Friday, May 29, 2009

Guest Blogger Stacey Cochran

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Today, What Fresh Hell welcomes a longtime friend, Raleigh writer Stacey Cochran. Stacey is a prime example of the type of good and generous folks that make it so much fun to be in this business, a fellow who doesn't consider other writers competition and thus will work his tail off help you put your work out there as well as his own. As just one example, a while back Stacey put together several bookstore events with himself, Yours Truly, and the lovely and fiercely talented Alex Sokoloff on "how to get published." And they packed the house, and we all sold books.

Welcome Stacey!

I am not supposed to be a winner. I am an underdog to the underdogs. I am the guy at whom people like to throw tomatoes.

So how in the hell are my books suddenly hitting bestseller lists? I mean check your pulse, people; I think we might have entered a parallel universe or something.

Earlier this week I put two novels on Kindle - CLAWS and The Colorado Sequence - and I set a price point of $1.59 and 80 cents respectively. Next, I started a single post on the Kindle Discussion Board titled “Books Under 2 Bucks” and asked folks to list their favorite Kindle books that cost less than two dollars. I posted links to both my novels.

Within 24 hours, both books came out of nowhere and started hitting bestseller lists in the following categories: Suspense, Action & Adventure, Horror, and Science Fiction. At one point, CLAWS was ranked #357 for all Kindle books (there are nearly 300,000). TCS was ranked #1 overall in the Sci-Fi Adventure category.

So what the heck is going on? How did an unknown author with two self-published pulp novels gain any traction at all?

Five things contributed to this:

1) The price point for both books is competitive. Most major publishers are setting Kindle book prices anywhere from $6 to $15. By listing my books at 80 cents and $1.59, I’ve given myself an edge.

2) The book covers and descriptions look like something you’d see from a major publisher. That is, to the average reader when they see the Kindle pages for my novels, they see a book that looks professional and interesting. Book Marketing 101 here.

3) The Kindle Forums. There is a sentiment on the Kindle forums that publishers are charging too much for Kindle books, and Kindle readers seem eager to help out the little guy who has a good story, good cover, and price point that is fair.

4) Kindle readers want books. They are the most die-hard book fans on the planet, and they’ve just spent nearly 400 dollars for a Kindle. They want to load up their Kindles with good books, and a novel that is priced at 80 cents seems practically free. Worth a mouse click.

5) Viral marketing. If you can maintain a high ranking and stay on several category bestseller lists, you have higher visibility and people start linking to and discussing your book elsewhere. My hunch is that you’ve got to maintain this momentum for at least a month to reap the rewards of viral marketing. Too soon for me to really tell, and it could be that my books will drop as fast as they climbed.

We all know that Amazon rankings fluctuate wildly.

Nonetheless, riffing off of what Konrath mentioned last week and what his publisher (Grand Central) is doing, if you’ve got a couple trunk novels or novellas and can get your publisher to list your book for free on Kindle, it can rocket you to the top of bestseller lists. This, in turn, will lead to readers looking up your other books and a percentage of them will buy.

The idea is to throw out a couple books for free to gain exposure.

It’s really smart. And nearly all of us have a trunk novel or novella that our publishers could toss to Amazon Kindle to sell for free.

I should mention, too, that anyone can upload a book to Amazon DTP (digital text platform), so what a few authors (Konrath and Boyd Morrison, for example) are doing is putting their own trunk novels online and setting a competitive price point. Joe’s doing this simultaneously with Grand Central’s efforts to get one of his novellas online for free (currently ranked #1 overall); the combined effort is making him a nice pile of change.

Keep in mind we’re drawing 35% royalty for the trunk novels we’re uploading ourselves through Amazon DTP.

So what’re you waiting for? Dust off your trunk novels, folks. Use Word to save them as an .html file and upload it to Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. It’ll sure as heck make more money than if it’s sitting in cold storage.

I’d bet a shiny penny on that.

14 comments:

Stacey Cochran said...

Thanks, Dusty. It's been a wild ride; I've sold 403 Kindle copies in about 3.5 days.

Celine said...

What you're talking about here -- putting a couple of books up for free, or for a very low price, to get people interested in your other books -- is a well-known marketing tactic. In retail, it's called a "loss leader", and the idea is that once people are physically inside the store, they'll probably buy more than just the sale item they came in to get. But if you actually make money on a $2 Kindle download, then it's not a loss at all, is it?

Elisa said...

Stacey, I am more excited than ever to get my novel on the Kindle! But I was reading another blog a couple of days ago that there's a problem w/ POD formatting and the Kindle conversion -- in other words, the formatting gets pretty screwed up when it goes to Kindle, and in some cases can look like the book was very poorly edited. The blogger was recommending authors w/draw from Kindle sales. I think that's too harsh a reaction, but have you heard of any such complications w/ either of your books?

Congratulations on all your success!

Elisa said...

Forgive me if it shows up that I posted the same comment twice. As of right now, my original comment isn't showing.

Stacey, I am thrilled for your Kindle success, and can't wait to get my own novel on Kindle!

But I was reading someone's blog a few days ago that there's a problem w/ POD formatting and the Kindle conversion -- in other words, the formatting gets pretty screwed up when it goes to Kindle, and in some cases can look like the book was very poorly edited. The blogger was recommending authors w/draw from Kindle sales. I think that's too harsh a reaction, but have you heard of any such complications w/ either of your books?

Again, congratulations!

Cougar Press said...

Great post, Stacey. I'm really liking the Kindle so far! Made 7 sales as of now.

Dawson

JD Rhoades said...

So Stacey do you think direct-to-Kindle only will ever be profitable on its own?

John McFetridge said...

Thanks for the post, Stacey, very informative.

It really feels like this is just the very beginning of something.

JD, maybe direct to Kindle will replace mass market sales. Do you sell mass market rights to the same publisher as the hardcover and trade rights?

Stacey Cochran said...

Celine, you raise a great point.

While this isn't scientific data, I noticed that while CLAWS was priced at $1.59 it sold an average of 31 copies per day over a 3-day period.

When I cut the price in half, to 80 cents, it sold 87 copies in the first 24 hours.

That is, I actually made more money by setting it at a lower price.

Also worth mentioning, Amazon's rankings are based partly on number of purchases (not just revenue) and so a book that is purchased 90 times per day will rank higher than a book that is purchased 30 times per day at a higher price point.

The higher your ranking on various category bestseller lists, the more visibility your book has, and the more viral it will become. People start talking about it on blogs, linking to it, etc.

The tipping point is getting it to become viral and then maintaining that level of interest.

And what I've shown is that you can actually do this. I'm up to $200 in royalties for about 5 days now.

Stacey Cochran said...

JD Rhoades said...

So Stacey do you think direct-to-Kindle only will ever be profitable on its own?


For me, it is the first profitable way I've found (and I've been doing this a long time).

Now I have no idea if my sales will continue at their current pace, but if I'm selling 1500 copies/month, I would be making more than I do teaching at NC State.

To compare with the paperback copies, it's taken me five years to sell as many copies as I've sold on Kindle in less than one week.

Stacey Cochran said...

I was reading someone's blog a few days ago that there's a problem w/ POD formatting and the Kindle conversion -- in other words, the formatting gets pretty screwed up when it goes to Kindle

Yes, if you upload a pdf to Amazon's DTP, it will look wonky, and people won't want to read it.

The key is to open your book in Word (presumably you have your book formatted in Word before converting to pdf). In Word, save as an "html" file. If you upload your document to DTP as an html file, it should be okay.

You'll still want to preview your Kindle version in the DTP set-up, which you can do without a Kindle. There's a preview window that will display your book as it will appear in people's Kindles.

I tweaked the front end of CLAWS for about three hours to get it formatted the right way.

The break-through was saving it in Word as an html file. That's what Amazon DTP wants.

Stacey Cochran said...

JD, maybe direct to Kindle will replace mass market sales.

I don't think the Kindle is going to replace paperbacks. It's just another vehicle.

This raises an interesting point, I've considered the past couple of days. A lot publishers are pricing authors' Kindle books at roughly the same price as paperback or (gulp) hardcovers.

I suppose the fear is that if someone buys the book on Kindle, they won't buy the print version.

But the truth is, most Kindle owners aren't going to buy a paperback or hardcover anyways... unless it's for sentimental reasons. So, publishers who set a price point for a Kindle version at the same price point for a paperback version of the same book aren't being smart.

They're being cautious. But it's a caution that doesn't make sense because Kindle buyers aren't going to buy a print version of the book anyway. And if the publisher sets a price point of ten bucks for a Kindle book, unless the author has a built-in audience... I don't think those Kindle books will sell.

All of this is to say, unless you've got a huge readership who will buy the Kindle version at 10 dollars, publishers really have to set a very low price point to sell well on Kindle.

So far, few seem willing to do so.

Boyd Morrison said...

Dusty,

It's really a question of how profitable it can be. Putting my books up on Amazon cost nothing, although I did pay for someone to create professional-looking covers. So my time in writing the novels is the only other expense I had. Within a month, I had made enough to pay for the book covers, and now anything else I earn is pure profit. That said, it's still not enough to provide a decent living, and I'm sure it doesn't measure up to the advance you could get from a traditional publisher. But it's sure better than having the books sit on my hard drive earning zero.

The real issue as more and more indie authors put their books onto the Kindle is how to get noticed. I'm already seeing more indie authors on the Kindle rankings, which is great, but there will come a time when there are so many new authors getting onto the Kindle that simply setting a low price won't be enough. Maybe the Kindle market will become the American Idol of writing, where the most successful books are voted on by the reading public by reader reviews and word of mouth.

Boyd Morrison said...

Another thing I wonder about with low-priced books is how many people actually read them. Kindle users are heavy book buyers, and I know many of them have huge to-be-read lists. When a book is priced below $2, I think many people simply click the Buy button with the intention of reading it at some later time. Then as they get more books, they may forget about the cheap one, which gets pushed further and further down the TBR list.

Sure it's great for people to purchase your book, but if they aren't reading it, you won't get the viral effect you need to generate future sales.

So my question is, what percentage of people who buy a $1 book actually read it?

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