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Analyzing Why We Aren’t Selling as Much (As We’d Like)

Maybe Amazon changed the game this Fall and maybe it didn't. Opinions are rampant. But this much I know, something has changed for me. At first I was frightened then angry and finally accepting. Now I'm on the other end, where I'm looking for steps I can take to reclaim what I had going before Amazon tweaked. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Maybe there's a common denominator among us. Maybe there's a key reason or two we're not selling as much as we'd like. I'm not talking about getting picked up by APub or suddenly scoring a 7 figure trad deal. I'm talking about growing organic sales (word of mouth, “also bys” in back of books, mailing lists, etc) in the tried and proven way. The question I have is this: are those tried and proven ways still working for you? Some things I might do better to increase my sales:
1. Build my mailing list.
Action: I'm using Instafreebie right now and getting 10 or 15 signups a day. Not nearly as many as I'd like. How can I increase this?

2. Advertising.
Facebook: Not sure this even works anymore. It seems like I can spend $150 per day and sell 50 books or spend $0 per day and sell 50 books.
AMS: Almost useless for me. I don't seem to have the grasp of it I need and I'm not finding good information on how to make it work.
Bookbub PPC: I have no way of telling whether I'm getting ROI that justifies. There is no data coming back.
Bookbub Deals: My last freebie giveaway on Tgiving day was a bust of sorts. Gave away maybe 25K books. The one before, in August, I gave away 57K. Still, that series is selling better than before the BB.
Action: as soon as BB denies my latest offering, I turn right around and try another deal. I change covers if a book keeps getting turned down over and over and I tell them so in the comments (optional) section of the deal application. This has worked for me.
Adwords: Does anyone really buy books from Adwords? I'm trying it but need to check figures and Express has no CPC like regular Adwords (tell me if this is wrong).

3.  Amazon specials: I don't know why, but in either Jan, Feb or Mar Amazon is going to run two of my books on monthly specials. Last time I had one of these, I killed it. I've also got a book in Prime that hasn't cycled in yet. I have high hopes but no clue (again, no data) whether it really amounts to anything.
Action: I don't know that there's anything I can do to encourage Amazon to keep selecting me or how to get them to do it in the first place. It seems like I'd been published about 18-24 months before they selected me. Still have no idea why.

4. Elevate to the niche above me. Right now my niche is thrillers > legal. What if I elevate my genre to just “thrillers”? Does this increase my market size? All it would take is to write not from the lawyer/courtroom angle and, presto, I'm writing “thrillers.” I believe I'll be trying this in 2017 and see if my mailing list supports it. If not, I might need a new mailing list….

5. Make sure there's enough genre thread that I'm killing it. Example: I write thrillers. Are my books actually thrilling? How can I improve my chops to make them more thrilling? Or more mysterious? Or more romantic? Etc.
Action: Find some good skill books and give my writing a check-up. Am I hitting it as much as I can?
6. Study the writing of the big sellers in my genre. Determine what they're doing that I could try too. Who knows, contempt prior to investigation never helped anyone's situation improve. So why not give something new a whirl?

7. What else can I do to improve my sales, starting with my backlist? Create boxsets to get back on the HNR lists?

8. Improve my image. Maybe a better photo on my author page. Or hit a bestseller list (I just did, USAT) and change blurbs to reflect that. What else?

9. Consider where I'm spending my time. Is FB really paying off? Then why am I spending an hour or two there every day when I could be reading Vince Flynn?
10. Write smarter, not faster.
Action: all of the above. What good does it do for me to write faster if I keep getting the same results as last time out? I want incremental growth, not more and more of static. Lots of people will disagree with this but it's going to be my thrust going into 2017.

Whew. What about you? Can you add action items here? Your input might be just what all the rest of us are looking for.

  • December 16, 2016
John Ellsworth - December 16, 2016

With all due embarassment for commenting on my own comments, let me add this comment, which I left on JAK’s blog, as a point of reference for why I (at least I) need to be thinking in terms organic growth to retain sales:
You say you want data? We’ve got data, everyone.

http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/201610-unitsales-trend.png

As we can see from Author Earnings most recent report, …most of the lost indie market share seems to have instead gone to Amazon Imprints, who have gained a whopping 4% in market share.

From May thru October 2015 APub grew from < 9% to almost 15%. This is huge by anyone's interpretation. Which begs the observation: if overall ebook sales shrank (which they did, according to AE) then APub's sales came from other than a growing reader base. Now maybe we non-APub publishers can have a clearer idea on why our sales and reads are evaporating. Here's AE's concern. But for us, it’s the drop in indie author earnings that triggers the most questions. In May 2016, verified self-published indie authors were taking home nearly 50% of all US Kindle author earnings. Now, as of early October 2016, the indie share has fallen below 40%. What happened? So, have you lost your share of the 10% that has disappeared? Some say no, some say yes and even more than 10%. The light begins to dawn. APub is crushing it and there's no reason to think market share won't continue to grow over there. Does this mean market share for indies will go down? Well, how good are your plans for making organic growth happen over the next 24 months? I believe this will be the key. We all need to be looking as we once did at how we can increase sales, from the new perspective of, How can we keep from losing our market share, our piece of the pie. A very smart guy once said, it's not a zero sum game. Well, maybe now it is.

    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt - December 16, 2016

    Some of the Author Earnings differences may simply be self-publishers creating their own individual ‘publishing companies’ and thus getting their data listed under small presses.

    That said, I’ve been watching Amazon’s imprints with dread since they were first reported, because they ARE killing it, and there is no way I have found to get them to consider you (I assume some agents may be submitting, because the imprints such as Little A keep publishing).

    I even got the email address for Little A and tried going in over the transom. No deal.

    At least with the traditional publishers there is the sop of trying to find an agent who will submit you to the trad pub. Nothing with Amazon’s imprints.

    There was a time known as Camelot – and it’s over. And I haven’t even gotten started yet.

    I’m grateful Amazon has space for us, but it is keeping the goodies for itself (smart business move, if it is), and that FEELS unfair: I should be able to get a proper ‘no, thanks’ from someone actually reading my work, instead of hoping they will cherry-pick me IF I get enough of a sales velocity going.

    For the record, I physically can’t. So that avenue is not only closed, but barred and mined.

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