your odds by working your ass off.

I Will Abandon My Comfort Zone

Great artists take chances. Successful businesspeople take chances.

This means doing things you're afraid of, and things you hate, and things you've never tried before.

I Will Feed My Addiction 

Life is busy. There are always things you can and should be doing, and your writing career often comes second. So make it come first.

Right now, you're reading A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Not A Newbie's Guide to Leading a Content and Balanced Life.

If you can't devote the time, energy, and money it takes to pursue this career, go do something else.

I Will Never Be Satisfied 

Happiness isn't productive. Mankind's greatest accomplishments are all tales of struggle, hardship, sacrifice, work, and effort. You won't do any of those things if you're satisfied with the status quo. 

Who do you want on your team? The kid who plays for fun? Or the kid who plays to win?


If you want this to be your year, you know which kid you have to be.

I Won't Blame Anyone For Anything

What's done is done, and being bitter isn't going to help your career. So try to learn from misfortune, forgive yourself and others, and focus on what you can learn from past failures.

I Will Be Wary

For a while, legacy publishers held all the cards. Now it looks like Amazon does, and will continue to do so for a while. But the moment you become complacent, you set yourself up for disaster. Ask the dinosaurs. Stay as agile and wary as possible, and be ready to diversify if the climate changes.

I Will Be A Pioneer

I continue to try new things (this year I pubbed some puzzle books and a children's picture book). If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough.


I Will Read Books

Reading, and giving the gift of reading to others, is essential. Period.



I Will Stop Worrying 

Worrying, along with envy, blame, guilt, and regret, is a useless emotion. It's also bad storytelling. Protagonists should be proactive, not reactive. They should forge ahead, not dwell on things beyond their control. Fretting, whining, complaining, and bemoaning the state of the industry isn't the way to get ahead.


You are the hero in the story of your life. Act like it.


I Will Self-Publish

Welcome to 2018. 

I Won't Self-Publish Crap


Just because it's easier than ever before to reach an audience doesn't mean you should.


Luck still plays a part in success. But so does professionalism.


Self-pubbing is not the kiddie pool, where you learn how to swim. You need to be an excellent swimmer before you jump in.


I'll Pay Attention to the Market


If you want to make a living, you still have to understand your audience, and how to give them what they want.

Self-pubbing is not an excuse to be a self-indulgent egomaniac. On the contrary, it's a chance for you to learn what sells.


For the very first time, the writer can conduct their own real-world experiments. By trying different things, learning from mistakes, and constantly tweaking and improving, we have more power than ever before to find our readers.


That means being attuned, not passive.

I Will Control My Fear

There will always be doubt and uncertainty, because luck plays such a big role in success. I know there are writers who are doing everything right, who still haven't found readers.

But don't let fear own you.


It is easy to get frustrated.


It is easy to get envious of those doing better.


It is easy to dismiss the success or failures of others.


It is easy to worry about the future.


It is easy to ignore good advice. It's also easy to take bad advice.


It is easy to make snap judgments and quick dismissals.


It is easy to make predictions without evidence.


It is easy to give up.


BUT NOBODY EVER SAID SUCCESS IS EASY.


What Goes Up Must Come Down


Sales fluctuate, and after being in this biz for almost two decades I still don't know why some things hit and some miss. It's frustrating, but expected.

Here's some things I've learned.


1. Ebooks are forever, and shelf space is infinite. Once you're published, you'll always be selling as long as you tend to your backlist.


2. Ebooks are not a trend. They are the new, preferred way to read, and mankind will always have the need and desire to read.


3. Ebooks are global. Doing poorly in the USA? That's okay. There are plenty of other countries where you can make money.


4. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You're a writer. You're in this until the day you die. As long as you write good books, you'll find readers. This may take time. And it may take some tweaking because the books you think are good need a rewrite, or that cover art you bought at a bargain price of $19 is scaring readers away because it sucks.


The universe doesn't owe you readers. You have to earn them.

Get Over Yourself


Don't use Google Alerts, or read your reviews, or search for yourself on social media.


If you want to be loved, get a pet. The approval of strangers is one of the worst things you can pursue, and it will always leave you empty inside.

More writing, less concern about if the world approves. As long as you keep putting good work out there, you'll find an audience.

Get your real-life shit together

That means:

1. Incorporating and paying quarterly taxes.

2. Creating a will, including a living will.

3. Making sure the will includes provisions for your literary properties.

4. Keeping accurate track of business expenses.

5. Getting regular doctor check-ups so you don't die from something avoidable.

6. Remembering that future goals shouldn't come at the expense of enjoying every single day.

7. Appreciating the people you care about, and making sure they know it.

With luck, we'll all die very old and very rich.

But I've always said that luck favors those prepared. It's very east to get caught up in writing and promotion and ignore the stuff that only becomes obvious when you're in a life-or-death scenario.

Don't wait for the life-or-death scenario. Take care of it now. It doesn't matter if you're 18 or 108, death and taxes are unavoidable. The more you do now to prepare for them, the less painful they'll be.

If you die tonight, will it be with regrets? If so, sort that out immediately. Don't leave loose ends. Don't leave things unsaid. Don't leave a mess for others to clean up.

WRITE

Write better. Write what you've proven works. Write new things that aren't proven. Write more.

This is the single most important thing you can do.

Joe sez: Those are twelve years of my past resolutions, and my recent feelings about them.

Here are two new bits of advice.


Don't Fear Piracy

There are writers that actually hire companies to send Cease And Desist letters to file-sharing sites.

This is a waste of money.

Pirates will always pirate. Don't sweat it. Your work being shared is not equal to losing sales, and there hasn't been a single reputable study to say otherwise. 

As an experiment, for the past three months, I've been torrent seeding one of my own new releases, to measure if it has any impact on sales. I've shared my own book over a thousand times on Demonid and Pirate Bay and a hundred other trackers, and have seen ZERO correlation between file sharing and sales going down. If anything, sales went up slightly when I began sharing.

While my study hasn't been scientific, it has been enough to confirm my belief that the only piracy worth worrying about is sites selling your work without permission, and only because that can get you unfairly booted out of Kindle Unlimited.

If someone is selling you illegally, do what you can to make them take you down.

But if someone is sharing your work, ignore it. You'll never prevent file-sharing, and there's no real need to. Your bad sales aren't because of pirates. You'll have to look at other factors.

Stop Worrying About Amazon Rank

We all obsess about sales. That's inevitable.

But what's with this recent trend obsessing about Amazon rank?

Rank is a number that Amazon controls, and they've changed the rules several times on how they calculate it.

As far as I know, no one has determined how many extra sales you get by appearing on a bestseller list, and I wouldn't be surprised if the number is minuscule. I just did a BookBub giveaway and hit #1 with 45,000 giveaways on that day.

BookBub works. The day after my BookBub, I did a $120 ad with Kindle Nation Daily, and managed to give away another 6000 copies as the book dropped to #7.

Now, I wasn't expecting KND to have anywhere near the impact that BookBub did. But on the second day after the BookBub, still free and still in the Top 10, I only gave away 2000 copies.

Let's think about that. At #1, I had the most downloads on Amazon.com. The next day, supported by a pricey ad, I dropped to #7.

No add, and I dropped to #10, and eventually to #40 by the end of the day before the promo ended.

This is hardly scientific, but that's a pretty dramatic drop in giveaways. If being one of the Top 10 free books for that three day period really lead to a huge increase in visibility, and thus an increase in downloads, I would have expected more downloads, and more staying power on that list. But when the ads stopped, the sales plummeted fast.

In other words, being on the bestseller list didn't account for enough exposure to keep it on the bestseller list.

Which makes perfect logic sense. Unless a book has something behind it (ads, marketing, a promo push, a new release, extreme word of mouth buzz) it has a predictable bell curve. It rises, peaks, and drops.

With tens of thousands of other books also rising, peaking, and dropping, the whole ranking system is a hot mess, and I don't believe it helps sales very much. I've messed around with keywords and had books with similar genres and similar ranks have similar sales, even though one is on a Top 100 list (like Women Sleuths) and one isn't on any list even though it features the same female sleuth.

That extra exposure you get from being on a list probably doesn't amount to much.

Back when KDP was still DTP (look it up) there was a noticeable, measurable sales effect when you landed on a bestseller list. 

These days, I remain unconvinced that rank helps to increase sales. Until I'm shown otherwise, it makes no sense for me to worry about rank. 

Now, you SHOULD be worried about sales. That means figuring out how to maximize the impact your book has by paying attention to the cover art, description, BISEC categories, keywords, price, promotions, and advertising. You want to maximize your reach, and find that sweet spot between making as much money as possible and getting as many eyes on you as possible.

But I strongly suggest you stop worrying about maximizing your rank. Find some other way to gauge your success. I gauge my personal success by how much I'm writing and publishing, and my business success by how much I'm earning. That means I'm always tweaking things, especially price, Countdown Deals, and freebies, adding to my Amazon bibliography and product description, and tailoring ads to link with other similar products (Amazon ads don't help much, but as long as you're in the black on them it's a no-brainer). It also means I may be personally successful in any given month, but not really business successful, and vice-versa.

It also means going all in with Kindle Unlimited and going for KENP. Like it or not, KENP remains a key component in author revenue.

At the same time, don't worry about other authors stealing your KENP cash. It isn't a zero sum amount, and one author having a higher rank than you doesn't mean you'll make less money.

It's out of your control, anyway. Don't worry about things you can't control.


Focus on the things you can control.

That's all I got. I'm out of advice. I hope it helps.

If you appreciated this blog post, check out my latest newsletter. Lots of free ebooks and deals for the New Year.

And after picking up all my bargains, go write something. Make 2018 your best year ever, both personally, and for your writing business.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Interactive Ebooks? Almost...

So, I was thinking about enhanced ebooks, and decided to try something that, AFAIK, hasn't ever been done before.

I recently got hooked on playing Escape the Room games. Not just cell phone apps, where you solve point-and-click puzzles to advance the story, but board games that challenge you to follow the clues and get away before the time is up, real-life games where you go into a room with a group of people and a guide and actually tried to escape by following a carefully constructed scenario, and mail-order subscription games where every month you are snail-mailed a mysterious package that you have to figure out.

And I thought: Could something like this be adapted to ebooks?

I came up with a concept. A serial killer is emailing me, author J.A. Konrath, and taunting me to prevent his next crime.

My first, grandiose way of doing this was to have the killer leave clues about the murder in his emails to me. Then readers could solve the mystery like the sleuth in a mystery novel.

But that already exists. It’s called “a mystery novel.” There’s no user interaction. There’s no “solve a puzzle to advance” dynamic that I enjoy in other media. And mystery novels are vicarious, not hands-on and personal.

I rejigged my concept, and decided to have the killer send me cryptic puzzles, which linked to his website, www.StopAMurder.com. If I could solve the puzzles and type in the correct answers, it would bring me closer to stopping him.

If I failed, someone would die.

Since I don't want anyone to die, I decided to enlist my readers to help me.

STOP A MURDER was born, combining aspects of both thriller fiction and interactive games.

Here's how I pitch it:


This is unlike any mystery or thriller book you’ve ever read before. You play the sleuth, and as the story unfolds you will be tasked with solving puzzles to prevent a murder from happening.

In this five-book series, you’ll uncover the mind and motivations of a nefarious killer who is plotting to commit an unspeakable crime.


Each book contains an epistolary collection of emails, texts, and letters, delivered to thriller author J.A. Konrath, by a serial killer. This psychopath is sending detailed, cryptic puzzles and brain teasers that lead to clues about who will be murdered, why, when, where, and how.


Some of the puzzles are easy to figure out. Others are much more devious.


Do you like solving mysteries? Do you enjoy brain teasers or escape-the-room games? Are you good at spotting clues?


Only you can stop a murder. 


Are you smart enough?

Are you brave enough?
Let the games begin…

#1 STOP A MURDER – HOW: Puzzles 1 - 12

#2 STOP A MURDER – WHERE: Puzzles 13 - 24
#3 STOP A MURDER – WHY: Puzzles 25 - 36
#4 STOP A MURDER – WHO: Puzzles 37 - 48
#5 STOP A MURDER – WHEN: Puzzles 49 - 60
STOP A MURDER - ANSWER BOOK

This series works best with an internet connection, using a color e-reader or app to enter answers on the killer's website. A black and white e-ink device will work, but the interface will be smoother if used in conjunction with a computer or smart phone. 

While each book in this series can be read and enjoyed on its own, the experience will be richer if read in order, and if the internet is used.

Over the five book series, you'll need to answer more than seventy puzzles. When you answer correctly, you are rewarded with more clues that can stop a murder and reveal the killer's identity.


Intrigued?

I've released all five books, and the answer book, on all platforms. They're currently live on Amazon, and they will soon be on Kobo, Nook, Apple, and Google Play. There will also be a paper version, with all 70 puzzles, plus answers.

Check out my website for more info.

I did a beta test for this a few months ago, via Facebook (I've killed the old posts to prevent spoilers, but the site is still there for readers to exchange hints and tips.) The overwhelming majority (96%) of readers liked it. Since then, I've radically changed the story, and improved the interface. It's bigger, better, scarier, more fun, and easier to use.

I hope everyone reading this blog gives it a chance. If you do, please leave a review.

Now I'll take some questions.

Q: Joe, does this mean you're blogging again?

Joe sez: I dunno. I haven't really had much to say lately. This project is something completely new, so I thought it was worth blogging about. But in the last six months or so, there hasn't been anything happening in the publishing world that I felt a need to comment on.

Q: Why are you releasing this on all platforms? Are you done with Kindle Unlimited?

Joe sez: Like many self-pub writers, I've made less money since KU was introduced. That said, I believe Amazon is still the biggest game in town. But for this project, the books are only about 7500 words each, even though they take several hours to complete. It doesn't make fiscal sense to put them into KU, because I'd be getting paid pennies even though readers are getting many hours of entertainment. Also, as you'll see when you begin to read this series, I spent a great deal of time and money on these STOP A MURDER books. I'll never recoup my investment in KU.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about KU scammers. What are your thoughts?

Joe sez: There will always be scammers. It's unknown if scammers are hurting the KU payout, since payouts are decided after a pay period ends. It isn't a zero sum game when the pot is created after the month is over. And the pot keeps climbing higher. I've heard the All Star Bonuses have been affected, which ain't good.

Q: How about visibility?

Joe sez: Scammers are certainly taking up bestseller spots. I'm sure that hurts. How much? I dunno. I've never seen any studies about how many ebooks are sold based on bestseller list presence. Having increased visibility is no doubt helpful. And my own buying habits on Amazon have me occasionally scanning the bestseller lists to see if there is anything that piques my interest. But I'd need to see data that differentiates sales between books on and off the bestseller lists to fully understand how much of a boost those books get. Data Guy, you got any ideas? Does being #100 on a list really boost sales as opposed to being #101 and off the list?

Q: Didn't you promise the next Jack Daniels book would be out, like, ten months ago?

Joe sez: I did. And I'm a jerk. But it will be out soon. So will the next two Phineas Troutt books. All three books are basically finished. I just need to do rewrites.

Q: I noticed that all of your Jack Kilborn titles are now JA Konrath titles. What happened to Kilborn?

Joe sez: Konrath is the bigger brand, so now all Kilborn books are Konrath books. But I am still going to continue that horror line, and have several horror books coming out next year. They'll just be published under the Konrath name.

Q: What happened to your bad movie blog?

Joe sez: My son, Talon, and I are still watching bad movies. He's in college, and I'm just waiting for him to put our notes online. We'll get back on it. And eventually compile the reviews into a book.

Q: You've got the STOP A MURDER series, and three more novels out by the end of the year. What's next?

Joe sez: I'm putting the finishing touches on a children's rhyming picture book, and I still need to finish the TIMECASTER trilogy, do sequels to THE LIST and ORIGIN, and finish the horror novels I've already potted out (THE GREYS, CLOSE YOUR EYES).

Q: Will there be more Jack Daniels?

Joe sez: Yes. Jack will be back in the upcoming novels OLD FASHIONED and SHOTS. Not sure which will come out first. I hope to get everything I've mentioned above done by the end of 2018... unless STOP A MURDER does well. Then I'm dropping everything and doing a sequel. I already have something in mind.

Q: And what about this blog?

Joe sez: If writers have a topic they'd like my opinion on, ask me in the comments.