Friday, April 15, 2016

Do Ebook Preorders Work?

So I've been trying out Kindle preorder pages for some new books (including my latest horror thriller  WEBCAM, which launches today), experimenting to determine if this is a smart way to run my self-publishing business. Here are the pros and cons I've encountered.

Preorder Pros

1. Deadlines. I wanted to light a fire under my ass and get some work done. On one hand, why invite extra stress into your life? On the other, consider what motivates you.

I believe the biggest motivator for an artist is inspiration; that spark that compels you to create. Even if it never sells. Even if no one ever reads it. We become writers because we love storytelling.

The biggest motivator for someone self-employed is (usually) money. I own my own business, and my boss is usually a workaholic jerk.

But lately he's been slacking off.

Like most writers, I've never lacked for ideas, and I keep files of potential book ideas, some with partial outlines, that I'll get to someday. But I found I was in the middle of two novels, RUM RUNNER and WEBCAM, and as much as I tried to self-motivate, I wasn't putting in the time I would have had I been creatively inspired or fiscally needy.

In other words, I was dragging my ass and not getting the words down to the degree I'm capable of.

Back in the stone age when I had legacy contracts, writing life was filled with deadlines. Get the manuscript finished by date X. Get the redline returned by date Y. Get the outline for the next book done three months later. You kept to that schedule out of contractual obligation, and a little bit of fear.

For the first few years of my self-publishing career, I was writing and publishing as fast as I could. No stress. No fear required.

But lately, I haven't been pushing myself. So after a lot of thought I decided to give myself deadlines. Tough deadlines, but within my abilities.

As a result, I've written and published over 100,000 words since January. For me, those deadlines for preorders were the motivator I needed.

2. Sales. I've had many writers ask me: What's the best time to launch a new book? My answer has always been the same: When it's finished.

If your book is ready to be unleashed upon the world, there's no need to wait. Let people buy it as soon as they're able to. I recall peers of mine sitting on completed, polished, formatted manuscripts because they wanted to release books the old-fashioned way: with a launch date.

The launch date is a relic of legacy publishing. The point was to get as many people to buy your book the day it came out, to make a run at the bestseller lists.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a NYT or USA Today bestseller.

Now, there is still something to be said for making a big impact on Release Day. But since I'm exclusive on Amazon, and since Amazon's algorithms seem to reward steady sales over sales that peak and fall quickly (which is one of many insights to glean from Authorearnings.com and is broken down succinctly at selfpublishingadvice.org), I decided not to fret too much about building up to a book launch day.

At the same time, if a book is going to be out on a certain date, why make people wait to buy it? And if fans want to buy something right now, why make them wait until later, when they could possibly forget?

3. Buzz. I believe that sales are about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell. The goal is to find people looking for the kinds of books that you write.

So, when I'm pimping a title, I usually only do it around launch day, or if the book is on sale.

A preorder page gives me more opportunities to make announcements on Twitter, or to send out a newsletter. Rather than beat fans and potential readers over the head saying "Buy my book!" over and over, instead I'm offering them new information  with each announcement.

Hey, I've got a new preorder title!

Hey, my new book is out today!

Hey, my book is on sale!

People are looking for information and entertainment. At the same time, anyone who has ever spent more than ten seconds studying the effectiveness of advertising knows that repeated exposure is pretty much essential. So having a non-abrasive way to tout my work by offering new information each time I do (rather than those writers--you know who you are--who think their followers want to see the exact same ad three times a week for an entire year) seems to me to be a more effective, and less irritating, way to self-promote.

This is why you rarely see me doing a straight-up promo blog post, and instead put the promo in an informative piece about how promos work.

Preorder Cons

1. Deadlines. I intentionally didn't give myself much leeway in my deadlines, in order to push myself harder. On one hand, I've hit both of my deadlines. But WEBCAM launched today in a less-than-ideal version.

Allow me to explain.

Amazon allows preorders because authors asked for them. I was the first ever, back in 2010, when I worked with DTP to get the first self-pubbed preorder page for DRACULAS.

Since then they've streamlined the process. You can submit a book for preorder in KDP, and you must submit the final manuscript 10 days before the on sale date.

But that 10 day period isn't set in stone. After you submit a final 10 days prior to the launch, you have 7 more days to upload newer versions. Typo fixes, tweaks, that sort of thing.

At 72 hours prior to the launch day, KDP locks you out and you cannot upload a new file until the book goes live. So if you're one to cut it close, beware.

I'm one to cut it close. Ten days prior to launch I uploaded a barebones text version of the novel. Then I tweaked for a few days, then asked my book designer, 52 Novels, that I wanted some special design work done, and needed it by the 12th. He squeezed me in, and did an awesome job making the ebook look beautiful. But I'd given him the wrong date. I had actually needed it by the 11th.

See, the day starts at midnight. So 11:59pm CST on April 11 was the last moment for me to upload the new version.

As such, those who preordered got the still readable text version, but without all the gloss and style that the designed version has.

My bad.

Amazon may send out an email blast telling those who preordered that there is a prettier version now available, but this is a professional boo boo on my part that I should have been on top of.

So if you cut deadlines close, you might want to give yourself some breathing room.

2. Sales. While slow and steady sales help your book attain, and keep, a decent ranking on Amazon, nothing beats a book launch without preorders for getting the best initial rank.

But how much does getting high ranks and showing up on bestseller lists help raise sales?

I dunno.

I submitted RUM RUNNER - A Jack Daniels Thriller for preorder on February 1, to launch March 25.

I submitted WEBCAM - A Novel of Terror by Jack Kilborn for preorder on March 12, to launch April 15.

I submitted LAST CALL - A Jack Daniels Thriller for preorder on March 12, to launch May 28.


I published WATCHED TOO LONG - A Val Ryker Thriller on March 23 with my co-author, Ann Voss Peterson.

RUM RUNNER, WATCHED TOO LONG, and WEBCAM are all interconnected. They take place during the same time frame, and characters from each story appear in the other stories.

In the back matter of each book, I link to the others using Booklinker, which I detailed in a previous post.

The idea was to build momentum with four new releases (three novels and one novella, WATCHED TOO LONG) and team it with KDP Countdown sales and a free BookBub ad to get some momentum going.

The jury is still out on whether it worked or not. Let's talk numbers.

RUM RUNNER had 2236 preorders at $4.99.
WEBCAM had 637 preorders at $4.99.
LAST CALL has had 1662 preorders at $5.99.
WATCHED TOO LONG wasn't available for preorder. It's a 20,000 word novella priced at $2.99.

So far, RUM RUNNER has sold 3300 copies, so it's made about $12k in sales 21 days, and 350,000 KENP reads (which at $.0045 per page is $1575). Not counting preorders, it is averaging 45 sales and 16700 KENP reads per day, which means it is steadily earning $232 daily.

So far, WATCHED TOO LONG has sold 400 copies, with 26,350 KENP reads. It has been out for 24 days, and has earned $958. Sales are steady, and it is averaging $40 a day. I'm pleased with that, but wonder if that couldn't have been more if we'd done a preorder page.

When I have data on WEBCAM and LAST CALL, I'll do an update.

But then the data gets weird.

The BookBub ad for free RUSTY NAIL (the third Jack Daniels thriller) cost $450. I gave away over 60,000 ebooks.

Prior to the ad, it had been getting about 4000 KENP reads per day. In the 10 days after the ad, it had 234,000 reads, earning $1053. Since then is has averaged about 8000 page reads a day.

But a rising tide lifts all boats. Sine the launch of RUM RUNNER and WATCHED TOO LONG, I've been averaging 150,000 KENP reads per day.

Prior to the launch, I was averaging 50,000 KENP reads per day. My KENP income is $675 a day.

Prior to the launch, I was selling about 70 ebooks per day. Since the launch, not counting preorder sales, I'm averaging 180.

I'm curious to see how WEBCAM will add to this.

3. Unknowns. Because I have so much happening at once, I don't know what to credit for tripling my KDP income. I think the preorders played a big part, but so did the BookBub ad, the discounts, the booklinker bibliographies, and possibly other intangibles like the Easter holiday, and the long gap since my last solo novel.

As per usual, I don't know what worked and what didn't. I can only guess.

CONCLUSIONS

Preorders seem to be a smart move. They're a more stressful way to release a book, but it's a healthy stress and it pushes you harder. The extra money and buzz is worth it.

BookBub still works, even for freebies.

Putting out a new release while discounting other titles seems to raise the series up in both KENP and sales. It's 21 days after RUM RUNNER was released, and sales are steady with no sign of decline.

Novellas don't sell nearly as well as novels, but I already knew that.

I haven't gotten any reader input yet on how I intertwined the novels, other than a few reviewers who seem confused by it rather than pleased.

I don't know how long this income bump will last. It remains to be seen how WEBCAM and LAST CALL do, and I'm still not quite back at the KDP levels I was at prior to the Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Besides butting booklinker links in the back matter of these new titles, I also put in new complete bibliographies based on my biblio ebook. How much this has helped sales, I dunno. But that biblio is averaging 10 downloads a day from people who obviously want to know what to read next.

Jack Kilborn doesn't sell as well as J.A. Konrath. I'm thinking of ditching Kilborn completely, and rebranding all of my titles as Konrath. I'd really like to hear your comments on that. Good idea? Bad idea?