Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Going Viral on Amazon. Some Hope.

You can read the 'some hope' in the title ironically or literally. It will be a while before I can see the lasting effects of the giveaway of my novel. It's now the 5th and final day, and downloads have averaged 100 per day. I'm now on about 500 and will see the grand total in the morning. The difficult task will then be seeing if the novel can stay high in the rankings when it's no longer free, and the only way this can happen for a book is if it goes viral in certain ways and takes off on its own.

When I thought about having a giveaway I was concerned about possible negative effects, but I hadn't realised what some of the good effects could be. Along with the pleasure of being able to give a book to so many people, the giveaway has also continued to lead to sales of printed books from various retailers and from me directly. These sales aren't huge, but all small publishers and most poets and literary fiction writers will know every sale is a cause for celebration.

This time last year we invested money in hiring a PR company for Ward Wood books in general and I can say this giveaway has achieved far more than the PR company did and without the £2,000 or more a PR company costs. I've compared notes with another author, and between us we have tried out two of the better known PR companies for publishing. PR agencies usually charge a fee that only covers one press release circulated and follow up phone calls, and this can lead to very little in terms of press and media coverage. I said I would give figures openly in these blogs, so this is what you can expect to pay and what you can expect to receive for your money. Sometimes they also circulate review copies for you, which is an easy task.

It worries me that the responsibility for PR could fall more and more to authors as the trend increases for self-publishing. As an author/publisher I can understand this as I'm a traditional publisher for our authors, but need to hire external editing and promotion for my own books if I choose to keep them with our company. For this reason I was thinking of going with another publisher for my next book, specifically because self promotion just isn't as effective as somebody else doing it for you, but the giveaway has made me reconsider.

The amount of work I put in as a publisher to promote books by our authors just couldn't be paid for if authors had to pay the £50 per hour charged by PR companies. It takes continual press releases tailored for each news item that could get coverage for an author and more than the 6-8 weeks that consitute a promotional campaign led by an agency. The work never ends, as bookselling is incredibly hard.

I really didn't expect the giveaway to lead to better results than the PR agency, but it wasn't hard perhaps.... In just 5 days the book has got to 14th position in the literary fiction ranking on Amazon UK, and has been in the top 10 on Amazon US, moving about between that position and the top 40. I've realised part of the reason the downloads are higher for Amazon US is that Ireland and India are also included on that site.

When I look at reports from PR agencies authors have used, they tend to lead to one or two reviews and maybe a broadcast. In just 5 days I've been asked to provide a reading to be broadcast on the popular Homegrown Podcast run by Nic Treadwell after he downloaded the book, and he has also asked to broadcast another Ward Wood author VG Lee.

There has been increased traffic to the Ward Wood site, leading to sales of books by our other authors, and small publishers particularly need people to buy direct from them. For some reason people always seem to buy from Amazon, so it's quite ironic that a giveaway on Amazon could help us achieve the sales direct from publisher we really need. I think the interesting discussion about publishing that has grown up around the giveaway has led to increased awareness and sales direct from the publisher.

Feedback from others during the giveaway made me realise the importance of encouraging people to click the Like button by books and to post reviews as this moves a book up in the Amazon rankings. I haven't been too successful at this as I don't like to harass, but was very encouraged by a review that turned up out of the blue from James Lawless, an Irish author, who I didn't know at all (which makes it even better) and who really 'got' what I was doing with the dystopian themes in the novel. You can see the review here and it will also go on my page on the publisher website.

If the book manages to stay high in the rankings it will have a chance of maintaining the high level of visibility needed to take off on its own. There's a limit to how much help a book can be given to keep people aware of it, especially when you have full-time work to do. Constant promotion by the publishers and authors could also put people off.

Anybody with a Kindle or other ebook could consider going onto forums, like Kindle Boards and Mobile Reads Forum. On these sites it's important to take a genuine interest in the discussions, but they do also give links to your books (especially Kindle Boards where they will help you put the covers of your books on all your posts with links to Amazon). They also have places to promote your book, and it's important to keep any self promotion strictly to the boards where this is allowed. I tested out the effectiveness of both of these sites on Tuesday night by posting after a long absence. Downloads of my novel went up by 21 in a matter of minutes, meaning that people were clicking on the links to my books from the messages even if I wasn't self promoting.

The period after a giveaway shows if people who have downloaded the book have enjoyed it enough to Like it on Amazon and to post reviews, or one sentence comments. If enough do, the book will stay visible in the top 20 or top 100. They might write about it in other places and ask the author to be interviewed or broadcast. Whether or not this happens for my book, it has become clear to me that it certainly can happen and the giveaway is well worth considering for authors and publishers.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Getting High in Amazon Rankings

It's Day 4 of the giveaway of my novel and I promised to blog openly about the experience with exact statistics. I've also been learning valuable facts along the way so I'm glad I did this. Sometimes it's only by experimenting that you find out how the publishing market works, and although I felt I knew about ebooks, the past few days have demystified Amazon and Kindle even more.

I woke up to find my novel in the Top 20 in the ranking for literary fiction on Amazon UK. It was also doing well on Amazon US but it's a bit harder to work out the ranking system there. I'll keep trying! You'll want to know how many downloads took the book to that position. Overall there were 307 downloads, with 113 in the UK.

The book continues to do much better in the US, despite me being a London author, with 187 downloads in the US by this morning. The remaining downloads were in Spain, France and Germany, where I have author friends on various social networks. I'm not sure whether the higher number of downloads in the US is due to more enthusiasm for ebooks and social network promotions there, or if it's due to the higher number of Americans in my social networks - probably a bit of both. I thought it was Brit Lit but it does seem to strike a chord with American readers, which I've been very pleased about.

Getting high in the rankings is important as a book needs to become visible to potential buyers if it's to take off on its own and go viral. For this to happen it does also have to be a good book, and I'll leave readers to judge that about my own novel. However, seeing the novel in the top 20 made me realise that the free ebook giveaway idea does let authors gain visibility for their books in a way that would normally be impossible without the high promotional budget of a major publisher.

It's not as easy to give a novel away as people may think, as I said in my previous post. But if a novel can get to such a high position in the rankings with just a few hundred downloads it's certainly possible to gain visibility. A book can slip down the rankings just as quickly, of course, and after the techniques described in my last post to invite friends and social network contacts to get the book an author can run out of fresh ideas.

One of the things I have found out is that it's important to encourage people to press the Like button by your book on Amazon and to add a review, even if it's only a sentence. This moves books up in the rankings, as I could see when I looked at the top literary fiction books on Amazon US, listed in price order from lowest to highest. Books that cost more could still appear higher than a free book if they had a number of Likes and reviews.

I have to be careful about contacting too many people asking them to press Like or to post a review, even if they give me feedback saying they enjoyed the book. As a publisher I'm more wary of annoying others and doing anything to damage the reputation of the company or the authors on our list at Ward Wood Publishing. But I think it's important for authors in general to invite readers to support them in this way. People just don't seem to do it if you don't ask. And people don't usually mind - I know I don't. Some may get annoyed with you but you just have to steel yourself for that, be polite back, and maybe go away and have a little cry!

The other way to make sure your book has a chance of appearing high in the rankings is to check you have it in the right categories in your Kindle settings. Unfortunately Amazon only allow two categories to be set so I chose Literary Fiction and Fiction/Humour. It's much harder to get high in the rankings for all fiction books, but it's possible to gain this visibility in your genres. Being in the right category also helps readers find you - readers who are looking for your type of book.

I realised the importance of this during the giveaway, as my book was in General Fiction and Women's Fiction (I hadn't chosen these settings). It isn't Women's Fiction, and General Fiction isn't specific enough to help people find it in the rankings. In fact Women's Fiction doesn't come up easily when searching genres either. So these two categories were useless during a giveaway and I realised they are useless in general in terms of helping potential readers find your book. When choosing categories for your book, it's worth taking a look at Kindle Books on Amazon and seeing which genres are easy to find.

We had to waste 12 hours of the giveaway period changing to the right categories but it was important. I didn't exactly choose to waste this time, but if you take a look at your Kindle settings by editing them, Amazon will take your book offline until you Save and Publish again. Once a book is offline you have to choose Save and Publish to get it Live and Amazon check it for hours first then slowly update each server for each country. So don't take a look at your Kindle settings during a giveaway - it's important to sort them out beforehand.

I have managed to keep the downloads going at about 100 per day without nagging people individually to download it or to support it in other ways. This is partly because there are people who will mutually support even without being asked too persuasively. These tend to be people who have a particular interest in ebooks or in the other technologies involved in ebooks, such as social networking.

The wonderful Selby Evans, a patron of the arts in the virtual world of Second Life, blogged about the giveaway on his site Virtual Outworlding. I noticed the results in terms of immediate downloads of the book to his large and mainly American following. Downloads in the UK were given a bit of a boost by Anne Welsh's blog, and as she's a librarian with a following of booklovers, that really helped.

Even these quick blog posts support ebooks and authors, and in fact if bloggers use their Amazon Associates link to the giveaway they could earn commission on any other books the buyers get while there so it's worth their while identifying good giveaways and writing about them. I continue to be surprised by the way the giveaway has increased sales of my printed books, especially my poetry collection, but also the novel, so links to the giveaway could also have earned bloggers commission on these sales.

Contacts who share the link on Facebook and Twitter also help keep interest going in a giveaway, and again I haven't asked for this too much but would encourage authors in general to do so. It's human nature to need to be invited to do a thing and to be reminded. The amount of support authors could get is much higher than I've achieved but I need to be careful about possibly annoying others due to the other sides of my work.

With one day to go I still have some new ideas to draw attention to the giveaway and will report tomorrow on the final statistics, the additional tips and techniques used on the last day, and the way forward with a book that's high in the rankings once it has to start being sold again. And of course all of this has to be fitted in with a busy work schedule or perhaps all authors could achieve more with a giveaway.

If you have tips of your own about free Kindle promotions, please leave feedback. I'd like to gather as much advice together as possible.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ebooks. You Can't Give 'Em Away. Or Can You?

This week I'm experimenting with the free ebook giveaway idea until Wednesday. So that this experiment will be useful to other authors and publishers I'm going to be completely open about the number of people who take the book, the techniques used, and the pros and cons of this idea. Some of this is hard to find unless somebody tells you, especially the number of books you need to give away in order to get to a good point in the Amazon rankings so that you're visible to readers beyond your own contact list.

I'll start with the figure you all want to know. In the first two days 220 people have downloaded the book. More than 100 were in the US, 85 in the UK, 1 in Spain and 2 in Germany. The higher figure in the US, despite the fact I'm a British author based in London, helps to show the importance of an engagement with social networks in order to reach out to international readers.

It also shows that ebooks are vital as it's almost impossible for many publishers to get their printed books stocked and sold in other countries due to the cost of sending them combined with the demands of bookshop managers for big discounts that would put publishers into a loss. In the US, Ireland and UK bookshops tend to want to buy only from their wholesalers, so unless you can get stocked by their wholesalers it's almost impossible to sell to some countries.

Although is excellent for supplying UK books to the US, Amazon only supplies books stocked by its wholesalers. We're stocked by the major wholesalers, but many aren't so it's a huge problem. So ebooks are the most effective way for authors and publishers to become internationally known and read. One problem is that potential readers don't realise they can only use the Amazon site for their country to download ebooks, which no doubt loses a lot of takers as it's complicated giving links to all regional websites. There are also some strange factors (such as ebook sales to Ireland going through the US Amazon website only).

Giving ebooks away isn't as easy as you might think, even though I'm a publisher with a track record as a published author. With so many people contacting me every day asking me to download their free ebook, my main fear was that nobody (or very few people) would take it. People are inundated with requests from their friends to accept and read a free book. This could be worrying for people selling printed books and ebooks, but one of the main surprises is that the giveaway has led to a flurry of interest in the printed books, and sales have increased. A printed book costs less than a visit to a coffee shop for a drink and a cake, so maybe this isn't so surprising. Paying or getting a book free isn't perhaps as important a factor in reader choice as we imagine.

But a free gift of an ebook people already quite fancy is going to tempt them to make that step and actually get it. The second question that will be on your mind is how many people I had to promote to in order to get about 200 takers. The maths for this seems quite simple. I have two main social networks I can promote to, both with contacts involved in books and writing, and the total number of contacts is just over 2,000. So, in the first two days I seem to have about 10% take-up of the offer. I'll keep you updated on the figures as I move into the second half of the promotional period.

To some of you 200 will seem like an excellent figure. '200 new people discovering your book' another author said to me. But in fact they aren't 200 new people. They are people who have been on my Facebook list because they have a particular interest in writing and publishing, and in the virtual world of Second Life, where I have been organising a large voluntary project for writers for 6 years. When you look at it this way, 200 might seem quite low and shows just how many 'friends' truly interested in our projects we really have on social networks. However, some only log on occasionally so it was probably a good idea to run the giveaway for the full 5 days Amazon allow in any season all in one go.

An unexpected bonus was the feeling it gives to see so many contacts downloading the book, reading it at the same time as each other, and giving feedback to me. It's a time when many people are short of money, and those who love books tend to buy too many and try to cut down, so it's rare to have this sudden burst of 'book sales' and simultaneous reading by many. It's usually an experience that only bestselling authors can enjoy.

With 200 downloads the book got to 835th position in the Amazon sales ranking for free books in the UK, and just over 2,000th in the US. People in each country can only download from one Amazon site and the rankings are based on the total for each location. I'm starting to see the downloads starting to grow in Germany, Spain and France.

What are the best ways to promote a giveaway without making your friends and contacts feel 'spammed'. I sent out a notice to the publishing company group, inviting members to an 'event' during the giveaway. I also invited friends and contacts from my personal Facebook friends list to an 'event' with a link to the Amazon sites as the location. Apart from the problem of people clicking on the wrong Amazon site for their country, this did work well. The downside to this is that some people don't realise they should turn off group notifications if group discussions become active and start arriving in their email. During a giveaway a group wall will get active so brace yourself for people getting irritated and it's important to remind people how to turn off notifications. Luckily I only had one complaint, but he made it very public on my wall - in fact you may find that you get trolls.

I then also sent group notices to the writing groups I have on Second Life. I have to say, I found the Second Life bookloving community very supportive and this will be part of the reason the downloads are higher in the US than the UK. They also account for the downloads to France and Spain. People on Second Life tend to be technology lovers as well as booklovers, and many of them are enthusiastic about ebooks. It's a mutually supportive environment for writers on Second Life, and I was touched by the number of people who shared the news on their Facebook wall and also on blogs without being asked to help.

At this point I have done as much as I can with my social networks without driving people crazy with reminders to take the book if they would like it. I have to be very careful as a traditionally published author and a publisher as I mustn't do anything to damage my own reputation or that of the authors with Ward Wood Publishing. I didn't send reminders to the group, or to friends individually, after the first invitation.

A self-published author probably should go for it with even more gusto, contacting friends to remind them to download the book, and letting them know how and why it can help. This might be the only way many authors can head up the Amazon rankings during their giveaway period, and the book could then go viral if it gets into the top 100 or top 10.

It will also help if the book is in the right Categories in your Kindle settings. I hadn't selected these myself and you do need to check that your publisher has put you in the main categories you feel are right. Amazon only allow two categories and my book had mistakenly been put in Women's Fiction (which it isn't) and General Fiction. This lost me about 12 hours of the giveaway period as I had to have it changed to Literary Fiction and Humour. Being in the wrong category (and I really don't consider my book Women's Fiction) not only makes it hard for readers to find what they want, but the correct niches give a book a better chance of getting high in its particular category.

So this is the point I'm at. I need to use some additional methods for the final half of the giveaway and will explain them in another post and how effective they are. Any feedback on your own giveaways, and also ebook sales, with tips, pros and cons, will be very welcome. And thanks to all who have dowloaded the book! I would love to see links to any reviews and feedback, good and bad, and also any places you have shared news of the giveaway.

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